Former NI secretary of state Patrick Mayhew dies

Mayhew was the longest-serving secretary of state for Northern Ireland

The Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers has paid tribute to Lord Mayhew who has died aged 86.

Lord Mayhew, or Sir Patrick Mayhew as he then was, was the North's longest serving Northern Secretary, in post from 1992 to 1997 during a critical time of the peace process.

Ms Villiers said he would be particularly "remembered for his role in the (1993) Downing Street Declaration which laid the foundations for the Northern Ireland peace process and the long, painstaking negotiations that helped pave the way for the 1998 Belfast Agreement".

“Lord Mayhew was a man of absolute integrity, devoted to the rule of law and a true gentleman in politics. He will be greatly missed,” she added.


Lord Mayhew, with his predecessor Sir Peter Brooke, was involved in the so-called Brooke-Mayhew talks with the North's main parties, apart from Sinn Féin, at the start of the 1990s.

Lord Mayhew was embroiled in a number of controversial incidents relating to the Troubles and the peace process.

Previously, as British attorney general, he was accused by Irish politicians of blocking calls for the prosecution of RUC officers allegedly involved in "shoot-to-kill" operations on IRA members during the 1980s. He also had a number of disagreements with the Irish Government over extradition between the South and the North.

He also denied on a number of occasions at the initial stages of the peace process that the British government was engaged in secret talks with the IRA.

When evidence was produced to the contrary by journalist Eamonn Mallie he had to embarrassedly admit to the public deception. While it enraged some unionists it was viewed as necessary in the steps to the first IRA ceasefire of August 1994 and his admission did not damage him at Westminster.

Lord Mayhew was also the Northern Secretary who in 1995 insisted that the IRA start decommissioning its arsenals before Sinn Féin could enter talks.

The IRA cited that demand as one of the reasons why it ended the ceasefire in 1996.

The former senior Irish diplomat Seán Ó hUigínn described the decommissioning precondition as “the single most serious mistake” made by any of the administrations engaged in the peace process.

At Westminster, he was also caught up in the so-called Spycatcher Affair when he attempted to block the publication of former MI5 agent Peter Wright’s memoirs.

Survived by his wife, Jean, and four children, Lord Mayhew was a lawyer who also served in the British army.

Tall and urbane and affable at times, he harboured a rather jaundiced view of the Northern Ireland media. He was asked at his last press conference did he feel a sense of failure or feel he squandered the opportunity for peace after the first IRA ceasefire by his demand for some prior disarmament.

“What a characteristically negative question for me to face when confronting the media of Northern Ireland,” he replied, while adding it was for history to decide whether he was a success or failure.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times