Belfast Telegraph

Former Secretary of State who claimed IRA terrorism 'probably' worked dies at 89

By Noel McAdam

A former Northern Ireland Secretary of State who admitted the IRA's violence "probably worked" has died aged 89.

Lord Jim Prior also introduced 'rolling devolution' - offering gradually increasing powers to a locally-elected Assembly.

His bold experiment failed, however, when the SDLP boycotted the body which was then dissolved in 1986.

Lord Prior, who had an uneasy relationship with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was Secretary of State in the early 1980s during a period which included the IRA's hunger strikes.

There was also a series of high-profile IRA attacks, both in Northern Ireland and the mainland, among them the 1982 Hyde Park bombing and the 1983 attack outside Harrods.

Prior was also famously jostled and heckled by unionists when he attended the funeral of the Rev Robert Bradford.

Speaking two years ago in a BBC documentary, he said: "Violence probably does work, it may not work quickly and may not be seen to work quickly, but in the long run one has to look back and say it did work.

"I know we did not win it but I am not certain the other side won," he told documentary maker Peter Taylor.

"As time went on it became possible for both sides to get into a position where it was easier to make peace than make war."

James Michael Leathes Prior was born on October 11, 1927, and grew up in Norwich. He was educated at Charterhouse School, Surrey and Pembroke College, Cambridge.

But during his university years Prior did not join the students' union or a political party, and instead became a professional farmer.

By his own admission he had little political experience when, on his first attempt, he was elected to represent Lowestoft in 1959. He was to serve as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1970-72), and Leader of the House of Commons (1972-74) under Mrs Thatcher's predecessor Edward Heath.

During Mrs Thatcher's tenure he was also Secretary of State for Employment (1979-81), although he was regarded as being out of sympathy with some of her views as well as the right wing within his party.

Following a series of disputes with her over economic policies, she moved him to the Northern Ireland Office where he served from 1981 to 1984.

He was in favour of seeking a more conciliatory relationship with the trade unions and became known as one of the so-called 'wets' in Mrs Thatcher's first cabinet - in favour of increased spending to boost jobs at a time when unemployment levels had topped more than three million.

He then stood down from the House of Commons in 1987 and was made a life peer as Baron Prior of Brampton in the County of Suffolk.

Speaking two years ago, Lord Prior said the IRA had tried to kill him when it targeted the Tory cabinet during the party's annual conference in Brighton in 1984 - a bomb which killed five people including the Conservative MP Sir Anthony Berry.

After leaving front-bench politics, he was chair of defence business GEC, but also served for another 30 years as a member of the House of Lords.

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