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Tributes to Mayhew, a key figure in NI peace process

By Chris McCullough

Published 27/06/2016

Sir Patrick Mayhew with the Princess of Wales during a garden party at Hillsborough Castle in 1992
Sir Patrick Mayhew with the Princess of Wales during a garden party at Hillsborough Castle in 1992

Tributes have been paid to former Northern Ireland Secretary of State and attorney general Sir Patrick Mayhew, who passed away on Saturday night at the age of 86.

The veteran Conservative politician died at home in Kent surrounded by his family after a lengthy battle with cancer and Parkinson's.

He was born on September 11, 1929 and christened Patrick Barnabas Burke Mayhew.

A statement from Lord Mayhew's family read: "He had lived with cancer and Parkinson's for several years. He worked hard for peace in Northern Ireland."

Current Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said: "It is with great sadness that I heard of the death of Lord Mayhew.

"Patrick Mayhew was the longest serving Northern Ireland Secretary since the post was created in 1972. It was a role he carried out with great distinction from 1992-97.

"In particular he will be remembered for his role in the 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.

"My sympathies are with his widow, Jean and his family at this time."

Lord Mayhew was MP for the Tunbridge Wells constituency from its creation at the February 1974 general election, standing down at the 1997 election.

He was Under Secretary for Employment from 1979-81, then Minister of State at the Home Office from 1981 to 1983.

After this he served as Solicitor General for England and Wales from 1983-87, and then Attorney General for England and Wales and simultaneously Attorney General for Northern Ireland from 1987-92.

Under the then Prime Minister in 1993, John Major, Lord Mayhew played a key role in the Downing Street Declaration which eventually led to an IRA ceasefire.

In December 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron praised Lord Mayhew in the House of Commons during a statement on the Desmond de Silva report into state collusion in the murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.

Mr Cameron said he "deserved significant credit for withstanding considerable political pressure designed to ensure that some prosecutions did not go ahead".

Lord Mayhew upset Irish politicians when he was accused of being behind the decision not to prosecute RUC officers implicated by the Stalker affair.

Mayhew was normally impeccably diplomatic, but there was one rare and uncharacteristic gaffe for which he had to apologise publicly and profusely.

He was with the prime minister in June, 1993, awaiting the start of a performance in Northern Ireland of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. When a reporter questioned him about a grenade attack that day in Belfast which had injured nearly 30 people, he quipped: "No, nobody dead. At the end of this opera, everybody's dead."

Mayhew said later that he much regretted any distress he had caused by this remark.

Patrick married his wife Jean in 1963 and together they had four sons. He was a former lawyer and army officer.

He was made a life peer in 1997.

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