The man who got Ian Paisley to sit down with Gerry Adams has announced he is to step down as head of spy agency GCHQ after just over two years in the post — sparking a search for candidates to take over one of the most senior roles in British intelligence.
Robert Hannigan was previously the Northern Ireland Office’s political director-general from 2005 to 2007, before heading the security, intelligence and resilience at the Cabinet Office and moving to the Foreign Office in 2010.
Mr Hannigan was credited with coming up with a novel compromise solution following the St Andrews Agreement in 2007 by getting Mr Paisley and Mr Adams to sit close together at a diamond-shaped table.
It meant that they could appear together in photos of the historic occasion — without appearing too close.
The former adviser to Tony Blair was credited with the idea by former Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell in his book Great Hatred, Little Room.
Yesterday, Mr Hannigan informed Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson of his intention to leave the role for personal reasons.
He spoke of his pride at how many lives had been saved by the agency’s work and its “relentless” efforts to counter terrorism, crime and other threats.
In a letter to Mr Johnson, the 51-year-old wrote: “I have been lucky enough to have some extraordinary roles in public service over the last 20 years, from Northern Ireland to No 10, the Cabinet Office and the Foreign Office.
“But they have all demanded a great deal of my ever patient and understanding family, and now is the right time for a change in direction.”
Mr Johnson’s response thanked him for his service.
He said: “You have led the renewal of some of our most important national security capabilities, which we continue to depend on every day to save lives from terrorism and to protect our interests and values.”
Mr Hannigan, a married father-of-two, was born in Gloucestershire. He was director-general of defence and intelligence at the Foreign Office before he succeeded Sir Iain Lobban at GCHQ.