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Tributes to Belfast-born Conservative peer Brian Mawhinney after death aged 79


Dr Brian Mawhinney in Lurgan at the scene after a car bomb
Dr Brian Mawhinney in Lurgan at the scene after a car bomb
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Tributes have been paid to the Belfast-born Conservative peer Brian Mawhinney (79) who died after a long illness on Saturday.

Growing up in a conservative Christian family on the Belmont Road, he later became the first Ulsterman to join the Cabinet in 59 years when he became a Government minister in 1994.

He also served as chairman of the Football League.

First elected as an MP for Peterborough in 1979, he spent 25 years in the Commons and served as a Cabinet Minister under John Major between 1994-1997.

Lord Mawhinney was knighted by the Prince of Wales in 1997 (Michael Stephens/PA)

As chair of The Football League for seven years, he changed the modern game by bringing in stricter checks for club directors.

A statement from his family said: “His death brings an end to a life dedicated to public service and rooted in an unwavering Christian faith.”

“He was a much-loved husband, father and grandfather and a friend to many. He will be much missed.”

In his memoirs ‘Just a Simple Belfast Boy’ he said he had prized his efforts in Northern Ireland over his achievements in the national government.

This included putting integrated education on the statute books and his involvement in the process that eventually led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

He also said he was frequently the brunt of unionist anger and intimidation after the signing of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.

One memorable clash came at an event in Queen’s University when the late DUP leader Ian Paisley and John Taylor (both MEPs at the time) made their “grand entrance”.

“The drama of the moment required confrontation, so eventually they headed in my direction. John left most of the talking to Ian – not that he had much choice,” he said.

“Ian berated me for agreeing to join this terrible government and for betraying my fellow countrymen. He told me that I was worse than all the other ministers because, being from the province, I should have known better.

“I determined to present a contrast to Ian, so I smiled warmly into the TV camera and said simply, ‘It is good to be home.’ That was all.

“But the effect was electric and the response of the guests enthusiastic. That short sentence did me – and the government – more good than would have been generated by the winning of months of argument.”

Rick Parry, Chairman of the English Football League, called Lord Mawhinney “a hugely respected and influential figure”.

“Lord Mawhinney was awarded a Life Membership in 2012 for the significant contribution he made to the League during his seven years at the helm, during which, he made a number of important introductions as part of a substantive programme of governance reforms,” he said.

“He was also the driving force behind the League’s first solidarity arrangement with the Premier League, the formation of the Football League Trust and a significant rebranding to support subsequent commercial development.”

He added: “Our collective thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad and difficult time.”

Lord Mawhinney was also part of England’s 2018 World Cup bid.

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