Government reshuffle: Murphy proves worth in Northern Ireland work

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PAUL MURPHY, who is due to take over as Secretary of State for Wales, impressed Downing Street with his handling of the difficult portfolio of Northern Ireland minister responsible for political development in the province.

The MP for Torfaen, Gwent, is widely respected and liked. Deceptively soft-spoken, his hard-nosed negotiating skills and patience proved invaluable as the peace process stalled.

First elected in 1987, Mr Murphy, who chaired the Welsh group of Labour MPs and spent six years in opposition as spokesman for Welsh affairs, is perfectly placed to take up the job of secretary of state.

The 50-year-old was even tipped as a First Secretary of the Welsh Assembly after Ron Davies resigned. In the event, Alun Michael was persuaded to run for the Labour nomination against the backbencher Rhodri Morgan, a decision that has opened the way for Mr Murphy's elevation to the Cabinet.

As junior Northern Ireland minister, Mr Murphy played a front-seat role during some of the most fraught times in the peace process.

The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, made no secret of the fact that he favoured Mr Murphy for his grasp of detail. Mr Murphy was tipped as a possible replacement for his boss, Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.