The Secret IRA Meetings: Reputation for honour is under scrutiny: Colin Brown profiles Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Click to follow
THE SMOOTH-TALKING Sir Patrick Mayhew has a reputation for honourable conduct at Westminster, which will be tested in the Commons today.

Like his ill-starred predecessor, Peter Brooke, Sir Patrick is seen as the last of a breed of 'gentlemen' in government.

As Solicitor-General, he threatened Baroness Thatcher with bringing the police into Downing Street to investigate the leaking by the Government of his letter to Michael Heseltine at the height of the Westland affair in 1985.

The leak led to Sir Leon Brittan's resignation as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and enhanced Sir Patrick's reputation for honesty.

After being promoted to Attorney- General, Sir Patrick, a Unionist, made it clear he coveted the Northern Ireland post, which few colleagues wanted.

His appointment by John Major as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland caused deep anxiety in Dublin where it was seen as a sop to the Ulster Unionists.

Sir Patrick secured the trust of James Molyneaux and the Official Ulster Unionists for his handling of the three strands of talks on the future of Ulster.

However, the Oxford-educated minister, renowned for his courtesy, overcame those doubts to establish a friendly working relationship with ministers in Dublin.

In spite of his Unionist instincts, he has alarmed the Thatcherite right of the Tory party by his readiness to accept the concept of a united Ireland by consent.

He caused outrage last December with a speech in Coleraine when he said: 'HMG would never try to impede any body of opinion in working to achieve a place for Northern Ireland within a united Ireland, provided they work only by democratic and peaceful means . . .'

The Prime Minister underlined their friendship by including Sir Patrick's Tunbridge Wells constituency in the Major campaign trail during the general election.