The departure of Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson in late January caused few tears in Ireland.
Mandelson, whose tenure in the North was supposed to restart his political career, left under a cloud. He was pulled from the job by British Prime Minister Tony Blair over alleged involvement in a passport scandal. It was the second time that Blair was forced to sack Mandelson. In 1998, he concealed the fact that he had borrowed a large amount of money from a Labor supporter who later became part of the Blair government.
His replacement is Dr. John Reid, 53, a Scotsman who is regarded by Labor Party colleagues as “a safe pair of hands.”
Reid, the first Catholic Northern Secretary, served as minister for the armed forces before taking up office as Scottish secretary after the devolved government elections in 1999.
Blunt and tough-talking, Reid is known to have little respect for the Scottish Nationalist Party, and observers will be watching to see how he fares with Irish republicans and the nationalist SDLP.
Despite his tough reputation, Reid is regarded as one of the most popular and colorful figures in British politics. The revelation that he is a supporter of the Glasgow Celtic soccer team, has already endeared him to fellow supporters in Ireland.
During a round of “getting-to-know” meetings with Northern Ireland’s political parties, Reid showed a measure of good humor and diplomacy when confronted by the Rev. Ian Paisley’s anti-Agreement Democratic Unionist Party. Reminded that he had once been heard singing an Irish republican ballad, Reid countered that he was prepared to even things up by singing “The Sash,” a song close to the hearts of every member of the exclusively Protestant Orange Order.
Reid, who had a brief flirtation with the Communist Party from 1973 to 1975, is now regarded as one of the staunchest supporters of Tony Blair’s New Labor Party. Reid’ s wife Cathy, his childhood sweetheart and mother of his two sons, died in 1998 following a heart attack. Last year he began a relationship with the filmmaker Karine Addler. ♦