Helen Liddell in the Press

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Reid's new Ulster role hands reins to Liddell


DR John Reid was last night appointed secretary of state for Northern Ireland, with Helen Liddell, energy minister and a former Scottish Office minister, replacing him as Scottish secretary.

The two appointments mean the number of MPs with Scottish seats in the 22-strong Cabinet rises from four to five.

This could further inflame post-devolution tensions, with English back benchers already concerned by what they perceive to be a disproportionate Scottish presence in the cabinet.

John Swinney, SNP leader, predicted Mrs Liddell's appointment would increase tension between Westminster and Holyrood. "This is a humiliation for Brian Wilson and I am sure Helen Liddell can be relied upon to carry on the turf war between London and the Scottish government."

Mrs Liddell's place at the DTI is being filled by Peter Hain, Foreign Office minister, while Brian Wilson, the Scotland Office minister, will take up Mr Hain's role.

Dr Reid took the Northern Ireland post after spending about 30 minutes at Number 10. His name was mentioned in Belfast before the prime minister gave Mr Mandelson the chance to resurrect his career following his first fall from grace.

A replacement for Mr Wilson is to be announced today. Last night speculation centred on Douglas Alexander, Des Browne, and Frank Roy.

Politicians in Northern Ireland wished Dr Reid well in his new role.

However, with peace process talks at a crucial stage, Mitchel McLaughlin, Sinn Fein national chairman, said republicans were more concerned about British government policy towards the Good Friday agreement.

"I wish John Reid well in his new appointment," the Foyle assembly member said. "Sinn Fein understands that irrespective of who the British secretary of state is, what is important is British policy.

"British policy at this time is enshrined in the Good Friday agreement. We will be looking to Dr Reid to promote, defend and act as a guarantor of the agreement. This is particularly important at this difficult phase of the peace process."

Dr Reid's elevation to the sensitive job came as no surprise to the Westminster village who know how much trust and respect the Hamilton North and Bellshill MP has won in No 10.

There was some surprise, however, that Adam Ingram, Northern Ireland's highly respected minister of state, was passed over for promotion to the cabinet table but Westminster sources predicted he would be destined for senior office after the general election.

Mr Ingram, who in May will be the longest-serving minister in the Northern Ireland office, welcomed Dr Reid's appointment.

He said: "I look forward to working with John Reid. He is a consummate politician, and I have worked well with him in the past alongside Neil Kinnock. I'm absolutely sure he will make as powerful contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process as Peter Mandelson or Mo Mowlam."

Dr Reid saw off competition for the Northern Ireland office from Paul Murphy, Welsh secretary, who served as a minister of state in the Northern Ireland office along with Dr Mowlam.

Although Dr Reid is a west of Scotland Roman Catholic, the former defence minister's record in the MoD where he was clearly favoured by the military, will stand him in good stead with the Ulster Unionists, and even the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Downing Street will make the second appointment in the Scotland Office today. Mr Alexander is highly regarded in Nos 10 and 11 Downing Street, but past tensions between him and Mrs Liddell may rule him out. Some Scottish MPs predicted mayhem in the Scotland Office if he were given the job.

- Jan 25