Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The secretary of state for Northern Ireland (Irish: Rúnaí Stáit Thuaisceart Éireann; Scots: Secretar o State for Norlin Airlan),[1][2] also referred to as the Northern Ireland secretary, is a secretary of state in the Government of the United Kingdom, with overall responsibility for the Northern Ireland Office.[3] The incumbent is a member of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom, 17th in the ministerial ranking.[4]

Secretary of State
for Northern Ireland
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
Official portrait of Rt Hon Brandon Lewis MP.jpg
Brandon Lewis

since 13 February 2020
Northern Ireland Office
StyleNorthern Ireland Secretary
The Right Honourable
(within the UK and the Commonwealth)
StatusSecretary of state
Minister of the Crown
ResidenceHillsborough Castle
AppointerThe Monarch
on advice of the Prime Minister
Term lengthAt Her Majesty's pleasure
PrecursorLord Lieutenant of Ireland
Governor of Northern Ireland
Formation24 March 1972
First holderWilliam Whitelaw
DeputyMinister of State for Northern Ireland

The position is normally described simply as 'the Secretary of State' by residents of Northern Ireland.[citation needed]

The office holder works alongside the other Northern Ireland Office ministers. The corresponding shadow minister is the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The incumbent is Brandon Lewis, following his appointment by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in February 2020.


Historically, the principal ministers for Irish (and subsequently Northern Ireland) affairs in the UK Government and its predecessors were:

In August 1969, for example, Home Secretary James Callaghan approved the sending of British Army soldiers to Northern Ireland.[6] Scotland and Wales were represented by the Secretary of State for Scotland and Secretary of State for Wales from 1885 and 1964 respectively, but Northern Ireland remained separate, owing to the devolved Government of Northern Ireland and Parliament of Northern Ireland.

The office of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was created after the Northern Ireland government (at Stormont) was first suspended and then abolished following widespread civil strife. The British government was increasingly concerned that Stormont was losing control of the situation. On 30 March 1972, direct rule from Westminster was introduced.[7] The Secretary of State filled three roles which existed under the previous Stormont regime:[8]

Direct rule was seen as a temporary measure, with a power-sharing devolution preferred as the solution, and was annually renewed by a vote in Parliament.

The Sunningdale Agreement in 1973 resulted in the brief existence of a power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive from 1 January 1974, which was ended by the loyalist Ulster Workers' Council strike on 28 May 1974. The strikers opposed the power-sharing and all-Ireland aspects of the new administration.

The Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention (1975–1976) and Northern Ireland Assembly (1982–1986) were unsuccessful in restoring devolved government. After the Anglo-Irish Agreement on 15 November 1985, the UK Government and Irish Government co-operated more closely on security and political matters.

Following the Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement) on 10 April 1998, devolution returned to Northern Ireland on 2 December 1999. This removed many of the duties of the Secretary of State and his Northern Ireland Office colleagues and devolved them to locally elected politicians, constituting the Northern Ireland Executive.

Formerly holding a large portfolio over home affairs in Northern Ireland, the current devolution settlement has lessened the secretary of state's role, granting many of the former powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. The secretary of state is now generally limited to representing Northern Ireland in the UK cabinet, overseeing the operation of the devolved administration and a number of reserved and excepted matters which remain the sole competence of the UK Government e.g. security, human rights, certain public inquiries and the administration of elections.[9]

Created in 1972, the position has switched between members of Parliament from the Conservative Party and Labour Party. As Labour has not fielded candidates in Northern Ireland and the Conservatives have not had candidates elected to Northern Ireland Assembly or for House of Commons seats in the region, those appointed as secretary of state for Northern Ireland have not represented a constituency in Northern Ireland. This contrasts with the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales.

The secretary of state officially resides in Hillsborough Castle, which was previously the official residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland, and remains the royal residence of the monarch in Northern Ireland. The secretary of state exercises their duties through, and is administratively supported by, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

The devolved administration was suspended several times (especially between 15 October 2002 and 8 May 2007) because the Ulster Unionist Party and Democratic Unionist Party were uncomfortable being in government with Sinn Féin when the Provisional Irish Republican Army had failed to decommission its arms fully and continued its criminal activities. On each of these occasions, the responsibilities of the ministers in the Executive then returned to the Secretary of State and his ministers. During these periods, in addition to administration of the region, the Secretary of State was also heavily involved in the negotiations with all parties to restore devolved government.

Power was again devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 8 May 2007. The Secretary of State retained responsibility for policing and justice until most of those powers were devolved on 12 April 2010.[10] Robert Hazell has suggested merging the offices of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales into one Secretary of State for the Union,[11] in a department into which Rodney Brazier has suggested adding a Minister of State for England with responsibility for English local government.[12]

List of secretaries of state for Northern IrelandEdit

Colour key
  Conservative   Labour

Portrait Name Term of office Length of term Party Prime Minister
  William Whitelaw
MP for Penrith and The Border
24 March 1972 2 December 1973 1 year, 8 months and 8 days Conservative Edward Heath
  Francis Pym
MP for Cambridgeshire
2 December 1973 4 March 1974 3 months and 2 days Conservative
  Merlyn Rees
MP for Leeds South
5 March 1974 10 September 1976 2 years, 6 months and 5 days Labour Harold Wilson
  Roy Mason
MP for Barnsley
10 September 1976 4 May 1979 2 years, 7 months and 24 days Labour James Callaghan
  Humphrey Atkins
MP for Spelthorne
5 May 1979 14 September 1981 2 years, 4 months and 9 days Conservative Margaret Thatcher
  Jim Prior
MP for Lowestoft (until 1983)
MP for Waveney (from 1983)
14 September 1981 11 September 1984 2 years, 11 months and 28 days Conservative
  Douglas Hurd
MP for Witney
11 September 1984 3 September 1985 11 months and 23 days Conservative
  Tom King
MP for Bridgwater
3 September 1985 24 July 1989 3 years, 10 months and 21 days Conservative
  Peter Brooke
MP for Cities of London
and Westminster South
24 July 1989 10 April 1992 2 years, 8 months and 17 days Conservative
John Major
  Sir Patrick Mayhew
MP for Tunbridge Wells
10 April 1992 2 May 1997 5 years and 22 days Conservative
  Mo Mowlam
MP for Redcar
3 May 1997 11 October 1999 2 years, 5 months and 8 days Labour Tony Blair
  Peter Mandelson
MP for Hartlepool
11 October 1999 24 January 2001 1 year, 3 months and 13 days Labour
  John Reid
MP for Hamilton North and Bellshill
25 January 2001 24 October 2002 1 year, 8 months and 29 days Labour
  Paul Murphy
MP for Torfaen
24 October 2002 6 May 2005 2 years, 6 months and 12 days Labour
  Peter Hain
MP for Neath
(also Welsh Secretary)
6 May 2005 28 June 2007 2 years, 1 month and 22 days Labour
  Shaun Woodward
MP for St Helens South
28 June 2007 11 May 2010 2 years, 10 months and 13 days Labour Gordon Brown
  Owen Paterson
MP for North Shropshire
12 May 2010 4 September 2012 2 years, 3 months and 23 days Conservative David Cameron
  Theresa Villiers
MP for Chipping Barnet
4 September 2012 14 July 2016 3 years, 10 months and 10 days Conservative
David Cameron
  James Brokenshire
MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup
14 July 2016 8 January 2018 1 year, 5 months and 25 days Conservative Theresa May
  Karen Bradley
MP for Staffordshire Moorlands
8 January 2018 24 July 2019 1 year, 6 months and 16 days Conservative
  Julian Smith
MP for Skipton and Ripon
24 July 2019 13 February 2020 6 months and 20 days Conservative Boris Johnson
  Brandon Lewis
MP for Great Yarmouth
13 February 2020 Incumbent 1 year, 7 months and 12 days* Conservative

* Incumbent's length of term last updated: 25 September 2021.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "2008 ANNUAL REPORT North South Council o Ministers" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 December 2020. Retrieved 18 September 2021.
  2. ^ "Buaileann an Tánaiste le Rúnaí Stáit Thuaisceart Éireann - Buaileann an Tánaiste le Rúnaí Stáit Thuaisceart Éireann, an Feisire Theresa Villiers - Department of Foreign Affairs". Archived from the original on 11 October 2020. Retrieved 18 September 2021.
  3. ^ "Secretary of State for Northern Ireland". Archived from the original on 1 November 2020. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  4. ^ "Her Majesty's Government: The Cabinet". Archived from the original on 17 November 2019. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  5. ^ "Home Office". National Archives Catalogue. National Archives. Archived from the original on 3 July 2011. Retrieved 15 October 2011.
  6. ^ Melaugh, Martin. "The Deployment of British Troops – 14 August 1969". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN). University of Ulster. Archived from the original on 27 August 2011. Retrieved 15 October 2011.
  7. ^ Melaugh, Martin. "A Chronology of the Conflict – 1972". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN). University of Ulster. Archived from the original on 5 March 2011. Retrieved 15 October 2011.
  8. ^ "Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 December 2011. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 September 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Mark Simpson (12 April 2010). "New era for policing and justice in Northern Ireland". BBC News. Archived from the original on 15 April 2010. Retrieved 11 April 2010.
  11. ^ LETTERS@THETIMES.CO.UK, WRITE TO (30 July 2020). "Times letters: Mark Sedwill's call for a cull of the cabinet". ISSN 0140-0460. Archived from the original on 9 August 2020. Retrieved 30 November 2020.
  12. ^ UKCLA (7 September 2020). "Rodney Brazier: Why is Her Majesty's Government so big?". UK Constitutional Law Association. Archived from the original on 29 November 2020. Retrieved 30 November 2020.