07 January 2006

Cave-in to UWC was never forgotten

Daily Ireland

**Via Newshound

Connla Young
6 December 2006

The death of former British secretary of state Merlyn Rees in London yesterday draws yet another line under one of the most turbulent periods in the North’s recent history.
Appointed as secretary of state in 1974 Rees’ hardline approach in dealing with the conflict led to great hardship in nationalist and republican areas as the British employed a three-pronged strategy of criminalisation, normalisation and Ulsterisation.
The attempt to criminalise republicans eventually led to two republican hunger strikes and the deaths of ten men in 1981.
Mr Rees oversaw affairs at Stormont in 1974 when loyalists were allowed to wreck the Sunningdale powersharing deal through the use and threat of mass violence during the Ulster Workers Strike. Rees’ capitulation led the SDLP in particular to hold a long-standing grudge against the former British soldier.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the former direct-rule minister would be remembered in Ireland for his poor handling of the political crisis faced at the time.
“While all who dealt with Merlyn Rees record him as being genial and nice, he is not generally remembered as a strong secretary of state. His lack of purpose let the Sunningdale Agreement go. He subsequently failed to assert the basic principles of power-sharing and North-South co-operation. His decisions in the security field sowed the seeds of later problems.
“Neither was his record as home secretary a distinguished one when it came to miscarriages of justice cases – such as the Guildford Four, Guiseppe Conlon and the Birmingham Six – and was even neglectful in political relations with the Irish government. I recognise that he was well regarded in the Labour party and British politics for his other political contributions and his gracious manner.”
Unionists in the North have fonder memories of the Welsh-born politician. Former UUP MP John Taylor described Rees as “balanced”.
“Merlyn Rees saw the right on both sides of the debate in Northern Ireland. Above all he had a tremendous love for Northern Ireland which he continued right through the years of his retirement in the House of Lords.
The DUP’s Peter Robinson offered his condolences to the dead politician’s family.
“Our thoughts are very much with his family circle at this time. Even after Merlyn Rees left his post in Northern Ireland he continued to keep an interest in the affairs of the province and would frequently while in the Lords come to the gallery to listen to Northern Ireland debates.”
Current direct-rule secretary of state Peter Hain said his predecessor worked “tirelessly” on behalf of people in the North.
“He was a proud Welshman and a hugely respected parliamentarian for over 40 years both in the House of Commons and the Lords. As secretary of state for Northern Ireland, he worked tirelessly to try to take Northern Ireland forward at a particularly difficult time in its history.”
After leaving the North in 1976, Rees returned to London to become home secretary. In 1992 he was made a life peer and changed his name by deed poll so he could be known as Lord Merlyn-Rees.
The 85-year-old died at St Thomas’ Hospital in Lambeth yesterday.

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