Update: Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said that the sacking of Julian Smith, the UK's secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was "vindictive", while the Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the decision will "bewilder" many.
Mr Ahern told RTÉ Radio 1's on Today with Sean O'Rourke this morning: "To remove him is just sour grapes because of the the job he did for Theresa May.
"I think a bad thing for a Prime Minister ever to have or a senior politician is to be vindictive and it doesn't serve you well and I have to say I interpret the firing of a person who has probably been one of the best secretaries of state who in a short term of time did an outstanding job to me looks to be vindictive."
The Tánaiste and Minster for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told the same programme: “I don’t believe we would have developed government in Northern Ireland today if it wasn’t for the relationship that Julian and I built up, and the relationships we also tried to build up with all of the political parties in Northern Ireland.
Mr Smith also helped maintain the relationship between the Irish and British governments at a time when there was “real pressure and tension” over Brexit and other issues, said Mr Coveney.
He added: “I think many people in Northern Ireland will be somewhat bewildered by this decision because I think Julian had gained a respect across the political divide in Northern Ireland, which is never easy by the way for a secretary of state.”
Mr Coveney said many will miss “his bluntness, his honesty and his interest in Northern Ireland”, where he spent a lot of personal time trying to understand the “traumatised mindset” of communities ravaged by conflict.
- Additional work by Digital Desk
Julian Smith became the first casualty of Boris Johnson’s British Government reshuffle after being unceremoniously dumped from the Northern Ireland Office.
His departure comes just weeks after brokering the deal which restored the powersharing administration in Stormont.
Mr Smith said it had been “the biggest privilege” to serve the people of Northern Ireland and he was “extremely grateful” to have been given the chance to serve “this amazing part of our country”.
“The warmth & support from people across NI has been incredible,” he said on Twitter.
“Thank you so much.”
Serving the people of Northern Ireland has been the biggest privilege. I am extremely grateful to @BorisJohnson for giving me the chance to serve this amazing part of our country. The warmth & support from people across NI has been incredible. Thank you so much.— Julian Smith MP (@JulianSmithUK) February 13, 2020
Mr Smith was called in to see the British Prime Minister in his Commons office as the reshuffle began.
Marty Adams of historical abuse victims campaign group Survivors Together had earlier said sacking Mr Smith, who helped broker the deal to restore the Stormont administration, would be “disastrous”, adding: “We won’t find his like again.”
The Prime Minister intends to “promote a generation of talent” in a reshuffle aimed at preparing the Tories for the future.