Reshuffle leads to Paterson exit from NI post

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson is to leave his post as part of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s reshuffle, British Government sources indicated.

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson is to leave his post as part of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s reshuffle, British Government sources indicated.

Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, is to take up the vacant role, with Mr Paterson moving to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Ms Villiers takes up the post as the Northern Ireland Office considers reforms to powersharing structures at Stormont and comes under pressure to deal with growing tensions over parading in the North.

Ms Villiers, 44, was an MEP before becoming a Conservative MP.

She attended Oxford and is a former barrister.

She has taken an interest in aviation policy, objecting to the expansion of airports in the south-east of England and supporting high speed rail links.

Mr Cameron appointed Ms Villiers to his shadow cabinet in 2005 as shadow chief secretary to the Treasury.

At David Cameron’s first reshuffle in July 2007, she was given her own portfolio – transport.

Mr Paterson was shadow spokesman on agriculture and fisheries in the UK from 2003 to 2005 and is from a farming background. He enters his new ministerial role holding strong views on EU policy over what will be his area of responsibility.

During his time as Northern Ireland Secretary his most high-profile project was his effort to secure devolution of corporation tax powers to the North, believing that would help rebalance an economy heavily reliant on the public sector, but that potential change has yet to be finalised.

He was accused by unionists and republicans of interfering in Stormont politics when he criticised their failure to agree a strategy on combating sectarianism.

Mr Paterson was credited over the Government’s widely welcomed handling of the Saville Inquiry findings into the death of 14 civil rights protesters in Derry on Bloody Sunday in January 1972 when paratroopers opened fire.

However, he faced criticism over his handling of the findings of an inquiry into the killing of Catholic solicitor Rosemary Nelson at her home in Lurgan, Co Armagh, in 1999 and over the Government’s failure to allow an inquiry into the loyalist murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989.

Ms Villiers is largely unknown in Northern Ireland affairs but could arrive as early as tomorrow to begin work.

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