Roy Mason will be remembered for hardline stance against republicans

FORMER secretary of state Roy Mason was last night remembered for his uncompromising attitude towards the IRA.

The Barnsley-born miner served as a Labour MP for more than three decades, holding a series of ministerial posts.

However, it was for his hardline stance against republicans that he is most remembered in Northern Ireland.

James Callaghan appointed Mason as Secretary of State in 1976, a post he held until Labour lost power three years later.

His time in office was marked by a toughening of the security response to the IRA.

In 1976, he told the Labour conference that "Ulster had had enough of initiatives" and now needed to be governed "firmly and fairly".

It was under his orders that the SAS was sent into south Armagh.

Former SDLP leader Gerry Fitt accused Mr Mason of "going native" and refused to back Labour in a no-confidence vote in March 1979, which it lost by one vote, saying his conscience could not allow him to vote for a government that retained Roy Mason as secretary of state.

Labour leader Ed Miliband yesterday paid tribute to the former MP, who died aged 91, saying he had made a "huge contribution" to political life.

"He passionately believed in the power of politics to change people's lives and spent his whole life trying to improve the lives of working people, none more so than his constituents in Barnsley," he said.

"Roy was a formidable man with a deep passion for social justice. He never forgot where he came from, and was a true champion of equality and fairness."

However, historian Brian Feeney said while in Northern Ireland Mr Mason "enthusiastically embraced the Ulsterisation and criminalisation policies" against republicans.

"He had a one-track mind, in that he believed the only problem was the IRA," he said.

"And he also had a deeply unattractive personality - he was class traitor in many ways, he loved being Secretary of State, he loved mixing with generals and senior officers, he liked to go shooting with the aristocracy in Fermanagh and Down.

"By 1979 when he left the situation was incomparably worse and his actions set the scene for the hunger strikes that followed."

Former Sinn Fein director of publicity Danny Morrison also claimed the former minister will be remembered by republicans for his "cruelty".

"He took exception to my editor-ship of the Republican News (An Phoblacht) and set the RUC a task of closing us down," he said.

"There were 14 people arrested and charged with membership of the IRA, myself and Tom Hartley included. They also charged a member of the SDLP who owned the printing press.

"Mason had a very gung-ho attitude, he was very small in stature and in my mind always suffered from a Napoleonic complex.

"In reality what he was doing was filling the jails with the people who would later become the blanketmen of Long Kesh and protesting women in Armagh prison.

"In terms of political figures he comes second only to Thatcher of people who will be remembered for their cruelty," Mr Morrison said.