Lives Remembered

Sir Ninian Stephen: Australian judge who chaired Stormont talks

Sir Ninian Stephen chaired political talks at Stormont in 1992

SIR Ninian Stephen belongs to the list of respected international figures to have had their diplomatic skills tested to the limit by politicians in Northern Ireland.

The former Governor General of Australia acted as an independent chair of talks in 1992, before the Downing Street Declaration and paramilitary ceasefires.

He went on to investigate war crimes around the world and was given a state funeral in Australia earlier this week.

Born in England in 1923 to Scottish parents, Stephen came to Australia aged 16 and served as an infantryman during the Second World War.

He established himself as one of the country's leading constitutional lawyers, and in 1972 was made a Justice of the High Court.

He was appointed Governor General in 1982, representing Queen Elizabeth as Australia's head of state.

Stephen also served as its first Ambassador for the Environment, lobbying for a ban of mining in Antarctica, before being asked to chair part of what became known as the Brooke/Mayhew talks in Northern Ireland in 1991/92.

They were the first negotiations to divide into three strands - relationships within Northern Ireland, between north and south, and between Britain and Ireland.

Stephen had the difficult task of finding common ground between unionists and the SDLP - Sinn Féin were excluded - on 'Strand Two'.

While the talks broke up after six months, they did lay a basis for future negotiations and saw Irish ministers visit Stormont as well as UUP leader Jim Molyneaux lead a delegation to Dublin.

Stephen later served on the International Court of Justice and on tribunals investigating war crimes in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as well as advising on constitutions for South Africa and Afghanistan.

He held five knighthoods among his many titles.

A father of five daughters, Sir Ninian Stephen died holding his wife's hand in Melbourne on October 29, aged 94.

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Lives Remembered