Addressing the 1976 Labour Party conference, Roy Mason stated that Northern Ireland “had had enough of initiatives, white papers and legislation for the time being, and now needed to be governed firmly and fairly.”
All observers of his brief time in office as Secretary of State recognised his firmness. The perception that he was unfair, though, undermined his reputation among nationalists and ultimately contributed to the fall of James Callaghan three years later.
Mason’s working life began in Yorkshire’s mines and he became politically active as a National Union of Mineworkers official in the late 1940s. Mason was elected to Parliament in the 1953 Barnsley by-election and his maiden speech focused on conditions in the coal industry. Contrasting Labour’s redistribution of wealth with Conservative fiscal policy, he added: “If we have budgets of this nature throughout the years of Conservative government, we shall not only see the clock being put back but shall see it deprived of the hands of time.”
After a series of junior ministerial posts under Harold Wilson, Mason briefly joined the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade (1969-1970). He was appointed Defence Secretary when Labour returned to power in 1974 and moved to the NIO in September 1976. A tough security policy, including the widespread deployment of the SAS, reduced conflict-related deaths from 297 to 82 over his first two years in office. He forced the cancellation of a second loyalist general strike but community relations failed to improve.
A life peerage followed his retirement from the Commons in 1987. Mason felt most free in the Palace of Westminster but was always under heavy police protection elsewhere. He last voted in Parliament in 2008 and had been on leave of absence from the House since 2012. Roy Mason is survived by his wife, Marjorie, and his two daughters.