What Theresa Villiers will soon discover

 

So it's all change at the Northern Ireland Office. Some previous secretaries of state - say Labour's Paul Murphy - saw their role as staying in the background and providing a discreet safe pair of hands.

Owen Paterson's instinct, by contrast, was to create a swirl of activity.

As opposition spokesman he was a frequent visitor and an architect of the UCUNF experiment, teaming up with the Ulster Unionists.

His other big mission, both in opposition and in power, was to revive the campaign for a cut in the local rate of Corporation Tax, after the former Treasury mandarin Sir David Varney appeared to bury the campaign in a report to Gordon Brown.

UCUNF - the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists - New Force - captured David Cameron's attention, brought him to address an Ulster Unionist conference in Belfast and to declare his "passionate unionism". But in the end it didn't deliver the Tories any local MPs. The Conservatives are once again trying to revitalise their local organisation, but they have a long way to climb.

The Corporation Tax campaign united the Stormont parties, despite opposition from the trade unions and the North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon. But it has hit the rocks over fears in London that it could set an unwelcome precedent for Scotland.

The discussions with the Treasury have become bogged down over the precise price tag which will be set in terms of a cut in Northern Ireland's block grant.

With Mr Paterson now moving on to tackle issues like the European Common Fisheries policy at the department looking after the Environment and Rural Affairs, the campaign for devolving Corporation Tax loses its most vocal champion. Will Theresa Villiers have the will or the inclination to fight what looks like a losing battle with the Treasury?

The new secretary of state performed confidently when she recently gave evidence to the Northern Ireland affairs committee on aviation policy.

She will no doubt seek to build relationships with local politicians across the board. Given the annoyance both Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have expressed about being frozen out by Downing Street and the sharp words the Stormont leaders have directed towards Mr Paterson, there's clearly room for improvement.

However, the Prime Minister's arm's length attitude to managing Northern Ireland isn't likely to change, and Ms Villiers will soon discover that when it comes to juggling issues like parades or dealing with the past, it's hard to keep all sides happy and easy to tread on someone's toe.

 
Mark Devenport, Political editor, Northern Ireland Article written by Mark Devenport Mark Devenport Political editor, Northern Ireland

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