Swire is 'no stranger to Northern Ireland'

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The Conservative MP Hugo Swire has been appointed as a Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office. So who is the new man and what experience will he bring to the job?

BBC NI Political Reporter Stephen Walker profiles the new minister.

Image caption,
Hugo Swire has been appointed to the Northern Ireland Office

In many ways you can see why the 50-year-old MP for East Devon was given the job as number two at the Northern Ireland Office by David Cameron.

He has Shadow Cabinet experience and is no stranger to the people and places of Northern Ireland.

He is also well known to the prime minister, having been one of the first people to back him for the party leadership.

Like David Cameron, Hugo Swire is Eton educated although they were there at different times.

The new NIO Minister went to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, joined the Grenadier Guards and later worked at the National Gallery.

He was a Director at Sotheby's in London, a role that regularly brought him to Northern Ireland.

Politically, Hugo Swire cut his teeth in the 1997 General Election when he stood as a Conservative and Unionist candidate in Greenock and Inverclyde.

He failed to win the seat, but in 2001 got the chance to stand in East Devon.

'Learning curve'

This constituency is regarded as one of the safest Tory seats in the UK since the party has held it since 1945.

When he was elected to Westminster, he continued his interest in Irish affairs and became a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

One Labour MP who knows him, told BBC News that in committee the Conservative politician "worked well with MPs from different backgrounds".

However he added, "whilst Hugo Swire has respect for many different views he may be on a learning curve on the nuances of Northern Ireland".

The new minister insists his background will help him.

He told the BBC: "I know Northern Ireland well.

"Having served on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee I also know something of how dramatically Northern Ireland has changed."

At the Northern Ireland Office, Hugo Swire will support the Secretary of State Owen Paterson on a range of issues.

They will have responsibility for elections, parading, human rights and equality issues.

One former Ulster Unionist MP says his appointment was "an excellent choice" and said his army background will help him in his new role.

He believes he will be "very supportive of the military and police". However, the new man at the NIO knows he will have to treat every section of the community equally.


Parading remains one of the most contentious issues he will have to deal with in the coming weeks.

Until this issue is fully devolved this area rests with the Northern Ireland Office and Hugo Swire will be the government's point of contact with the Parades Commission.

The East Devon MP's arrival in Belfast marks the biggest job of his political career.

Three years after entering parliament he got his first promotion when he became Shadow Arts Minister.

After David Cameron became Conservative leader, he made the former Sotheby's Director the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in 2005.

However, he lost his post in the Conservative reshuffle in 2007 and returned to the backbenches.

He used the time away from the political front line to follow his interest in the Middle East.

He is a member of the Conservative Middle East Council and is a member of the All- Party Lebanon Group.

Perhaps his involvement with divided communities in that part of the world will help him as he adjusts to life in the environs of Stormont and Hillsborough Castle.

Northern Ireland's new Minister is married to Sasha, the daughter of John Nott who was Conservative Defence Secretary during the Falklands War.

His party website states that he has two daughters and lives in East Devon and London. However, this last entry needs updating. He must now add Belfast to that list.