Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

United Kingdom government cabinet minister

The secretary of state for Northern Ireland (Irish: Rúnaí Stáit Thuaisceart Éireann; Scots: Secretar o State for Norlin Airlan),[1][2] also called the Northern Ireland secretary or SoSNI, is a secretary of state in the Government of the United Kingdom. They are in charge of the Northern Ireland Office.[3] The Secretary is a member of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom. They are 17th in the ministerial ranking.[4]

Secretary of State
for Northern Ireland
Chris Heaton-Harris

since 6 September 2022
StyleNorthern Ireland Secretary
The Right Honourable
(within the UK and the Commonwealth)
StatusSecretary of state
Minister of the Crown
ResidenceHillsborough Castle
AppointerThe Monarch
on advice of the Prime Minister
Term lengthAt His Majesty's pleasure
PrecursorLord Lieutenant of Ireland
Governor of Northern Ireland
Formation24 March 1972
First holderWilliam Whitelaw
DeputyMinister of State for Northern Ireland

The works with the other Northern Ireland Office ministers. The shadow minister is the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.



Historically, the main ministers for Irish (and Northern Ireland) affairs in the UK Government were:

Scotland and Wales have had the Secretary of State for Scotland (1885) and Secretary of State for Wales (1964) for a long time but Northern Ireland did not have a Secretary. This was caused by the Government of Northern Ireland and Parliament of Northern Ireland. The office of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was created after the Northern Ireland government (at Stormont) was suspended. The government was later ended after civil problems. The British government was worried that the Parliament of Northern Ireland was losing control of the situation. On 30 March 1972, the country was put under the direct rule of the british Parliamen.[6] The Secretary of State replced three jobs from the previous government.[7] These were:

Direct rule was expected to last for only a short time. Sharing the pwer was preferred as the solution. It has been renewed by a vote in Parliament each year. The Sunningdale Agreement in 1973 created the Northern Ireland Executive from 1 January 1974. It was ended by the Ulster Workers' Council strike on 28 May 1974. The Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention (1975–1976) and Northern Ireland Assembly (1982–1986) could not restore the government. Following the Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement) on 10 April 1998 removed many of the duties of the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office.

Many of the powers of the Secretary have been given to the Northern Ireland Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. The secretary of state in now limited to representing Northern Ireland in the UK cabinet and controling the operation of the administration. They are also in charge of several other areas. These include security, human rights, some public inquiries and elections.[8]

The secretary of state officially lives in Hillsborough Castle. It was the official home of the governor of Northern Ireland. The castle is still a royal residence of the monarch in Northern Ireland.

List of secretaries of state for Northern Ireland

Portrait Name Term of office Length of term Party Prime Minister
  William Whitelaw
MP for Penrith and The Border
24 March 1972 2 December 1973 1 year, 253 days Conservative Edward Heath
  Francis Pym
MP for Cambridgeshire
2 December 1973 4 March 1974 3 months and 2 days Conservative
  Merlyn Rees
MP for Leeds South
5 March 1974 10 September 1976 2 years, 189 days Labour Harold Wilson
  Roy Mason
MP for Barnsley
10 September 1976 4 May 1979 2 years, 236 days Labour James Callaghan
  Humphrey Atkins
MP for Spelthorne
5 May 1979 14 September 1981 2 years, 132 days Conservative Margaret Thatcher
  Jim Prior
MP for Lowestoft (until 1983)
MP for Waveney (from 1983)
14 September 1981 11 September 1984 2 years, 363 days Conservative
  Douglas Hurd
MP for Witney
11 September 1984 3 September 1985 11 months and 23 days Conservative
  Tom King
MP for Bridgwater
3 September 1985 24 July 1989 3 years, 324 days Conservative
  Peter Brooke
MP for Cities of London
and Westminster South
24 July 1989 10 April 1992 2 years, 261 days Conservative
John Major
  Sir Patrick Mayhew
MP for Tunbridge Wells
10 April 1992 2 May 1997 5 years and 22 days Conservative
  Mo Mowlam
MP for Redcar
3 May 1997 11 October 1999 2 years, 161 days Labour Tony Blair
  Peter Mandelson
MP for Hartlepool
11 October 1999 24 January 2001 1 year, 105 days Labour
  John Reid
MP for Hamilton North and Bellshill
25 January 2001 24 October 2002 1 year, 272 days Labour
  Paul Murphy
MP for Torfaen
24 October 2002 6 May 2005 2 years, 194 days Labour
  Peter Hain
MP for Neath
(also Welsh Secretary)
6 May 2005 28 June 2007 2 years, 53 days Labour
  Shaun Woodward
MP for St Helens South
28 June 2007 11 May 2010 2 years, 317 days Labour Gordon Brown
  Owen Paterson
MP for North Shropshire
12 May 2010 4 September 2012 2 years, 115 days Conservative David Cameron
  Theresa Villiers
MP for Chipping Barnet
4 September 2012 14 July 2016 3 years, 314 days Conservative
David Cameron
  James Brokenshire
MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup
14 July 2016 8 January 2018 1 year, 178 days Conservative Theresa May
  Karen Bradley
MP for Staffordshire Moorlands
8 January 2018 24 July 2019 1 year, 197 days Conservative
  Julian Smith
MP for Skipton and Ripon
24 July 2019 13 February 2020 6 months and 20 days Conservative Boris Johnson
  Brandon Lewis
MP for Great Yarmouth
13 February 2020 7 July 2022 2 years, 144 days Conservative
  Shailesh Vara
MP for North West Cambridgeshire
7 July 2022 Incumbent 61 days Conservative
  Chris Heaton-Harris
MP for Daventry
6 September 2022 Incumbent 1 year, 260 days* Conservative Liz Truss
Rishi Sunak

* Incumbent's length of term last updated: 23 May 2024.

  1. "2008 ANNUAL REPORT North South Council o Ministers" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 December 2020. Retrieved 18 September 2021.
  2. "Buaileann an Tánaiste le Rúnaí Stáit Thuaisceart Éireann - Buaileann an Tánaiste le Rúnaí Stáit Thuaisceart Éireann, an Feisire Theresa Villiers - Department of Foreign Affairs". Archived from the original on 11 October 2020. Retrieved 18 September 2021.
  3. "Secretary of State for Northern Ireland". Archived from the original on 1 November 2020. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  4. "Her Majesty's Government: The Cabinet". Archived from the original on 17 November 2019. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  5. "Home Office". National Archives Catalogue. National Archives. Archived from the original on 3 July 2011. Retrieved 15 October 2011.
  6. Melaugh, Martin. "A Chronology of the Conflict – 1972". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN). University of Ulster. Archived from the original on 5 March 2011. Retrieved 15 October 2011.
  7. "Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 December 2011. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
  8. "About the NIO". Archived from the original on 17 September 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2010.