Former Stormont minister and barrister dies, aged 90

Sir Robert Porter.
Sir Robert Porter.

Sir Robert Porter, a former Minister of Home Affairs in the Northern Ireland Parliament in the late 1960s/early 1970s, has died after an illness. He was 90.

The Londonderry-born politician and barrister was in failing health in recent years, cared for in Somme nursing home in east Belfast.

Affectionately known as ‘Beezer’, he had a distinguished professional career after service in the Royal Air Force in the Second World War and in peace time with the Royal Artillery.

A graduate of Foyle College in Londonderry and Queen’s University, Sir Robert was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1965 and was active in the Ulster Unionist Party in the 1960s when Captain Terence O’Neill was Prime Minister.

He was elected to Stormont, representing Queen’s University, and in January 1969 was appointed parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs, after which he was appointed Minister of Health and Social Services.

In March of that year, Sir Robert became Minister of Home Affairs at the start of a troubled period with civil rights agitation and the beginning of the IRA campaign.

He was also appointed to the Privy Council of Northern Ireland and, in the O’Neill-led cabinet, he was regarded as a moderate.

When Sir Robert’s Queen’s University seat at Stormont was abolished, he was returned as MP for Lagan Valley.

He resigned as Minister of Home Affairs in August 1970, claiming that it was due to ill-health.

However, he later complained he was not consulted about imposition of a military curfew on the Falls Road in Belfast in July 1970.

He resigned from the UUP in June 1972 to join the Alliance Party, but he gradually stood aside from active politics.

From 1978 until 1995, Sir Robert was a judge of the county courts, and uniquely was court recorder in Belfast and Londonderry.

He played for, and was an avid supporter of City of Derry rugby club.

He was predeceased by wife Margaret and daughter Helen and is survived by another daughter Kathryn and son Robert, a solicitor.

His daughter Kathryn said: “My father was a man of very sharp intellect and propriety in a career in law and politics. He was also a very humorous man who loved the arts, opera, literature and sport. He had a great sense of fun and was an inspirational father.”

Sir Robert will be buried after a service in Holy Trinity Church, Drumbo, Lisburn on Thursday (2pm).