NIO minister during hunger strikes remembered

Sir David Mitchell with Margaret Thatcher
Sir David Mitchell with Margaret Thatcher

An ex-Tory minister who was posted to Northern Ireland amid one of its most volatile times has been described as having a “caring an conscientious” touch.

Sir David Mitchell was a Conservative MP who became junior minister in Northern Ireland during the furore around the hunger strikes.

He died on Saturday.

The News Letter’s own Billy Kennedy, then working as a reporter, described him as having a “caring and conscientious approach” at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

He said: “There, unlike some of his more aloof and patrician Stormont colleagues, he was able to get a better grasp of grassroots feeling in a difficult period that was painfully scared by the Troubles. He built up a close and productive rapport with council leaders across the Province.

“NIO ministers down the years were a mixed bunch, with many totally uncaring, coldly operating like ‘ships in the night’, anxious to get back to the political bubble at Westminster for possible promotion. David Mitchell was different”.

Sir David was in his Northern Irish post from 1981 until 1983, and was described by one newspaper as having been “thrown in at the deep end”.

As Bobby Sands and other republican convicts began their bid to starve themselves to win political status, he is recorded by the Telegraph as saying: “We won’t give in to his demands and blackmail”.

However, it also adds he attempted to help get Sands “off the hook” by letting southern politicians to visit him in jail.

The Guardian notes him as “a steadying and balanced influence in a highly charged, emotional political period”.

A faithful follower of Margaret Thatcher, he later moved to the Department of Transport where he ultimately took charge as Minister of State.

His ministerial career ended in 1988, and he was given a knighthood.

He retired in 1997 as MP for North West Hampshire.

All in all, he spent 33 years in the House of Commons.

In addition to his parliamentary and ministerial work, he is also reportedly an observer at South Africa’s first multi-racial elections,and helped run El Vino; a well-known Westminster bar.

Born on June 20, 1928, he is also the father of prominent Tory MP Andrew Mitchell.