"The best Secretary of State Northern Ireland ever had"
Geoffrey Wheatcroft of The Telegraph describes Roy Mason as "one of the unsung heroes of the Labour Party and ... the best Secretary of State for Northern Ireland we ever had".
It was an IRA man who acknowledged that "we were almost beaten by Mason".
Roy Mason was born in 1924. The small, pipe-smoking, former coal miner first went down the mines at the age of fourteen and remained in the coal industry until 1953 when he was elected Labour MP for Barnsley.
He was Labour Party spokesman on Home Affairs, Defence and Post Office, 1960-1964. Minister of State at the Board of Trade, 1964-1967. Minister of Defence (Equipment), 1967-1968. Minister of Power, 1968-1969. President of the Board of Trade, 1969-1970. Secretary of State for Defence, 1974-1976.
His appointment to Northern Ireland was unexpected
A high-profile politician, his appointment to Northern Ireland was unexpected and seemed to indicate a tougher response from the British Government than that pursued by his predecessor, Merlyn Rees. This turned out to be the case.
While Secretary of State for Defence, he had been responsible for the introduction of SAS units into the 'bandit country' of South Armagh. Now at Stormont, he was responsible for the tougher role taken by the security forces, authorised an increase in British Army covert tactics and allowed the SAS to operate throughout Northern Ireland.
The British Army, while remaining in Northern Ireland in large numbers, were to fulfil a more supportive role than before. In 1977, unlike Merlyn Rees in 1974, he stood up to militant loyalism's attempt to repeat their successful UWC strike tactic of 1974. In the same year he twice attempted to get some movement towards a political settlement from the local political parties but both attempts failed.
An IRA man once admitted "we were almost beaten by Mason".
Geoffrey Wheatcroft, writing in The Telegraph explains why he believes Lord Mason was the best Secretary of State that Northern Ireland ever had:
"In the autumn of 1976, he told the Labour conference that Ulster had had enough of initiatives, White Papers and legislation for the time being, and now needed to be governed firmly and fairly.
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this, and the significance of Mason's time in Ulster".
He was created Lord Mason of Barnsley upon his retirement from the House of Commons.