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Mandelson quits

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — The peace process has was thrown into turmoil Wednesday with the resignation of British Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson from the British cabinet as a result of a passport scandal.

Former Northern Ireland Minister Paul Murphy is being tipped to succeed him. He served with Dr. Mo Mowlam and is now secretary of state for Wales.

Mandelson goes at a crucial stage in Northern Ireland peace talks aimed at ending the impasse on decommissioning, militarization and policing issues.

A close confidante of Prime Minister Tony Blair, it is the second time Mandelson has been forced from the cabinet in disgrace since Labor came to power in 1997.

He left in 1998 and was brought in from the cold again in 1999 and given the Northern Ireland job, replacing Mowlam.

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Mandelson said it had been the greatest privilege of his political career to play a part in the peace process.

“It is something far bigger and more important than any one individual or his career,” he said. “We are so close now to a final settlement, to a complete implementation of this government’s as well as others’ achievements, the Good Friday agreement.

“I hope and pray that everything we have worked for, and the parties in Northern Ireland have worked for, now comes to pass.

“I wish the people in Northern Ireland every success and peace in the future.”

The passport scandal came up out of the blue at the weekend. The row had been regarded as highly damaging but not necessarily a resigning issue. It was the subsequent handling of it that sealed his fate.

The rapidity with which it blew up and forced Mandelson to go has caused widespread shock in the Republic and the North and is a major setback for Blair as he gears up for a general election.

Mandelson had built up a reputation as the Labor’s most able spin doctor and one of its sharpest political operators, but he has been embroiled in a series of high-profile controversies.

In what is expected to be the end of his political career, Mandelson stood down after newspaper reports of alleged impropriety by him in the passport application of an Indian billionaire, Srichand Hunduja.

It was claimed he had pulled strings to help Hinduja secure a UK passport after he pledged _1 million in sponsorship for the ill-fated Millennium Dome in 1997 when Mandelson was in charge of the project.

Announcing his resignation in Downing Street on Wednesday after he had been summoned to a meeting with Blair, Mandelson denied he had acted improperly.

He said he should have made it clear that he personally, and not his officials, spoke to Home Office Minister Mike O’Brien about Hunduja.

This had resulted in incorrect information being given to the British House of Commons by the Culture Minister and to the media by Blair’s official spokesman.

“I accept responsibility for that,” Mandelson said. “My sole desire and motivation throughout was to emphasize that I had not sought to influence a decision on naturalization in any way at all, merely to pass on a request for information.”

He said there was another factor in his resignation.

“There must be more to politics than the constant media exposure and pressure that has dogged me over past five or so years,” he said. “I want to remove myself from the countless stories of controversy, of feuds, of divisions. I want to lead a more normal life, both in politics and, in the future, outside.”

Mandelson was first forced to resign in 1998 after failing to disclose that he had secretly received a _373,000 loan to buy a house in London from his then fellow minister Geoffrey Robinson.

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