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Mandelson quits over passports row

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

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

Dr. John Reid, the former British secreaty of state for Scotland, was named to replace him.

Mandelson left 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 Mo 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."

The passport scandal came up out of the blue the previous 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.

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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