Bates, Sir (Richard) Dawson (1876–1949), solicitor and NI cabinet minister, was born 23 November 1876 at Strandtown, east Belfast, son of Richard Dawson Bates, solicitor and clerk of the crown and peace for Belfast, and his wife Mary, daughter of Professor R. F. Dill of QCB. His paternal grandfather was town clerk and town solicitor of Belfast 1842–55; one uncle was crown solicitor for Belfast, another a judge. Educated at Coleraine Academical Institution, Bates was admitted solicitor in 1900 and entered the family firm. As secretary of the Ulster Unionist Council (1906–21) and joint secretary of the Unionist Associations of Ireland from 1907, he helped to organise the Ulster covenant and Ulster Volunteer Force. He received an OBE (1919) for wartime work for the UVF hospitals and UVF Patriotic Fund. Sir James Craig (qv) thought Bates ‘knew the mind of Ulster better than almost anyone else’, and made him (June 1921) NI minister of home affairs, a post he held for nearly twenty-two years. Bates was made a knight (1921) and a baronet (1937), and sat in the NI parliament for Belfast East (1921–9) and Belfast (Victoria) (1929–45).
With his personal influence in government and central and local unionist organisations, and his ministry's wide powers over security and local government, Bates became a leading architect of the northern state. In unionist eyes, his personal courage and firmness (notably in managing police and special constabulary, and introducing and working the special powers act, 1922) ensured the state's survival. However, his conspicuous distrust of the nationalist minority frustrated initial attempts to secure its cooperation, helped to minimise its power in local government, and encouraged an overtly discriminatory administrative style. As one of the ‘step by step’ group in cabinet, he resisted cuts in government spending in the 1930s, not only on police but on housing subsidies; but he half-heartedly supported health benefits, rejected rent control, and was reluctant to suspend Belfast corporation for corruption. With the coming of war, he was criticised for general inefficiency and for the specific shortcomings in civil defence revealed by the Belfast blitz (1941). By 1943 Bates and most of his colleagues appeared within their own party as ancien régime figures, and were dropped by Basil Brooke (qv) from his new cabinet. After leaving office (which he did reluctantly), Bates did not speak in parliament, or stand for reelection. In 1947 he retired to Glastonbury, England, where he died during the night of 9/10 June 1949; he was buried near his former home, Magherabuoy House, Portrush, Co. Londonderry.
He married (1920) Jessie Muriel, daughter of Sir Charles Cleland of Glasgow. Their one son, Sir John Dawson Bates (1921–98) was born 21 September 1921 at Holywood, Co. Down, and educated at Winchester. He was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade in May 1941, won the MC in North Africa (1943), went on demobilisation to Balliol College, Oxford (1946), and graduated in history (1949). After qualifying as a land agent, he joined the National Trust (1957) and became responsible for managing its estates in the south midlands of England and the Isle of Wight. He resided on the Buscot estate, Oxfordshire, until retirement, when he and his wife moved to his mother's house in Somerset. He died 12 July 1998, having been a member of the Orange order since 1940. He married (1953) Mary Hoult, architect; both were devoted gardeners. They had a daughter and two sons, of whom Richard (b. 1956) succeeded as 3rd baronet.