Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

SDLP's Mark H Durkan becomes new man on the high wire as Environment Minister

Mark H Durkan doing a zip line  challenge for Action Mental Health
Mark H Durkan doing a zip line challenge for Action Mental Health
Dr Alasdair McDonnell, Pat Ramsey, Mark H Durkan and Alex Attwood
Dr Alasdair McDonnell, Pat Ramsey, Mark H Durkan and Alex Attwood

Stormont's newest minister has swung into office – just days after making his marital vows.

Following months of speculation, the SDLP's Mark H Durkan has been announced as Environment Minister, replacing party colleague Alex Attwood.

Four days ago the Foyle MLA married former SDLP official Anne Carlin. The couple plan to honeymoon in Italy soon.

But yesterday Mr Durkan only smiled when asked whether, in his new job, he was also anticipating a honeymoon period.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell refused to confirm whether he might rotate the role again before the next Stormont election, which is not due until 2016.

Dr McDonnell said he had a "number of choices" in deciding who should take over from Mr Attwood, who has also been Social Development Minister.

Veteran SDLP member Joe Byrne had been tipped for the succession and there were rumours South Belfast MLA Conall McDevitt could get the job.

But Mr McDonnell said Mr Durkan represented "the emerging generation of the SDLP" and had "youth" and "energy" among his credentials.

"He has done an outstanding job as social development spokesperson, meticulously working through the Welfare Reform Bill," the party leader added.

"The party look forward to seeing Mark follow on the excellent work of Alex Attwood who as Environment Minister has tackled the bureaucracy in our planning system by pursuing a progressive agenda.

"Alex has also been a watchdog at the Executive table, holding the First and Deputy First Minister to account over their failure to deliver a shared future."

His uncle and namesake Mark Durkan was Finance Minister and Deputy First Minister in the SDLP/UUP administration after the 1998 Agreement.

Mr Durkan said he planned to take up "exactly where (Mr Attwood) left off."

Welcoming the challenges ahead, he added: "Road fatalities have fallen in recent years, however the carnage and loss of life in the last week illustrates the need for me to continue to focus efforts in this area to make our roads safe for all users.

"I will also be robust in my approach to protecting the built and natural environments which make Northern Ireland such a unique place to live.

"This includes reducing the volume of waste going to landfill and also going after those who seek to damage our environment."

The work of Mr Durkan was praised by the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association chief executive Glyn Roberts.

WHAT NOW?

The new minister's 'in-box'

* Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness' 'power-grab' over special economic growth zones

* Planning policy to protect – and help – town centres

* The reduction of 26 local councils to 11

* Reducing the volume of waste going to landfill

* Maintaining a reduction in road fatalities

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