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Ex-Health Minister McGimpsey is to walk away from Assembly

By Lisa Smyth

Published 29/01/2016

Michael McGimpsey in 2008 during his time as Health Minister
Michael McGimpsey in 2008 during his time as Health Minister

One of the best-known faces in Northern Ireland politics is to stand down from the Assembly in May.

UUP stalwart Michael McGimpsey, who was first elected in 1998, said he will not contest his South Belfast seat in the upcoming Stormont poll.

Mr McGimpsey revealed he considered stepping away from politics at the last elections in 2011, but was convinced to remain for another term to ensure the party did not lose his seat.

"I think the time is right for me to go," he said. "I'm 67. If I serve another term I will be 71. I'm fit and healthy and there's a lot I want to do.

"I've thought long and hard about my decision and I feel it is the right thing to do.

"The party is in a good position. I think my seat is safe and it's time to make way for a younger person - the next generation - to take over.

"I wanted to go in 2011, but the view of the party was that we would lose the seat."

Mr McGimpsey also said he did not want to stand down as an MLA at the last election because it may have appeared as though he had been chased from his seat after months of personal attacks by his DUP rivals during his final months as Health Minister. Mr McGimpsey, who held the position between 2007 and 2011, came under fire from the party as he argued for more money for the Department of Health.

On Monday Health Minister Simon Hamilton again hit out at Mr McGimpsey's announcement in 2011 that he was unable to pay for staff for the radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry.

But speaking last night, Mr McGimpsey said: "I think his comments this week were puerile, childish. I think Simon is very uncomfortable at the moment.

"He is the architect of the budget he has now. He's having to live with his own creation and he can't do it.

"The irony is probably not lost on him.

"The DUP kept telling me the health budget was obscene, and when they got the portfolio, inadvertently, they had to prove it.

"They couldn't then turn around and say they had got it wrong, so they carried things on for a while and things spiralled out of control to the situation we are in now.

"Just look at waiting times, and I don't remember the last time there were any policy developments. It has been one problem after another."

Mr McGimpsey also criticised Mr Hamilton's latest pay offer to nurses.

"I think he is attempting to blackmail nurses," he said. "He sees them as safe because they don't go on strike - they deliver care to their patients."

During his time as an MLA, Mr McGimpsey served as Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure between 1999 and 2002.

He spearheaded the football strategy and was instrumental in ensuring that the Irish language and Ulster-Scots movement received further investment.

He also pioneered the unlocking creativity strategy, which set out how creativity could be advanced across Northern Ireland.

Mr McGimpsey also told how he had the backing of his family as he prepared to bow out of front line politics.

"They wouldn't tell me what they thought until I made my decision, but once I told them what it was they have been very supportive," he said.

"I'm not walking away from politics completely, just representative politics.

"I'll still be involved in the election in some way, but it will be the first time in a long time that I have not been heavily involved.

"The campaign process is emotionally draining and physically exhausting.

"I'm looking forward to having some spare time - but not too much. I don't like sitting around doing nothing for very long."

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