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Ministerial curveball from First Minister Arlene Foster

By Noel McAdam

Published 13/01/2016

New First Minister Arlene Foster with new Social Development Minister Lord Morrow and Finance Minister Mervyn Storey
New First Minister Arlene Foster with new Social Development Minister Lord Morrow and Finance Minister Mervyn Storey
New First Minister Arlene Foster with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as they met Andy Clarke, chief executive of Asda, at Parliament Buildings yesterday to discuss Asda’s investment plans

Arlene Foster has confounded the pundits in her first major decision as First Minister.

Just 24 hours after taking up office Mrs Foster had to find a replacement for herself as Finance Minister.

The post went to Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey.

He in turn was replaced by Lord Morrow, who is returning to the post he last held 14 years ago.

But there was confusion as a major organisation congratulated the new Finance Minister over an hour before his appointment was confirmed. The DUP's usually fine-tuned choreography seemed to go awry as the announcements were delayed throughout the day.

Even before he was sworn in, Mr Storey had been congratulated by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in Northern Ireland.

Director Nigel Smyth said: "CBI Northern Ireland would like to congratulate Mervyn on his appointment as Minister of Finance and Personnel. While there are only a few months until the forthcoming election, the new minister must manage a number of key issues of vital importance to the business community."

Then, just before 5pm, Mrs Foster appeared in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings accompanied by Mr Storey and Lord Morrow.

A number of other senior party figures, including chief whip Peter Weir and justice committee chair Alastair Ross, had been in the frame. But in the end Mrs Foster moved Mr Storey - who had replaced Nelson McCausland in Social Development just over 15 months ago - and brought the veteran party chairman back into the Executive.

Her decisions will have the effect of reassuring the party's more conservative ranks, which both Mr Storey and Lord Morrow represent.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph on Monday, Mrs Foster denied she needed to take any action to dispel unease among the ranks over her appointment.

After affirming the pledge of office with Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin, the mini-reshuffle kicked in with immediate effect, although both men will only occupy their new posts for a short period - until the next Assembly election on May 5.

Both ministers have busy in-trays, with the Finance Minister having to oversee implementation of the budget arrangements agreed in the Fresh Start deal between the DUP, Sinn Fein and the British and Irish governments.

Mr Storey will also help oversee the shedding of around 20,000 public sector jobs, and is charged with merging the present 12 departments into nine in time to be up and running after the election.

Lord Morrow's priorities are likely to include welfare reform, even though Stormont handed over responsibility to Westminster, since the Executive has yet to work out the detail of how they will be adapted for Northern Ireland. He will also be involved in talks with councils after powers to help regenerate town centres were delayed for a second time.

Profile: Mervyn Storey

Mervyn Storey is a relative newcomer to ministerial office. While he has been Social Development Minister for over a year, it is the only Executive position the North Antrim MLA has held.

His move to Finance Minister - seen as the most crucial post below First Minister and Deputy First Minister - is quite a promotion.

First elected to Ballymoney Borough Council in 2001, he has also served as vice-chairman of the Economic Development Committee.

He is in his third term as an MLA and was chair of the Education Committee until he was appointed Minister for Social Development in September 2014, clashing regularly with past and present Sinn Fein Education Ministers Caitriona Ruane and John O'Dowd.

A 'young earth' creationist, he asked Minister Ruane to include those ideas alongside evolution in the school curriculum. He also objected to an exhibition on evolution in the Ulster Museum.

Mr Storey is a member of the Independent Orange Order, Apprentice Boys and fundamentalist Caleb Foundation.

A few months ago his daughter Lydia (21) became the first person in her family to attain a degree.

"This has been a journey for me as a parent, to see how education makes an invaluable contribution to a member of your family," he said.

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