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Robinson surprises with major shake-up of Stormont ministerial posts

By Noel McAdam

Published 12/05/2015

Former Finance Minister Simon Hamilton is taking over in the health hot-seat in a major DUP reshuffle.

With just a year before the next Assembly elections, DUP leader Peter Robinson announced a wider shake-up of posts than had been expected with three big portfolio changes.

Mr Hamilton will be in charge of Stormont's biggest departmental budget and already has plenty of major issues in his 'in-tray' including the long-delayed abortion guidelines and overturning the 'gay blood' ban.

"There will be tough decisions ahead, but I will not shy away from doing what's right," he said.

"I enter this post during an exciting period of change. While there is much good work across the sector, there are a number of areas for improvement already identified and I intend to keep the momentum of change going."

It was Mr Hamilton who accused former Health Minister Edwin Poots of "poor management" last year when he bust the departmental budget by £13.1m.

In the last two weeks the Strangford MLA had been standing in for Jim Wells, who formally stood down yesterday following his controversial remarks on gay couples.

And Mr Wells - who withdrew his comments at a public hustings event in Downpatrick and apologised immediately - praised his successor as "very able".

He added: "He has an excellent grasp of finances and will be able to deal effectively with the complex budgetary issues within the health department".

Mr Wells' departure meant DUP ministers played musical chairs yesterday afternoon, with Mr Robinson keeping everyone guessing until the last minute. Former Enterprise and Trade Minister Arlene Foster now gets control of the Stormont purse-strings post, just as the budget tilts towards a new crisis next month and the voluntary 'exit' scheme designed to shed 20,000 public sector jobs reaches a crucial stage.

Former Junior Minister Jonathan Bell is promoted into her old job as DETI (Enterprise, Trade and Investment) Minister, where the emphasis is on attracting jobs and hopefully selling corporation tax to potential investors.

In turn, Michelle McIlveen, who is also from the Strangford constituency, replaces Mr Bell as Junior Minister in the Office of First Minister Robinson and Deputy First Minister.

It was Mr Robinson's second shake-up of his team in nine months, after Edwin Poots and Nelson McCausland were replaced last September - by Mr Wells and Mervyn Storey respectively. But it was the biggest change to the line-up since 2009.

The first move yesterday was the news that Social Development Minister Mr Storey has managed to hold on to his position, followed one by one by the others stepping down, and then stepping up to their new jobs.

Minutes after his appointment yesterday, new health chief Mr Hamilton could have ended up in hospital, as his ministerial car drove off with his leg still dangling outside.

But first he also paid tribute to all staff in the health and social care sector, as well as staff from the ambulance and fire service.

"I know that they feel the stresses and strains of their work and I, along with the public, am grateful for their dedication and commitment," he added.

The new top table


Health Minister

Last year as Finance Minister he blasted former health chief Edwin Poots for “overspending” his budget. Now the Strangford MLA finds himself in the health hot seat, with major issues ahead.


Junior Minister

Ousted as chair of the culture committee nine months ago to make way for Nelson McCausland, the Strangford MLA now joins Sinn Fein’s Jennifer McCann to look after equality, gender and other issues.


Finance Minister

The only DUP minister to stand in as temporary First Minister, Mrs Foster has moved to Finance just as Stormont’s budget and the public sector exit scheme for up to 20,000 jobs head for crisis.


Social Development Minister

The North Antrim MLA was the only minister to stay put yesterday, after being brought in only nine months ago to replace former Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland.


Enterprise, Trade and Industry Minister less than five days after his general election defeat in South Belfast to Alasdair McDonnell, Mr Bell shifts from Junior Minister in OFMDFM to take over from Arlene Foster in DETI.


Finance Minister

The only DUP minister to stand in as temporary First Minister, Mrs Foster has moved to Finance just as Stormont’s budget and the public sector exit scheme for up to 20,000 jobs head for crisis.

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