Simon Hamilton appointed Northern Ireland's health minister in DUP reshuffle
DUP leader Peter Robinson has appointed MLA Simon Hamilton as Northern Ireland's health minister.
The former Stormont finance minister replaces Jim Wells, who stepped down to care for his sick wife after sparking controversy with comments about gay marriage.
The appointment was announced as part of a major reshuffle of the DUP's ministerial team at the Assembly.
Mr Robinson made the announcements via Twitter.
Mr Hamilton said: "I look forward to getting to grips with the challenges over the next number of days.
"Even though it is a new beat for me I am well aware of the challenges."
Jim Wells resigned last month following a public outcry over comments allegedly linking gay marriage to child abuse. He later apologised.
DUP leader Peter Robinson confirmed the appointment in a tweet.
He said: "I wanted to get the right people in the right positions and I believe I have done that."
Mr Wells announced his resignation two weeks ago saying he wanted to devote more time to caring for his wife who had suffered two strokes.
He had been facing calls to resign since the release of video footage in which he said the "facts show you certainly don't bring a child up in a homosexual relationship".
An alleged verbal altercation with a lesbian couple during an election canvass in his South Down constituency added further pressure.
The furore came at a time of intense scrutiny when the DUP was claiming the party could be 'kingmakers' in the event of a hung parliament and former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg branded the remarks "truly backward looking".
Mr Hamilton, a Strangford MLA, has been an effective caretaker for the department of health for the past two weeks.
He added: "I am looking forward to getting to grips with what is a challenging department and a very challenging role, particularly focusing on Transforming Your Care and that agenda of reforming our health service so that it is fit for the challenges the years ahead present.
"I have enjoyed the last couple of weeks in looking after the department. It has certainly shown all the immense challenges that are there within the department and I am looking forward to getting my teeth into them."
Meanwhile Mr Robinson confirmed that Mervyn Storey remains as the minister for the department of social development.
In addition, Jonathan Bell was appointed as minister of department of enterprise trade and investment.
He takes over from Arlene Foster who has taken up the role as finance minister - which was previously held by Simon Hamilton.
Michelle McIlveen takes over from Jonathan Bell as junior minister in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.
Following the announcement of the reshuffle Justice Minister David Ford said Mr Hamilton must "bring change in attitude to equality issues" in his role as Health Minister.
Mr Ford said: “I would like to congratulate Simon Hamilton on his appointment and wish him well during his term in office. However, if he wants to be judged differently to his two predecessors, it is vital that he brings a change in attitude to the Health Department.
“During his first week in office, he can immediately bring an end to his Department’s legal challenge on the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood and indicate his support for adoption by civil partners."
He added: "Bringing in a new face will be meaningless if Simon Hamilton just continues with the same attitudes as his predecessors.”
In a statement the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry congratulated the news Ministers.
Chief Executive of NI Chamber, Ann McGregor said: "NI Chamber congratulates the new Ministers who are taking up the lead in DFP, DETI and Health Departments.
"DFP Minister Foster is well briefed on the business sectors priorities for the NI budget in particular the need to focus on corporation tax as well as investment in skills and infrastructure.
"Minister Foster was very strong in DETI and we encourage Minister Bell to continue to ensure that we have a pro- business, pro enterprise agenda. A focus on growing export is essential.
"Minister Hamilton with his DFP experience should bring a new focus to Health and his understanding of balancing challenging budgets should lead to improved efficiencies in Health."
DUP reshuffle changes
Mervyn Storey remains as DSD Minister.
Jonathan Bell appointed Enterprise Minister.
Arlene Foster appointed as Finance Minister.
Simon Hamilton appointed as Health Minister.
Michelle McIlveen appointed as Junior Minister in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.
Belfast Telegraph Digital