Belfast Telegraph

Health, Brexit and infrastructure: New ministers outline their top priorities

Handout photo issued by Press Eye of Robin Swann, Minister of Health, at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, Northern Ireland, as the power sharing assembly in Northern Ireland is restored. PA Photo. Issue date: Saturday January 11, 2020. See PA story ULSTER Politics. Photo credit should read: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire
NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Handout photo issued by Press Eye of Robin Swann, Minister of Health, at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, Northern Ireland, as the power sharing assembly in Northern Ireland is restored. PA Photo. Issue date: Saturday January 11, 2020. See PA story ULSTER Politics. Photo credit should read: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

Minister for Health Robin Swann: "With a sustainable financial package in place and support across the Executive, Northern Ireland's health service can begin a new era.

"We've made a good start, restoring pay parity for health and social care staff. We have a lot more to do, not least in tackling waiting lists and improving mental health services.

"More funding for health is vital, but that alone won't make things right.

"Demand for services is growing, with many more of us living longer lives and needing more care as a result.

"We need to reshape and modernise services to meet the changing needs in our society."

Minister for Education Peter Weir: "Every child deserves the best start in life and to be nurtured and supported to help them reach their full potential. 

"My key priorities will include the delivery of frontline resources for our schools and our teachers, special educational needs and tackling educational disadvantage.

"There are challenges ahead. My focus will be on transforming the system to ensure high-quality, sustainable education for the 21st century.

"The future success of our society and economy depends on a high-quality education system. We must all work together to make this happen."

Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon: "Having a modern and sustainable water, drainage and transport infrastructure is essential if we are to grow our economy and improve the lives of everyone.

"I am also committed to working to deliver the infrastructure needed to improve connectivity, grow the all-island economy and play our part in tackling the climate emergency.

"Over the next weeks and months I am particularly looking forward to meeting many of the 3,000 staff who work in my department on the front line, delivering services that have such a great impact on so many of us every day, whether that's resurfacing and salting our roads, cleaning gullies or ensuring our vehicle is safe and roadworthy."

Minister for Justice Naomi Long: "I will develop a programme of work for the Department of Justice which will tackle the root causes of crime, to ensure fewer people become victims of crime, as well as speeding up and modernising our courts to deliver quicker results for victims.

"None of this can be done in isolation and I want to harness the skills and inputs of a wide range of people to deliver better outcomes for people here.

"I appreciate that the lack of a functioning Assembly has meant legislative changes around stalking and domestic abuse have not been able to be progressed and important decisions now need to be made."

Minister for Finance Conor Murphy: "My immediate priority is to secure the additional funding promised by both governments. An advance on that funding has been used to pay health workers, but much more is required to deliver the New Decade, New Approach document.

"I will reform the rates system, which helps fund public services, to ensure it is fair to households and businesses. My department will fully implement same-sex marriage legislation, which represents a milestone for equality.

"Other priorities include enhancing fiscal powers and delivering a social value act that recognises the contribution of social enterprises when awarding government contracts."

Minister for Economy Diane Dodds: "I will put my energy into building our economy to keep it competitive.

"Promoting innovation, attracting foreign investment, expanding broadband and creating jobs are vital to achieving this.

"I will play a central role in defining, promoting and protecting our economic interests as the UK leaves the European Union.

"I want to focus on skills and education so we can support tens of thousands of people in preparing for working life through university, further education, apprenticeships, assured skills academies and careers guidance.

"This department will remain at the very forefront on moving us towards net zero-carbon emissions.

"Furthermore, we will capitalise on our growing reputation globally to bring more tourists to our shores."

Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Edwin Poots: "I am looking forward to getting to grips with what is a very diverse, wide-ranging and interesting department. My previous experience as Minister for the Environment and of course, my life outside politics as a farmer, gives me a unique perspective on the remit of the department.

"There can be no doubt of the challenges facing us, particularly in the next 12 months. I intend to focus my efforts towards mitigating against the potential impacts of Brexit on our agri-food, fishing and farming sectors while maximising the benefits of leaving the EU and ensuring our industry is on a level playing field regarding trade deals.

"I will also prioritise the strengthening of our rural communities to make them sustainable in the long term, finally dealing with the issue of TB and protecting our environment and green lands."

Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey: "One of my priorities will be to bring forward legislation as soon as I can to reverse the decision to reclassify housing associations to ensure that the sector can continue to build new social housing.

"In addition, in line with what was agreed under New Decade, New Approach, I want to reassure people in receipt of welfare mitigations that I will extend this package beyond March 31.

"The completion of Casement Park is a key priority for me.

"I will work to challenge austerity and welfare reform and will provide a reaffirmed commitment to protect the most vulnerable and embed human rights standards in all that we do."

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