Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's eight new Stormont ministers... and the issues at the top of their in-trays

Diane Dodds
Diane Dodds
Edwin Poots
Peter Weir
Deirdre Hargey
Conor Murphy
Robin Swann
Naomi Long
Nichola Mallon

By Staff Reporter

With the return of the Stormont on Saturday, eight new Ministers have been appointed to the Executive. We profile them and the key issues they face below:

DIANE DODDS (DUP) ECONOMY MINISTER

Having served more than 10 years in the European Parliament, the DUP's Diane Dodds was co-opted to replace Carla Lockhart as MLA for Upper Bann.

There had been speculation that her husband Nigel Dodds or Emma Little-Pengelly would take the role after losing their North and South Belfast Westminster seats respectively.

Having grown up in a farm in Rathfriland, Mrs Dodds worked as a teacher before entering politics.

Since being appointed, Mrs Dodds has spoken out against Sinn Fein's junior minister Declan Kearney's claim the new Assembly will be an "engine" for moving towards a united Ireland.

Among the pending decisions for the Department of the Economy will be a draft energy strategy, an industrial strategy and a Superfast Broadband strategy.

PETER WEIR (DUP) EDUCATION MINISTER

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Peter Weir

Picking up where he left off before Stormont collapsed, Strangford MLA Peter Weir is returning to his post as education minister.

Having previously worked as a barrister, he initially joined the UUP but was expelled for refusing to support David Trimble's re-election as First Minister.

A supporter of academic selection, he has previously stated that removing it would lead to more inequality by encouraging wealthy parents to send children to private schools.

The Stormont deal has called for an urgent resolution to the current teachers' industrial dispute and ensuring every school has a sustainable core budget.

Another agreed measure will be to work towards supporting educating children from different backgrounds in the same classroom.

EDWIN POOTS (DUP) AGRICULTURE MINISTER

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Edwin Poots

Edwin Poots is taking on his fourth ministerial role, having previously served in the culture, environment and health portfolios.

The Lagan Valley MLA was first elected to the Assembly in 1998 and comes from a farming background, having studied at Greenmount College.

In recent weeks it was suggested that Mr Poots would appeal to more hardline DUP voters as a potential replacement for Arlene Foster after a disappointing general election.

Provisions for tackling climate change in the new Stormont deal will have a significant impact on farming.

This may require financial assistance for farmers to meet the new targets.

The dairy sector will also need assurance over concerns about post Brexit trade costs.

DEIRDRE HARGEY (SF) COMMUNITIES MINISTER

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Deirdre Hargey

Deirdre Hargey took over as South Belfast MLA after Mairtin O Muilleoir announced he was leaving politics.

She was the first woman from Sinn Fein to be elected Lord Mayor for Belfast.

Her appointment initially attracted controversy as she was present in Magennis' bar in Belfast in 2005 when Robert McCartney (33) was stabbed to death outside.

Despite criticism from the McCartney family, Ms Hargey has always maintained she fully co-operated with the investigation.

With responsibility for sport, she will be tasked with progressing regional and sub regional stadia programmes, including Casement Park.

Other areas of responsibility will include housing and benefits.

CONOR MURPHY (SF) FINANCE MINISTER

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Conor Murphy

One of Sinn Fein's most established representatives, Mr Murphy previously served as MP for Newry and Armagh and the minister for regional development.

It's believed Mr Murphy joined the IRA during the 1981 hunger strikes. A year later, he was sentenced to five years in prison for membership and having explosives.

Posting a picture from the top of Slieve Gullion yesterday, the MLA from Camlough said his head was clear to take on his new role. He also called on the British and Irish governments to deliver on "a substantial injection of funding, over and above the block grant".

His priorities include securing funding to tackle waiting lists and pay disputes with health workers and teachers.

ROBIN SWANN (UUP) HEALTH MINISTER

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Robin Swann

The former Ulster Unionist leader from Kells will be the first Ulster Unionist to hold the portfolio since his party colleague Michael McGimpsey.

The North Antrim Assembly member announced he was stepping down last year after two years as leader to spend more time with his young family.

But his new role as health minister will have no shortage of demands, with tackling a crisis in waiting lists as an urgent priority.

Mr Swann has also requested meetings with trade unions in a bid to settle the ongoing industrial action by health workers "right away".

He said his optimism in finding agreement comes from a new financial package and the support from other ministerial colleagues.

NAOMI LONG (ALL) JUSTICE MINISTER

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Naomi Long

Bolstered by a strong showing for the Alliance Party at last month's general election, Ms Long stepped down as MEP in order to be co-opted back as an East Belfast MLA.

She is now the second Alliance Justice Minister after David Ford first took the role in 2010 after powers were first devolved.

Married to Belfast councillor Michael Long, she previously defeated the former DUP leader Peter Robinson to become MP for east Belfast.

The Stormont deal has promised to boost PSNI officer numbers by 800, which will cost an estimated £40m extra a year.

Other commitments are to speed up the criminal justice system as well as making changes to how sexual offence cases are handled in court.

NICHOLA MALLON (SDLP) INFRASTRUCTURE MINISTER

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Nichola Mallon

The SDLP deputy leader and North Belfast MLA is taking on her first ministerial post, having previously served as Belfast Lord Mayor.

In recent weeks she has called for greater support for mental health services in Northern Ireland.

Married with three young children, she had cross-party support last year after receiving online abuse for taking her young son to a meeting with the Northern Ireland Secretary.

As infrastructure minister, progress is expected on major road upgrades like the York Street interchange, the A5/A6 as well as the Magee Campus and Narrow Water Bridge.

It has also been agreed the Executive will "invest urgently" to boost wastewater infrastructure.

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