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DUP's Simon Hamilton quits politics to become Belfast Chamber boss

DUP MLA Simon Hamilton
DUP MLA Simon Hamilton

By Suzanne Breen, Politics Editor

One of the DUP’s most high-profile figures is quitting politics to enter the world of business.

Former Economy Minister Simon Hamilton will become chief executive of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce in the autumn.

Mr Hamilton will step down as Strangford MLA in September.

The 42-year-old is also resigning as a DUP member in order to take up the job. It is a newly created post which was publicly advertised last month.

It is understood that Mr Hamilton was the unanimous choice of the selection panel after completing two interviews.

Regarded as the DUP’s most liberal figure, who was popular across the political spectrum, his departure will be a big loss to the party.

He was a lead negotiator in the previous round of all-party talks which collapsed in February 2018. He would be viewed as being more amenable to compromise with Sinn Fein than some colleagues.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Hamilton said his decision to leave politics was not a sign that he believed devolution wouldn’t be restored, or that the institutions would inevitably collapse again even if it was.

“I understand that some people may see it that way but it’s most definitely not the case.  This is a personal, not political, decision,” he said. “Sooner or later devolution will be restored and I wish all the parties well in the current talks."

Mr Hamilton said that he was looking forward to taking up the new role.

DUP leader Arlene Foster and colleague Simon Hamilton
DUP leader Arlene Foster and colleague Simon Hamilton

“After being involved in politics in one way or another for almost 20 years, now is the time to contribute to the place I love in a different way. I now look forward to working with a new constituency, that of Belfast Chamber’s members," he said.

"Belfast is the beating heart of Northern Ireland. When the city does well, the whole region does well. 

"Even after the significant strides forward that Belfast has taken over the last decade and more, it still has so much unfulfilled potential.

“The chance to represent such a broad range of businesses located across the entirety of the city is exceptionally exciting and I really look forward to helping the members to realise their ambitious vision for their businesses and for the city.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster said that Mr Hamilton had played an "important and positive" role within the DUP.

"Whilst I am disappointed to be losing Simon as a Party colleague and as an elected representative I know he is taking on a role which will allow him to continue working to make Belfast and Northern Ireland the very best place to live, visit and particularly to do business," she said.

Simon Hamilton (RHI/PA)
Simon Hamilton (RHI/PA)

Mrs Foster revealed the party will "commence a process shortly to select Mr Hamilton's replacement in Strangford".

The one time rising star of the party first became involved in politics during his time at Queen's University, were he was active in the Queen's Unionist Association.

He worked as an auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers for two years before joining the DUP as a press officer in 2003 and was elected to Ards Borough Council in 2005.

Mr Hamilton (42), a member of the Orange Orange and Royal Black Institution, was elected to the Stormont Assembly in the Strangford constituency in 2007 and gave his maiden speech during a debate on illegal immigration in the United States.

In 2010, he named "Up and Coming Politician of the Year" by Slugger O'Toole and succeeded Sammy Wilson as Finance Minister in 2013 aged just 36. 

He later served as Health Minister from May 2015 to March 2016 and most recently as Economy Minister from May 2016 until the collapse of the Assembly the following year.

Following the Brexit referendum in June 2016, there was much speculation as to his personal views on the issue, as he frequently refused to say which way he voted, despite his party's hardline Brexit stance.

In March 2017 he attended the funeral of Martin McGuinness in Londonderry, despite a ban on Orange Order members attending catholic church services.

Last year the Strangford MLA made headlines when told the RHI Inquiry that, while Economy Minister, he and his special adviser leaked civil servants' emails to the media in an attempt to deflect attention from the DUP during the height of the scandal.

He said the incident was not his "proudest moment".

Earlier this month it emerged that the leaks are now the subject of a criminal investigation by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

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