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Peter Robinson announces 'major' DUP reshuffle: Edwin Poots and Nelson McCausland out

By Claire Cromie

First Minister Peter Robinson has announced a "major" DUP reshuffle.

The Democratic Unionist leader made the announcement on Twitter late on Tuesday afternoon.

Nelson McCausland was the first casualty to be named, with a demotion to Department of Culture and Leisure Committee chairman.

Mervyn Storey will be the new Minister for Social Development.

Beleaguered Health Minister Edwin Poots has been replaced by Jim Wells, whose position as vice-chairman of the Health Committee will be taken on by Paula Bradley.

The First Minister also announced:

  • Michelle McIlveen - the second female to be promoted by Robinson - will be the new Education Committee chairperson, in place of Mervyn Storey.
  • Department of Regional Development chairman Jimmy Spratt has been replaced by Trevor Clarke. 
  • Alastair Ross will be the new Justice Committee chairman, in place of Paul Givan.
  • William Irwin will take over from Paul Frew as chair of the Agriculture committee
  • Brenda Hale will take the place of Alastair Ross on the Policing Board
  • Ian McCrea will be the new Assembly Private Secretary in DETI

Twitter

This is understood to be the first time a reshuffle in Northern Ireland has been announced using social media.

Edwin Poots even tweeted a response to the news of losing his ministerial post, saying: "Huge privilege to have been Health Minister for 39 mths. Best wishes to Jim Wells on a hugely challenging but rewarding job."

The reshuffle comes after another "exceptionally busy" night at Northern Ireland's main accident and emergency department.

It is believed that five people waited for almost 20 hours at the Royal Victoria Hospital's emergency department before being attended to.

Calls to resign

Poots had been facing calls to resign for some time since the hospital declared a major incident on January 8. That night there were 42 patients on trolleys at its reception.

He also faced criticism following his decision not to lift a ban on gay men giving blood.

Northern Ireland's most senior judge said comments by Mr Poots about the judiciary during an assembly debate on the issue were detrimental to the rule of law and damaging to public confidence in the justice system.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan outlined his concerns in a letter to the first and deputy first ministers eight months ago.

Budget impasse

On finances, Mr Poots has said he could not cut any more from his health budget and been vocal in his criticism of Sinn Fein over the Executive impasse with his party.

Jim Wells will be a controversial, albeit unsurprising, replacement at the Department of Health.

In 2012 he sparked a furious row after claiming rape victims should not be allowed to abort an unborn child.

Mr Wells said women who suffer a sexual assault must not be exempt from the strict laws banning abortion here — and should instead consider handing their baby over for adoption.

He told the BBC he had felt his appointment was not going to happen.

"I thought Edwin was doing a very good job and thought he may well continue.

"It came as a total shock to me today when the first minister called me in and told me.

"It certainly was not in my diary and tomorrow could be frenetic."

'No tears shed'

Meanwhile, SDLP's Dolores Kelly MLA said there would be "no tears shed" for Nelson McCausland's ministerial career.

McCausland has been under pressure since he accused four building firms of being involved in a Housing Executive scandal.

He refused to apologise to the four companies named in the Assembly last year as having received an estimated £18 million in overpayments.

"His term will be marked by a policy of discrimination in housing, misleading an Assembly scrutiny committee, the Red Sky fiasco and the catastrophe surrounding welfare reform," she said.

"Despite being sacked as a minister, the Social Development Committee report into the Red Sky affair will continue. The public must retain confidence in our ability to hold those who hold high office to high standards."

Ms Kelly said she hoped Mervyn Storey would have a "greater understanding of the need for transparency, accountability and the highest of standards" and rectify his predecessor's failings "as soon as possible".

Mr Storey is the former chairman of the education committee at Stormont. He has been a staunch critic of the Education Minister's handling of the Education and Skills Authority.

The Ballymoney man, who is in his third term at the Assembly, first entered politics on the council at his home town in 2001.

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