Thursday 27 October 2016

Simon Hamilton appointed as Northern Ireland's new health minister

Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 11/05/2015 | 19:06

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MLA replaces Jim Wells (pictured)
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MLA replaces Jim Wells (pictured)

Simon Hamilton has been named Northern Ireland's new health minister.

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The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MLA replaces Jim Wells, who resigned after he made remarks linking gay marriage to child abuse.

The new appointment was announced as part of a major DUP reshuffle of ministerial positions at the Stormont Assembly.

The former Finance Minister, who has been an effective Department of Health caretaker, said he was looking forward to taking on one of the biggest and toughest portfolios.

He said: "Even though it is a new beat for me I am well aware of the challenges.

"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."

Mr Wells resigned last month after he said during an election hustings event in South Down that children in same-sex relationships were more likely to suffer neglect or abuse.

He initially claimed to have been misrepresented but apologised following 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 several days later added further pressure.

Read more: Northern Ireland Health Minister quits over gay slur

The furore came at a time of intense scrutiny when the DUP was touting the party as potential "kingmakers" in the event of a hung parliament.

Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg branded the comments "truly backward looking".

Announcing his resignation last month, Mr Wells said he wanted to care for his seriously ill wife who had suffered two strokes.

He remains an MLA and ran as the DUP's Westminster candidate for South Down.

Mr Hamilton, a Strangford MLA, said his priorities would be reforming the cash-strapped health service.

"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," he said.

Mr Hamilton will be replaced at the Department of Finance and Personnel by Arlene Foster.

Jonathan Bell, who was widely tipped as the next minister for health, moves to Enterprise, Trade and Investment while Michelle McIlveen has been made a junior minister.

Mr Bell said he was "honoured" to have been given the DETI ministerial post.

He said: "This is a time of great potential for Northern Ireland and it is important that this potential continues to be given every opportunity to be fulfilled to the maximum."

Mervyn Storey remains as Minister for Social Development.

DUP leader Peter Robinson said his focus was now on next year's Assembly elections.

He said: "I wanted to get the right people in the right positions and I believe I have done that.

"This is a first class team."

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