DUP appoint Hamilton as health minister

Stormont's new health minister, Simon Hamilton
Stormont's new health minister, Simon Hamilton

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

The former Stormont finance minister replaces Jim Wells, who stepped down to care for his sick wife after sparking controversy with comments about gay marriage.

The appointment was announced as part of a major reshuffle of the DUP’s ministerial team at the Assembly.

Mr Hamilton said: “I look forward to getting to grips with the challenges over the next number of days.

“Even though it is a new beat for me I am well aware of the challenges.”

Jim Wells resigned last month following a public outcry over comments allegedly linking gay marriage to child abuse. He later apologised.

DUP leader Peter Robinson confirmed the appointment in a tweet.

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

Mr Wells announced his resignation two weeks ago saying he wanted to devote more time to caring for his wife who had suffered two strokes.

He had been facing calls to resign since 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 in his South Down constituency added further pressure.

The furore came at a time of intense scrutiny when the DUP was claiming the party could be ‘kingmakers’ in the event of a hung parliament and former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg branded the remarks “truly backward looking”.

Mr Hamilton, a Strangford MLA, has been an effective caretaker for the department of health for the past two weeks.

He added: “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.

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

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

Mervyn Storey remains as Minister for Social Development.

Mr Robinson said his focus was now on next year’s Assembly elections.

He said: “This is a first class team.”