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New Stormont executive ministers – profiles

The new ministers for the Northern Ireland executive
Brendan Hughes
  • Simon Hamilton (DUP) – economy 

The Strangford MLA takes on the newly branded economy portfolio after previous stints at the helm of finance and most recently health.

During his short year as health minister the 39-year-old came under pressure over issues such as abortion.

His party was accused of purposefully delaying a decision on abortion reform in cases of fatal foetal abnormality until after the assembly election.

Mr Hamilton also faced particular criticism over the DUP's 'in-out' policy last year that saw ministers repeatedly resigning in response to a political fall-out over the murder of an ex-IRA man.

A former councillor on Ards Borough Council, Mr Hamilton was the assembly private secretary for the finance department before being appointed finance minister in 2013.

In 2010 he won the award for 'up and coming' politician from political blog Slugger O'Toole.

The new department includes the functions of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and part of the old Department for Employment and Learning.

 

  •  Peter Weir (DUP) – education

He has been a North Down MLA since 1998, but this is Mr Weir's first time as a minister after years of being passed over in DUP appointments and reshuffles.

The 47-year-old barrister from Bangor has however occupied a variety of roles during his time at Stormont including chief whip of the DUP assembly party.

Mr Weir has also represented the party on the assembly all-party groups on issues such as human trafficking, European environmental regulations, and muscular dystrophy.

 

  • Paul Givan (DUP) – communities

The 34-year-old was appointed to the Lagan Valley assembly seat vacated by the constituency's MP Jeffrey Donaldson in 2010.

His political experience includes being a former Lisburn councillor, ex-special adviser in the Department of the Environment, and former justice committee chair.

In 2014 he faced criticism from gay rights campaigners for attempting to introduce a "conscience clause" into equality law in Northern Ireland.

It followed the Equality Commission bringing a civil case against Christian-owned bakery Ashers for refusing to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan.

In 2013 Mr Givan was left with an estimated £50,000 libel damages bill after being sued by former Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan over comments he made during a live UTV interview.

The Irish News revealed that a Stormont insurance policy costing taxpayers £33,700 annually was used to provide cover for the libel action.

His new department is a merger of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, and the Department for Social Development.

 

  •  Michelle McIlveen (DUP) – agriculture, environment and rural affairs

The newly formed department combines the former agriculture department with some functions from the old Department of the Environment.

Ms McIlveen was a junior minister in the first minister's office before becoming regional development minister last year when the UUP left the executive.

A former councillor on Ards Borough Council, the 45-year-old was first elected to Strangford in 2007.

She had served as the chair on the culture, arts and leisure committee until September 2014 when she was appointed as chair of the education committee.

 

  •  Alastair Ross (DUP) – junior minister

The 35-year-old East Antrim MLA becomes junior minister after holding a series of roles over the course of his previous term in the assembly including chair of the justice committee.

In 2014 as chair of the standards and privileges committee, Mr Ross announced the findings of the committee's report into BBC Spotlight allegations against Iris Robinson.

The Stormont report was released almost five years after the Spotlight programme aired.

 

  •  Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (Sinn Féin) – finance

The 57-year-old businessman is the first Sinn Féin minister to hold a major economic brief in the Northern Ireland executive.

Mr Ó Muilleoir was co-opted into the assembly in 2014 after a high-profile term as Belfast lord mayor in which he was known for his many selfies on social media.

Considered the most middle class-friendly Sinn Féin MLA, the newspaper owner had previously taken a sabbatical from 1997 to 2011 to concentrate on his business interests.

An Irish speaker and marathon runner, he was returned to the assembly earlier this month after topping the poll in his constituency of South Belfast.

Mr Ó Muilleoir has also been keen to reach out the hand of reconciliation, although his efforts were rejected when he was jostled during a mayoral visit to re-open a north Belfast park in August 2013.

 

  •  Michelle O'Neill (Sinn Féin) – health

The Mid Ulster MLA is the only Sinn Féin minister apart from Martin McGuinness to be reappointed to the executive.

She was considered competent in her previous role in agriculture, although the department is generally seen as one of the less challenging portfolios.

By contrast the health remit is regarded as one of the most challenging, but her previous experience as the party's health spokesperson should help her address the issues.

Aged 39, she was still a teenager at the time of the IRA's 1994 ceasefire and worked as an adviser in the assembly to Francie Molloy before a stint as a councillor ahead of becoming an MLA in 2007.

 

  • Chris Hazzard (Sinn Féin) – infrastructure

Co-opted into the assembly early in the last mandate, the South Down MLA is considered as one of Sinn Fein's brightest prospects.

He raised eyebrows last year during a Nolan Show appearance when he suggested Sinn Féin advocated clearing everyone's credit card debt.

But the 31-year-old has managed to keep his head down since then and has also become a father.

His new department includes the old Department for Regional Development and some of the functions of the old Department of the Environment.

 

  •  Megan Fearon (Sinn Féin) – junior minister

The youngest ever Stormont minister, the 24-year-old was co-opted to the assembly in 2012 as a replacement for Conor Murphy in Newry and Armagh.

Her appointment to the role of junior minister represents a clear generational shift for her party.

A Queen's University graduate, she sat on Stormont's finance and enterprise committees, as well as on the all-party group for children and young people.

 

  •  Claire Sugden (independent unionist) – justice

The 29-year-old former Coleraine councillor inherited her East Derry assembly seat in 2014 from the late David McClarty.

Hailing from Castlerock in Co Derry, she had previously worked as his parliamentary assistant and managed his election campaign in 2011 when he stood as an independent.

The youngest of four girls and a boy, Ms Sugden studied politics at university and achieved a masters degree in Irish politics.

She plans to marry in 2017 after her 33-year-old fiance proposed on the London Eye earlier this year.

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