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New finance minister 'a whirlwind' says official

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir was described as a "whirlwind" by a senior civil servant in the finance department. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

A SENIOR civil servant in Stormont's finance department said staff had been "hit by a whirlwind" following the appointment of their new minister.

In an email the official told a colleague: "Apologies I didn't manage to get back to you yesterday. We have kind of been hit by a whirlwind this week – by the name of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir!"

The candid message was sent just two days after the South Belfast MLA was appointed finance minister in May.

It is contained in correspondence, released to The Irish News under Freedom of Information, relating to preparations for a trip the Sinn Fein minister made to New York a week after taking up the post.

The excursion led to calls for Mr Ó Muilleoir – who has business interests in the US city and regularly travels there – to clearly separate his business interests from his ministerial responsibilities.

A Department of Finance press release said he would "fulfil personal commitments and undertake ministerial engagements with key Irish-American leaders" while in New York, with no public funds being used.

The newly-released correspondence shows how the minister asked officials to try to arrange a meeting with city comptroller Scott Stringer, who he has met on numerous occasions outside of his new ministerial role.

In an email, Mr Ó Muilleoir said: "I will undertake some personal commitments in US over next 48 hours."

But he added that his "ministerial business" would include meeting Mr Stringer, as well as Irish-American philanthropist Loretta Brennan-Glucksman and John Kiernan, president of the NYC Bar Association.

"I hope to sound out Ms Brennan-Glucksman and comptroller Stringer on our options for raising awareness about the need for further investment in our economy," he wrote.

Yesterday The Irish News reported that Mr Ó Muilleoir had been reappointed as director of Belfast Media Group only a fortnight after resigning.

At the time he stood down he said it was to focus on his ministerial post.

Mr Ó Muilleoir has not explained his reappointment, but said he is "fully compliant" with the ministerial code.

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