DUP's Simon Hamilton quits politics
The DUP's Simon Hamilton is quitting politics.
The former finance and health minister is to step down from his seat as Strangford MLA after it was confirmed that he has been appointed the new chief executive of the Belfast Chamber.
His decision comes almost two weeks after the Irish News reported that the Information Commissioner's Office was launching a criminal investigation into the leaking of information to journalists by senior DUP figures at the height of public outcry over the RHI scandal.
Mr Hamilton and his then special adviser John Robinson leaked civil servants' emails in a bid to deflect media attention from their party. He said the leaking was not his "proudest moment" while giving evidence to the RHI inquiry last November.
Mr Hamilton had once been tipped as the future leader of the party, after some success in prominent ministries in the Executive, and was viewed by commentators as a more progressive DUP representative.
It was rumoured Mr Hamilton voted to remain in the Brexit referendum, but when asked how he voted, he refused to be drawn.
Mr Hamilton said in a statement: "I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in public service.
"It has been a huge honour to represent all of the people of my home constituency.
"I have been privileged to hold three ministerial portfolios and to have been involved in so many policy initiatives that have made a positive difference to people's lives.
"I will always be deeply indebted to the party for the trust placed in me and the wonderful opportunities that responsibility has afforded me.
"I wish Arlene and all my former colleagues at Stormont well, especially in their ongoing efforts to restore the Assembly."
Party leader Arlene Foster paid tribute to Mr Hamilton, describing him as a dedicated public representative.
"I have known Simon as a friend and colleague for many years," she said.
"Whilst I am disappointed to be losing Simon as a party colleague and as an elected representative, I know he is taking on a role which will allow him to continue working to make Belfast and Northern Ireland the very best place to live, visit and particularly to do business.
"Whether as a local councillor, Assembly member or as a minister in the Executive, Simon has been an effective and dedicated public representative.
"I want to pay tribute to Simon for everything he has contributed during his time in the political arena."
The party will begin a process shortly to select Mr Hamilton's replacement in his Strangford constituency.
Rajesh Rana, president of Belfast Chamber said: "We held an exhaustive recruitment and interview process for this role and the unanimous verdict of the selection committee was that Simon Hamilton was the strongest candidate.
"Simon comes with a wealth of skills and experience. He trained and worked as an accountant, and he served as economy minister and minister of finance and personnel.
"Simon is stepping down completely both from frontline politics and from political life.
"Belfast Chamber is an apolitical organisation and will continue to be so."