Who are the new ministers sitting around the executive table at Stormont?

Six women and six men make up the new look executive at Stormont, but who are they?

Executive ministers.
Eight heads of department at Stormont (L-R from top): Naomi Long, Robin Swann, Caoimhe Archibald, Paul Givan, Andrew Muir, Conor Murphy, John O'Dowd and Gordon Lyons.

First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Féin)

A history maker as the first ever nationalist First Minister of Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill was born in Cork and raised in Clonoe, in a household steeped in Irish republican politics.

She joined Sinn Féin in 1998 aged 21, becoming a councillor in 2005 and an MLA two years later.

The first ever female Mayor of Dungannon and South Tyrone in 2010, she was appointed to the executive the following year, serving five years as agriculture minister and one year as health minister.

She succeeded Martin McGuinness as vice president of Sinn Féin in 2018, and became Deputy First Minister when Sinn Féin went back into the executive in January 2020.

Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly (DUP)

The first unionist to hold the title of Deputy First Minister, the selection of the co-opted MLA Emma Little-Pengelly has raised some eyebrows.

The barrister turned MP has spent more time in the Assembly as a Spad (special advisor) than as an MLA.

She worked with Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson before she was co-opted into Jimmy Spratt’s South Belfast seat in 2015. Four weeks later she was a junior minister in the executive.

Elected to the Assembly in 2016, she lost the seat the following year, but won the South Belfast Westminster seat the same year, holding it until 2019.

With another General Election looming, the question will be how long she stays in the DFM role if Sir Jeffrey Donaldson decides to make a return to Stormont.

First Minister and Deputy First Minister
First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly.

Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald (Sinn Féin)

Sinn Féin appeared surprised by the opportunity to retain finance, but quickly nominated the East Derry MLA to succeed Conor Murphy and make her ministerial debut

A background in running marathons and a PhD in molecular mycology could well give her the stamina and forensic eye needed to draft a multi-year budget and deal with the demands from various departments.

The general consensus is that the £3.3 billion extra funding announced by the NIO, which includes £600m to settle pay claims and a £1.1bn ‘stablisation’ fund, won’t be enough.

If extra Treasury cash isn’t forthcoming, Dr Archibald faces some difficult (and unpopular) decisions.

Economy Minister Conor Murphy (Sinn Féin)

Sinn Féin have had their eyes on the economy portfolio for some time, so it was no surprise when the party took it on their first pick.

The oldest member of the executive, Conor Murphy brings plenty of baggage to the table, but he also brings huge experience and intimate knowledge of Stormont’s finances.

As the first ever nationalist economy minister, we can expect the South Armagh MLA will be keen to put dual-market access at the forefront of a redrawn economic strategy for the north.

He will also be keen to accelerate the reform of Invest NI.

Health Minister Robin Swann (UUP)

The Ulster Unionist, who impressed in the role previously, is back in charge of the Stormont department with the biggest budget and the most significant problems.

Robin Swann will need the support of the other executive parties to finally grapple the long overdue reform of the health service.

The difficult decisions to be taken, coupled with his decision to contest the South Antrim Westminster seat in the upcoming general election, could put a dent in his high popularity rating with the public.

He has already invited the trade unions to commence early discussions to resolve the ongoing disputes over pay.

Justice Minister Naomi Long (Alliance)

The only leader of a political party to sit around the executive table, Naomi Long resumes the post she first took up in January 2020.

Aside from a nine month stint by independent Claire Sugden, the requirement for a cross-community vote for the justice portfolio has left it in the hands of Alliance since powers were devolved in 2010.

She starts her new tenure with the PSNI’s budget, staffing and pay disputes top of the agenda, alongside pressure to address the lengthy delays within the justice system.

Education Minister Paul Givan (DUP)

The DUP caught everyone by surprise on Saturday when the party used its first pick to make Paul Givan education minister.

The only other person around the executive table to hold the office of First Minister, the 42-year-old Lagan Valley MLA also served as communities minister.

He may have been responsible for collapsing the executive by resigning as First Minister in February 2022, but it’s understood Sinn Féin considered him much easier to work with compared with Arlene Foster.

Some commentators have suggested he may go down in history as the last ever unionist First Minister.

Communities Minister Gordon Lyons (DUP)

One of the youngest ministers around the table, Gordon Lyons is also one of the most experienced.

Despite only becoming an MLA in 2015, he has already served as economy, agriculture and junior minister.

He is viewed both inside and outside the party as one of the most capable in the DUP ranks, and very much in Jeffrey Donaldson’s corner.

Housing and social security will be high on his agenda on day one, but his responsibility for culture and sports, means he will be a key figure in the Casement Park development.

Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd (Sinn Féin)

No stranger to the executive table, John O’Dowd spent five years with the education portfolio and also briefly stood in for Martin McGuinness as acting Deputy First Minister.

He took on the infrastructure portfolio in a caretaker capacity in May 2022 after Nichola Mallon lost her Assembly seat.

With three more Translink strikes are planning this month, settling pay disputes both inside and outside his department will be a priority on day one.

The A5 dual carriageway remains high on the Sinn Féin agenda, but Michelle O’Neill also named the A29 in her maiden speech as First Minister. That could see the Cookstown bypass finally developed.

Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Andrew Muir (Alliance)

Andrew Muir sat on North Down Borough Council for almost a decade before he was co-opted into Stephen Farry’s Assembly seat in December 2019.

The Alliance Party’s chief whip, who is openly gay, retained his seat at the 2022 Assembly election.

With Stormont’s 80% Climate Bill target for renewable electricity set in stone, he’s expected to put as much focus on the latter aspect of the portfolio as the former, which may concern the farm lobby.

Junior Ministers Aisling Reilly and Pam Cameron
Junior Ministers Aisling Reilly and Pam Cameron.

Junior Minister Aisling Reilly (Sinn Féin)

The youngest MLA around the executive table, the 34-year-old West Belfast MLA is a former handball world champion.

She began working with Sinn Féin in 2020 and was the co-opted into Fra McCann’s Assembly seat in 2021. She successful retained the seat in the 2022 Assembly election.

In May 2022, the West Belfast gaeilgeoir became the first MLA to give a speech in the Assembly entirely in the Irish language.

Junior Minister Pam Cameron (DUP)

South Antrim MLA Pam Cameron’s nomination as junior minister means that for the first time, all four executive office ministers are female.

Elected as a councillor in 2005, she become the first female mayor of Antrim Borough Council in 2010.

She worked as Sammy Wilson’s constituency office manager before securing an Assembly seat in 2011.