Robinson unveils surprise reshuffle of DUP ministers

New health minister must decide whether children’s cardiac surgery should move from Belfast to Dublin

First Minister Peter Robinson caused surprise this evening by a reshuffle of DUP Ministers in the Northern Executive.

The Minister of Health Edwin Poots was replaced by South Down Assembly member Jim Wells while North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey takes over as Minister of Social Development from Nelson McCausland

Lagan Valley MLA Mr Poots has been facing serious budget pressures in recent months.

He last month warned he would not implement £140 million in cuts, which he said would “destroy our health service”.


Mr Poots said he was not prepared to carry out cuts, which he believed would leave patient safety “compromised”.

While his stance on cuts may have caused tensions within the DUP his stepping down is not a total shock as at the outset of this Assembly in 2011, Mr Robinson said that during the lifetime of this Executive that Mr Wells would replace Mr Poots as health minister.

There had been no indications however, North Belfast MLA Mr McCausland would have to quit his post as social development minister.

He also has been under pressure in recent months over issues such as welfare reform and housing.

In announcing the changes, Mr Robinson expressed confidence in both incoming and outgoing ministers.

He said he took his decision so that “things would be settled within the party” ahead of Westminster elections next year and Assembly elections in 2016.

Another interpretation at Stormont tonight was Mr Robinson in shifting his ministers was also signalling that he plans to remain firmly in charge notwithstanding some speculation that he is under some pressure to stand down as DUP leader and First Minister.

In addition to budget problems, one of the first matters in Mr Wells' in-tray will be where children from Northern Ireland with heart problems can be treated.

Mr Poots said in the Assembly today a report by an international working group has recommended that children’s cardiac surgery in Northern Ireland should move to Dublin.

“We’ve brought in people who’ve got real expertise specific to this particular issue. They’ve made their recommendations and we will have to give them serious consideration,” he said.

“Regrettably, the conclusion that these key experts have come to is that the overall model for delivering both children and adult congenital heart services on the island of Ireland wouldn’t allow Belfast to sustain surgery at that site. This would mean the vast majority of surgery would be carried out in Dublin,” he said.

Mr Poots had several dealings on this issue with the former minister for health, Dr James O’Reilly.

The new minister Mr Wells will be taking up the matter with his new counterpart in Dublin, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times