Northern Ireland

Simon Hamilton: Former DUP minister to leave politics

Simon Hamilton Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Simon Hamilton is a former DUP minister

The former DUP Minister Simon Hamilton is to leave politics to take up a position as Chief Executive Officer at Belfast Chamber of Commerce.

The 42-year-old Strangford MLA was regarded as one of the most promising young stars of the DUP.

He held the health, finance and economy portfolios in the Stormont power sharing government.

An accountant by profession, Mr Hamilton was generally regarded as on the liberal wing of the DUP.

He refused to say how he voted in the 2016 Brexit referendum, a stance which fuelled suspicions that he disagreed with his party's support for leaving the EU.

'Wealth of skills'

In a statement the president of the Belfast Chamber said: "We have 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."

Rajesh Rana's statement added that Mr Hamilton "comes with a wealth of skills and experience".

"Simon is stepping down completely both from frontline politics and political life," the statement read.

"Belfast Chamber is an apolitical organisation and will continue to be."

Speaking to the BBC's Inside Politics programme, Mr Hamilton said he was "looking forward to working with the Chamber and making Belfast the bustling city it can be".

"I want to fundamentally serve this place that I love, that I call home and this is a different way of doing that."

In relation to the ongoing talks process which hopes to restore a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, Mr Hamilton said he wishes "all parties, and all sides the very best".

"I hope they do reach a successful conclusion as soon as possible," he added.

Hamilton's political life

Mr Hamilton was one of the DUP's chief negotiators at the time of the failed draft deal of February 2018, when the party refused to endorse a compromise proposal over the controversial question of Irish language legislation.

In the wake of the publication of a leaked copy of the draft deal, Mr Hamilton accused Sinn Féin of adopting "scorched earth tactics" and warned that this made the prospects for a return to devolution "bleak".

Mr Hamilton has not had any visible involvement in the recent Stormont negotiations, confining most of his recent comments over social media to sport rather than politics.

He has not issued a party political news release since August 2018, when he accused those trying to make an economic case for a United Ireland of engaging in "wishful thinking".

In October 2018, the former Economy Minister faced uncomfortable questions at the judicial inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal when he admitted knowing about the leaking of e-mails detailing contacts between civil servants in the Enterprise Department and the agri-food industry in the summer of 2015.

The e-mails showed that information had been inappropriately shared that may have contributed to a spike in boiler applications that autumn. The leak seemed to be intended to shift the focus away from the DUP and its advisers and on to civil servants.

Image copyright PAcemaker Press

Mr Hamilton admitted knowing the e-mails had been sent anonymously by his Special Adviser John Robinson to the BBC, the Newsletter and to his own Permanent Secretary Andrew McCormick.

The former minister conceded the episode had not been his "proudest moment".

He said at the time the DUP had been under significant attack from all sides over the RHI scandal and had very little to "fire back".

"That sometimes leads you to do things you would not normally do," he added.

When he was serving as Health Minister Simon Hamilton revealed that he suffers from Crohn's disease - a chronic condition that can cause ulceration and inflammation in the digestive system.

More on this story