Newly-elected DUP leader Edwin Poots has confirmed he will stay on as Northern Ireland (NI) Agriculture Minister, officially turning down the option of taking on the role of First Minister.

Agriland reported on May 17, that Poots had intended to hold on to the Agriculture portfolio, as a source told the outlet that Poots believed there was "still a lot of work to be done".

Traditionally, the party leader has also held the role of First Minister of Northern Ireland; however, Poots has now become the first not to do so.

Assembly appointments

Poots announced his new team would take shape as follows:

  • Christopher Stalford: Remains as principal deputy speaker and replaces William Irwin as vice-chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee;
  • Tom Buchanan: Vice-chair of Procedures (incumbent);
  • Keith Buchanan: Vice-chair of the Finance Committee (replacing Paul Frew);
  • Gordon Lyon: Vice-chair of the Health Committee (replacing Pam Cameron);
  • David Hilditch: Vice-chair of the Infrastructure Committee (incumbent);
  • Jonathan Buckley: Chair of the Infrastructure Committee (replacing Michelle McIlveen);
  • Mervyn Storey: Chair of the Justice Committee (replacing Paul Givan);
  • Paula Bradley: Chair of the Communities Committee (incumbent);
  • William Humphrey: Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (incumbent).

Ministerial appointments

Ministerial appointments were made as follows:

  • Michelle McIlveen: Education Minister (replacing Peter Weir);
  • Paul Frew: Economy Minister (replacing Diane Dodds);
  • Edwin Poots: Agriculture Minister (incumbent);
  • Gary Middleton: Junior Minister (replacing Gordon Lyons);
  • Paul Givan: First Minister (replacing Arlene Foster).

Last week it was announced that Johnny Buckley will become Poots' chief of staff, while Joanne Bunting will take on the party whip.

Poots is thought to be the first Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland to have any formal training in agriculture, having attended Greenmount College in his youth and later gone on to run his own family farm.

He took on the role in January 2020 with big ambitions to get a handle on NI’s soaring bovine tuberculosis (bTB) rates and tackle climate change through supporting efficient and environmentally-sustainable farming methods.

Despite a challenging year facing personal illness and the Covid-19 pandemic, his environmental achievements include committing DAERA to planting 18 million trees within the next decade, offering £15 million support for Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment, and securing future rounds of the Environmental Farming Scheme.

There has been less progress on the TB front. However, his plan to tackle the disease is expected to be published imminently, having now completed its business case and final advice stages.

Poots has long hinted the plan will pave the way for wildlife intervention, potentially through a combination of culling and vaccination, but he has also previously warned it will also contain “things that farmers may not like”.