Michael McGimpsey is one of Northern Ireland’s best known political figures having served in two Stormont Executives and representing the people of South Belfast at Belfast City Council and the Northern Ireland Executive for twenty three years.
Following a long and varied career Michael retired from the Northern Ireland Assembly prior to the 2016 Assembly Election.
After university he established a successful business career with interests in construction, hotels and the hospitality sector. This during the particular challenging period of the troubles in Northern Ireland.
Michael was one of the founding members of the Peace Train Movement which set out to challenge the violence coming from Republican and Loyalist Terrorist Groups, in the face of significant threat. This was one of the steps toward the ‘peace process’ that would eventually lead to the signing of the Belfast Agreement.
In 1989-90 along with his brother Christopher, Michael challenged the Anglo-Irish Agreement by bringing a suit against the Irish government in the High Court of the Republic of Ireland. The case helped to raise the profile of the Unionist cause and the issue of consent which was eventually addressed through the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998.
Michael was a senior member of the Ulster Unionist Party’s negotiating team during the 1991 Brooke Mayhew talks, which involved the British and Irish governments, the DUP, SDLP and Alliance Party. As Security Spokesperson for the UUP, Michael with closely involved and played a pivotal role at various talks including Weston Park, Leeds Castle, St. Andrews, Hillsborough Castle, Stormont House and the recent Fresh Start negotiations. These negotiations involved many of the key players in the Northern Ireland Peace process including Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Enda Kenny, Bill Clinton, George W Bush, David Trimble, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, John Hume, Seamus Mallon and John Alderdice.
He served on the Committee that built the Waterfront Hall, which is now one of Northern Ireland’s leading entertainment and conference venues. He was a board member of the Grand Opera House and a Governor in a number of South Belfast schools.
Michael adopted a proactive approach in the community development of Belfast establishing a number of forum organisations in some of the most socially and economically deprived areas in the UK.
Michael was elected to the new Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998. He maintained a full time constituency office throughout his time as an MLA in the heart of South Belfast. Throughout his time as an MLA he campaigned along with the local community to improve the standard of living conditions for many of his constituents including the £180 million redevelopment of housing in the Village area and a new school for Taughmonagh.
Upon devolution of power from Westminster in 1999, Michael was appointed to serve as Minister for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the first Northern Ireland Executive. As the first DCAL Minister he was responsible for the establishment of two cross border bodies and the language protocols that remain in use today. With a passion for sport and arts, Michael spearheaded the football strategy and was instrumental in ensuring that the Irish Language and Ulster Scots movement received further investment. He also pioneered the unlocking creativity strategy which set out how creativity could be advanced across the social and economic spectrum in Northern Ireland. He was responsible for Millenium celebrations in Northern Ireland and the Queen’s Golden Jubliee celebration.
Promoting sport was a key objective of Michael and his department. He established and launched the Sports Institute for Northern Ireland with the aim of promoting elite sports. He was also a member of the UK Sports Cabinet when the decision was taken to bid for the London 2012 Olympics.
Other initiatives included protecting the Harland and Wolf Drawing Office building with a preservation order, which was due for demolition, promoting tourism events including hosting the Eagles and Rod Stewart at Stormont.
As Minister for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in the Northern Ireland Executive, Michael was responsible for over 70,000 professionals working in health and social care, ambulance and the fire service and had an annual budget of approximately £4 billion pounds. As Minister Michael delivered free prescriptions for everyone in Northern Ireland as he believed it was wrong for society to place a tax on the sick.
Some of his most significant achievements as Health Minister included:
- Reforming the Health Service by reducing nineteen health trusts to six and by amalgamating four health boards into one.
- Establishing the first Public Health agency in the United Kingdom which is a multi-disciplinary, multi-professional body responsible for improving the health of the population, health protection and support of policy and research development.
- Abolishing prescription charges across Northern Ireland.
- Administering the ‘Go Generic’ campaign resulting in a 50% increase in the prescribing of generic drugs by 2010.
- Steering many pieces of legislation through the Northern Ireland Assembly including the Northern Ireland Health Bill (2009), which is the biggest legislative bill passed since devolution in 1999.
- Leading the response of the Northern Ireland Executive during the swine flu epidemic in 2009, including participating in daily COBRA calls and close liaison with Ministers in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Dublin.
- Responsible for major capital investment including new hospitals in Downpatrick, Omagh, and Enniskillen, new critical care buildings at the Royal Victoria and Ulster Hospitals and the provision of one hundred new emergency vehicles for the Northern Ireland Ambulance, Fire and Rescue Services.
- Championed the need for a radical reform of mental health provision based on the findings of the Bamford Review.
- Implemented the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland ensuring that all present and former members of the military could access free healthcare. Michael was an early supporter of the Military Healthcare Awards and was instrumental in supporting military personnel who were based in Northern Ireland serving in Afghanistan. In 2010, Michael visited Camp Bastion to meet with and provide ongoing support to military personnel.
Michael is married to Maureen and has a son and a daughter. He loves spending time with his family, is a keen gardener and enjoys travelling, walking, reading and watching sport.
NI Assembly Committees
Served as a member of the Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Health Committee.