In 1999 Michael was appointed as the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure in the first ‘Power Sharing Executive’ following the Belfast Agreement. With a passion for sports and the creative arts, Michael spearheaded the football strategy and established an Irish and Ulster Scots language protocol that remains in operation today. Some of his most significant achievements as Culture Minister included the digitisation of the Ulster Covenant, increased funding for the Irish and Ulster Scots languages, and the creation of ‘Unlocking Creativity’, which was a cross departmental creative industries action plan. In addition, Michael was responsible for the commemorations to mark the Millennium in Northern Ireland and was the Minister responsible for the co-ordination of her Majesty’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in Northern Ireland.
He supported elite sports by establishing and launching the Sports Institute for Northern Ireland, He served on the UK Sports Cabinet when the decision was taken to bid for the London 2012 Olympics and launched the two and four wheel strategy that saw significant funding provided to make the sports safer for participants and spectators. He also saved the Harland and Wolf drawing office from demolition by placing a preservation order on it