Belfast Telegraph

Ex-First Minister Peter Robinson breaks silence on RHI, snap Assembly election and Arlene Foster

Former DUP leader said there was 'never a need for an election' and period of suspension inevitable

By Claire Williamson

Ex-First Minister Peter Robinson has broken his silence following his retirement, branding Thursday's election "unjustifiable" saying had Martin McGuinness been in good health, the breakdown would have been avoided.

Writing a lengthy post on Facebook the former DUP leader addressed the recent political events that have led to the snap Assembly election.

<< Read the post in full here: Peter Robinson Facebook post in full>>

Mr Robinson said while he had resisted commenting for some while, "recent events have created a set of circumstances where my concern for the very existence of the institutions is greater than my desire for a quiet retirement".

Mr Robinson warned that while the election was "unstoppable, the headlong rush into destruction is not".

"Parties need to take care that the positions they are adopting do not close off sensible options," he wrote.

"They should step back, take a breath and ensure there is sufficient space for an agreement to be reached in the calmer times that follow the hustings."

Mr Robinson also defended current DUP leader Arlene Foster saying that she had been "harshly treated" in recent weeks.

Addressing the botched Renewable Heating Incentive scheme - projected to cost almost £500m - Mr Robinson acknowledged that "mistakes were made".

He said: "There is no question that mistakes were made but throughout the world mistakes are made by politicians and government officials without it amounting to a crisis with the potential of bringing down the political institutions."

He continued: "Of course, opposition parties will want to make hay – that’s their legitimate function – though in these circumstances, their similar failure as Members of the Assembly Committee with a statutory responsibility to scrutinise departmental legislation and actions also leaves them exposed.

"However, the proper role of the Executive was to put in place corrective cost-control measures and initiate a thorough enquiry to ensure that lessons are learned and failings are identified, documented and published.

"If culpability and claims of wrongdoing at any level are sustained, then the enquiry judge should recommend sanctions as appropriate. These steps have been taken and that should have been the beginning and end of the action plan to deal with the crisis until the enquiry reports."

Mr Robinson said there was "never a need for an election" and that residents in Northern Ireland will not "derive any benefit from it".

He said that the appropriate time for an election would have been after the public enquiry into the Renewable Heating Incentive was finished.

He said: "The argument that 'it’s time for the people to have their say on these matters' is bogus. The time for people to have their say would have been after the public inquiry had published its report and all the facts were known and independently evaluated without spin, hype or sensationalism.

"Instead we have had an increasingly fractious contest that has further divided and limited the ability to rebuild the political institutions.

"It is not for me to reach any conclusions about why Sinn Fein chose instead to force an election and declare that they would not return to the status quo, but I cannot help feeling, no matter what now will be said, that had Martin McGuinness been in good health a breakdown would have been avoided.

"As it is, the more belligerent elements in Sinn Fein have seized their opportunity and are seeking to advance their agenda regardless of imperilling the political structures."

Mr Robinson also defended the current DUP leader Arlene Foster - and said he told her when she was installed First Minister that she would have a "short honeymoon" and "then they would come for her".

He said: "The holder of the top post on entering office becomes the target of every envious politician and party. But even by that standard she has been harshly treated over recent weeks.

"You can be sure that when the public inquiry is completed, and suggestions of wrongdoing are found to be groundless, the media will not fill their programmes and columns with apologies and the self-serving politicians in Sinn Fein, the SDLP, UUP and Alliance who have directed thinly disguised accusations of corruption against her will fall silent. Such is the injustice of modern day politics.

Mr Robinson said that the scale of negotiations that Sinn Fein want to have after the election was not possible within the time frame.

He said: "A negotiation of the scale Sinn Fein are seeking to initiate will not be completed in the time legally available.

"Almost inevitably, the Assembly will be suspended and Northern Ireland will be back to Direct Rule (or as Gerry Adams would describe it – Tory rule). I’m not convinced the electorate will want to endorse years of that."

Mr Robinson added that the election was of "constitutional importance and provided an imperative for a high unionist turn-out".

He said: "The result may take account of the ebb and flow of politics but, I suspect, it will still produce two large parties’ representative of the two main sections of this community. For every party leader in election mode, the temptation to do what gets the largest vote, irrespective of the long-term consequences, appears attractive.

"Sadly, it was not resisted. As things stand the road ahead leads inexorably to stalemate. The election has pushed parties further apart and if over the next few weeks parties retain a list of red-line demands inflated by electoral enthusiasm it will be impossible to reach agreement in either the short or medium term.

"The structures, however imperfect, are all that stand between Northern Ireland and political isolation and impotence."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph