Peter Robinson strikes conciliatory note as he bows out with Martin McGuinness tribute
Peter Robinson yesterday finally achieved a political aim he would have loved to have done years ago - forcing Martin McGuinness out of office.
But he had to resign as First Minister to do so - and within a few minutes the senior republican was back in post.
Nonetheless for that very short time yesterday, Mr McGuinness was no longer Deputy First Minister.
Under the terms of the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements, the two men stand or fall together, and so Northern Ireland was temporarily leaderless.
Mr McGuinness was still in limbo as Mr Robinson, in his last act as nominating officer for the party, spoke of his "great pleasure" in nominating his successor.
After Mr McGuinness was re-nominated by Sinn Fein MLA Catriona Ruane, he revealed that in recent years Mr Robinson has urged him to remain in office.
"Peter took over in 2008 and, in one of the first conversations we had, he said to me, 'No matter what happens on the streets, we must ensure that these institutions do not collapse'," he said.
"We were mindful that the institutions had collapsed on several previous occasions, albeit under other political parties.
"I had a friendship with Ian Paisley that existed until the day he died. I have no doubt I have a friendship with Peter that will exist until the day we both die."
Mr Robinson said: "It would be remiss of me not to thank the Deputy First Minister and all those whom I have served alongside in the Executive over these past years. Through good times and bad, we have worked together, despite our many differences in background, temperament and outlook. Strangely, we were at our strongest when the threat from outside political institutions was at its greatest.
"The collective revulsion across the community and across the Chamber following the murders of Sappers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar, as well as those of Constables Stephen Carroll and Ronan Kerr, was the surest sign to me that we were never going to go back to the dark days of the past."
While he intends to remain as a backbench MLA, Mr Robinson indicated the 'Fresh Start' deal provides a foundation which others can build on.
"Crucially, after centuries of division, we had to outlive the growing pains of learning to work together, fashion shared policies and create a more inclusive society," he said.
"It is a feature of every societal transformation that some will be displeased at the pace of change, some believing it to be too fast, and others feeling that it is too slow. Yet, so much has been achieved and the platform now exists to do even more."
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, whose party has quit the Executive, argued however: "It is an Executive of just four parties these days, only two of which support the Budget and the self-styled Fresh Start."
Perhaps the most unexpected praise came from his former DUP colleague, now TUV leader Jim Allister, who said Mr Robinson had attained much with debating skills "in a class of their own". To laughter, he added: "(We) would probably have the view that the other took the wrong road. In holding that view of each other, I suppose that that is something about which we still agree."