Belfast Telegraph

Robinson: Stormont reform vital

Reforming Stormont's mandatory coalition system of government will be a key priority for the Democrat Unionists in the future, party leader Peter Robinson indicated.

Northern Ireland's First Minister told delegates at the DUP's annual conference that he viewed the present arrangements as transitory, but he stressed they were still preferable to direct rule.

The 2006 St Andrews Agreement that paved the way to the restoration of power-sharing contains a requirement for MLAs to review the system in the coming years.

The DUP favours the eventual adoption of a voluntary coalition system to replace the current format where all the main parties must have a position in the ruling executive.

"For us the present arrangements are a transitional phase to a more normal form of democracy for Northern Ireland," Mr Robinson told the party faithful at the event in the La Mon hotel in Belfast.

"That's why we insisted at St Andrews, and had it incorporated in law, that the next Assembly would bring forward proposals on moving to a better form of devolved government.

"That's a vital piece of work for the next mandate. And only the DUP can succeed in making the sort of changes that are needed."

The party leader acknowledged 2010 had been a hard year for him personally.

Nearly 12 months ago he looked close to political collapse after it emerged his wife Iris had an affair with teenager Kirk McCambley. Further revelations that she secured money from property developers to help her lover start a business threatened to shatter the Robinsons' legacy.

"I'll not deny that for me this has been my most testing year," he said, thanking those who had supported him. "But the real test of any person is not how they stand up in a gentle breeze but how they weather the battering when the relentless gales blow."

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