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Peter Robinson: I am stepping down as First Minister on my own terms

Published 19/11/2015

Peter Robinson speaks to our political editor Liam Clarke about his impending departure
Peter Robinson speaks to our political editor Liam Clarke about his impending departure
Peter Robinson is standing down
Peter Robinson speaks to our political editor Liam Clarke about his impending departure
Peter Robinson speaks to our political editor Liam Clarke about his impending departure
Peter Robinson speaks to our political editor Liam Clarke about his impending departure
Peter Robinson speaks to our political editor Liam Clarke about his impending departure

Northern Ireland's retiring First Minister Peter Robinson has insisted he is leaving politics on his own terms.

Mr Robinson, who is also resigning as Democratic Unionist leader, said he is stepping down content that in his 40-year career he has done his best for Northern Ireland and the cause of unionism.

The 66-year-old said he would exit around the new year period, leaving his successor sufficient time to prepare for next May's Assembly election.

His announcement, which was widely expected, came days after he struck a political deal with his partners-in-government Sinn Fein, and the UK and Irish governments, which effectively saved the power-sharing coalition from threatened collapse.

Mr Robinson faced criticised from some quarters over his handling of the recent political crisis at Stormont and was also forced to strongly deny allegations of corruption, levelled under parliamentary privilege by a loyalist blogger, related to Northern Ireland's biggest ever property sale.

But the DUP leader insisted he was not under any internal party pressure to stand aside. He also denied his departure was due to the heart attack he suffered in May.

"It's entirely on my own terms," Mr Robinson said of his retirement. "I am probably the first unionist leader who will say afterwards that I left entirely on my own terms."

He added: "The fact is if I wanted to stay the party officers and party would have been fully supportive, the reality of course is I am almost 67 years of age, these are five-year terms we are looking into - it's unrealistic to go on for a third term in the top post.

"So I look forward to the new challenges my life will have, but I think over these last number of years Northern Ireland has made very real progress."

Mr Robinson said he does not care how history judges him, but said he is satisfied he has always done his best.

Peter Robinson pictured with his wife Iris after his release from Crumlin Road Prison where he spent four days in jail for his non payment of road tax in opposition to the Anglo-irish Agreement Sept 1987
Peter Robinson pictured with his wife Iris after his release from Crumlin Road Prison where he spent four days in jail for his non payment of road tax in opposition to the Anglo-irish Agreement Sept 1987
DUP MPs Iris and Peter Robinson are one of the best-known couples in Ulster politics. Here, in extracts from a brilliant new biography, Iris: An Intimate Portrait, the mother-of-three reveals how the death of her father when she was just five years old plunged the family into greater hardship - and the amazing discovery she made about her father years later. When Iris and Peter opted to spend their honeymoon in Majorca
Peter Robinson of the DUP pictured in the Israeli Border Area with AK47 rifles while on a fact finding mission to the Middle East. Pacemaker Press Intl. Dec. 1984
Enthronement of Archbishop John Armstrong at Armagh. Peter Robinson arrested outside Cathedral for trying to break through a police cordon. Robinson, Ian Paisley and Jonhy McQuade as well as DUP supporters were arrested. They were held in custody for just one hour. Paisley etc. were there to protest at the presence of Premier Charles Haughey from the south who they claimed was willingly harbouring wanted terrorists. Pacemaker Press Intl. 7th May 1980.....316/80/BW
Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson are taken away by police in Armagh after protesting a vist by Charles Haughey in 1980
rev Ian paisley leader of dup/ ralley at stormont peter robinson and ian paisley who addressed the crowd at stormont 23/11/1981
Peter Robinson (second from left) and Noel Little (right) at an Ulster Resistance rally in 1986
Ian Paisley with Peter Robinson
PETER ROBINSON:DUP
Robinson in the 1980s
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), REV. IAN PAISLEY SPEAKING AT A PRESS CONFERENCE AT STORMONT. INCLUDED (FROM LEFT) REV. IVAN FOSTER, PETER ROBINSON, JIN ALLISTER AND REV WILLIAM BEATTIE. 20/9/1984.
First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness greet Rory McIlroy at Stormont yesterday
DUP leader Peter Robinson with his wife Iris Robinson pictured at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, April 18 2008
MP Peter Robinson of the DUP speaking to Belfast Telegraph reporter Chris Thornton yesterday
File photo dated 01/10/08 Northern Ireland's new First Minister Peter Robinson and his wife Iris kiss behind his desk after he was nominated as First Minister in the Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast. Robinson and his wife Iris munched their way through 30,000 of food claimed for in their MPs' expenses over a four year period, according to the Daily Telegraph. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday May 15, 2009. MPs are allowed to claim up to 400 a month for food. See PA story POLITICS Expenses Ulster. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
Northern Ireland's new First Minister Peter Robinson celebrates with his wife Iris at his desk at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Northern Ireland, Thursday, June 5, 2008. The Northern Ireland Assembly has elected Protestant politician Peter Robinson to be the new leader of a power-sharing government alongside Catholics. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Democratic Unionist Party leader Peter Robinson, center, Nigel Donaldson deputy leader, left, and Iris Robinson react to delegates at the annual party conference, in Armagh Northern Ireland, Saturday, Nov. 1, 2008. The DUP leader was speaking at his first conference as party leader and Northern Ireland First Minister. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, left and First Minister Peter Robinson, centre, greet US President George Bush, right, to the Stormont Castle in Belfast on the second day of the President's official visit to the UK. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday June 16, 2008. US president George Bush arrived in Northern Ireland today to meet the politicians heading its power-sharing government. Democratic Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will welcome the president and the First Lady at Stormont Castle in Belfast. See PA story POLITICS Bush. Photo credit should read: Stephen Wilson/PA Wire
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 9/5/2001: Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson at the launch of the DUP election Campaign Picture By Stephen Wilson/Pacemaker
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are all smiles as they talk to Europe team captain Paul McGinley during the Morning Fourballs of the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
From left, William McCrea, Ivan Foster, Jim Allister, Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson
Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson
Former DUP MP and MLA Iris Robinson at Stormont with her husband, First Minister Peter Robinson
DUP leader Peter Robinson congratulates Alliance’s Naomi Long after her victory in 2010
Peter Robinson being held in Clontibret, Monaghan
Queen Elizabeth II shaking hands with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
DUP leader Peter Robinson says the BBC has offered nothing new
Peter Robinson at Dundalk Court in August 1986 after the invasion at Clontibret
Ian Paisley announcing in 2008 that his replacement as DUP party leader will be Peter Robinson with Nigel Dodds being his deputy. Pic Colm Lenaghan / Pacemaker
Gerry Adams eats the cake he baked for Peter Robinson's 65th birthday
Canvassing together: Ian Paisley (centre), leader of the Democratic Unionists with deputy Peter Robinson (left) and his wife Iris Robinson as they embark on the election campaign in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, Monday April 25, 2005.
President Barack Obama is flanked by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness at the White House’s St Patrick’s celebrations in 2013
Martin McGuinness (right) claimed he and Peter Robinson were both behind the project
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. End of the Carson Trial Phase 11. Stormont Rally. Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson. 28/3/81. 270/81/c
Sunday Life News Ian Paisley Death Pull Out DUP leader Ian Paisley with MPs Peter Robinson and William McCrea launching their election campaign in 1996
United stand: Peter Robinson and Gerry Adams at the funeral of Constable Ronan Kerr.
The Sunningdale talks of 1973
Prime Minister David Cameron (centre) talks as Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (left) and Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson (right) listen during a press conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street in central London.

"All any individual can do is to do their best and, if they have been genuinely trying to move Northern Ireland forward, then how history judges them is something for future generations," he said.

"I am content that I have done my best, I have laid out a strategy that I think is in the interests of the unionist community."

He added: "Politics is a wee bit like a river - it continues to flow, there's never any end point, so you really have to decide at what stage you step off and end your journey.

"And in Northern Ireland politics there are so many developments, so many layers, it is always difficult to find a chapter end, but I think if you look over the last few days with the agreement that has been reached, the fact we have an Assembly election coming up in a few months' time, it seems to be exactly the right time to stand down and to give a new leader the opportunity to get settled in before the election comes round."

Mr Robinson said he had wanted to stabilise the power-sharing administration in Belfast before stepping aside.

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds will be among the favourites to take over as DUP leader.

However with Mr Dodds based in Westminster, another senior party figure could take on the role of Stormont First Minister.

Finance Minister Arlene Foster has been touted as a potential leader of the power-sharing coalition.

Mr Robinson, who replaced Ian Paisley as first minister and DUP leader in 2008, said he had wanted to secure a number of specific objectives before leaving - including saving the power-sharing government, the DUP retaking the East Belfast Westminster seat he lost in 2010 and setting a date for Northern Ireland to determine its own corporation tax rate.

With all those accomplished, he said the time was right to step aside.

Tuesday's Fresh Start agreement resolved the wrangle over the non-implementation of the UK Government's welfare reforms, and a number of other disputes which had pushed the coalition Executive to the verge of collapse, including the fall-out from a murder linked to the Provisional IRA and an acute budgetary crisis.

However, the accord has been fiercely criticised by victims' campaigners for failing to secure consensus on new mechanisms to address the legacy of the Troubles.

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Martin McGuinness pays tribute to 'friend' Peter Robinson

Martin McGuinness has paid tribute to Northern Ireland's departing First Minister Peter Robinson, saying he now counts his long-time political foe as a "friend".

The Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister at Stormont said his retiring counterpart, who is also stepping down as Democratic Unionist leader, deserves credit for his role in the peace process.

In a widely expected announcement, Mr Robinson, 66, said he will not contest next May's Assembly election and is likely to leave his post at the head of the powersharing coalition in the coming weeks.

The move comes days after he signed a political deal with Sinn Fein and the UK and Irish governments to avert the collapse of the administration.

Mr McGuinness said Mr Robinson had informed him of his intentions well before it was announced publicly.

"I have always given credit to Peter for recognising that the only way forward in this country was for us to work together," said the Sinn Fein veteran.

The warm relationship Mr McGuinness struck up with the late Ian Paisley in their time together at the head of the Stormont Executive has been well documented - in fact their unlikely friendship is the subject of a forthcoming feature film.

While Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness's seven years in office has not been characterised with the same bonhomie, the republican insisted he has developed a strong relationship with his unionist partner in government.

"I think he was a very strong friend, like Ian Paisley, of the peace process," he said.

"And Ian paisley and I, incredibly, developed a friendship which existed until the day he died. So I do regard Peter Robinson as a friend, yes."

Mr Robinson said he had wanted to stabilise the powersharing administration in Belfast before stepping aside.

The experienced politician suffered a heart attack earlier this year but has insisted he had made his mind up to leave before the health scare.

There had been growing speculation Mr Robinson would outline his departure plans at the DUP's annual conference this weekend.

In the event, he confirmed his exit in a pre-conference interview with the Belfast Telegraph.

"I think it would be disrespectful to the party membership if I was to go through a conference with the pretence that I would be leading the party into the next election," he said.

"I think they have a right to know what the circumstances are."

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds will be among the favourites to take over as DUP leader.

However, with Mr Dodds based in Westminster, another senior party figure could take on the role of Stormont First Minister.

Northern Ireland's finance minister Arlene Foster has been touted as a potential leader of the powersharing coalition.

Mr Robinson said he would remain in the post until Tuesday's Fresh Start agreement is "bedded in" - a period he indicated could last into the early new year.

The East Belfast Assembly member, who replaced Ian Paisley as first minister and DUP leader in 2008, said he had wanted to secure a number of specific objectives before leaving - namely stabilising the powersharing government, the DUP retaking the East Belfast Westminster seat he lost in 2010 and setting a date for Northern Ireland to determine its own corporation tax rate.

With all those accomplished, he said the time was right to step aside.

"For anyone who is not very young to go beyond two terms is stretching it," he said.

"There are massive pressures on anybody in this job. You do need to renew political leadership, bringing in people with perhaps more energy and people with new ideas."

Tuesday's Fresh Start agreement resolved the wrangle over the non-implementation of the UK Government's welfare reforms, and a number of other disputes which had pushed the coalition Executive to the verge of collapse, including the fall-out from a murder linked to the Provisional IRA and an acute budgetary crisis.

However, the accord has been fiercely criticised by victims' campaigners for failing to secure consensus on new mechanisms to address the legacy of the Troubles.

Sammy Wilson pays tribute

Responding to the announcement DUP MP Sammy Wilson said: "I have known Peter for more than forty years. For a large part of that time we were both elected representatives in the same area. We just weren't colleagues.  We were friends. Throughout those years he has shown a complete focus on and dedication to the people he represents. His long career in East Belfast was one of hard work and securing the best outcomes for the area.

"More latterly, as a government minister, I worked alongside him in the Northern Ireland Executive. His capacity for getting to grips with difficult and detailed issues was immense and unrivaled. During nearly eight years as the First Minister he has dealt with a wide range of difficult matters that might have bested other politicians.

"Peter always thinks long-term and he can be proud that he presided over the longest period of unbroken devolution since the start of the Troubles and as he leaves front-line politics he can also take pride in knowing that he has built the basis upon which devolution can continue in Northern Ireland. 

"Peter has been with us from the early days. He traveled the length and breadth of country building the structures of the party.  As he retires he can do so with pride.  He led the party to its most successful ever Assembly election. Whilst he is stepping back from the leader's job, I know his advice and wisdom will always be welcomed."

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