Belfast Telegraph

Home News Politics

Paisley is still the boss, says Robinson

Six months after he succeeded Ian Paisley at the helm of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Peter Robinson today said he still sees his old boss as his leader.

Mr Robinson said he was honoured to succeed Mr Paisley, but said that taking over as leader of the party was a major responsibility.

He said he had worked at his former leader's side since the 1960s and was now looking forward to taking the DUP into the future.

"I still find it very difficult when I see Ian to think about him in any other terms other than as my leader," said Mr Robinson.

"He has been leader of the party, and I have been associated with him for such a long period of time and so much of my involvement in politics has been revolved around his activities from the '60s on.

"But it is an enormous privilege to be elected unanimously as the leader of the party - enormous responsibility as well."

He said he was pleased that in his first electoral outing as leader, in a council by-election in Enniskillen, the DUP vote increased to reach a new high for the party in the area.

But Mr Robinson said the low point of 2008 was the dispute with Sinn Fein over the devolution of policing and justice which saw Executive meetings blocked for five months.

"I think a lot of my colleagues were particularly annoyed at the press and media who attempted to - because they like to present themselves as being balanced and apolitical - attempted to present the Sinn Fein behaviour as being a 'stand-off' as if everybody in the Executive was responsible for it," said the First Minister.

"It flowed from that unchallenged by the press... this nonsense that nobody was doing any work.

"As if the Assembly wasn't meeting as regularly as it always had, as if ministers weren't going into their departments as they always had.

"The fact that we weren't meeting for a two-hour meeting once a fortnight was portrayed to the public as if the politicians weren't doing their work, which was a nonsense."

He added: "There seems to be this role the press feel they must perform of being critical of government, looking for opportunities to put negative stories in and closing their eyes to many positive ones."

He cited a string of initiatives by the devolved government including rates freezes for business, free public transport for those aged 60 and over, phasing out of prescription charges, the £150 fuel cut for 100,000 vulnerable households and the huge capital spend of the programme for government.

Meanwhile, nationalist SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the economic impact of the past year was compounded by missed opportunities and "political posturing" during the five-month Executive stalemate over power-sharing between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

"Opportunities were missed last year as parties indulged in power posturing. Problems were missed in the hyped-up budget, in the overspun Programme for Government as during the five months of stalemate," he said.

"This year needs to see greater determination, better decisions and truer democratic accountability. Economic uncertainty should not be compounded by political uncertainty.

"The undervaluing and underfunding of the community and voluntary sector needs to be turned round. Public services need affirmation not the attrition of 'efficiency savings' cutting jobs and services."

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP was crucial in maintaining political momentum and restoring faith in the process.

He said more work was needed to help families experiencing economic hardship.

"In particular there is a need to tackle the lack of economic and fiscal sovereignty, and the British government's inadequate annual subvention, which limits the options available to the Executive," he said.

"It is important that we see further progress on this and other issues in the year ahead and Sinn Fein is determined to ensure that commitments given in the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements are implemented.

"Vital areas of work remain to be completed, specifically in the areas of the Bill of Rights, equality and the Irish language."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph