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Peter Robinson given welfare debate briefing in his hospital bed

By Liam Clarke

Peter Robinson was visited by senior party figures in hospital last night and given a full briefing on the day's events at Stormont.

The First Minister is sitting up talking to family and friends as he continues to recover from a suspected heart attack.

Last night he was "in good spirits but tired", according to colleagues.

Party sources said he was visited by DUP chairman Maurice Mills and central executive vice-chair William McCrea, who gave him a detailed update on the current crisis over the Welfare Bill.

Mr Robinson is in the Royal Victoria Hospital's renowned cardiac unit, under observation after having a stent fitted on Monday.

It is a fairly routine but tiring procedure which keeps arteries from clogging.

"When you're hooked up to so many monitors, it's difficult to get sleep," one friend said.

He added: "He's on the mend."

DUP Finance Minister at Stormont Arlene Foster provided a brief update on his condition. "He has stabilised but still remains in hospital," she said.

The same broad picture was given by Nigel Dodds, Mr Robinson's deputy yesterday.

Speaking at Stormont, Mr Dodds revealed that Mr Robinson had insisted on the welfare reform debate going ahead, even though he could not attend.

"For the DUP, it is business as usual," he stated.

"Peter was very, very determined that today's proceedings should continue and that is what is happening in terms of the Welfare Bill.

"It is right that it should do so because we are up against a very, very strict timetable. This Bill does bring over the best possible solution to the welfare crisis, which would leave Northern Ireland in a much stronger position than other parts of the United Kingdom," he said, reflecting Mr Robinson's views as well as his own.

At Stormont, Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, paid tribute to Mr Robinson and hoped for a speedy return.

The Sinn Fein MLA said some commentators had tried to say politicians hated each other at Stormont.

"In terms of my relationship with Peter, nothing could be further from the truth... I think that he has made a major contribution to the progress that we have made here over the past eight years. It is a cause of great concern that someone like him should be hospitalised," he added.

Opening the debate, Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey wished Mr Robinson a speedy recovery and added: "No one more than I knows how much we depend upon the ability of our First Minister and my party leader.

"During all the discussions over the last number of weeks and months, he has been a tower of strength and has been by our side, and I want to personally say that we miss him in the chamber today. This debate will be the worse for not having him with us."

SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly, whose husband has been ill in recent times, said she hoped and prayed Mr Robinson makes a good recovery. Alliance leader David Ford also extended good wishes to Mr Robinson, telling MLAs: "We trust that we will see the First Minister back in his place and fulfilling his duties at an early stage."

Belfast Telegraph


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