Belfast Telegraph

All our thoughts are with the Robinson family at this time

Editor's Viewpoint

News that First Minister Peter Robinson had been admitted to hospital during the night with a suspected heart attack came as a tremendous shock to the public at large. But sometimes we forget that politicians, whatever their rank, are not just public figures but also family members, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters and that their well-being is of primary concern to those who love them.

That is why today our first thoughts are with Mr Robinson's family. From the tenor of the statement issued about his condition the prognosis seems favourable, which must be a huge relief to his family, but their worries will not be totally allayed until he is restored to his usual feisty self.

They will have been delighted by the outpouring of good wishes from political allies and foes alike. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was one of the first to express his shock at Mr Robinson's sudden illness and offer his good wishes and prayers for a speedy recovery.

There were well chosen and obviously sincere words from right across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland, proving that, underneath the often fractious exchanges between the parties, there is a genuine layer of humanity. The enmity so often expressed is political, not personal.

Good wishes from the Prime Minister, Scotland's First Minister and Senator Gary Hart on behalf of the American Government shows the standing of Mr Robinson, who they recognise as one of Northern Ireland's most able politicians.

Mr Robinson may not have seemed a likely candidate for cardiac problems but he does carry a heavy workload and a sometimes frantic schedule, which must take its toll. This week's impending crisis over welfare reform, which he warned in this newspaper last week could lead to the Stormont administration falling, was one of his immediate concerns.

Of course, he will now view proceedings from the sidelines and it will fall to a party colleague, possibly DSD Minister Mervyn Storey, to propose the Welfare Reform Bill today. At this stage it seems certain to fall because of the blocking mechanism, a petition of concern, signed by Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

It is a pity that the magnanimous words issued when his illness became known could not be translated into more consensus politics at Stormont, instead of driving headlong into another crisis.

As far as the DUP is concerned it will be some time before Mr Robinson is able to resume his role as First Minister but the party is fortunate to have Arlene Foster in its ranks to step in as required. She has proved in the past that she has the ability for the role, but also broad support within the party and respect from her political opponents.

No doubt she hopes that any stand-in role will be short-lived and that Mr Robinson will soon return to his desk, restored fully to health. It is a sentiment most people will echo and, like the politicians, send their best wishes to him and his family at this worrying time.

Belfast Telegraph


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