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Robinson: 'I'm leaving politics on my own terms'

DUP leader Peter Robinson who is standing down as First Minister and party leader in the new year. Picture by Mal McCann
Staff Reporter

FIRST Minister Peter Robinson has insisted he is leaving politics on his own terms.

Mr Robinson (66), who is also resigning as DUP leader, said he would leave in the new year, 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 Sinn Féin, and the UK and Irish governments, which effectively saved the executive from collapse.

Mr Robinson faced criticism 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 loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson, related to the sale of Nama's northern loan book.

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.

"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 executive before stepping aside.

Deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness said Mr Robinson had informed him of his intentions well before the public announcement.

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

While Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness's seven years in office has at times been fraught, Mr McGuinness insisted he has developed a strong relationship with the DUP leader.

"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."

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