Northern Ireland news

Peter Robinson says other's 'exacting standards' for ministerial appointments would have left empty seats at the executive table

Peter Robinson has been 'wonderfully and gloriously liberated' since retirement three years ago

PETER Robinson has acknowledged that Jonathan Bell was "not the most popular member in the DUP’s team" but claims that if ministerial appointments were made with the "exacting standards" some of his colleagues advocated then many Stormont executive seats would have remained empty.

In what is arguably the most candid written evidence to the RHI inquiry, Mr Robinson says his former senior special adviser Timothy Johnston not only voiced reservations about Mr Bell's appointment as enterprise minister but also about the ex-DUP leader's other choices for executive posts.

He defends selecting Mr Bell, saying he had "valuable know-how of carrying out ministerial duties" and was "practised in contributing at executive meetings".

"In the peculiar circumstances of the mandatory coalition with Sinn Féin he had proved proficient in working with Sinn Féin ministers and forceful, yet measured, in reaching agreements on the necessary day-to-day issues with them," his written evidence to the RHI inquiry states.

He says Mr Bell had "suitable academic qualifications and worthwhile life-experience in his professional career".

Peter Robinson says Jonathan Bell had 'suitable academic qualifications and worthwhile life-experience'

"If I, and other leaders, had been bound by the exacting standards some of my colleagues advocated and could only make appointments that met the level of perfection that they prescribed, there might have been a lot of empty seats around the executive table," his statement says.

In written answers made available by the inquiry last night, the former first minister says that since retirement three years ago he has been "wonderfully and gloriously liberated".

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He believes that the negative publicity surrounding the RHI "failure" paints an unfair picture of how devolved government operated.

"Obviously thousands of working hours have not been spent highlighting the countless advances made by the assembly and executive and in particular the many successes of Deti (Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment) – as a consequence the public view of the assembly and executive is skewed," he writes.

"The completely understandable media exposure has left the impression that devolution has been a disaster, is beyond the competence of local politicians and is probably not worth restoring. That would not be a fair or justified conclusion."

The former DUP leader says he does not believe or has any knowledge suggesting that either poultry processor Moy Park or the Ulster Farmers Union ever made a donation to the DUP.

"I suspect the same stands for party representatives," he adds.

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