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Robinson's career marked by controversy

IT is now clear the `Fresh Start' agreement unveiled this week had an additional personal meaning for First Minister Peter Robinson and for the DUP.

Both leader and party will be embarking on their own fresh start after Mr Robinson announced his retirement from front line politics.

After a period of transition to allow for the appointment of a successor - or successors if the leadership and First Minister roles are split as has been suggested - Mr Robinson will move on, presumably to the House of Lords.

Political allies and opponents have been generous in their comments following the DUP leader's not unexpected decision.

And there is no doubt that Mr Robinson was a key figure in the political history of Northern Ireland from the 1970s, firstly as Ian Paisley's trusted lieutenant and master tactician and latterly as the holder of the top positions in his party and in the devolved administration.

In his various roles he built a power base and maximised the DUP's electoral performance, achieving the party's best result in the Assembly elections in 2011.

But he failed to fully embrace power sharing with Sinn Fein, something Paisley managed to do. In the end Paisley had a warmer relationship with Martin McGuinness than with his former deputy.

There were a series of misjudgments, the disastrous flag protests chief among them. Mr Robinson's `letters from America' did not usually bode well, and his poor leadership on divisive issues such as parades was deeply unhelpful.

More recently the ill-conceived ministerial in-out policy went down badly with the public and was yet another sign Mr Robinson's time was up.

It is not unusual for long serving politicians to encounter some form of controversy in the course of a lengthy career but Mr Robinson seemed to make a habit of it.

The expenses claims and lifestyle led to the Swish Family Robinson soubriquet. Then there was scandal involving his wife and the loss of his East Belfast Westminster seat, a bitter blow which coloured much of his subsequent strategy.

In the past few weeks he has found himself denying allegations relating to Nama and answering questions in front of Stormont's finance committee. Even the appointment of unelected Emma Pengelly as a junior minister caused criticism.

So while Mr Robinson has managed - along with the patient Martin McGuinness - to keep Stormont afloat during the past few years, it has been a rocky voyage and the ship has come close to sinking at times.

But 17 years after the Good Friday Agreement, it is not enough for devolution to simply exist, it must also work.

We must hope the next First Minister takes that lesson to heart.





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