Analysis: It's difficult to tell whether Peter Robinson is having a go at his successor or flying a flag on her behalf

The fact that his intervention is page one news shows Peter Robinson still carries influence. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

Peter Robinson writing in The Irish News is a rare occurrence though not without precedent. Nevertheless, the former first minister's relationship with this newspaper has always been a fraught one, dating back to his days on Castlereagh council.

Scrutiny of his role as first minister, his part in the Nama controversy, and publicising his candid comments about Islam are among the issues that are thought to have fuelled the former DUP leader's antipathy towards this newspaper.

Given this history, it is all the more remarkable that he chose The Irish News to air his thoughts on the deadlock surrounding the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry.

What is clearly apparent from the piece is that Mr Robinson cares about the plight of institutional abuse victims and the manner in which they are being denied their entitlement.

He writes how he and "Martin" (McGuinness) were deeply affected by victims' stories, prompting them to establish the inquiry that concluded its work earlier this year.

He praises inquiry chairman Sir Anthony Hart and notes how no one ­ the victims themselves notwithstanding ­ is in a better qualified to comment on the matter.

Peter Robinson clearly hasn't retired from politics completely and the fact that his intervention is page one news shows that he still carries influence. But why he opted to make his thoughts public when other avenues were available isn't clear.

He calls for Secretary of State James Brokenshire to consult with Stormont's main parties and establish if there is consensus agreement on releasing compensation ahead of restoring an executive.

Read more: Peter Robinson's surprise comments on abuse victims get broad welcome

A week ago, campaigner Margaret McGuckin said Mr Brokenshire had told them compensation will be a "top priority" if the next round of Stormont talks fail.

Mr Robinson advocates immediate movement on compensation payments and perhaps, like other observers, believes it is unfair to put any unrelated preconditions on this redress.

Arguably there is also implicit criticism of his successor Arlene Foster on the issue. Mrs Foster is alone among the leaders of Stormont's main parties in not signing a letter that calls on the Executive Office to set the compensation wheels in motion, though the DUP has said she will put her name to the letter when she returns from leave.

Yet it could also be speculated that Mr Robinson is merely doing the groundwork that will enable Mrs Foster to support the release of funds to victims, something that has been resisted in the past.

Peter Robinson was criticised in the summer of 2013 for penning the infamous 'letter from America' that torpedoed the planned peace centre at Maze-Long Kesh on this occasion however his intervention strikes a more positive note.

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