Saturday 16 December 2017

McGuinness praises 'friend' Robinson after he reveals plan to quit

Departing First Minister Peter Robinson with Martin McGuinness
Departing First Minister Peter Robinson with Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness has paid tribute to Northern Ireland's departing First Minister Peter Robinson, saying he now counts his long-time political foe as a "friend".

The Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister at Stormont said his retiring counterpart, who is also stepping down as Democratic Unionist leader, deserves credit for his role in the peace process.

In a widely-expected announcement, Mr Robinson (66), said he would not contest next May's Assembly election and is likely to leave his post at the head of the power-sharing coalition in the coming weeks.


The move comes days after he signed a political deal with Sinn Fein and the British and Irish governments to avert the collapse of the administration.

Mr McGuinness said Mr Robinson had informed him of his intentions well before it was announced publicly.

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

The warm relationship Mr McGuinness struck up with the late Ian Paisley in their time together at the head of the Stormont Executive has been well documented - in fact their unlikely friendship is the subject of a forthcoming feature film, The Journey.

While Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness's seven years in office has not been characterised with the same bonhomie, the republican insisted he has developed a strong relationship with his unionist partner in government.

"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."

Mr Robinson said he had wanted to stabilise the power-sharing administration in Belfast before stepping aside.


The experienced politician suffered a heart attack earlier this year but has insisted he had made his mind up to leave before the health scare.

"I think it would be disrespectful to the party membership if I was to go through a conference with the pretence that I would be leading the party into the next election," he said

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds will be among the favourites to take over as DUP leader.

However, with Mr Dodds based in Westminster, another senior party figure could take on the role of Stormont First Minister.

Finance Minister Arlene Foster has been touted as a potential leader of the coalition.

Mr Robinson said he would remain in the post until Tuesday's Fresh Start agreement is "bedded in" - a period he indicated could last into the early new year.

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