Peter Robinson in hospital after heart stent operation

Stormont debate on welfare reform to go ahead despite absence of First Minister

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson is being assessed in a Belfast hospital after undergoing a procedure for a heart condition.

Mr Robinson (66) was taken to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald yesterday morning with a suspected heart attack. He was then transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital, where it is understood he had a stent inserted.

A statement from the Royal Victoria yesterday said: “Mr Robinson underwent a procedure this morning and is currently recovering in the RVH. He and his family have requested the need for privacy from this point onwards.”

Doctors are said to be assessing the extent of the muscle damage Mr Robinson may have suffered to ascertain whether further procedures or surgery are required. Minister for Finance Arlene Foster is expected to step in as First Minister while Mr Robinson recovers. DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds MP will assume party leader duties.

Previous leave

Ms Foster took on the role of acting first minister for a few weeks in 2010 when Mr Robinson took leave after it emerged that his wife, Iris Robinson, had had an affair with a 19-year-old man.

The DUP said in a statement yesterday morning that Msr Robinson was undergoing tests in hospital, but a spokesman for the party was unavailable when further comment was sought last night.

Politicians from across the UK and Ireland wished the First Minister a speedy recovery.

British prime minister David Cameron, Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, Ukip leader Nigel Farage and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams were among those who posted social media messages wishing Mr Robinson well.

Mr Cameron said: "My best wishes to Northern Ireland's First Minister, Peter Robinson, who is in hospital. I hope he has a speedy recovery."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was “concerned to hear” that Mr Robinson had been admitted to hospital. “My thoughts and prayers are with him, Iris and family,” he added.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt MLA said he hoped Mr Robinson made a “full and speedy recovery”.

“Our thoughts are with him and his family,” he added.

Welfare reform

A critical debate at Stormont over welfare reform, after weeks of wrangling between the DUP and Sinn Féin, is expected to go ahead on Tuesday as planned.

The North’s political parties had agreed a deal on Westminster’s welfare reform requirements in the Stormont House agreement in December.

Then in March Sinn Féin withdrew support for the bill, claiming the DUP had been acting in “bad faith”, when it emerged future benefit claimants were not protected.

Last week Sinn Féin urged the DUP to withdraw the bill and re-engage with other executive parties to no avail.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP have both signed a petition of concern which means the welfare reform bill will be blocked on Tuesday, despite suggestions the executive could collapse over a failure to implement it and warning from Westminster that agreement is vital.