Peter Robinson to stand down as DUP leader before May elections
Party conference to be dominated by announcement leader is leaving
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson is to stand down from the role and as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, he told the Belfast Telegraph on Thursday, two days after securing a deal to save the North’s power-sharing administration.
Ahead of his party’s annual conference on Saturday, Mr Robinson told the newspaper he would step down, though not immediately, and expected a succession process to begin early next year before regional elections in May.
The 66-year-old, who has been in politics in Northern Ireland for 40 years, spoke of the “massive pressures” on anybody in the job.
Mr Robinson suffered a heart attack this year but he said he was not leaving for health reasons.
The veteran politician suffered a heart attack earlier this year but he has insisted he had already made his mind up to leave before the health scare.
There had been growing speculation Mr Robinson would outline his departure plans at the DUP’s annual conference this weekend.
In the event, he confirmed his exit in a pre-conference interview with the Belfast daily paper. The move comes just days after Mr Robinson struck a deal with Sinn Fein and the UK and Irish governments to save the faltering power-sharing administration in Belfast.
“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. “I think they have a right to know what the circumstances are.”
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 may take on the role of Stormont First Minister.
Current Finance Minister Arlene Foster has been touted as a potential leader of the power-sharing coalition.
Mr Robinson said he would remain in the post until the Fresh Start agreement is “bedded in” - a period he indicated could last into the early new year.
“There are a number of fairly immediate decisions that have to be taken and they (party officers) will then organise a transition,” he said.
“In the meantime, I don’t want people to be focusing on issues of succession yet. When the party officers declare the process - which I guess would be at the beginning of next year - then people can start looking at who the successors should be for leader and First Minister. Let’s focus on the agreement and getting it bedded in.”