Robinson's successor key to North's stability
Published 19/11/2015 | 02:30
Timing is everything. The decision by Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Peter Robinson to stand down from his roles as party leader and First Minister in the North's executive in the New Year has been the subject of intensive speculation for months, if not years.
The DUP leader has, in recent times, faced a fierce internal revolt by some party members, who believe he is not strong enough to represent the concerns of many unionists who have sought comfort in the hardline rhetoric of Mike Nesbitt, the former broadcaster turned leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.
It has been a turbulent year for Mr Robinson, whose farcical decision to step aside as First Minister last September - amid a crisis over an IRA-linked murder - contributed to the near collapse of the recently rescued assembly.
It was also the year in which Mr Robinson was compelled to deny that no one in his family or his party sought to benefit from the controversial purchase of 'Project Eagle,' Nama's 850-strong property portfolio in Northern Ireland. Mr Robinson's woes have been further aggravated by health difficulties.
The timing of the DUP leader's departure will allow Mr Robinson to claim, with some merit, credit for the resolution of the latest talks at Stormont. This includes the 'Fresh Start' deal which will see the devolution of corporation tax powers to the executive to boost the North's economy.
Questions will now turn to the sustainability of the deal as well as Mr Robinson's legacy - and his successor.
Against the odds, Mr Robinson and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, forged a close and productive relationship even though it appeared neither were supported at key times by their respective parties.
Mr Robinson is likely to be succeeded in his executive role by Arlene Foster, the capable Minister for Enterprise. But it is who succeeds Mr Robinson as DUP leader that will determine whether the issues untouched during his tenure - including the legacy of the Troubles - will result in a sustainable peace.