Sunday 22 September 2019

DUP chief stayed the course in North's coalition

Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson
John Downing

John Downing

Peter Robinson served a 38-year apprenticeship in the shadow of that colossus of Northern politics, Ian Paisley.

He was aged 59 when he finally got to lead his party and the North's stuttering devolved government in 2008. But he has come well through a series of tricky times - not least the infamous sex and property scandal involving his wife, Iris, which many people felt would end his career.

In 2010, he stood aside from the post of First Minister after revelations that Iris was involved in controversial land and money deals linked to her affair with a man 40 years her junior.

Investigations cleared him of any wrongdoing, and despite jibes about the 'Swish Family Robinson', the DUP persisted with him as leader, although he lost his Westminster seat in staunchly Protestant East Belfast due to "Irisgate".

He was a founder member of the DUP in 1970, served as Paisley's assistant and party secretary general, before slowly developing his own parliamentary career. He will long be remembered for his flirtation with paramilitaries in the mid-1980s and he was arrested by gardaí for leading a group of loyalist thugs to "invade" Clontibret, Co Monaghan, in August 1986.

Despite the long wait to finally lead his party and the North's shaky government, he can point to having achieved something simply by staying the course. He faced down would-be rebels in his own party and took risks to agree devolution of policing and justice powers from London.

More recently Mr Robinson withstood pressures over IRA links with Sinn Féin, keeping the North's fragile institutions in play. The new deal is hailed as a breakthrough, though it is as yet untested.

Long seen as sarcastic and aloof, his confessional speech about his wife's affair surprised many for its frankness and humanity.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section