Peter Robinson confident over devolution as Arlene Foster becomes North's First Minister

Peter Robinson confident over devolution as Arlene Foster becomes North's First Minister

The North's retiring First Minister has said he is leaving the job confident that devolution has been secured for generations to come.

Peter Robinson said it had been a “great privilege” to serve the people as he gave his final speech from the Assembly’s front bench ahead of passing the reins of power to Arlene Foster.

“When we take a step back and with the perspective of history we can see just how far we have come,” he said.

“We now live in a new era.

“You only have to look around to see the progress that there has been, not just in the physical structures that didn’t exist a decade ago, but in the lives of our people.

“Though we don’t always fully appreciate it, devolution underpins the level of peace and stability we enjoy today. After 35 years of stop-go government, devolution, with local people taking the decisions, is once again the norm.

“That has allowed us the platform to recast Northern Ireland’s international image and to bring in more jobs than at any point in our history. Whereas once tourists avoided coming here we now attract people from all over the world.”

He added: “I hereby resign the office of First Minister with confidence that the political institutions we have together created will be here for generations to come.”

Mrs Foster is to become the first woman appointed to one of the two leading posts in the power-sharing Executive.

The 45-year-old, from Co Fermanagh, has already replaced Mr Robinson as leader of the region’s largest political party – the Democratic Unionists.

Mrs Foster said Mr Robinson leaves enormous political shoes to fill.

“Three minutes cannot do justice to the career of the person who has been the most astute unionist political leader of this, or for that matter, any era in Northern Ireland’s history.

“But when the history of this time comes to be written, his leadership will define this period.

“In his time he has helped redraw the unionist political map and ensured a better future for Northern Ireland in the most challenging of circumstances.”

Mr Robinson, 67, announced his intention to retire from frontline politics last November, days after signing a political deal with Sinn Féin and the British and Irish Governments to stabilise the rocking coalition administration.

The transition of power has been smooth, with Mrs Foster facing no challengers within the DUP.

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone Assembly member, a married mother-of-three who defected to the DUP from the Ulster Unionists in 2004, will assume office alongside long-serving Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

As First and Deputy First Ministers are required to be appointed together, Mr McGuinness will be re-nominated to his role as part of Monday’s Assembly procedures.

Mrs Foster has extensive experience serving in the Stormont Executive, having held three ministerial portfolios and twice having filled in as temporary first minister.

The new leader’s first electoral test will come in May with the Assembly election.

The challenge for the DUP will be to retain its position as Northern Ireland’s largest party and thus its right to hold the post of First Minister.

If the DUP were to lose enough seats to unionist rivals, there is the chance a strong performance from Sinn Féin could see the republican party top the poll.

While the posts of First Minister and Deputy First Minister are co-equal and hold the same authority, Mrs Foster will nevertheless be determined to avoid the symbolism of swapping job titles with Mr McGuinness.

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