Peter Robinson stands down 'an honourable man'

ENOCH POWELL, the staunchly Conservative British politician, once reflected that “all political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure”. Peter Robinson is about to become an honourable exception.

Peter Robinson stands down 'an honourable man'

His decision to step down as Northern Ireland’s First Minister, and as leader of his Democratic Unionist Party, comes just days after he struck a deal with Sinn Féin, and with the Irish and British governments, to save the power-sharing administration in Belfast.

That means that, despite all the heartache and setbacks along the way, Mr Robinson’s long political career will end in triumph.

It will come as a relief to his family, as he has suffered ill-health recently. In May, he spent four days in hospital, having suffered a heart attack.

In typical fashion, he was back at work a day after being discharged and attributed his illness to an unhealthy lifestyle, rather than to the stress of work. Yet there is little doubt that, at the age of 66, the job was taking its toll.

Whatever we may think about politicians en masse, it is a 24-7 job and takes an enormous toll.

Robinson’s political legacy is enormous. While the late Ian Paisley also exhibited courage and was hugely influential in making peace a reality, it was Mr Robinson who has always been the real brains behind the DUP. A consummate negotiator, he also did the hard, unheralded backroom work to ensure that the power-sharing administration did not fail, even when it faltered.

Like Paisley before him, Robinson has moved from being a firebrand anti-nationalist, during the darkest days of the Troubles, to engaging successfully with Sinn Féin in a power-sharing administration.

He was a staunch opponent of both the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but his pragmatism was evident when he promoted the St Andrews deal of 2006, which heralded a return to devolved government in Northern Ireland.

At the same time, he cleverly repositioned the DUP, from being political outcasts to gaining the centre ground long held by the Ulster Unionist Party.

He has shown enormous political courage throughout and, even when his u-turn resulted in the loss of his Westminster seat in 2010, his determination did not waver.

Mr Robinson’s steely resolve has also been shown in his personal life. He suffered the indignity of his wife, Iris’s affair with a teenager and her questionable financial dealings.

Peter Robinson has done the state — two states, in fact — some service over his long political career.

A pragmatic politician, he has shown energy, vision, restraint and courage along the way and deserves credit for the role he has played in the Northern Ireland peace process.

As a result, he has helped to make the lives of all of us who share this island safer and more hopeful and he deserves our eternal gratitude for that.

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