First minister released from hospital

First minister Peter Robinson:  Kevin Scott / Presseye
First minister Peter Robinson: Kevin Scott / Presseye

Northern Ireland’s first minister has been discharged from hospital four das after suffering a suspected heart attack.

Peter Robinson, 66, left the cardiac unit at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital on Friday morning.

The Democratic Unionist leader used Twitter to thank the medical team.

He said: “Happy to be discharged and back home. Thanks to the wonderful RVH cardiac team - everyone a star.

“Many thanks to all who sent messages of support & encouragement in the last week. Your thoughts & prayers have been really appreciated.”

Mr Robinson, who has endured a punishing schedule in recent months, fell ill at his home in the Castlereagh hills on Monday. He was taken by ambulance to the nearby Ulster Hospital, but had to be transferred to the RVH - the region’s largest cardiology department for more specialist care.

He underwent what the hospital has described as a “procedure”, but has been allowed home to recuperate.

A DUP spokesman said Mr Robinson, who has been First Minister since 2008, was in good spirits.

He said: “He is in good form and is happy to be home. His spirits are good.”

It is not clear when Mr Robinson will be fit enough to return to work.

The rules governing the devolved Assembly at Stormont do allow an interim leader to take over temporarily.

In 2010, Mr Robinson stood aside for several weeks in the wake of a scandal engulfing his wife Iris who had used money from two property developers to set her teenage lover up in business.

On Thursday, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness visited Mr Robinson in hospital and took him a gift of a bowl of fruit.

The coalition partners have had a notoriously frosty relationship compared to that enjoyed by Mr McGuinness and former DUP First Minister Ian Paisley.

Politicians including Prime Minister David Cameron, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and US envoy Gary Hart also passed on messages of good will.

His unexpected health problems came on the eve of a crucial debate.

The contentious issue of welfare reform has been threatening to collapse the power sharing administration - with unionists warning of an unsustainable £600 million funding gap.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP are opposed to any changes to the benefits system and on Tuesday used a blocking mechanism to prevent the final passage of the Welfare Reform Bill.

On Thursday, the institutions plunged into a deeper crisis when Executive ministers failed to agree a budget for public spending for next year.

Mr Robinson had repeatedly warned that he would request a vote to hand back welfare powers to London if no resolution was found, and Finance Minister Arlene Foster is seeking an urgent meeting with Treasury officials to find a way out of the impasse.

The First Minister, who last week met the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall during their four-day visit to Northern Ireland, has endured a punishing schedule in recent months.

His party had a difficult election campaign and was forced to enter into a pact with the rival Ulster Unionists to secure key seats.

Further pressure was added when Jim Wells resigned as health minister after sparking a furore with comments linking same-sex marriage to child abuse.

The resignation meant Mr Robinson had to reshuffle his top team at Stormont.