DUP Finance Minister Arlene Foster has told of her sadness after DUP leader Peter Robinson announced he is to retire.
Mrs Foster said: “In many ways no one deserves a long and happy retirement more than Peter but for those of us who work closely with him it is a wrench and he leaves a void that will be very difficult to fill.
“The DUP, unionism and Northern Ireland owe a huge debt of gratitude to Peter for his forty years of unstinting public service.
“He is without equal within Unionism for his strategic ability to chart a course through many difficult periods in our Province.”
She said Mr Robinson’s “strategic vision, calm reflection and decisive decision making, will mark him out as something very special”.
“His vision for our country over the years was shaped by his love for Northern Ireland and his determination to build a settled Northern Ireland within the Union. He has achieved that vision,” she added.
“As Northern Ireland’s longest serving First Minister Peter’s steady hand has guided us during both calm and challenging periods. Even during the recent political discussions his contribution ensured he was able to conclude the right deal for Northern Ireland.”
Minister Foster said “on a personal level” Mr Robinson “was instrumental in my decision to join the Democratic Unionist Party over twelve years ago and it has been my privilege to work alongside him in both a party and Ministerial capacity”.
“I very much appreciated his support and encouragement to me,” she added.
“I know that while his role will change he will continue to help and support us as we work to implement what has recently been agreed. Unionism is stronger today as a result of the sacrificial labours of Peter Robinson and for that we are eternally grateful.
“Ulster is losing a great leader but his legacy will be with us for many years to come.”
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said: “Mere words cannot convey the enormity of the thank you owed to Peter by the DUP and by everyone who values progress in Northern Ireland.
“Peter has been a towering figure in the Democratic Unionist Party since its foundation. He has dedicated his life to the defence of the Union and to building a better life for our people. He can be justifiably proud of what he has achieved in helping secure those objectives.”
Mr Dodds said he has had “the privilege of working closely with Peter as a colleague and a friend for many years”.
“There is no doubt that Northern Ireland would not have made the progress it has without his vision, leadership and political skills,” he added.
“He has displayed remarkable courage and resilience, staying the course through some of our darkest times, when it was not easy to be involved in politics. He has made huge personal sacrifices in the service of others.
“As we look to the future and continue to build a better and more peaceful Northern Ireland we know that much of the foundation of that future has been laid by Peter Robinson.”
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said Mr Robinson “has been a principled leader of Unionism, the best political strategist of his generation” who has offered “a lifetime of dedicated, self-sacrificial public service”.
“As my mentor, as someone who I admired from afar and more latterly worked alongside, I want to acknowledge the caring, compassionate side of his life as an East Belfast representative who won a place in the hearts of our local community for almost four decades,” he added.
“Too young to remember the worst days of the troubles, I cannot begin to imagine the pressure public service has had on him personally nor indeed his family, yet Peter never failed to put others first. His foresight has, without question or contradiction, delivered a Northern Ireland that can move forward confidently, with a sense of pride and purpose; and an overarching resolve never to repeat again.
“He is without doubt a major loss to both our party and unionism but I trust he will be able to enjoy an easier pace of life while still assisting us in the days that lie ahead.”
In a statement a Ulster Unionist Party spokesman said: “We wish Peter a long and healthy retirement. Meanwhile, he remains First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive at a time when we share the ambition of seeing Stormont delivering positive outcomes for all our people. We will continue to engage positively with that objective in mind.”
And Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin TD has also wished Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson well in his upcoming
In a statement, Deputy Martin said: “As Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2008 – 2011 I worked closely with Peter, including the negotiations surrounding the devolution of policing and justice to the North. I always found him to be a pragmatic and straightforward politician who was serious about moving Northern Ireland forward. In his role as Deputy Leader to Ian Paisley and then as the Leader of his party and Northern Ireland’s First Minister, there is no doubt that he made a significant contribution to the journey that the island of Ireland has been on. We wish him and his family well in his retirement.”
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charles Flanagan TD said he was “very sad to learn this morning of Peter Robinson’s intention to retire from politics in the near future”.
“At the appropriate moment, there will be an opportunity to fully record our appreciation for the positive contribution he has made to politics and society in Northern Ireland over recent times.
“From my own direct experience of working closely with Peter, I wish to acknowledge his leading role in bringing stability to the political institutions in Northern Ireland, which was most recently demonstrated in the ‘Fresh Start’ Agreement of which he was a key architect.”
And Alliance Leader David Ford said “time will tell” what will be Peter Robinson’s legacy.
Mr Ford said Mr Robinson, who this week signed the ‘Fresh Start’ deal with Sinn Fein following recent talks, was to be commended for his role in helping the power-sharing institutions become established but warned their future was far from secure.
“Although we were not always on the same page, I tended to get on well with Mr Robinson, and applaud him for his role in helping the Assembly return in 2007 and continuing power-sharing with Sinn Fein,” said Mr Ford.
“However, despite this week’s deal being dubbed his legacy, there remains a question over whether we actually have stability in our institutions. There were no resolutions for victims, only promises on paramilitarism, parades and flags, and massive questions over the viability of the economic package included.
“Mr Robinson has also mentioned taking East Belfast back but left out the circumstances of it being due to a five-party pact which barely beat Naomi Long. Peter Robinson will not decide his own legacy but rather be judged on the delivery of what he has helped establish.
“The DUP now has several questions to answer about the state of their partnership with Sinn Fein going forward. That success of that and how it delivers for the people of Northern Ireland will be the legacy of Peter Robinson, nothing else.”
Eastwood wishes Robinson well following retirement announcement
New SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MLA also wished First Minister Peter Robinson well following news of his intended retirement.
He said: “Peter Robinson and I haven’t been decades long political adversaries but over the course of the last number of years we often found ourselves on polar opposite sides of issues. His early career was forged as a right leaning, hardline unionist so it’s unsurprising that we don’t have much political common ground. But despite our disagreements, on a human level it’s clear to see that he has had a very difficult time personally and with his health.”
Ukip leader in Northern Ireland, David McNarry MLA said: “I wish Peter Robinson well in his retirement. His retirement marks the close of another chapter in the history of unionism. It not only opens opportunities for new leaders but it marks another stage in the development of unionism. The recent engagement in a political settlement, the latest of many, underscores the significant clout national politics and the UK Government has in our local affairs.”