Robinson hails north-south co-operation... and jokingly utters famous republican slogan

First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness pictured with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the meeting of the North South Ministerial Council in Armagh
First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness pictured with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the meeting of the North South Ministerial Council in Armagh

Relations between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic have never been better, Stormont’s out-going First Minister claimed at his last cross-border governmental meeting.

Peter Robinson used his final appearance at the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) to hail the current levels of co-operation between the two countries as the most positive since partition.

At one point during the meeting, he also uttered the famous republican slogan “tiocfaidh ar la” (our day will come) during a light-hearted exchange with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

“Having gone through a transition over many years I think we have probably the best relationship between Northern Ireland and the south than we have had at any time in our history,” said Mr Robinson.

“There is a relaxed business-like atmosphere at our meetings, there is a genuine attempt to try and further both of our interests in the co-operation that we are having between the (Irish) government and Northern Ireland Executive.

“I think it augers well for the future. I may not be here, but I know colleagues will continue to move things forward.”

He will officially leave office next month.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Joan Burton and Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan all paid warm tribute to the retiring DUP MLA.

There was an upbeat – and at times humorous – mood at the NSMC headquarters in Armagh, as Mr Robinson said farewell to counterparts from the Dublin government.

One of the most remarkable moments came when Mr Robinson spoke Irish.

Noting that he and Mr Robinson were the only two ministers left from the Stormont Executive of 1999, the Sinn Fein veteran speculated on his own retirement.

“Very shortly I will be the last, so my day too will come at some stage,” he said.

Mr Robinson interrupted: “It’s ‘tiocfaidh ar la’, isn’t it?”

Amidst peals of laughter, Mr McGuinness replied: “I am delighted to see your Irish is improving.”