Northern Ireland: Peter Robinson to stand down as First Minister
Democratic Unionist Party leader resigns just days after securing new political deal in Stormont
Peter Robinson has announced that he will stand down as Northern Ireland's First Minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the coming weeks.
He made the widely anticipated announcement ahead of the party's annual conference this weekend in an article for the Belfast Telegraph.
The 66-year old politician denied his recent ill health was the reason for his departure, and insisted that he had considered standing down before he suffered heart attack in the summer.
"There are massive pressures on anybody in this job," he said. "You do need to renew political leadership, bringing in people with perhaps more energy and people with new ideas."
Robinson's announcement comes just two days after he and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness announced a deal which brought an end to a near-three-month crisis at Stormont. The British and Irish governments and Northern Ireland's two largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, have agreed a way forward on paramilitarism and welfare reform, but a number of sticking points remain.
Robinson, who has been involved in politics in Northern Ireland for more than four decades, said that he will be leaving office "within weeks".
"The party officers have asked him to remain on until the assembly is on a firm footing, which he reckons will probably be the new year," the political editor of the Telegraph, Liam Clarke, told the BBC.
"He wants to complete a few little things, but he's not talking about a really long goodbye."
As for his successors, Robinson has suggested that the roles of party leader and First Minister could be split in the future, as they are in Sinn Fein (which is led by Gerry Adams, with McGuinness in the role of Deputy First Minister).
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds is among those tipped to take over Robinson's role as DUP leader while Arlene Foster, the current finance minister, is widely expected to become First Minister. But Robinson said he did not want the DUP to focus on the issue of succession just yet. "Let's focus on the agreement and getting it bedded in," he said.