Former UUP member takes over as N.I. First Minister

Peter Robinson will step down as First Minister of Northern Ireland for a period of six weeks. Arlene Foster, a former member of the UUP, takes over.

Peter Robinson has announced that he will temporarily step down for a period of six weeks while authorities in the House of Commons and Northern Ireland Assembly investigate the allegations around his wife’s business dealing, as reported earlier today on Left Foot Forward.

In a statement to MLAs, William Hay, Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly announced that his colleague, the current Enterprise Minister, Arlene Foster will take over as acting First Minister in the interim period. Ms Foster, a solicitor by training defected to the DUP from the UUP in 2004, along with her colleague, Jeffrey Donaldson.

The news came as senior DUP members made clear their support. Speaking for many in his party, DUP Deputy Leader, Nigel Dodds spoke after a meeting of his party colleagues at Stormont:

“The Democratic Unionist Party… unanimously agreed despite attempts by members of the press and our political opponents to press the Rt Hon Peter Robinson to resign as party leader – we offer him our wholehearted support and our desire for him to remain in office as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.”

In recognition of the difficulties being faced by the devolved bodies over policing and justice, Peter Robinson said:

“Throughout this period I will continue to work on the outstanding issues relating to policing and justice and some other matters.

“This allows a particularly concentrated focus on these discussions and we will work to try to build on the agreements we have already reached so that a successful resolution can be reached.

“This is the year to deliver at Stormont for all the people of Northern Ireland.”

Questions will however continue to remain over whether Mr Robinson will actually be back in six weeks as he said. Left Foot Forward will provide analysis tomorrow of where the land lies following today’s announcement and where devolution goes from here.

The BBC’s Panorama programme is due to show an investigation into the Robinson’s this evening.

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