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Arlene Foster pays tribute to outgoing First Minister Peter Robinson

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Speaking in the Northern Ireland Assembly today, Arlene Foster paid tribute to outgoing First Minister Peter Robinson.

She said:

“Mr Speaker, I am delighted that I am the first to have the opportunity to pay tribute to Peter and to thank him for his lifetime in politics from Castlereagh Council via Westminster to the Assembly.

He leaves enormous political shoes to fill.

Three minutes cannot do justice to the career of the person who has been the most astute unionist political leader of this, or for that matter, any era in Northern Ireland’s history.

But when the history of this time comes to be written, his leadership will define this period.

In his time he has helped redraw the unionist political map and ensured a better future for Northern Ireland in the most challenging of circumstances.

Few have endured more difficult political times and come out the other side successfully.

Few will ever know or fully appreciate the lifetime of service and single-minded commitment that Peter has brought to public life.

He has been a leader not just of the DUP, nor of Unionism, but of Northern Ireland as a whole.

It is a daunting task for me to follow him in not just one but two roles.

There are many who will deservedly share the credit for the Northern Ireland we have now, but few more so than Peter Robinson.

His legacy is not just that he became First Minister but that he ensured that devolution survived the early rocky years.

It is because of Peter’s work , that what was remarkable at the time, now seems routine. Few believed that devolution led by the DUP and Sinn Fein would ever happen, fewer still believed it would last. Yet it has and through the toughest of times.

For every era in history someone is called upon to fulfill the role of leadership. Never in the recent history of Northern Ireland was anyone so crucial than Peter Robinson.

On a personal note I would not have the chance that I have but for the work of Peter, first of all encouraging me to join the DUP, then for helping me through the ranks of the party and lastly providing me with the opportunity to serve the people of Northern Ireland as minister. I will always be grateful for that. More than all of that he has been a political mentor to me, I have watched and listened at close hand and I hope that even a little of his insight has rubbed off on me.

Mr Speaker, I am certain, that at critical moments over the last seven nearly eight years there was no other unionist leader that could have held things together and ensured that devolution proceeded.

Peter was never better than in a crisis and on more than one occasion did not simply survive difficult events but prospered from them.

It was almost as if he reveled in adversity and thrived in the face of impossible odds.

At a political level the return of 38 DUP MLAs was a remarkable achievement. To exceed the result in 2007 and elect more MLAs than any party has since 1998 was truly historic.

In recent decades few unionist leaders have been able to choose the time and manner of their departure from office. Peter has done so and leaves office with both devolution and the Union secure.

Peter Robinson would have been a significant political figure no matter where he had been born on these islands. It has been our good fortune and to Northern Ireland’s benefit that he was born here.

Finally, and I know I speak for all on these benches when I wish Peter well in his retirement, though I am quite certain that he will not be putting his feet up altogether just yet.

He can enjoy his well-deserved retirement in the knowledge that when his time came to serve his country and his community he was not found wanting and leaves behind him a far better Northern Ireland because of his work.

Peter, we will never adequately be able to thank you for the service that you have given, we can only strive to build on the strong leadership that you have given to us. You said late last year that listening to tributes to oneself was surreal and that you were still very much alive! Well I hope you enjoy listening to what we have to say today because nobody, nobody deserves the plaudits more than you.

Thank you.”

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