Northern Ireland

Peter Robinson tells party East Belfast is key target

DUP leader Peter Robinson told his party regaining East Belfast at the next Westminster election was a priority.

"Our number one target will be returning East Belfast to DUP hands," he said.

He spoke about the "most testing year of his life" in his leader's address to the DUP conference in Belfast.

In January it emerged that Mr Robinson's wife had an affair. He lost his Westminster seat four months later.

Earlier this year his wife Iris Robinson resigned as an MP, assembly member and councillor following a BBC Spotlight programme.

The programme reported that Mrs Robinson obtained £50,000 from two developers to help her teenage lover open a cafe business.

Four months later Mr Robinson lost the Westminster seat he held for 31 years to the Alliance Party deputy leader Naomi Long.

Speaking about his personal life Mr Robinson paid tribute to those who had remained loyal to him.

"I want to personally thank you all for the support you have given me these past 12 months," he said.

Solid foundation

"I'll not deny this has been the most testing year of my life but the real test of any person isn't how they stand up in a gentle breeze but how they weather the battering when the relentless gales blow."

Mr Robinson told the delegates that he hoped the next year would be much better for himself and the party.

"We have a remarkable assembly team and this has been a remarkable assembly term. We've had no shortage of difficulties and challenges. But while others doubted and dithered, the DUP delivered.

"Here in Northern Ireland next March for the first time in 40 years we will complete a full four year term of devolution without suspensions and without the institutions collapsing.

Despite the economic downturn, Mr Robinson tried to accentuate the positive, paying tribute to the skilled workforce available locally and expressing confidence that the Stormont parties can resolve their difference over the budget.

Northern Ireland's parties have clashed over a draft budget, with Sinn Fein calling on the executive to resist "Tory cuts" and the DUP appealing for "realism".

Both Mr Robinson and the deputy first minister, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, have said recently that they expect a budget to be agreed.

Mr Robinson also said that Northern Ireland's political institutions now enjoyed more support than at any time in its history.

"It hasn't been plain sailing, and there's still an enormous task to build a solid foundation for Northern Ireland's second century," he said.

Mr Robinson expressed confidence that the Stormont parties will be able to agree a budget, something the Executive has so far failed to agree on.

During his speech, the party leader also acknowledged the severity of the threat from dissident Republicans.

He said the police should not "take their foot off the pedal" when tackling this threat.

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