N. Ireland Politics

Peter Robinson 'The Comeback Kid'

Peter Robinson
Image caption Peter Robinson topped the poll in the east Belfast constituency

At the age of 62, the DUP leader Peter Robinson has become the 'comeback kid' of Northern Ireland politics.

A year ago, his political career appeared to be finished.

His days as Northern Ireland's first minister seemed to be numbered. The only question was whether he would jump or be pushed.

His wife Iris was embroiled in controversy and stepped down as an MP and he then lost his long-held Westminster seat in East Belfast. It seemed only a matter of time before he lost the party leadership too.

Guard of honour

Fast forward 12 months, and colleagues were rushing to hug him as he arrived at the East Belfast count centre.

A guard of honour was formed, a union flag was draped over his shoulders and women of all ages were queuing to kiss him.

They were celebrating the DUP triumph in the Assembly election - an election few people expected Mr Robinson to participate in, never mind lead his party to victory.

"What a difference a year makes?" asked one reporter, as the DUP leader walked through the cheering crowd.

He thought for a moment, smiled, nodded his head and beamed: "Yeah."

Clearly, the reception moved him. But Peter Robinson never likes to show too much human emotion and he quickly snapped back into politician-mode.

Shifting the focus from his personal success, he delivered some partypolitical soundbites about the election being a team effort, and the future of Northern Ireland being much more important than any party or individual.

But a party colleague, Jimmy Spratt, gave the leader the credit.

He said: "The party has performed beyond all expectations. That's all down to the leadership, and the captaincy of the ship by Peter Robinson."

'Less to be angry with'

The Robinson family has had a traumatic 18 months.

In January last year, it was revealed that then DUP Strangford MP Iris Robinson had been involved in an extra-marital affair with a teenage businessman. She helped Kirk McCambley set up a business.

She asked two property developers for £50,000 to help him set up a cafe on the banks of the River Lagan in Belfast.

Mrs Robinson did not declare her dealings at Stormont or Westminster and failed to declare her interest when her young lover was awarded the cafe lease by Castlereagh council.

The police investigated what happened but the Public Prosecution Service recently announced Mrs Robinson will not face any charges.

Since news of the controversy broke, Mrs Robinson has been receiving psychiatric treatment. She was not well enough to accompany her husband Peter to the Royal Wedding in London last week.

He said: "Iris was invited but we don't think that her health is up to it as yet. She would have loved to have gone."

In spite of his wife's sudden exit from politics, Mr Robinson refused to stand down.

He was determined to bounce back from his humiliating defeat in East Belfast at the Westminster election, and by topping the poll in the same constituency in the Assembly election - with twice as many votes as any other candidate - his comeback was complete.

The fact that his party has held off the challenge from Sinn Fein, and topped the poll Northern Ireland-wide, is an even greater achievement.

The Robinson revival has not just been political - but personal.

He looks ten years younger than he did 12 months ago. His mood has improved, and he is much less temperamental during media interviews.

Asked why he seemed to be less angry, he replied simply: "There's less to be angry with."