N. Ireland Politics

Peter Robinson: Outgoing NI first minister discusses his retirement plans

Peter Robinson
Image caption Peter Robinson told the BBC that he does not intend to sit around at home, getting in his wife's way, when he steps down from Northern Ireland's top job

Peter Robinson has said he is planning to have some 'me time' when he quits as first minister of Northern Ireland and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader.

The 66-year-old, who said his recent heart attack was not a factor in his decision to step down, said his family was looking forward to his retirement.

However, he told the BBC that he is not going to "sit and idle around the house" and get in his wife's way.

He also warned his as yet unnamed successor that NI's top job is tough.

"It's a rough trade and the further you get up that greasy pole, the more people there are who are wanting to bring you down," Mr Robinson said.

'Nasty streak'

The outgoing first minister was speaking to BBC Northern Ireland political editor Mark Devenport in a sit-down interview after Thursday's Belfast Telegraph revealed his departure plans.

"The notice I give to whoever takes over the position is - don't expect the honeymoon to last too long," the DUP leader told the BBC.

"You will become a target, the crosshairs will be on your back straight away, and there is a nasty streak in politics with some people who feel that their job is to smear and try and bring people down.

"You're going to have to live with that - if you're a sensitive flower, this isn't the role to be taking on."

Mr Robinson faced both personal and political battles during his 40-year career, notably the 2010 scandal of his wife Iris' affair with a teenage cafe owner, Kirk McCambley.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Iris and Peter Robinson posed for photographs when he became first minister and DUP leader in 2008

The revelations, combined with mental health problems, ended Mrs Robinson's high-profile political career.

'Decisions'

But her husband survived the fall-out and for another five years he continued to consolidate the DUP's position as the dominant force in unionism.

Asked about whether he plans to remain in politics in some capacity when he steps down, Mr Robinson told the BBC he was considering a different path.

"I don't think the history of those who have given up full-stop is very good, and there's no way I'm the kind of person who's going to sit and idle around the house and get in Iris' way.

"I'm going to be someone who finds something to do - I suspect it probably won't be politics, but we'll see as time goes on. I'm not in a position where I'm going to take those decisions at the moment."

'Me time'

He also refused to be drawn on the exact date of his forthcoming departure, saying only it would be "towards the end of this year or the very beginning of next year".

"You do need to have some months for a new leader to get their feet under the table before the election," he added, referring to the expected assembly poll in May.

The first minister's own health problems have been the focus of media attention in recent months, since he was taken to hospital in the early hours of 25 May, after suffering a heart attack.

The following week, he told reporters his heart issues were nothing to do with the stress of his job, but blamed his poor diet and lack of exercise.

So will his retirement also be a personal "fresh start" - the name of the latest political agreement which he said has "stabilised" Stormont's political institutions?

"It's remarkable just how quickly, even after a heart attack, you can slide back into the same old habits of staying up late at night, not getting your sleep, not eating properly or getting any exercise," Mr Robinson said.

"The family at least will be pleased that I'm going to be having some 'me time'."

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