Page last updated at 16:15 GMT, Monday, 11 January 2010

As it happened: Peter Robinson steps aside

DUP leader Peter Robinson described the events over recent days as 'a difficult time'


Thanks for following this rapidly unfolding story with us this afternoon. It seems that we're in for an interesting time in the days and weeks to come, and BBC News will continue to update you on events as they happen.


The Prime Minister's official spokesman reiterates that Downing Street is "monitoring events and remains closely involved". He says completing devolution with the transfer of policing and justice powers is the government's "overriding objective".


PUP leader Dawn Purvis asks if Peter Robinson's decision to stand down for six weeks was done in the interest of the people of Northern Ireland or in the interests of the DUP.


David Ford of the cross-community Alliance Party tells the Assembly he is "perturbed" that Peter Robinson is going to continue to deal with the Policing and Justice issue while trying to sort out all his other issues.

Arlene Foster says one of the reasons Mr Robinson had asked her to "act up" as first minister was he "felt it would allow him to devote any time he did have" to the issue of policing and justice.


Former DUP member Jim Allister, who quit the party in protest at power-sharing with Sinn Fein to set up his own Traditional Unionist Voice party, has been giving his reaction to today's events.

"I suspect that the DUP's attempted show of unity today was choreographed to provide a soft landing for the beleaguered Mr Robinson. His immediate stepping aside as First Minister may well be a precursor to his departure as DUP leader at a moment more of his own choosing.

"If, on the other hand, the DUP is genuinely behind Mr Robinson, then they are more out of touch with public opinion than I appreciated. The damage done to the Robinson brand is transferred to the DUP brand by such unequivocal support."


BBC NI political correspondent Gareth Gordon says Mr Robinson has bought some time but it is not yet clear if he will be back as First Minister. He doubts if Arlene Foster will be able to move forward on the issue of devolving Policing and Justice powers to Stormont in the next six weeks.


Mark Durkan of the SDLP wishes Mrs Foster well - he extends those good wishes to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, noting that things are not going to be easy over the next few weeks.


Ulster Unionist deputy leader Danny Kennedy asks Arlene Foster to confirm if public money will be used in the investigation into whether Mr Robinson broke the ministerial code.

Arlene Foster says already received legal opinion from the OFMDFM departmental solicitor's office indicating that Peter Robinson did not breach the ministerial code.

She says she is confident that Mr Robinson will come back with a clear record.

"Peter Robinson is going to clear his name, I have no doubt about that," she says.


New interim first minister Arlene Foster says Mr Robinson has been advised by a government lawyer that he is not in breach of any of the various ethical codes to which he is signed up.


Mr Robinson says that with his wife receiving acute psychiatric treatment, he needs to devote time to deal with family matters. "This has been a difficult time however; I want to thank all those who have sent messages of encouragement and support. I have literally received thousands of messages from all sections of the community and beyond. I will want to respond to everyone who has taken the time to send their best wishes to me and the family at this time. I hope they will forgive me because of the volume if it takes me some time."


Mr Robinson says he will continue as leader of the DUP, adding: "I appreciate the unanimous support from my Assembly and Parliamentary colleagues this morning. I want to publicly thank them for all their support and kindness to me."


The statement continues... "I have asked for a Parliamentary and Assembly inquiry to be undertaken into these matters. 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."


Peter Robinson has issued a statement: "I continue to contend I have acted ethically and it is particularly painful at this time of great personal trauma that I have to defend myself from an unfounded and mischievous allegation. As you know I have requested that an opinion be obtained from Senior Counsel in relation to the Ministerial Code and related aspects. In addition the deputy First Minister has received advices from the Departmental Solicitors' Office which do not present any complications of difficulties whatsoever."


Speaker Wille Hay warns he wants questions from MLA's not statements. This is followed by a blink-and-you-miss-it statement from the new interim first minister


The BBC's Martina Purdy says Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has been spotted going into a meeting in Stormont "with a face like thunder".


Alliance leader David Ford said progress on the issue of devolving policing and justice powers now depends on whether Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness can establish a working relationship "to move things forward".


Dawn Purvis of the Progressive Unionist Party tells Stormont Live that Mr Robinson's move "just adds to the crisis of confidence"


Mark Durkan takes a look ahead to the next six weeks: "Is this going to last the full six weeks and what happens then? This is not a satisfactory situation for all the parties. It puts Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in a very difficult position."


More reaction coming in from Stormont Live... SDLP leader Mark Durkan says this move by Mr Robinson doesn't do away with the need for inquiries. Danny Kennedy, UUP deputy leader, says Mr Robinson is a lame duck and no political progress can be made in the next six weeks.

1514 commenter LDF says: "Any indication as to the reason Arlene Foster has been appointed caretaker? Nigel Dodds is Deputy leader of the DUP and would probably be favourite to take over the leadership. Are the DUP presenting this as a temporary little arrangement?"


For the legal eagles among you, here's the relevant part of the St Andrews Agreement which enables Mr Robinson to step aside (be warned, link is a PDF):

"(11) The holder of the office of First Minister or deputy First Minister may by notice in writing to the Presiding Officer designate a Northern Ireland Minister to exercise the functions of that office- (a) during any absence or incapacity of the holder; or (b) during any vacancy in that office arising otherwise than under section 16B(2), but a person shall not have power to act by virtue of paragraph (a) for a continuous period exceeding six weeks."


Gerry Kelly says Peter Robinson deserves time to sort out personal relations. However, he adds: "The clock is ticking. This is a partnership government and coalition government. "Martin McGuinness said clearly that we are entering into a crisis ... There is a necessity for all the people in the north to have policing and justice sorted out."


Sinn Fein junior minister Gerry Kelly: "The six-week timeframe is not our timeframe"


Judging by the sound of Gerry Kelly speaking on BBC Stormont Live, the interim appointment of Arlene Foster has come as a surprise to Sinn Fein.


Slugger O'Toole commenter Aldous Duke... "Peter has bought 6 weeks for himself in the Govt of NI Act 1998 (as ammended in St Andrews). Allows him to side step a bit quieter and does not need Sinn Fein's approval for his appointment, leaving them with 6 weeks to decide to renominate Martin or not."


Arlene Foster is expected to make the statement now at 1530 and NOT Peter Robinson, according to Mark Devenport


Here's a bit of background on Arlene Foster ...

The 39-year-old is a fully qualified solicitor from County Fermanagh who joined the Democratic Unionist Party in January 2004, two weeks after resigning from the rival Ulster Unionist Party. She currently holds three political posts in Northern Ireland. She is the Minister for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) in the Stormont Assembly - a position she had held since June 2008. She is also an MLA for the Fermanagh South Tyrone constituency and a elected representative of Fermanagh District Council.

Mrs Foster was born in July 1970 and educated at Enniskillen's Collegiate grammar school before studying law at Queens University, Belfast. She worked as a private practice solicitor in Enniskillen and Portadown for 11 years, before devolution was restored to Northern Ireland in 2007.


Gerry Lynch of the Alliance Party points out on Twitter that Arlene Foster becomes only the second woman head of government in the history of these islands.


More from Mark Devenport: "All this comes after a show of support from the massed ranks of the DUP. It's hard to work out at this stage if this is the start of Mr Robinson being edged out or if this is just a break for him while he combines his political work with tackling his pressing personal issues."


From BBC NI Political Editor Mark Devenport: "Stormont speaker Wille Hay has just confirmed a welter of speculation that Arlene Foster will take over temporarily as First Minister. It's still unclear how this might work in practice but DUP sources had been indicating he will retain responsibility for policing and justice negotiations while Mrs Foster and Finance Minister Sammy Wilson take on his other roles."


TUV leader Jim Allister tells Stormont Live: "One suspects that once he steps aside he will never be back"


Commenter on Slugger O'Toole message board: "Appointing a temporary stand-in whilst the investigation proceeds would be a potential stroke of genius. Would Sinn Fein really refuse to appoint their own deputy in such circumstances when they were asking questions looking for the investigation in the first place?"


Peter Robinson designates Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster as First Minister for a six-week period


A quick recap of what's happened today - The DUP's full assembly team have offered their support to Peter Robinson.

Nigel Dodds, the party's deputy leader, said that despite attempts by elements of the press and the DUP's political opponents to force Mr Robinson from office, the party was firmly behind him.

He said they wanted him to express their "desire for him to remain in office as leader of the DUP".

BBC NI's political correspondent Martina Purdy has said Mr Robinson could temporarily hand some of his first ministerial responsibilities to a DUP colleague.

She said Arlene Foster, the enterprise minister, is the most likely person to take on such a role.

Mr Robinson will address the assembly at 1530 GMT.

Later the Assembly's Committee on Standards and Privileges is to hold a special meeting on Monday to discussion the Robinson issue.


Hello and welcome to our live coverage of events at Stormont as Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson prepares to take questions on the controversy which has engulfed him since the broadcast of a BBC investigation last week.

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