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Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 11:43 GMT
Peter Robinson: DUP deputy leader

By BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent Mark Simpson

Even though he is a fierce opponent of the Agreement which led to the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly, Peter Robinson is regarded as one of the best ministers to have held office at Stormont.

He was regional development minister for less than a year, before handing over the post to a DUP colleague.

Even his opponents acknowledged that his time in office was impressive.

One civil servant was heard to remark during the early days of devolution: "Some of these new ministers are being spoon-fed tiny bits of information at regular intervals, but Peter Robinson is eating computers in one bite."


He is seldom seen smiling in public, but behind the scenes Robinson is a colourful character - as his wardrobe proves

He only stepped down from office for tactical reasons - to spearhead his party's general election campaign.

But assuming he is re-elected he is expected to re-take his ministerial seat after polling day, if the Assembly is still in existence.

And that is a big "if".

The DUP is opposed to Sinn Fein's presence in the Executive and is trying to exclude it from government - even if that means bringing the Assembly down.

Although Ian Paisley is the leader of the DUP, 52-year-old Mr Robinson is the party's tactician. And he is regarded - by friends and foes alike - as a shrewd thinker and one of the toughest debaters in the business.

His critics say his love of politics and power is such that his real aim is not to smash Sinn Fein but to become First Minister of Northern Ireland one day. Mr Robinson would deny that.

He came into politics after a friend was killed by the IRA and he says his political goals are to stamp out terrorism, and to secure the Union.

Brief prison sentences

Even in his teens, he was writing political pamphlets. After a brief spell as an estate agent, he moved into politics in his mid 20s.

He became DUP general secretary in 1975 and four years later won the East Belfast seat in the general election.

His majority was only 64, but by the 1983 Westminster election, the margin was almost 8,000.

It has become a relatively safe seat for the DUP and Mr Robinson is hopeful that he will soon be joined at Westminster by his wife, Iris.

Iris Robinson
Iris Robinson: Mrs Politics
She is running in the neighbouring Strangford constituency and is hopeful of success.

It is one of the most political families in the United Kingdom. Both Peter and Iris sit in the Assembly as well as on Castlereagh Council, and few would be surprised if one of their two sons follows in their parents' footsteps.

The DUP is vehemently opposed to the Irish Government being allowed any say in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland.

In 1985, after the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Mr Robinson was at the forefront of the unionist protests.

He served several brief prison sentences after refusing to pay fines arising out of a number of unlawful protests. He also took part in a late-night incursion into a border village in the Republic in a bid to expose a lack of security.

Mr and Mrs Politics

There is no doubting his hard-line views, and he is seldom seen smiling in public, but behind the scenes Mr Robinson is a colourful character - as his wardrobe proves.

His collection of ties is unrivalled in Northern Ireland politics both in terms of quantity and variety.

And his back garden is home for hundreds of fish - two large ponds are home to his beloved Koi collection.

It has led to the tag Fish Family Robinson but a more appropriate label might be Mr and Mrs Politics.

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