Arlene Foster ‘to step in’ as First Minister
Arlene Foster ‘to step in’ as First Minister

The DUP leader and Six-County First Minister Peter Robinson, battling for his political life following a lurid scandal centring on an extra-marital affair by his wife, has requested that party colleague Arlene Foster temporarily exercise the functions of the office of First Minister.

Speculation has riven the north’s political establishment following revelations on Thursday night of flagrant infidelity and corruption by Iris Robinson, currently receiving acute psychiatic treatment at an unspecified location. Her husband has been implicated in an attempted cover-up of her financial dealings, which involved payments by developers to her teenage lover.

It has been announced that Mr Robinson is to ‘step aside’ for 6 weeks and has asked Mrs Foster to take over at the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, shared with Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness.

The Stormont Assembly outside Belfast was the scene today for a tense meeting of the DUP party executive on Mr Robinson’s future following the dumping of his wifge as a DUP member at the weekend.

The situation has significantly confused the ongoing stand-off with Sinn Fein over the future of devolution of policing and justice powers and the 2006 St Andrew’s Agreement. However, the stalemate, which increasingly threatens the existing power-sharing administration with the DUP, was one the back-burner today as the fundamentalist Christian party sought to deal with the implications of the ‘lust and greed’ revelations involving Mr abd Mrs Robinson, both MPs.

Earlier today, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, flanked by party faithful including former leader Ian Paisley, said they had resisted pressure from the media and their political opponents to ditch Mr Robinson - as DUP leader.

Mr Dodds said the party had “unanimously agreed despite attempts by members of the press and our political opponents to press the Rt Hon Peter Robinson to resign as party leader - we offer him our wholehearted support and our desire for him to remain in office as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.”

DUP sources had suggested that Mr Robinson might retain responsibility for policing and justice negotiations while Mrs Foster and Finance Minister Sammy Wilson could take on his other roles.

Arlene Foster, from Fermanagh, is currently Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in the Six-County executive. She joined the DUP in 2003 following a split in the Ulster Unionist Party. The choice of Mrs Foster is thought to be intended to improve the DUP’s image in the eyes of its voters ahead of the forthcoming Westminster general election.

Reacting to the proposed move, TUV leader Jim Allister said it appeared to him to be “a choreographed soft landing for Peter Robinson”. He said he suspected that he would never return to the post of First Minister.

The ramifications of the move for Sinn Fein and the political process remain unclear.

Further news and reaction will follow in this evening’s full edition.

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