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Robinson to retire as Northern Ireland leader in early 2016

November 19, 2015

DUBLIN (AP) — The Protestant leader of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, Peter Robinson, says he will retire from politics now that his coalition with Irish Catholic leaders has been restored to a firm foundation.

His decision opens the way for the British territory to get its first home-grown female leader.

The 66-year-old leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, which represents the British Protestant majority, said in an interview published Thursday he plans to step down early next year as first minister of the regional government and as Democratic Unionist leader. He has held both positions since 2008.

Speaking in advance of the Democratic Unionists’ annual conference this weekend, Robinson said he was ready to hand the reins of power to other party figures before a new Northern Ireland Assembly is elected in mid-2016.

“I think it would be disrespectful to the party membership if I was to go through a conference with the pretense that I would be leading the party into the next election,” Robinson was quoted as telling the Belfast Telegraph.

Finance Minister Arlene Foster, one of the few prominent women in Robinson’s male-dominated party, is expected to succeed him as first minister while the Democratic Unionist deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, is front-runner to become the next party leader.

On Tuesday, Robinson and his Irish nationalist partner atop the unity government, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, announced an agreement soothing key disputes that had threatened to collapse their coalition at the heart of Northern Ireland peacemaking.

Robinson said his retirement plans weren’t influenced by two hospitalizations this year, including for a May heart attack. But he said his longevity should improve if he steps away from such a heavy workload.

“While I was lying horizontal in hospital, I got all sorts of advice and lectures on what I should be eating and looking after myself,” he told the Belfast Telegraph. “But it is remarkable how soon you slip back into all those old bad habits with this kind of job.”

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