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Council says here's to you Mr Robinson

(Claire Simpson, Irish News)

A leisure centre has been named in his honour and he has even received the freedom of the borough but Castlereagh councillors last night (Thursday) also celebrated 30 years of service by the DUP's Peter Robinson.

The 58-year-old resigned from the council in July, saying his role as finance minister in the executive could lead to a conflict of interest with his council duties.

Having formally resigned by letter, the council decided to hold a special meeting to allow former colleagues to pay tribute to him in person.

The council even rescheduled its monthly meeting to allow last night's celebration to go ahead.

Mr Robinson, who dominated the council chamber since first being elected in 1977, was given a painting to mark his contribution to local government.

Councillors from the DUP, SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance also paid tribute to his work, despite his often fraught relationship with political opponents.

Alliance councillor Geraldine Rice said her speech would look back on the sometimes bitter exchanges she had with Mr Robinson.

"I won't let him get away with it," she joked.

"It was a very tough council but that was in a different political era.

"I came into the council in 1989 and I had to develop a skin as tough as a rhinoceros.

"But it was all political and never personal. There were no grudges held.

"I was seriously ill last year and he was the first person to stand up in council to ask that I be excused from my council duties. And my husband told me he was the first person on the phone to find out how I was after my operation.

"There's a human side to him that people don't often see."

Mr Robinson joined the council aged just 29 but quickly became its strongest figure, so much so that political adversaries sometimes claimed he treated the chamber as his fiefdom.

During the 1980s, the council became famous for the length of some of its meetings, with councillors even known to stay in the chamber from 7pm to 7am.

But Mr Robinson also used his political weight to ensure Castlereagh had some of the lowest rates in the north and helped secure £4 million of European Union funding to build Dundonald Ice Bowl.

In 1979 he won a seat in the House of Commons, beating Ulster Unionist candidate William Craig by 64 votes in one of the closest election victories in British parliamentary history.

In 1984, just seven years after he joined the council, his DUP colleagues controversially agreed to name the borough's flagship leisure centre after him.

The council also gave him the freedom of the borough in 2003.

Mr Robinson served as mayor of Castlereagh in 1986 but resigned later that year in protest against the Anglo Irish Agreement.

December 2, 2007

This article appeared first in the November 30, 2007 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News