Northern Ireland's Robinson resumes post of first minister

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson gestures as he arrives at Stormont in Belfast, Northern Ireland January 11, 2010. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

BELFAST (Reuters) - Peter Robinson has resumed his role as Northern Ireland’s first minister after stepping aside last month for a “short time,” giving him more clout to spur on sluggish talks on the future of the fragile government.

Robinson stood down on January 11 to face an inquiry over money his wife raised for her former 19-year-old lover.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster temporarily stood in as first minister during Robinson’s leave, which was granted for a maximum of six weeks.

Robinson remained leader of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party and continued to lead talks with Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist party and the DUP’s partner in government, on transferring policing and justice powers to Belfast from London.

Robinson said Wednesday that legal advice he had received confirmed his view that he had acted properly and in compliance with his public duties at all times.

“I am therefore glad that at this critical time I can resume fully the functions of my office with confidence,” Robinson said in a statement issued by the DUP.

Robinson needs to resolve disagreements within his party before he can seal a deal with Sinn Fein on plans to give Northern Ireland its first justice minister, one of the boldest steps since a 1998 peace agreement ended decades of violence between Irish nationalists and pro-British parties.

A breakdown of the talks would trigger a snap election in the British province.

Reporting by Ian Graham; writing by Andras Gergely in Dublin; editing by Tim Pearce