Revelation tears political dynasty apart
Published 07/01/2010 | 05:00
WHILE Peter and Iris Robinson fight to save their marriage, there is no doubt their once-powerful political dynasty lies in tatters.
Revelations about her extramarital affair and subsequent suicide attempt are the hammer blow to an empire that has been slowly crumbling under the weight of successive controversies.
Criticism of their parliamentary expenses claims and Mrs Robinson's outspoken views on homosexuality has battered the reputation of Northern Ireland's foremost political couple over the last two years.
It is now clear that period also coincided with the onset of her mental problems and infidelity.
While the Strangford MP's withdrawal from public life last month ahead of yesterday's admissions surprised colleagues, by that stage she was already cutting an increasingly marginal figure within her own party. To many in the DUP, her claims on a live radio show that homosexuality was an abomination that made her feel sick rendered her a liability.
Politically, the Christmas recess has witnessed the demise of a husband-and-wife team that had been involved at the heart of civic life in Northern Ireland for decades, serving side by side as local councillors in Castlereagh, in the Assembly and Westminster.
The first couple to sit in the House of Commons at the same time, cracks started to appear just as Mr Robinson became Stormont First Minister and DUP leader after the retirement of Ian Paisley.
After 35 years in the shadow of the firebrand north Antrim preacher, the East Belfast MP took the reins of power in May 2008, but within days was forced on to the back foot after his born-again Christian wife sparked outrage with her contentious remarks about homosexuals. The comments prompted a storm of protest from gay rights campaigners and triggered a police investigation into whether she had breached hate crime laws.
While no charges were brought and Mrs Robinson strenuously defended her right to express her "Christian views", the episode undoubtedly left her tarnished and placed her husband in an unenviable position as the head of an administration that supposedly promoted equality and tolerance.
Last year, the couple again found themselves the subject of unwanted headlines when they became entangled in the parliamentary expenses row. Revelations that they jointly received more than £500,000 (€555,000) a year in salaries and expenses, with a further £150,000 in wages being paid to four of their relatives for constituency and other work, saw them dubbed the "Swish Family Robinson".
While the couple stressed all claims were legitimate, critics accused them of excessive spending.
While her political career is now finished, Mrs Robinson indicated yesterday that she is determined to do all she can to ensure her marriage does not go the same way.