Robinson clings on in toyboy scandal
THE mesmerising saga of the toyboy, the North's First Minister and his straying wife last night threatened to engulf Belfast's frail political settlement.
Following a day closeted with advisers, Peter Robinson broke his silence to insist defiantly that he would not step down.
His move is unlikely to stem the clamour for an inquiry into an affair which has fused the political and the sexual.
First indications are that members of his party, the Democratic Unionists (DUP), are reacting to the disclosures with strong disapproval.
The party is highly religious and lays heavy emphasis on Christian family values. It is also currently highly nervous that the revelations could cost it seats in the coming Westminster election. If the DUP were to fracture as a result of the scandal, it could lead the way to Sinn Fein becoming the largest party in the North Assembly -- allowing it to nominate its own first minister and putting the peace process in jeopardy.
Disclosures in a BBC television programme on the activities of Mr Robinson's wife, Iris, who has already exited from public life, led to a day-long flurry of political calls for inquiries into the Robinson family. Mr Robinson stands accused of failing to notify the authorities that his wife had been involved in financial transactions without declaring an interest. She helped 19-year-old toyboy lover Kirk McCambley to set up a business.
Mr Robinson said he had asked for the appointment of a senior counsel "to ask me any questions he or she wishes to ask, and to give an opinion as to what I should have disclosed or whether I have breached an obligation".
Insisting he had done nothing wrong, Mr Robinson accused the BBC of broadcasting "smears and innuendo".
Saying that he did not rule out a defamation action, he declared: "I am being tried in the court of public opinion."
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, who is deputy first minister, said he was shocked at the BBC revelations and is seeking talks with both Mr Robinson and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Mr McGuinness was originally publicly sympathetic when news of the scandal broke, but his veering towards a tougher line is taken as indicating a calculation that Mr Robinson may not survive the current storm.
Mr Robinson, who has been first minister for a year-and-a-half, is regarded as a pivotal figure in the peace process since he was prepared to follow the Rev Ian Paisley into government with Sinn Fein.
But the state of the political settlement has appeared increasingly rocky as Mr Robinson has resisted pressure from almost all points of the political compass to complete devolution by accepting a transfer of responsibility for policing from London to Belfast. His reluctance to move on the policing issue was attributed to nervousness about challenges from hardline opponents in the Westminster general election.
Now opponents are speculating that it might instead have at least partly been due to the family scandal.
Some media outlets have reflected the widespread belief that Mrs Robinson had a relationship not only with Mr McCambley, but also with his father Billy, a well-known east Belfast butcher who has since died of cancer. Before he died he is said to have asked Mrs Robinson to look after his son.
In recent days Mrs Robinson dramatically announced that she was leaving politics. She is currently Westminster MP for east Belfast, a councillor and a member of the Belfast Assembly. Last night there were calls for her to depart immediately and to stop drawing her salaries.
The BBC programme 'Spotlight' revealed that her relationship with Mr McCambley had developed into a sexual one. It said she suggested to him that he go into a business venture which was partly organised by Castlereagh council, where she is an alderman.
She is said to have obtained £50,000 from two property developers, to be used to set up the business. She is also said to have helped approve the McCambley proposal without declaring a financial interest.