Robinson fights for future as Trimble calls on him to quit
Published 11/01/2010 | 05:00
THE North's First Minister Peter Robinson will plead for his political life today when he addresses senior party figures about his wife's affair with a teenager and her financial dealings.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader has vowed to fight on despite moves within the party to drop him after they expelled his wife Iris at the weekend.
Today's meeting at Stormont could decide his fate and with it, the future of the North's power-sharing executive.
If he falls, the posts of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, held by Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, would have to be formally filled.
Sinn Fein could delay nominating unless the DUP agreed to a timescale for the devolution of policing and justice from London to Belfast.
If this was not resolved within seven days, it would fall to Shaun Woodward, the Northern Ireland Secretary, to call an election.
Mr Robinson's chances of survival were dented yesterday by senior unionists.
Former unionist leader David Trimble said Mr Robinson had to go. Mr Trimble, now a Conservative peer, claimed Mr Robinson had "lost his authority within the party and the system" and expected him to step down.
"If he is going to fight to clear his name, then the place to do that is from the backbenches," Mr Trimble said.
"To have a situation where a party leader sees his wife expelled from the party and acquiesces in it, doesn't even persuade the party to give her a decent way out, shows there has been a complete loss of authority."
Mr Robinson denies any knowledge of his wife's financial affairs, which had he known he should have reported to the parliamentary authorities.
Mr Trimble was speaking as Kirk McCambley (21), the man who had an affair with Mrs Robinson, arrived back at work at his riverside cafe in Belfast yesterday.
The Lock Keeper's Inn was the business which Mrs Robinson helped raise £50,000 (€55,000) so Mr McCambley could open it.
Meanwhile, the British government tried to shore up Mr Robinson by warning that an Assembly election would follow his resignation.
Mr Woodward said if the crisis was not resolved in seven days, he was bound by legislation to call an election. He said that the political process would not wait on a leadership contest in the DUP or any drawn-out process of internal debate in the party.
A political source in Dublin said that the Government was also backing Mr Robinson to remain in his position because of the potential for instability in the North if he fell.
"This is very, very serious," said the source. "If Peter Robinson has to resign, it is difficult to see how an election can be avoided and there is no telling what would happen in the fallout from that."
It is also clear that Sinn Fein would prefer if Mr Robinson remained in office for fear of a more hardline DUP leader further pushing back the devolution of justice and policing.