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David McKittrick: Sound of silence as supporters desert DUP leader

The titles of two classic songs by Simon and Garfunkel yesterday demonstrated how faint are Peter Robinson's prospects of survival as the North's first minister.

The first song is 'Here's to you, Mrs Robinson', which has become the subject of frequent requests to Belfast radio stations from listeners who clearly find the whole affair comical.

Mr Robinson is engaged in a last-ditch effort to keep his job. He insists that he was not guilty of any dereliction of his public duty in withholding information. His wife raised funding for her teenage lover to run a Belfast cafe, but failed to declare an interest in the venture when she voted for it at a council meeting. Mr Robinson is said to have discovered this but decided against revealing it.

He has asked officials in the Belfast Assembly to appoint a QC to examine his conduct. He insists it will clear his name.

One of his senior MPs, Gregory Campbell, has said Mr Robinson should be given one week to prove that he had not breached any rules, adding: "Peter has asked for a week to resolve those issues, respond to them and refute them."

The second relevant Simon and Garfunkel tune is 'The Sound of Silence'. The ominous fact for the DUP leader is that in recent days not a single party colleague has issued any sympathetic or supportive statement on his behalf.

Party representatives have spent the weekend mulling over the question of whether Mr Robinson should remain as leader.

Mr Robinson has taken stern measures against his wife. At the weekend he unceremoniously expelled her from his party. An aide explained: "There was no question -- she had to go. There was absolutely no sympathy for the position she found herself in."

The party is also stressing that Mrs Robinson is suffering from depression and mental illness. Her husband said: "Both her solicitor and I have been unable to get any coherent responses."

The reported state of Mrs Robinson's health seems to indicate she will not be able to cooperate fully with the inquiry set up by her husband, which may then not be able to make a comprehensive report on his conduct.

In the meantime, numerous Sunday newspaper stories made fresh sexual allegations against his wife. It was variously reported that her "toyboy" was just one of three lovers, one of whom was the youth's father.

Another lover was said to be a former member of her husband's party. She was said to have had "randy romps between the sheets in the Robinson mansion with her baby-faced Lothario".

A DUP meeting to take place in Belfast today is expected to be dominated by the affair. Representatives are acutely aware that the party could suffer serious losses in the Westminster election in the wake of the damaging publicity.

One striking irony, given Mrs Robinson's attacks on homosexuality as "an abomination", is that her young lover has assumed the status of a gay icon. A gay magazine wants him to pose for its front cover, while sites dedicated to him are attracting much attention on the internet.

Irish Independent