Tuesday 12 December 2017

'Spotlight probe's aim was to smear me by association'

Peter Robinson came out fighting yesterday. Noel McAdam interviewed the First Minister in his office at DUP headquarters in east Belfast, with party officials and a solicitor present

Noel McAdam

Peter Robinson came out fighting yesterday when he was interviewed in his office at DUP headquarters in east Belfast with party officials and a solicitor present.

Q: Are you planning to resign?

A: Many of the elements of the 'Spotlight' programme came as a shock to me. Clearly many parts of it I had been aware of in terms of the affair, though the programme brought out aspects of that that were new to me. It raised issues about the financial arrangements which I had not heard before.

They made one allegation as I understand it against me and I have to say I feel it is an abuse of the broadcasting position for the BBC 'Spotlight' team who were clearly carrying out an investigation on my wife's activity to seek to smear by association.

Q: what allegation?

A: Let me make the facts clear. I had no knowledge about my wife seeking financial support. I had no knowledge about any of the financial dealings and the only issue I became aware of was how the money was to be repaid.

I asked what it was and was told there had been a young man and she had known his father, he had died of cancer, she felt that he deserved a chance in life and promised his father that she would help.

The information I received is that the cheques were made out directly to the individuals starting up the enterprise and I insisted that repayment was done properly.

Q: What about the STG£5,000 (allegedly given back to Iris)?

A: I had no knowledge of it.

Q: Doesn't Mrs Robinson have to go -- and right away?

A: She has already said she is leaving. Over the weekend I intend to make the necessary arrangements and discuss the matter with party officers.

Q: Isn't your position also untenable?

A: Well, I have done nothing wrong. I have acted appropriately at all times. The one accusation against me by the 'Spotlight' programme was that I had not disclosed various financial dealings. But the information I had was that money was paid directly on a cheque from a private-sector lender to someone else in the private sector and repaid directly. There was therefore nothing for me to disclose.

However, I hold a public office and I think the public need to be satisfied. Either through my issuing a defamation action against the BBC and 'Spotlight' -- I don't rule that out but it is a process which could take one or two years and since I am already being tried in the press that is a timescale that I cannot allow.

We could wait until the various standards bodies looked at the matter and reached a conclusion but that would be some months and, therefore, I have asked within the Office of FM that senior counsel is asked to give an opinion on the bias of the 'Spotlight' programme.

I do say to you that if that senior counsels' opinion was to indicate that I was in breach then clearly there would be consequences. Equally, I hope that those who have been prepared to smear, that if the only allegation against me falls, I hope that people will be able to apologise to me for that.

Q: I think one of the things that people are surprised at is that someone can go to business people, even if friends, and get cheques for £25,000.

A: I think Iris has to deal with this and I don't want to infringe on any of her legal rights. But I want to maintain my marriage.

Q: Over the years there have been all sorts of allegations about your relationship with developers. Have you ever taken or received any money from developers?

A: Never in all of my political career have I taken one penny.

Q: I think people also found it odd that only hours after Iris's suicide attempt, we have seen the clip of you in the Assembly in fairly jocular form.

A: I think it says something about the disposition of the 'Spotlight' team that during the course of a day where at First Minister's questions I had dozens of questions put to me that they go out of their way to find the one answer which was given in a humourous way.

Let's be clear. I stayed with my wife throughout the evening, and left her asleep with trusted family members. I then went into the Assembly. There was a deliberate attempt to indicate that I had been heartless.

Irish Independent

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