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Her young lover, the cash and the insider ...

So here's to you, Mrs Robinson. The news that Northern Ireland's first lady had an affair with a toyboy young enough to be her grandson has added an extra frisson to one of the most bizarre political scandals ever seen on this island.

At its heart, however, this is about money rather than sex -- which is why last night's BBC Spotlight documentary will almost certainly lead to regime change at the top of Ulster unionism.

On Wednesday Peter Robinson, the hardline DUP leader, went in front of the television cameras with some shocking news.

He revealed that his wife and fellow MP Iris had tried to kill herself last March, apparently due to the guilt she'd felt over a brief fling with a local businessman.

He won widespread sympathy for his performance, which was hardly surprising since he appeared to be emotionally broken.

Now it looks as if Robinson may have been using the same tactic that his republican counterpart Gerry Adams was accused of trying to pull out just a couple of weeks ago -- disclosing a private family trauma in order to distract attention from a much more damaging revelation that he saw coming down the tracks.

The evidence from the Spotlight programme is clear and, if true, devastating.

The 60-year-old Iris Robinson stands accused of soliciting stgĀ£50,000 from two property developers to help the business of 19-year-old Kirk McCambley, soon to become her lover.

By failing to declaring her financial interest to the relevant parliamentary authorities, she apparently broke the law -- and when Peter found out what was going on, he reportedly did nothing to set the record straight.

Betrayed

The whistleblower here is Selwyn Black, who was once Iris's political adviser but now says that she has betrayed the public's trust.

To put it politely, the Robinsons are not the sort of couple who normally attract much sympathy.

Peter is widely seen as a bit of a cold fish, humourless, arrogant and often breathtakingly rude to his colleagues. While Iris has a lot more charm, she is also a Christian fundamentalist who was once described as "fire and brimstone in a Laura Ashley dress" and caused outrage last year by claiming that homosexuality was the moral equivalent of child abuse.

In an interview in 2008, Iris declared that Hillary Clinton should never become US president because of how she responded to her husband's infidelity.

"No woman would put up with what she tolerated from Bill when he was president," she said. "Hillary was thinking only of her future political career. It's all about power and principle."

Even before last night's documentary, Peter Robinson was clearly struggling to save his marriage. With a Westminster general election due in four months, he may find it even harder to rescue his job.


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