First Minister 'appalled' at claims about wife

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Indy Politics

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson hit out today at claims that he failed to alert watchdogs when his wife allegedly broke parliamentary rules to help her toyboy lover.

Iris Robinson secured £50,000 from two wealthy developers, who were family friends, so 19-year-old Kirk McCambley could open a restaurant on the banks of the River Lagan.

But the Strangford MP faces allegations that she did not declare her financial interest in the business despite sitting on the local council which awarded the tender to her teenage lover in 2008.

BBC Spotlight made a series of claims about her last night.

Mr Robinson said: "I completely reject BBC Spotlight's attempt to implicate me by insinuation and innuendo.

"I am even more appalled by the inclusion on that programme of comments and conclusions made without any supporting facts - indeed with facts in the programme which support a contrary position.

"While I have learned from Spotlight for the first time some alleged aspects of my wife's affair and her financial arrangements, I will be resolutely defending attacks on my character and contesting any allegations of wrongdoing. To that end, I will be addressing the media today after I have taken legal advice."

Mrs Robinson faced calls from the Alliance Party and Ulster Unionist Party to step down as Strangford MP and Assembly member immediately.

But potentially of more political significance in Northern Ireland, her husband is confronted with the claim that he became aware of the situation but did not alert the appropriate watchdog bodies that his wife may have broken rules.

If the charges, made in the TV documentary last night, are true, they would represent clear breaches of parliamentary rules and codes.

On Wednesday, Mrs Robinson, who said 10 days ago that she was stepping down from public life because of mental health problems, issued a stunning statement admitting the affair and revealing that, wracked by guilt, she had tried to take her own life in March last year.

That was four months after her fling with Mr McCambley ended in acrimony after the couple rowed over the repayments of the loans.

The pair had first become close after Mrs Robinson comforted Mr McCambley following the death of his father, Billy, who was her friend. They started a sexual relationship in the summer of 2008.

"She looked out for me to make sure I was OK," her former lover, now 21, told last night's Spotlight programme.

Selwyn Black, a former adviser to the MP, who resigned over the loans issue, told the documentary Mrs Robinson encouraged Mr McCambley to bid for the tender to run a cafe at the historic Lock Keeper's Cottage, a site Castlereagh Council was redeveloping.

Apparently she then obtained two £25,000 payments from the developers, Fred Fraser, who has since died, and Ken Campbell.

According to the programme, at the time Mrs Robinson was asking Mr Campbell for the money, she also lobbied on his behalf for one of his building projects in her parliamentary constituency of Strangford.

Mr McCambley said she had both cheques made out in his name but asked him for £5,000 back in cash. The council subsequently awarded him the contract to run the cafe.

However, it is claimed that Mrs Robinson failed to register her financial interest in the scheme to her fellow councillors.

She also faces claims that she did not record the two loans on her declaration of interests at Stormont and Westminster.

Mr Black, who turned whistleblower to the investigation, said the First Minister became aware of the situation and in December 2008 urged his wife to ensure that both loans were repaid to Mr Campbell and the estate of Mr Fraser.

However, it is claimed that he did not alert Castlereagh Council, the Stormont Assembly, Westminster or any parliamentary watchdog that his wife may have broken rules.

"They both knew the consequences of what they had been involved in and did nothing to address that circumstance," said Mr Black.

"It goes right to the heart of credibility of government in Northern Ireland."

The documentary team was told Mrs Robinson was too unwell to answer the allegations made in the programme.

Last night, the DUP said Mr Robinson would be contacting his lawyers about the broadcast.

But during an interview about his marriage on Wednesday, the First Minister said he was aware of the Spotlight claims and was confident he had done nothing wrong.

The couple's 40-year marriage was considered by all sides to be rock-solid, with the DUP leader frequently rallying to his wife's defence when her outspoken criticism of homosexuality saw many label her a political liability.

But that image of wedded bliss has been shattered by this week's revelations.

UUP leader Sir Reg Empey said Mrs Robinson should stop claiming parliamentary privileges and allowances immediately.

Alliance leader David Ford said: "Iris Robinson must resign as an MP, MLA and councillor immediately.

"Given the current political problems between the DUP and Sinn Fein, it is important that every measure possible is taken to safeguard the Assembly and political progress."