I'm stepping aside to clear my name, says Robinson

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Indy Politics

DUP leader Peter Robinson said today he was temporarily stepping down as Northern Ireland First Minister in an attempt to clear his name following the scandal surrounding his wife Iris.

In a shock move, party colleague Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster will fill the role for up to six weeks.



The development came within hours of DUP members offering Mr Robinson their full support, but he said today he needed time to care for his family, allow the crisis to be investigated and help resolve the threat to the future of the Assembly.



"As a father and a husband, I need to devote time to deal with family matters," he said.



He added: "I continue to contend I have acted ethically and it is particularly painful at this time of great personal trauma that I have to defend myself from an unfounded and mischievous allegation."



Acting First Minister Mrs Foster addressed the assembly in the aftermath of the announcement.



"On behalf of the First Minister, I want to make it clear that he entirely rejects the sole allegation made by the BBC Spotlight programme and will be seeking to clear his name in the days that lie ahead," the Fermanagh and South Tyrone member said.



Mr Robinson has been facing calls for his resignation after a TV documentary claimed he failed to report his wife Iris to the parliamentary authorities for obtaining loans for her teenage lover to run a Belfast cafe.



The DUP leader has said he did nothing wrong and told his wife, who is now said to be receiving acute psychiatric treatment from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust after battling against depression, to pay back the loans.



Earlier today DUP colleagues at Stormont emerged from private talks to declare they were offering their support to Mr Robinson.



The decision was in defiance of the major political damage caused when it emerged that Mrs Robinson secured £50,000 from two wealthy developers to help her 19-year-old lover Kirk McCambley set up a restaurant business in south Belfast.



But it later became clear that today's statement of support by elected DUP representatives was only the first step in a political choreography planned by the party.



Assembly Speaker William Hay surprised members by interrupting a sitting of the House to declare that he had received a letter from Mr Robinson asking that Mrs Foster become acting First Minister.



Mr Robinson later read a statement detailing his position.



He revealed that a legal study of the TV programme that raised allegations against him, which he commissioned last week, was to be followed by a Parliamentary and Assembly inquiry at his request.



"This has been a difficult time. However, I want to thank all those who have sent messages of encouragement and support," he said.



"I have literally received thousands of messages from all sections of the community and beyond.



"I will want to respond to everyone who has taken the time to send their best wishes to me and the family at this time. I hope they will forgive me because of the volume if it takes me some time.



"Iris is receiving acute psychiatric treatment through the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. As a father and a husband, I need to devote time to deal with family matters.



"To take account of this I have, following a meeting with party colleagues and one with the Deputy First Minister, asked the Minister for Enterprise, Arlene Foster MLA, to carry out the functions of the Office of First Minister for a short period."



Mr Robinson thanked his DUP colleagues for their support and said he considered it an honour to lead them.



Repeating his claims of innocence, he added: "As you know, I have requested that an opinion be obtained from senior counsel in relation to the ministerial code and related aspects. In addition, the Deputy First Minister has received advices from the Departmental Solicitors' Office which do not present any complications of difficulties whatsoever.



"I have asked for a Parliamentary and Assembly inquiry to be undertaken into these matters.



"Throughout this period I will continue to work on the outstanding issues relating to policing and justice and some other matters.



"This allows a particularly concentrated focus on these discussions and we will work to try to build on the agreements we have already reached so that a successful resolution can be reached.



"This is the year to deliver at Stormont for all the people of Northern Ireland."



Gordon Brown's spokesman said Downing Street was monitoring events in Belfast and would "remain closely involved".



He said: "The Government is totally focused on completing devolution with the transfer of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast. That is the Government's overriding objective."



Mrs Foster said ahead of the other official investigations into his conduct that departmental solicitors in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister had already indicated that Mr Robinson did not break any rules.



"The departmental solicitors' office has already considered the allegations made in the Spotlight programme and has advised Peter Robinson that he was not in breach of the ministerial code, the pledge of office, the ministerial code of conduct of the seven principles of public life, so I think it's important to say that."



She said she was also sure the senior lawyers commissioned to investigate Mr Robinson's actions would find no evidence of wrongdoing.



"I am personally confident, my party is very confident, that this will confirm that Peter Robinson, the First Minister, acted entirely properly at all times, but let's have this (investigation) and let's have it quickly."



After a dramatic day of events, it was unclear where the latest DUP moves left the continuing efforts to broker a deal with Sinn Fein to stabilise the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.



In the immediate aftermath of Mr Robinson's statement, political opponents questioned how he could juggle the tasks of clearing his name, caring for his family and negotiating with Sinn Fein.



The British and Irish Governments are concerned at the wider political significance of the affair, with fears that a weakened DUP may be unlikely to agree to republican demands for agreement on the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Assembly.



Republicans are keen to see progress on devolving policing and justice powers from London to Belfast as their price for remaining in government.



Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness has sought answers on whether Assembly rules were breached after Mr Robinson failed to report his wife to the parliamentary authorities for obtaining the loans.



Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said: "The failure of the DUP to fulfil its political commitments and work the political institutions, as it agreed, on the basis of partnership and equality, has led to a considerable lack of public confidence in the political institutions."



Sinn Fein wants policing and justice powers devolved as soon as possible.



The DUP is under pressure from unionist hardliner Jim Allister, who opposes Sinn Fein in government, and wants to wait until finances and community confidence are in place.



Mr Robinson has been facing calls for his resignation after a TV documentary claimed he failed to report his wife Iris to the parliamentary authorities for obtaining loans for her teenage lover to run a Belfast cafe.



The DUP leader has said he did nothing wrong and told his wife, who is now said to be receiving acute psychiatric treatment from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust after battling against depression, to pay back the loans.



Earlier today DUP colleagues at Stormont emerged from private talks to declare they were offering their support to Mr Robinson.



The decision was in defiance of the major political damage caused when it emerged that Mrs Robinson secured £50,000 from two wealthy developers to help her 19-year-old lover Kirk McCambley set up a restaurant business in south Belfast.



But it later became clear that today's statement of support by elected DUP representatives was only the first step in a political choreography planned by the party.



Assembly Speaker William Hay surprised members by interrupting a sitting of the House to declare that he had received a letter from Mr Robinson asking that Mrs Foster become acting First Minister.



Mr Robinson later read a statement detailing his position.



He revealed that a legal study of the TV programme that raised allegations against him, which he commissioned last week, was to be followed by a Parliamentary and Assembly inquiry at his request.



"This has been a difficult time. However, I want to thank all those who have sent messages of encouragement and support," he said.



"I have literally received thousands of messages from all sections of the community and beyond.



"I will want to respond to everyone who has taken the time to send their best wishes to me and the family at this time. I hope they will forgive me because of the volume if it takes me some time.



"Iris is receiving acute psychiatric treatment through the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. As a father and a husband, I need to devote time to deal with family matters.



"To take account of this I have, following a meeting with party colleagues and one with the Deputy First Minister, asked the Minister for Enterprise, Arlene Foster MLA, to carry out the functions of the Office of First Minister for a short period."



Mr Robinson thanked his DUP colleagues for their support and said he considered it an honour to lead them.



Repeating his claims of innocence, he added: "As you know, I have requested that an opinion be obtained from senior counsel in relation to the ministerial code and related aspects. In addition, the Deputy First Minister has received advices from the Departmental Solicitors' Office which do not present any complications of difficulties whatsoever.



"I have asked for a Parliamentary and Assembly inquiry to be undertaken into these matters.



"Throughout this period I will continue to work on the outstanding issues relating to policing and justice and some other matters.



"This allows a particularly concentrated focus on these discussions and we will work to try to build on the agreements we have already reached so that a successful resolution can be reached.



"This is the year to deliver at Stormont for all the people of Northern Ireland."



Gordon Brown's spokesman said Downing Street was monitoring events in Belfast and would "remain closely involved".



He said: "The Government is totally focused on completing devolution with the transfer of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast. That is the Government's overriding objective."



Mrs Foster said ahead of the other official investigations into his conduct that departmental solicitors in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister had already indicated that Mr Robinson did not break any rules.



"The departmental solicitors' office has already considered the allegations made in the Spotlight programme and has advised Peter Robinson that he was not in breach of the ministerial code, the pledge of office, the ministerial code of conduct of the seven principles of public life, so I think it's important to say that."



She said she was also sure the senior lawyers commissioned to investigate Mr Robinson's actions would find no evidence of wrongdoing.



"I am personally confident, my party is very confident, that this will confirm that Peter Robinson, the First Minister, acted entirely properly at all times, but let's have this (investigation) and let's have it quickly."



After a dramatic day of events, it was unclear where the latest DUP moves left the continuing efforts to broker a deal with Sinn Fein to stabilise the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.



In the immediate aftermath of Mr Robinson's statement, political opponents questioned how he could juggle the tasks of clearing his name, caring for his family and negotiating with Sinn Fein.



The British and Irish Governments are concerned at the wider political significance of the affair, with fears that a weakened DUP may be unlikely to agree to republican demands for agreement on the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Assembly.



Republicans are keen to see progress on devolving policing and justice powers from London to Belfast as their price for remaining in government.



Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness has sought answers on whether Assembly rules were breached after Mr Robinson failed to report his wife to the parliamentary authorities for obtaining the loans.



Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said: "The failure of the DUP to fulfil its political commitments and work the political institutions, as it agreed, on the basis of partnership and equality, has led to a considerable lack of public confidence in the political institutions."



Sinn Fein wants policing and justice powers devolved as soon as possible.



The DUP is under pressure from unionist hardliner Jim Allister, who opposes Sinn Fein in government, and wants to wait until finances and community confidence are in place.

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