Peter Robinson fought ferociously to defend party's standing

DUP leader Peter Robinson has endured the worst month of his life, but has emerged from the political debris today clutching a deal with Sinn Fein.

Only weeks have passed since his party backed him after the sex and money scandal surrounding his wife Iris, and now he has secured their support again for the agreement to save Stormont.



Until recently he appeared reluctant to broker a deal on devolving policing and justice powers with republicans, and he now faces claims of caving-in to a threat that Sinn Fein could collapse the Assembly and force his party into a damaging snap election.



His enemies will say that last month's scandal and this month's deal are, to borrow a phrase from the peace process, inextricably linked.



But Mr Robinson has already surprised opponents by the determination with which he has carved-out breathing-space at a time when many thought his career was doomed.



A matter of weeks ago it appeared his party was set for the political humiliation of being pushed into a swift deal with Sinn Fein, but the East Belfast MP has tried to combat that by tying republicans into lengthy negotiations and by trying to increase his political options through secret talks with the Ulster Unionists and the Conservative Party.



Now he believes he has a deal with republicans he can sell.



But when the early whispers of the Iris Robinson scandal began to ripple out in December, however, the DUP's first line of defence was denial.



When the leadership was approached by the Press Association in connection with only some of the allegations - four weeks before the BBC Spotlight programme blew the issue wide-open and revealed the full scale of the saga with the testimony of its whistleblower - the party's first reaction was to deny the claims.



Exactly when the DUP began planning its response to the impending crisis is unclear, but in the wake of those initial queries and with the TV documentary on the way, Mr Robinson and his advisers must have spent Christmas deciding on how to cope with the personal tragedy and political disaster that loomed ahead.



He has insisted, however, that the timing of his comments on the issue were dictated by concern for his wife's mental state.



On December 28, Mrs Robinson issued a statement revealing she was retiring from politics due to ill health. The 60-year-old Strangford MP, a mother-of-three, was a controversial figure best known for her infamous denunciation of homosexuality. The statement made no mention of the controversies to come.



On January 6, journalists were brought to the Robinsons' east Belfast home. They were handed a statement in Mrs Robinson's name revealing that 18 months before she had an affair, and that 10 months previously her regret at the incident had sparked a suicide attempt. There was little information on her lover, except to say: "I encouraged friends to assist him by providing financial support for a business venture."



In a televised address, Mr Robinson, choked with emotion, spoke of his utter devastation. After decades cultivating the image of a political hard man, he seemed broken. But the scripted speech and the presence of a card to "Dad" over his shoulder gave the impression, rightly or wrongly, of choreography. It was speculated that any strategy was aimed solely at insulating a devastated family, but subsequent events were to add to the appearance that an effort at damage limitation was also under way.



Mr Robinson returned to work the next day, but within hours the Spotlight allegations were televised: details of Mrs Robinson's 19-year-old lover, the efforts to set the teen up in business, the £50,000 she so easily secured from two wealthy property developers, plus the details of her suicide attempt as told by her former political adviser, turned whistleblower, Selwyn Black.



By January 11, Mr Robinson had temporarily stepped down as First Minister to fight off criticisms and care for his family. The Stormont corridors buzzed with speculation that the DUP would be forced into an immediate deal with Sinn Fein to avoid a devastating election.



The DUP, a party founded on its opposition to "big house" unionism and based on the rock of religious zeal, seemed set to be overwhelmed by a scandal centring on sex and money. It was even speculated that the next set of Sunday newspapers would deliver further damaging revelations.



But it was then that events started to turn. The talks with Sinn Fein began to drag on, and republicans were facing problems of their own.



Gerry Adams was challenged over his handling of claims his brother Liam abused his daughter, though the Sinn Fein President said he would give evidence on behalf of his niece in any future court case. Then came confirmation from Gerry Adams that his own father had been an abuser. There were further tensions as the party had to fight allegations of Liam Adams's past role in Sinn Fein.



Scandal and personal tragedy gave way, again, to politics with the shock news that during a break in talks with Sinn Fein, the DUP leader had met the Ulster Unionists and the Conservatives for secret talks in England. Details emerged of another secret meeting between the DUP, Ulster Unionists and Orange Order. Had republicans been wrong-footed by Mr Robinson? Could a new unionist election pact and the possibility of support from a future Tory government have strengthened the DUP's hand?



A collapse of the Assembly loomed. Crisis meetings between Mr Robinson and Martin McGuinness were followed by government-sponsored talks in Hillsborough. Within two weeks we have a deal, but not without tensions inside DUP ranks, where sceptics who rejected the outline of a deal five days ago have now come onboard.



In a further shift, the Ulster Unionists, perhaps under pressure from the Tories, have stepped back from their flirtation with the DUP. Mr Robinson's party has escaped an Assembly election, but will soon face a challenging general election and the threat of the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice.



By failing to do an earlier deal with Sinn Fein, the DUP leader left his party a hostage to fortune. But over recent weeks he has fought ferociously to defend his position and his party's standing.



One of the most chaotic periods in Northern Ireland politics has ended, but its repercussions will be felt through 2010, and beyond.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world