Support drains from Robinson

Deafening silence among fellow DUP members angered by revelations about leader's wife

The titles of two classic songs by Simon and Garfunkel yesterday demonstrated how faint are Peter Robinson's prospects of survival as Northern Ireland's First Minister.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader is fighting to retain his position in the wake of revelations that his wife, Iris, had an affair with a 19-year-old, only a third of her age. The first song is "Mrs Robinson" (chorus: "And here's to you, Mrs Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know"), which has become the subject of frequent requests to Belfast radio stations from listeners who clearly find the whole affair irresistibly comical.

Mr Robinson is engaged in a last-ditch effort to keep his job. He insists that he was not guilty of any dereliction of his public duty in withholding information from the authorities.

His wife, aged 60, raised funding for her teenage lover to run a Belfast café, but failed to declare an interest in the venture when she voted for it at a council meeting. Mr Robinson is said to have discovered these facts but decided against revealing them.

He has asked officials in the Belfast Assembly, where he heads the administration, to appoint a QC to examine his conduct. He insists that it will clear his name.

One of his senior MPs, Gregory Campbell, has said Mr Robinson should be given one week to prove that he had not breached any rules, adding: "Peter himself has asked for a week to resolve those issues, respond to them and refute them."

The second relevant Simon and Garfunkel song is "The Sounds of Silence". The ominous fact for the DUP leader is that in recent days not a single party colleague has issued any sympathetic or supportive statement on his behalf.

Party representatives and activists have spent the weekend mulling over the question of whether Mr Robinson should remain as leader – as indeed did millions in the UK who remain fascinated by the episode's delicious mix of sex, power and money.

Mr Robinson has taken stern measures against his wife. She had already agreed to leave politics but at the weekend he unceremoniously expelled her from his party.

An aide explained: "There was no question about it: she had to go and go now. There was absolutely no sympathy for the position she found herself in."

While this lack of public sympathy was being expressed, the party is also stressing that Mrs Robinson is suffering from depression and mental illness. Her husband said: "Both her solicitor and I have been unable to get any coherent responses."

The reported state of Mrs Robinson's health seems to indicate she will not be able to co-operate fully with the inquiry set up by her husband, which may then not be able to make a comprehensive report on his conduct. A spokesman for Mr Robinson said there had been press speculation about his wife's health and whereabouts. "Iris is receiving acute psychiatric treatment from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust," he said.

Far from dying down, allegations surrounding Mrs Robinson’s behaviour intensified over the weekend – among them the claims that she had three affairs. Lurid details added to the scandal – she and her teenage lover, Kirk McCambley, were said to have had sex in the marital bed, with "randy romps between the sheets in the Robinson mansion with her baby-faced Lothario".

While the accuracy of such reports is unclear, they are inevitably destined to be included in the Robinson family's sexual mythology. The DUP is already recoiling from the affair, as is to be expected for a party which has a strongly Protestant religious tone.

A party meeting due to take place in Belfast today is expected to be dominated by the affair. Representatives are acutely aware that the party could suffer serious losses in the Westminster election in the wake of the torrent of damaging publicity.

One striking irony, given Mrs Robinson's attacks on homosexuality as "an abomination", is that her young lover has instantly assumed the status of a gay icon.

A gay magazine wants him to pose for its front cover, while sites dedicated to him are attracting much attention on the internet.

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