Uncertainty over the future of devolution mounted today as troubled First Minister Peter Robinson faced increasing demands to make an Assembly statement on the political fall-out from his wife’s financial dealings with her young lover.
The SDLP added its weight to a Sinn Fein emergency motion at this afternoon’s opening plenary session urging Mr Robinson to spell out any implications for his joint office with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. The DUP has so far refused to indicate whether its leader will comply.
Mr Robinson also faced increasing questions over the independence of the senior counsel’s opinion he has sought on whether he broke ethical rules on failing to declare his wife Iris’ financial affairs.
And a potential second inquiry opened up today as it emerged the Assembly’s ethics watchdog is expected to become involved over the revelations about property developer money obtained by Mrs Robinson. The cross-party Standards and Privileges Committee was due to meet today to discuss its response, which could involve ordering a full probe.
Meanwhile, Gerry Adams piled extra pressure on the highly-charged atmosphere at Stormont by insisting the British and Irish Governments must intervene urgently to ensure the ongoing deadlock over the devolution of policing and justice is ended.
As the First Minister prepares to face a meeting of DUP MLAs and party officers to discuss his family crisis today, the Sinn Fein President spoke of his “huge sympathy” for Mr Robinson in the wake of revelations about his wife’s affair with a 19-year-old. Iris Robinson had helped Kirk McCambley set up a cafe business by securing two loans from property developers.
While the Strangford MP was effectively drummed out of the party at the weekend — without a disciplinary hearing — her husband is now facing growing pressure to resign over his handling of Mrs Robinson’s finances when he discovered she had secured the £50,000 loan for her lover.
Writing exclusively for the Belfast Telegraph Mr Adams said he would prefer to focus on the widening political ripples from the Robinson crisis. “This is not about the Robinson’s private family matters. Sinn Féin respect their right to privacy,” the West Belfast MP said.
Just a month after his own family crisis, Mr Adams argued the considerable lack of public confidence in the Assembly and Executive is a direct result of the DUP’s failure to agree a timetable for the switchover of responsibility for police, prisons and the courts system from Westminster.
“This has been the case for a considerable time before last week’s BBC Spotlight programme. And at the most recent meeting with the DUP on Thursday last, with Martin McGuinness and myself, neither Mr Robinson nor (DUP deputy leader) Nigel Dodds showed any willingness to agree a date for the transfer of powers on policing and justice,” he said.
With Mr McGuinness having warned Stormont would be in “deep trouble” without an agreed date by Christmas, Mr Adams said the two governments needed to act as “guarantors” of the St Andrews Agreement “as a matter of urgency”.
Mr Adams is also facing personal questions in relation to his own family crisis, over allegations his brother Liam sexually abused his own daughter. Mr Adams, who called on Liam to hand himself into police, is facing ongoing questions over newspaper reports he took no action while his suspected paedophile brother was Sinn Fein's most senior official in Co Louth — even though Adams believed the abuse allegations.
Mr Adams stressed: “I did not know that Liam was a member of Sinn Féin. I did know he was in republican circles. I acknowledged that although we were estranged, I volunteered that I had met him on quite a number of occasions, because I knew that.
“So I don't think there are any questions to answer. If there are, put them. The fact is that he should not have been a member of Sinn Féin.”
Mr Robinson has vowed to clear his name after insisting he has done nothing wrong, but he and his family face another television ordeal tonight when BBC’s current affairs flagship Panorama focuses on the disclosures, in a programme thought to be largely based on last week’s Spotlight broadcast.
If there is new material, it will undoubtedly further dent the First Minister, who believes a senior counsel appointed by his own office will clear him of any wrongdoing.