Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Robinson affair threatens legacy

The Robinsons have been hit by a series of scandals

As Peter and Iris Robinson fight to save their marriage, there is little doubt their once-powerful political dynasty now faces serious problems.

Revelations about her extramarital affair and subsequent suicide attempt are the hammer blow to an empire that has been creaking under the weight of successive controversies.

Criticism over their parliamentary expenses claims and Mrs Robinson's outspoken views on homosexuality has battered the reputation of Northern Ireland's foremost political couple over the last two years.

While the Strangford MP's withdrawal from public life last month surprised colleagues, she was already cutting an increasingly marginal figure within her own party after making controversial claims about homosexuality.

The comments prompted a storm of protest from gay rights campaigners and triggered a police investigation into whether she had breached hate crime laws.

While no charges were brought and Mrs Robinson strenuously defended her right to express her "Christian views", the episode left her tarnished and placed her husband in an unenviable position as the head of an administration that promoted equality and tolerance.

Last year the couple again found themselves the subject of unwanted headlines when they became entangled in the parliamentary expenses row.

Revelations that they jointly received more than £500,000 a year in salaries and expenses - with a further £150,000 in wages being paid to four of their relatives for constituency and other work - saw them dubbed the "Swish Family Robinson".

Among the receipts lodged by Mr Robinson was a £375 bill for replacing the leather on his desk. Meanwhile, his wife attempted to claim for a £352 fountain pen, a £632 briefcase and £1,780 for a coffee table and lamp - all of which turned down by the accounts office.

Admitting to her affair and subsequent suicide bid, Mrs Robinson indicated on Wednesday evening that she would now concentrate on her marriage, adding: "Everyone is paying a heavy price for my actions ... I am so, so sorry."

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