Belfast Telegraph

Iris Robinson affair: Something seriously wrong with system of culpability

By Liam Clarke

You can feel certain sympathy with someone who keeps studiously within the rules and is then accused of wrongdoing.

That is how the DUP is playing this. Iris Robinson was, not to put too fine a point on it, cracking up from 2008-10. She was behaving oddly in the Commons and Assembly, she was going on radio phone-ins to sound off about gays and she was publicly urging teenage celibacy while privately enjoying an affair with a 19-year-old.

Human frailty and vanity are involved in this story. It is not uncommon for people in their middle years - she was 59 - to cut loose with young lovers or uncharacteristic behaviour.

According to her solicitor John McBurney, Mrs Robinson is improving but needs more time to recover from her trauma. "She is very fragile," he said. "Her main interest at this stage is that Peter should be accepted and seen as a victim in all of this. He did nothing wrong and she is upset at the accusations that were made against him and pleased that they were found to have been baseless."

That is the case for the defence. Whether it was right that the committee and commissioner never interviewed Mrs Robinson because of her delicate state is another matter.

She was interviewed under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, Mr McBurney said.

After making allowances for Mrs Robinson, who is retired from politics and can't be punished, there is still something seriously wrong with the system of political accountability.

The report has looked at the case of a politician who solicited tens of thousands of pounds from two property developers, men who carry out business in her own Castlereagh Council area. She then gave the money to her young lover to lease council property and never reported it. It looked like a backhander and, although the report said there was no conflict with her role as a MLA, it has the potential to damage still further the image of our political classes.

Is this the culture what we want in our institutions? We need to hear from Douglas Bain and the Standards Committee again; they need to set rules which people can respect.

The revelations about MLAs' expenses, the Stormont financial crisis and the scale of waste in our devolved institutions, combine with this report to undermine the standing of our political institutions.

Iris Robinson damned by report: Guilty of serious breach of Assembly code 

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