MLA Anna Lo demands release of report into conduct of Peter and Iris Robinson after it is delayed by legal challenge
Published 26/06/2014 | 02:30
A Stormont report into claims about the conduct of the First Minister and his wife should be published immediately, an MLA has said after it emerged that it had been delayed by a legal challenge from Iris Robinson's solicitor.
The investigation was ordered by the Assembly in January 2010 following allegations about Mrs Robinson's financial dealings.
It has now been revealed that the report was completed last November but has not been published because of the challenge, which concerns matters of privacy and relevance.
Last night, there were calls for the report to be released now.
Alliance MLA Anna Lo, who is deputy chair of the Assembly's Committee on Standards and Privileges, said the delay was unacceptable.
"The report is completed but it is still to see the light of day," she said. "Ironically, the programme and many of its allegations surround transparency in politics, so to have it placed in deep freeze while a legal challenge is ongoing is objectionable."
Mrs Robinson, a former DUP MP, stood down in 2010 after it emerged she had asked two property developers for £50,000 to help her then lover, 19-year-old Kirk McCambley, set up a cafe, and had asked for a £5,000 cut of the cash for herself.
Mrs Robinson did not register her dealings at Stormont or Westminster, as required by law.
She also failed to declare her interest when Mr McCambley was awarded the cafe lease by Castlereagh council, where she was a sitting councillor.
It was also alleged that Peter Robinson became aware of his wife's involvement in the business deal but failed to tell the proper authorities, despite being obliged to act in the public interest by the ministerial code.
Mr Robinson, who denied any wrongdoing, briefly stepped aside as First Minister in order to clear his name.
The Standards and Privileges Committee began its inquiry on January 11 2010, days after the allegations were made in a BBC Spotlight documentary. It has now been revealed that the report was completed seven months ago but has been delayed because of the legal challenge.
The issue emerged in an annual report from the Assembly's commissioner for standards, Douglas Bain.
It states: "My investigation into the referral relating to the allegations made in the BBC Spotlight programme broadcast in January 2010 was completed in November 2013.
"However, submission of my report to the committee has been delayed by a legal challenge to its contents by a person referred to in the report."
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Robinson's solicitor John McBurney said he believed some additional material in the report was not relevant.
"When the report was first drafted back in November, I had concerns about material which may have gone to the committee with the report, and these concerns revolve around the relevancy of the material, matters of privacy and, most importantly of all, the impact on the health and recovery of Iris," he said.
Mr McBurney said the report's findings of fact were already in the public domain.
"Peter's concerns revolve around the impact of this further report on Iris and her health," he added.
"It would be quite wrong to think that Peter has concerns himself as to what is coming in the report in terms of decisions and findings of fact.
"The facts are widely known, and have been for years."
Mr McBurney said he had been involved in "lengthy correspondence" with Mr Bain, but no proceedings have been issued.
Meanwhile, Mr Bain said the issue could be quickly resolved.
"I'm always hopeful that (issues) will be resolved quickly but I absolutely defend the right of anyone to challenge anything they think is inappropriate," he told the BBC.
Story so far
Stormont's Standards and Privileges Committee ordered an investigation shortly after a Spotlight report on Iris Robinson's financial dealings and relationship with teenage businessman Kirk McCambley. It has now emerged the report was completed last November – but has not been published because of a legal challenge. Once the issue is resolved, Douglas Bain will forward his report to MLAs on the Assembly's standards committee. However, the summer recess means it is unlikely the report will be considered in depth until the autumn.