Belfast Telegraph

Robinson's wife breached code

The wife of Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson has been found guilty of a "serious breach" of a politician's code of conduct over her business dealings with a teenage lover.

Former MP Iris Robinson accepted £50,000 from two property developers and passed it on to the 19-year-old to set up a business in Belfast in summer 2008. Kirk McCambley later paid her £5,000, a Stormont report said.

The Robinsons were once the power couple of Northern Ireland politics, MPs for the neighbouring constituencies of East Belfast and Strangford and senior figures in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which had eclipsed its unionist rivals to become the largest party.

But when news of the affair broke in 2010 Mrs Robinson withdrew from public life following bouts of depression, and her husband temporarily stood aside at the head of the power-sharing ministerial executive while the peace process was destabilised and former prime minister Gordon Brown called crunch talks.

Today's report by Assembly Standards Commissioner Douglas Bain exonerated Mr Robinson.

Mr Bain said: "Although there is no evidence that any of the three payments was in fact connected with her role as an MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly), they would assuredly have been perceived, by members of the public who became aware of them, as likely to influence her actions as an MLA.

"The fact that she failed to register them itself adds weight to the perception of their improper nature.

"In these circumstances she had a clear duty to register the payments. She failed in that duty. Her failure was a serious breach of the 1999 Code of Conduct."

Mr Robinson, who leads the DUP, was cleared over separate claims in a BBC Spotlight programme that he broke the ministerial code of conduct.

In January 2010, Mrs Robinson's dealings with her teenage lover were revealed, including obtaining £50,000 from two property developers to help Mr McCambley secure a public tender for a busy south Belfast cafe, the Lock Keeper's Inn.

That business on the banks of the River Lagan, which winds through the affluent suburbs, was in the district of Castlereagh Council, of which Mrs Robinson was a member.

The disclosure of the relationship and associated business dealings caused shockwaves in Northern Ireland.

Mrs Robinson first met Mr McCambley, 19, when he was working in his father's butcher's shop, the standards commissioner's report said. The short-lived fling lasted from mid-summer 2008 to the end of the year.

She and her husband had been friends of late developer Fred Fraser and fellow property tycoon Ken Campbell for more than 30 years. Both were well-known, particularly in North Down, which is close to the couple's constituencies.

They agreed to pay her £25,000 each, which she passed on to Mr McCambley to support his new business.

She approached Mr Fraser to seek financial assistance, explaining that her secret boyfriend was the recently bereaved son of somebody known to the developer.

Ultimately a cheque was handed by Mr Fraser to Mrs Robinson which she passed on to her lover, who deposited it in his account in June 2008.

Mr Campbell was seeking and received the Strangford MP's support for a planning permission application at the time Mrs Robinson asked him about the money, an interest-free unconditional loan of £25,000, the report said.

Mr McCambley subsequently paid money amounting to £5,000 to Mrs Robinson, to be used for charitable purposes, the report said.

The commissioner's report said: "Mr Robinson first learned of the £5,000 paid to his wife by Kirk McCambley from the Spotlight broadcast in January 2010.

"Mrs Robinson did not report to the Electoral Commission her receipt of either of the two sums of £25,000 or of the sum of £5,000."

The DUP leader was accused in a BBC Spotlight programme which unearthed the questionable payments of contravening the ministerial code of conduct by failing to tell the House of Commons about the money. He was also accused of failing to tell the proper authorities that his wife had broken the law by failing to declare her receipt of money from developers.

Mr Bain said: "I am satisfied that none of the allegations made in that programme against Mr Peter Robinson could, even if established as true, constitute a breach of either the 1999 or the 2009 code of conduct."

The devolved assembly's Standards and Privileges Committee of public representatives accepted the findings.

Committee member Anna Lo said the report should have been published years ago.

"Serious damage has been done to public confidence in the political institutions by the length of time taken to publish this report."

Chairman Allister Ross denied the report was a whitewash.

He said: "The investigation was carried out independently and has made a number of findings. I do not think anybody could call it a whitewash at all."

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