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Peter Robinson: You’re on your own now and it’s going to be a difficult journey

By David Gordon

Published 07/01/2010

Iris and Peter Robinson
Iris and Peter Robinson
Newly elected DUP MP Peter Robinson and his wife Iris. 4/5/1979
Iris Robinson has said she tried to kill herself after making a midnight confession to her husband that she had an affair
Iris Robinson
Iris and Peter Robinson pictured on their wedding day
Peter Robinson shares a kiss with wife Iris in the First Minister's office at Stormont
First Minister Peter Robinson
Iris Robinson
Parade participants with a cutout of Iris Robinson. The Strangford MP's recent comments regarding homosexuality were a focal point for some marchers
First Minister Peter Robinson (right) and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at a press conference in Stormont Castle
Peter Robinson
Back in the saddle: Iris Robinson MP MLA by a hazard sign in Comber to alert drivers to horses and riders. All too often these signs are being ignored, putting lives in danger, says Mrs Robinson. She has called for improved facilities for horses and riders on local roads

There can be no doubt that the formidable Peter and Iris Robinson double act is finished in political terms.

Behind closed doors they can work together on trying to save their marriage. And Mrs Robinson can also concentrate on getting better, away from the pressures of life as an MP and MLA.

In the public sphere, however, Mr Robinson is on his own now and questions will be raised over how successful this solo career can be.

There are some important factors in his favour.

For a start, there will be heartfelt sympathy for his plight — both inside and outside the DUP.

There is also no doubt that without him at the helm of the party, the already shaky power-sharing coalition would be in much more serious trouble.

It was no surprise that Secretary of State Shaun Woodward was among the first to publicly declare his support yesterday.

When David Trimble was under pressure as UUP leader, with unionist support for the Belfast Agreement waning, there was talk of a “Save Dave” campaign in London and Dublin.

There may now be a similar “Keep Pete” strategy.

Mr Robinson's fate may partly depend on how the revelations play in the DUP's traditional ‘Bible belt’ heartland.

His party was viewed for many years as the political wing of the Free Presbyterian Church.

While it has moved beyond that base over the years, it still cannot afford to ignore it, particularly with a General Election looming.

The First Minister is not a Free Presbyterian and there was some talk in 2008 of the party moving in a more “secular” direction under his leadership.

Mrs Robinson undermined that theory with her outbursts against homosexuality, just as her husband was starting out as First Minister.

Her mini-moralising crusade around this time included the comment: “The Government has a responsibility to uphold God’s laws morally.”

She also wrote in an article: “We must begin to repair the damage from the folly of previous liberal thinking. The Government must stop making contradictory laws and policies. They bemoan rising levels of sexual infections and teen pregnancy, yet focus on the aftermath and emergency contraception rather than placing the emphasis on prevention.”

Sympathy for Mrs Robinson may be tempered in some quarters by recollections of her strident rhetoric in the past.

She has even denounced Hillary Clinton for accepting her husband's infidelities, saying: “No woman would put up with what she tolerated from her husband when he was President.

“She was thinking only of her future political career. It's all about power and not principle.”

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