Peter Robinson attempted to set aside his personal anguish yesterday as he told party officials and senior civil servants he wants a “business as usual” approach.
The First Minister did not arrive at Stormont Castle until nearly lunchtime after visiting three separate party offices to reassure staff in the aftermath of the public confessions which have rocked his family and put a question mark over his political future.
After an absence of almost a fortnight, Mr Robinson first travelled to his own East Belfast constituency office, then onto his wife Iris's main offices not far away in Newtownards, and, finally, DUP headquarters near Dundela Avenue in Belfast where he spoke to party workers. Then, less than a full day after going public on revelations that Iris attempted to commit suicide after a brief extra-marital affair, the DUP leader was back behind his desk at Stormont, beginning to clear a backlog of work in the build-up to the first Executive meeting of the new year next Thursday.
The main business of the day, however, was the resumption of talks with deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness on the vexed issue of the transfer of policing and justice powers, a meeting which was also attended by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams. Mr Robinson then went on to brief DUP ministers, his party’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds and other senior party figures on the sensational disclosures of recent days, and his strategy to keep the party on course.
Their meeting came as a considerable relief to the British and Irish governments.
Both of them had become increasingly concerned over the DUP leader’s absence since Christmas, including his failure to attend a party officers’ meeting which had been due to discuss his wife’s decision — which was announced shortly after Christmas — to withdraw from public life.