Hillary Clinton emails reveal US thought Peter Robinson was 'incapable of acting' in wake of Iris affair
Gerry Adams was urged not to spark a 'full-blown crisis' over the affair
Declassified emails sent while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State have revealed how US officials reacted to the Iris Robinson affair.
Thousands of Clinton's emails have been released after she used a private computer server for work emails while in office, some concerning Northern Ireland.
One exchange shows how her adviser informed her the First Minister was "incapable of acting" in the wake of the Iris Robinson scandal, in which she had an affair with a 19-year-old man and sparked a political crisis.
It said Peter Robinson had missed an opportunity to save himself, warning that the peace process could be in jeopardy.
The email also reveals Gerry Adams was being urged not to escalate the scandal into a "full-blown crisis".
Mrs Robinson stood down from her roles as MP, MLA and a Castlereagh borough councillor in 2010 after BBC Spotlight exposed her affair with Kirk McCambley and allegations about financial misdealings.
She was later found to have committed a "serious breach" of the Assembly's code of conduct when she accepted £50,000 from two property developers and passed it on to her youthful lover to set up his Lock Keeper's Inn business in Belfast in summer 2008.
The email sent to Hillary Clinton from an adviser on January 11, 2010 said: "The political crisis in Northern Ireland is fast moving and fluid.
"Peter Robinson assured Shaun Woodward (then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland) privately that no financial irregularity was involved. Then, within hours, it was reported that Iris Robinson secured 50,000 pounds from... contractors to give to her lover to set up a restaurant.
"...Robinson had an opportunity to save himself, perhaps, by declaring himself for engagement on devolution, freeing himself of the DUP hardliners and throwing himself on public opinion, but was incapable of acting. By accepting his withdrawal as First Minister for six weeks today, the DUP has maintained a modicum of Robinson's authority, though it is in suspended animation."
The email sets out how Arlene Foster was appointed as Robinson's temporary replacement, who Shaun Woodward described as "from the modernizing wing of the party".
"Shaun does not know if her naming indicates a potetinally (sic) positive direction or makes her a prisoner of those who put her in place. The silence of Sinn Fein is telling. Not reacting in horror, Sinn Fein is unsure whether this is good or bad news, and it's willing to wait. But the waiting game is untenable without forward movement on devolution.
"Here's why: Without positive steps from Foster and the DUP, the situation will become swiftly unacceptable to Sinn Fein. It will speak out. Martin McGuinness will have to express his opposition to DUP recalcitrance and paralysis. Earlier, Shaun sent signals to leaders of the DUP that Robinson's resignation would provoke a series of events leading rapidly to Shaun calling an election in which they would be tainted by him and suffer a catastrophic defeat, followed by the general UK election (almost certainly May 6) that would compound their misery. Shaun was trying to push them not to scuttle the peace process but to embrace it and move forward.
"Robinson's six weeks hiatus puts the DUP in a fugue state, a twilight zone of disorientation, that cannot be sustained even this week. Shaun is also working through the Irish government to communicate to Adams not to provoke a full-blown crisis, ruining peace prospects in order to advance the dream of a united Ireland.
"There's more to come, hour by hour, but the situation remains extremely murky. It should clairfy (sic) within days."
The email then goes on to discuss "the latest coup attempt against Gordon" (Brown).
It and the other declassified emails can be viewed on the US Department of State's Freedom of Information Act website here.