'Allegations levelled by Peter Robinson remain unchallenged on official record'
Imagine working in a job where you got calls from the press about the will of someone who died from cancer. Imagine if the will in question did not name you or even your employer but your employer's wife. That was the rather surreal position in which I found myself last week following co-First Minister Robinson's outburst on Monday.
I'm not being critical of the media for asking those questions. If I explained that I couldn't or didn't feel comfortable answering a particular question about it I found that, without exception, there was understanding as to why that was. In any case, Jim decided to clear up the matter in a detailed statement on Monday afternoon. This was followed by a letter from a solicitor which confirmed that what Mr Robinson had said was untrue and supported Jim's account of events.
Which brings me to events in the House of Commons on March, 15 2000. On that day James Gray, the Tory MP for North Wiltshire, received permission from the Speaker to make a personal statement. Mr Gray got to his feet to tell the House:
"During Prime Minister's questions yesterday afternoon, it was I who - from a sedentary position - accused the Prime Minister of being a liar. I recognise that that was unparliamentary language and happily withdraw the remark. When you [the Speaker] asked who was the culprit, I fear that I remained silent. In retrospect, I realise that that was inexcusable. I apologise to you and to the House for my remark and my silence after it."
In recent days Jim Allister has sought permission from the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly to make a personal statement. This has been refused by the Speaker and as a result allegations levelled by Mr Robinson remain on the official record unchallenged. But as Jim isn't the one who made inexcusable remarks perhaps the request should be coming from Mr Robinson.
If that isn't forthcoming (and going by what Sammy Wilson said on the BBC last Thursday I think we can assume it isn't) does the onus not fall to the Speaker to make it clear to Mr Robinson that he is obliged to set the record straight and apologise for having us all talk about something which was untrue, hurtful to the family who have seen politics played with the death of a loved one and none of Mr Robinson's, mine or, indeed, your business?