Iris Robinson scandal: Kirk McCambley 'replaced his late father in every sense'
The absence of information always breeds speculation — and Kirk McCambley certainly knows that now. His sensational affair with Iris Robinson may have been on everyone else's lips for almost a week, but both parties have maintained a stolid silence since the news broke.
And, in the meantime, the claims have become more lurid and the rumours more profound.
A source close to the 21-year-old Belfast businessman has, however, now come forward to dismiss some of the more unsavoury aspects of the story — while at the same time confirming the veracity of others.
“Kirk is a terribly decent guy who got himself into a set of circumstances in which he was manipulated,” the source told the Belfast Telegraph.
“He’s a lad who, when all is said and done, has been robbed of the ability to grieve for his father.”
An illicit love affair that was to last seven months began shortly after Kirk’s alcoholic father Billy passed away in February 2008.
He was just 19 and Iris, the powerful, glamorous and gregarious wife of Northern Ireland’s First Minister and also a “close friend” of the late Mr McCambley, was 59.
The MP secured £50,000 in loans so the grieving Kirk could open the Lock Keeper’s Inn on the banks of the Lagan, but her financial interest in the cafe was not publicly known — nor declared — when a permit was approved for the budding young entrepreneur in 2008.
Sources say it was Mrs Robinson who organised Kirk’s father’s funeral, which took place at the Light ‘n’ Life Free Methodist Church in Dundonald, where the pastor is Rev Pat Herron, Peter Robinson’s sister.
A hitherto platonic friendship with the teenager soon turned into a sexual relationship which Kirk ultimately became desperate to disengage from. and the clandestine liaison with Northern Ireland’s fragrant ‘first lady’ finally ended following a meeting brokered by Mrs Robinson’s erstwhile adviser Selwyn Black.
It was Mr Black who told BBC’s Spotlight programme that the meeting, which was held at premises on the Lisburn Road in Belfast in December 2008, was to resolve the hot potato of the loans issue.
However, the Belfast Telegraph understands that it was called principally to put an end to the scandalous affair once and for all.
Several months later, as we all now know, Peter Robinson found out and Iris — who is now undergoing acute psychiatric treatment — attempted to take her own life.
It has since been alleged by the Sunday Tribune that Mrs Robinson had an affair with Kirk’s late father several years ago.
And the source said: “There is the feeling the son replaced the father — in every sense...”
Mrs Robinson, who was of course no stranger to controversary even before last week’s astonishing revelations, provoked outrage with her disparaging, bible-inspired remarks about homosexuality. Yet, at the time, she was hiding a Leviticus-style ‘abomination’ of her own.
“It was while making those comments on the radio that her relationship with Kirk was at its height,” the source said.
As his father’s health deteriorated Kirk, just 17 at the time, was de facto managing the butcher’s shop in east Belfast — proving, at least to Iris, that despite his tender years he was more than capable of running the new riverside venture borne out of the affair.
The young man is now said, however, to be fearful for his future as boss of a cafe leased to him by Castlereagh Borough Council, which of course includes Mrs Robinson as one of its civic leaders — and is now conducting an inquiry into the whole shameful episode.
“Kirk was certainly not naive and inexperienced in business despite his age and he has been doing a really good job with the cafe,” said the source.
“I hope he won’t lose his business after what has happened.”
Ironically, if that did happen it would be at a time when takings have never been higher; the Lock Keeper’s Inn has been doing a roaring trade, with regular customers joined by ‘rubberneckers’ hoping to get a glimpse of the young man in the eye of the storm — and of course a myriad of journalists hoping to get a quote.
The word on the streets — or, rather, the towpath — is that Kirk has been approached by a national Sunday newspaper which is willing to pay a substantial sum for him to dish the dirt on Iris.
Whether that’s true or not, the source said there is “absolutely no doubt” that Kirk regrets the affair, adding: “he certainly does not consider himself a victim . . . but Kirk is worried that he will always be known as the man who had an affair with Iris Robinson.”
After seven days of non-stop banner headlines, both here and across the world, he probably has every right to be.