Peter Robinson ended my career but I’m still sorry for him, says ex-DUP man Paul Berry
Former DUP Assemblyman, Paul Berry, has accused Peter Robinson of throwing him “to the wolves” over the sex scandal that ended his political |career.
And while Mr Berry expressed sympathy with the Robinsons on their current plight, he also contrasted the party’s handling of it with the way he was treated.
Mr Berry was speaking out for the first time about his 2005 fall from grace over allegations of a clandestine sexual encounter with another man.
And he said he was shown no mercy by Mr Robinson and his senior colleagues in the party.
The incident brought the Tandragee native to the brink of suicide, ruined his career and came within a whisker of destroying his family.
Yet he insists he bears no bitterness towards under-fire First Minister Mr Robinson — the man he claims forced him out of Stormont — nor beleaguered wife Iris who, just like Mr Berry, has been caught up in a maelstrom of lurid tabloid headlines.
Forgiving is one thing — forgetting is another one entirely.
“I was forced on to the street by Peter Robinson. They (the DUP) can deny that all they like but that's the reality,” said Mr Berry.
And he added: “The DUP seniority has always been ruthless.
“Other parties try and help their members if they are in trouble — but not the DUP.
“If there is any trouble at all that they think is going to be an embarrassment, it has to be dealt with. But they should have some grace with it — and they had none with me.” Mr Berry, now aged 33, had just been put forward as the DUP's Westminster candidate for Newry and Armagh in the 2005 General Election when the Sunday World newspaper alleged he had met a man for an intimate massage in a Belfast hotel room that had been booked under a false name.
Ironically, the hotel is only a stone’s throw from the Lock Keeper’s Inn, managed by a certain Kirk McCambley.
Politically, the timing could not have been worse for the party's rising star and youngest-ever MLA.
And, after losing out to Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy in dramatic circumstances, he was then suspended by the DUP, which ultimately forced his resignation in February 2006.
Iris Robinson, like Mr Berry a one-time champion of the DUP's religious fundamentalism, is now facing a similar fate.
Her political career and reputation is evaporating in the wake of the scandal involving young lover McCambley and undeclared financial dealings relating to the riverside premises the 60-year-old mother-of-three helped him obtain.
“It has always been the case with the DUP that if someone was going to do harm to the party vote they would be removed — and now the world’s Press is focusing on the Robinsons' problems,” said Mr Berry, who joined the party when he was just 16.
“It’s clearly going to do damage to the Democratic Unionists — and that issue has not been resolved.”
And he added: “If Sinn Fein is going to remain in a strong position Peter Robinson will have to be demoted in some way. I’m not saying he should be removed by the DUP, but demoted to a lesser position until he gets matters resolved.
“Clearly, judging by the way he himself has dealt with others in the past, if it was anybody else they wouldn’t have been there — and that’s a fact.”
Shortly after the Berry story broke the gospel-singing Orange Order activist was summoned to the then DUP leader Ian Paisley’s east Belfast home for a showdown with senior party members.
“Some of them shook my hand; Peter turned up slightly late and wouldn’t look at me,” Mr Berry recalled.
“He told me I had to go as the scandal was going to damage the party. He threw me to the wolves.”
Indeed, Paul and his wife Lorna (30), who have no children, were left on their own to deal with the fallout. “No DUP bigwigs came out to support us,” he said.
“I mean, it wasn't as if I had killed someone, or had stolen money. I had to go out, fight my own corner and get back on my feet again.
“Lorna and I got through it by staying as close to each other as possible under very difficult circumstances.
“Like the Robinsons now, we were continually in the spotlight. Like Iris Robinson, I considered suicide. Like Peter, I was seeing the pain my family was going through.”
The Berrys' friends and relatives stood by him, though, as he attempted to rebuild his political career as an independent MLA.
Three years ago he stood for re-election to the Assembly but, bereft of the powerful DUP stamp of approval in the Newry and Armagh area, his electoral support evaporated.
“The DUP is associated with taking the moral high ground, and to that extent Peter and Iris were the golden couple,” he said.
“Iris in particular wasn’t shy about expressing her opinions on all manner of subjects.”
Indeed, when details of Mr Berry’s tryst emerged Mrs Robinson said she felt sorry for his wife.
But the estate agent, who still holds his seat as an independent Armagh City and District councillor, added: “I do have sympathy for Peter, Iris and the Robinson family.
“I never would have expected it from them.”