Last night, after watching the BBC Spotlight investigation into “Robinsongate” I felt it was self-evident why Peter Robinson should resign. This morning I hear calls from senior politicians – like Sir Reg Empey, Leader of the UUP, and David Ford, Leader of the Alliance Party – that Iris Robinson should leave political office immediately. However, that’s not enough. The First Minister should resign and all senior politicians should call upon him to do so.
Sir Reg, on BBC Radio Ulster this morning, was typically analytical – calling for a transcript of the programme and suggesting that investigations might be required. However, for Sir Reg’s benefit, let me make clear why Peter Robinson must resign as First Minister.
Clause IX of the Northern Ireland Executive Ministerial Code of Conduct states that Ministers should “declare any personal or business interests which may conflict with their responsibilities. The Assembly will retain a Register of Interests. Individuals must ensure that any direct or indirect pecuniary interests [my emphasis] which members of the public might reasonably think could influence their judgement are listed in the Register of Interests.”
In short, the code makes clear that all Ministers – including the First Minister – must put his public duty ahead of his private duty. It was clear that he did not.
Neither Peter Robinson nor his wife made the authorities aware that Iris was accepting cash donations from property developers to support her lover’s business venture.
According to last night’s programme, Peter Robinson, while he may only have discovered in March last year that his wife was having an affair, was aware that his wife had been funding Kirk McCambley.
It would appear from last night’s programme that Mr Robinson, eventually, insisted that his wife return this money to the property developers who provided it. However, he made no public acknowledgement, at the time he was made aware of it, that his wife was involved in Mr McCambley’s business. He therefore breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct.
Moreover, as someone in high political office, it must surely have seemed odd to Mr Robinson that a personal friend of the Robinson family – Kirk McCambley – was considered the only suitable candidate for the Lock Keeper’s Inn by Castlereagh Council, when Mr Robinson will have been aware that Mr McCambley had been bank-rolled by his wife. Moreover, surely questions must have arisen in Mr Robinson’s mind (unless he was fully aware of the situation) when a personal friend of his wife’s was awarded the tenancy of the Lock Keeper’s Inn by the Council – a council upon which his wife served.
In short, if the programme was accurate last night, and Mr Robinson was aware of his wife’s pecuniary interest in Mr McCambley, and failed to highlight this, he was in breach of the Code. He was also in breach of the Code by not making the authorities aware that his wife had failed to declare her pecuniary interest in Mr McCambley’s business to Castlereagh Council, The Northern Ireland Assembly and to the authorities at Westminster.
If he fails to resign the Northern Ireland Executive will lose all credibility – as well as all politicians who fail to call for his resignation.