Page last updated at 22:41 GMT, Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Iris Robinson attempted suicide after an affair

Iris and Peter Robinson
The Robinsons have said they will try to save their marriage.

The wife of Northern Ireland's first minister, Peter Robinson, has said she tried to kill herself while suffering depression after she had an affair.

Mr Robinson, leader of the DUP, said they would try to save their marriage.

Iris Robinson announced in December she was stepping down from politics due to ill health. The couple were married in 1970 and have three grown-up children.

Mr Robinson who has been first minister since June 2008, said he will continue in his job.

In an interview on Wednesday, he said he first learned of the affair on March 1 2009, the night Mrs Robinson attempted suicide.

Mr Robinson, who appeared close to tears, said he had been "deeply hurt" and that his immediate impulse had been to walk away from the marriage.

'Ashamed'

However, he said he had set the affair against 40 years of a loving relationship and had forgiven his wife.

Mrs Robinson said in a statement that she was "completely ashamed and deeply embarrassed" by the affair which had "devastated" her life and the lives of those around her.

She said she began the brief affair while she was supporting a man who had suffered a bereavement.

She said she had also encouraged friends to help him by "providing financial support for a business venture."

Mrs Robinson used the statement to publicly apologise to her husband, her wider family and friends.

She said she would "pay any price on earth" to take back the wrong she had done.

She added: "I do not deserve a second chance but I have been given one."

Mrs Robinson said she believes she has been forgiven by God.

Peter Robinson made a statement to journalists on Thursday

Mr Robinson insisted that the revelations would not undermine his role as first minister.

He said he would be back at work on Thursday morning, ready to meet the Sinn Fein deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness.

The development comes as the power sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland are under pressure in a dispute over the timing of devolution of policing and justice.

Financial

Sinn Fein said the powers should be devolved immediately while the DUP say more must be done to build confidence among the unionist community before devolution happens.

During his interview Mr Robinson was also asked if his financial affairs were under investigation.

Nobody watching the interview by Peter could fail to be moved by the obvious hurt and pain being experienced by the Robinson family
Martin McGuinness

In reply he said he had always acted "in the most professional and ethical way."

He also confirmed he had received a letter from the BBC which he said contained no allegations against him but "asked questions which are easily answered."

The BBC Spotlight programme has confirmed it has been investigating matters involving Iris Robinson for some time.

In a statement the BBC added that allegations have been put to the Robinsons and their response is awaited.

Reaction

In a statement on Wednesday evening, Mr McGuinness said he wished the Robinsons well.

He said: "Nobody watching the interview by Peter could fail to be moved by the obvious hurt and pain being experienced by the Robinson family.

"Despite Peter's public role he is entitled to privacy as he and his family seek to deal with this matter. I wish them well as they seek to rebuild relationships away from the public glare."

And in a statement issued on behalf of the DUP, deputy leader Nigel Dodds said that supporters of the party were "deeply moved" by Mr Robinson's interview.

He added: "On behalf of the members of the DUP, I want to extend to Peter and the Robinson family our heartfelt prayers and support at this incredibly difficult time.

"I know that rank-and-file members and supporters of our party, in common with the wider community in Northern Ireland have been deeply moved by Peter's statement today. He has demonstrated a level of bravery and courage that very few in public life possess.

"Peter Robinson's contribution to the unionist resurgence in Northern Ireland over recent years has been immeasurable. He is the undisputed leader of unionism and we all offer our full and total support at this time."

Secretary of State Shaun Woodward said the Robinsons should be given space to deal with their issues. He also welcomed Mr Robinson's pledge to return to work.

"We have got to understand there is a need to distinguish between what is genuinely of public interest and what is interesting to the public," he said.

"I think the public must respectfully decline any further interest because it's none of their business.

"On public policy, I think people should welcome what the first minister has said and of course that continues the work that he has been doing with Martin McGuinness."



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