Page last updated at 18:39 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010

Peter Robinson back at work after revelations

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

NI First Minister Peter Robinson is back at work at Stormont, just hours after it was revealed his wife tried to kill herself after an affair.

Iris Robinson said in a statement on Wednesday that she had attempted suicide after she had a "brief" relationship with another man.

A BBC Spotlight programme will be broadcast at 2235 GMT on Thursday.

It will reveal the young man's identity and the true nature of the business relationship with Mrs Robinson.

In an emotional statement on Wednesday, the DUP leader said he would try to save his marriage and would continue in his job.

He met the Deputy First Minster Martin McGuinness for talks on Thursday.

Mr Robinson and DUP colleagues met their Sinn Fein counterparts for discussions at Stormont Castle.

Earlier in the day Mr Robinson met with staff in both his and his wife's constituencies. He also met staff at the DUP's party headquarters.

NI political editor Mark Devenport said his message was that it should now be regarded "as business as usual".

Mrs Robinson, who became the DUP MP for Strangford in 2001, 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.

Peter Robinson made a statement to journalists on Thursday

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

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

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 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 believes she has been forgiven by God.

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

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.

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

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."

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."

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.



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