Page last updated at 18:12 GMT, Saturday, 9 January 2010

Woodward warns Robinson crisis must not derail assembly

Shaun Woodward: "This is obviously a very real personal tragedy"

Northern Ireland's politicians have been warned not to allow the crisis surrounding the future of the first minister to derail devolution.

Peter Robinson's position remains uncertain as pressure mounts on him concerning his involvement in his wife Iris's financial dealings.

NI Secretary Shaun Woodward said all parties had to ensure political progress in NI did not move backwards.

Mrs Robinson is stepping down as an MP and MLA. She is also leaving the DUP.

She could leave both her posts as early as next week.

"It is a responsibility on everyone in the assembly to understand that the consequences of allowing the political process to slide would undoubtedly have an impact on the broader canvas," Mr Woodward said.

"And that if anybody were to be selfish enough to think this is a moment when that can be allowed to be put in the deep freeze, even some may wish to unpick, they would be extremely irresponsible, foolish and would be playing very, very dangerous games."

Sinn Fein has said it intends to table an emergency motion in the assembly on Monday asking Mr Robinson to answer questions about the recent allegations against him.

Investigation

The party has said it wants to find out if there are any implications for the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister arising from the BBC Spotlight programme.

Earlier this week, the BBC alleged Mr Robinson did not tell the authorities his wife failed to register £50,000 she obtained from two property developers.

He has asked officials at the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister to investigate his conduct.

On Friday, Mr Robinson said he believed he had not done anything wrong.

However, he added that he would "not be slow" in taking a decision if the investigation found that he should have acted differently.

The DUP has said Mrs Robinson is to stand down from public office
The DUP has said Mrs Robinson is to stand down from public office

The Spotlight programme said Mrs Robinson had obtained the money from two property developers, which was paid to her 19-year-old lover, Kirk McCambley, to help him launch a cafe.

It said the DUP leader had known about her financial dealings, but did not tell the proper authorities despite being obliged by the ministerial code to act in the public interest at all times.

The financial allegations followed a public admission by Mr Robinson that his wife had attempted suicide after her affair.

Earlier on Saturday, Reverend David McIlveen, a Free Presbyterian minister who is a close friend of former DUP leader Ian Paisley, said he believed Mr Robinson should consider stepping down temporarily.

'No sympathy'

"I do believe that his position is becoming increasingly untenable," he said.

"He has a major problem with regard to solving his own family difficulties, and I personally cannot take the view that a person's private life does not affect their public life.

"Judgements that we make in private will undoubtedly influence our judgements in public."

It is understood the party will appoint someone to replace Mrs Robinson as an MLA as soon as possible.

There will not be a by-election for her Westminster seat because a general election is likely to be held before a formal writ can be moved.

A party source said the next few days were "absolutely critical for the party".

Iris Robinson obtained 50,000 for Kirk McCambley with whom she was having a sexual relationship
Iris Robinson obtained 50,000 for her lover, Kirk McCambley

"We wanted to show people we were acting decisively. There was no question about it, she had to go and go now," they said.

"There was absolutely no sympathy for the position she found herself in."

Mrs Robinson represents the Strangford constituency in County Down both at Westminster and at the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Last month, she issued a statement saying she was leaving politics due to ill health, however, news that she was stepping down came earlier than expected.

The Robinsons were married in 1970 and have three grown-up children.



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