Page last updated at 09:49 GMT, Thursday, 4 February 2010

Peter Robinson back as Northern Ireland first minister

Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson has resumed his role as Northern Ireland First Minister

DUP leader Peter Robinson has resumed his role as NI first minister.

He announced he was stepping down in January after a BBC Spotlight programme said he did not reveal his wife's financial dealings to the authorities.

It said he had not done so despite the obligations placed upon him by the ministerial code.

Mr Robinson said he had now received legal advice from a QC who said that, going on the information provided to him, he did not breach the code.

However, other parties have questioned whether the legal advice is sufficient.

Mr Robinson announced on 11 January that he was stepping aside and temporarily designating Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster to take charge.

Although the clause under which Mr Robinson handed over his responsibilities to Mrs Foster allowed for his absence for six weeks, he made it clear when he stepped aside that he did not intend to be out of office for that long.

The BBC Spotlight programme reported that Mr Robinson's wife Iris, who was also an MP and MLA, obtained £50,000 from two developers for her teenage lover. It also reported that she broke the law by not declaring her financial interest in a public contract.

The programme also claimed that Mr Robinson had not reported his wife Iris' financial dealings to the relevant authorities despite being obliged by the ministerial code to act in the public interest at all times.

Statement

But Mr Robinson said the barrister Paul Maguire QC had conducted a "comprehensive" examination of the issues raised in the programme and had concluded "that on the material provided his considered view was that there were no breaches whatsoever by me of the ministerial code, the ministerial code of conduct, the pledge of office and the seven principles of public life."

Mr Robinson added: "His advice supports my consistent contention that I have acted at all times properly and in full compliance with my public duties.

"I am therefore glad that, at this critical time, I can resume fully the functions of my office with confidence."

A police investigation has already been launched into the Spotlight allegations and until that is completed an Assembly Standards Committee inquiry is on hold.

Mr Robinson said once these stages were complete he would determine what legal action he should take against the BBC and others.

In a statement on Wednesday, the BBC said it stood by the Spotlight programme.

Published

The SDLP and Ulster Unionists have both cast doubt on the manner in which Mr Robinson resumed his role.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said that the legal advice, which was requested by the Departmental Solicitor's Office, was only answering questions Mr Robinson had himself posed.

He added: "We know from past experience there are no satisfactory means of investigating or adjudicating the code of conduct - which is a deliberate gap that has been previously identified and not remedied."

Both the Ulster Unionist Party and Traditional Unionist Voice issued statements saying they wanted to see the legal opinion "published in full".

TUV leader Jim Allister said the "precise instructions" on which the advice was based should also be made public.

A DUP spokesman said Mr Robinson is "very keen that the advice can be released in as transparent and complete a form as possible."

He added that there are "a number of legal impediments" to this course of action but Mr Robinson is asking the Finance Minister (his party colleague, Sammy Wilson) who commissioned the advice how publication could be achieved.



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