News24

Robinson stands aside

2010-01-11 20:37

Belfast - Northern Ireland leader Peter Robinson stood aside on Monday to try to clear his name over a scandal linked to his wife's affair, which is threatening power-sharing government here, officials said.

Robinson will stand down for six weeks, lawmakers were told as the pressure finally got to the Northern Ireland First Minister after days of pressure due to the sex and politics row.

Enterprise minister Arlene Foster has been asked to take on the functions of First Minister during his absence, Northern Ireland Assembly speaker William Hay told lawmakers.

"I have this afternoon received written notice from First Minister Peter Robinson that under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 he has designated Mrs Arlene Foster to exercise the functions of the office of First Minister.

"The designation takes immediate effect," he said.

Robinson's wife Iris, also a top politician, last week admitted having an affair with a 19-year-old and securing £50 000 from two wealthy developers to help him set up a cafe.

No knowledge

Peter Robinson has denied any knowledge of the deal, which he would have had to report to parliamentary authorities, but there were calls for him to quit over the weekend.

His announcement came after the DUP's power-sharing partners Sinn Fein tabled an emergency motion calling for Robinson to explain himself before the assembly.

Robinson's 60-year-old wife, who is expected to quit her seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the British parliament's lower House of Commons imminently, is receiving "acute psychiatric treatment" in Belfast.

She previously admitted attempting suicide and suffering severe depression.

The scandal is playing out against an already tense backdrop in Northern Ireland.

Power-sharing between ex-foes the DUP and Sinn Fein was under strain due to failure to agree on the transfer of policing powers from London to Belfast, the last stage of the devolution process.

Brutal fact

"The brutal fact is that we were heading for a dangerous political crisis in Northern Ireland even before the Robinson revelations," Irish political expert Paul Bew wrote in The Times newspaper on Monday.

Robinson has vowed to clear his name, but one of his illustrious predecessors as leader of the semi-autonomous province said on Sunday his position was becoming untenable.

David Trimble, who jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for his efforts to bring stability to Northern Ireland, predicted in a BBC interview that Robinson would quit in the "next few days".

A close friend of Robinson's predecessor and mentor Ian Paisley, David McIlveen, also said Robinson should consider standing aside temporarily.

Robinson's conservative DUP, which is Protestant and wants Northern Ireland to remain part of Britain, has since 2007 shared devolved powers from London in an administration with socialists Sinn Fein, which is Catholic and wants the province to join the Republic of Ireland.

Their failure to agree when control of the sensitive issue of policing should be handed to Belfast has fuelled concerns that power-sharing could break down.

There are also fears of a return to sustained violence in Northern Ireland, where three decades of civil unrest known as The Troubles killed at least 3 500 people but was largely ended by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Last year, two British soldiers and a policeman were shot dead in attacks claimed by dissident republicans.

In the latest incident on Friday, a Catholic police officer was seriously injured after a bomb exploded under his car as he drove to work.

AFP