Northern Ireland: ‘First Minister’ steps down ‘for 6 weeks’ amid scandal

Out of touch political establishment in hock to business world

The jaw dropping sequence of events surrounding Iris Robinson, the wife of N Ireland Assembly’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, and until recently an MP and MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) herself, soliciting £50,000 from two millionaire property developers (the late Fred Fraser and Ken Campbell) has opened a Pandora’s Box of corruption which goes right to the heart of the political establishment in N Ireland.

Iris Robinson’s refusal to declare any interest when present at the Castlereagh Council meeting which awarded the tenancy to establish a café at council-owned property to Kirk McCambley, whom Robinson was having an affair with, threatens to bring down the Robinson political dynasty.

Iris and Peter Robinson

Many people were suspicious when Iris Robinson made a statement explaining her affair with McCambley and her attempted suicide last year and chose to mention the fact that she had "encouraged friends to assist him by providing financial support for a business venture."

The decision of Peter Robinson to invite senior political reporters to his home to make a statement on his wife’s affair and attempted suicide was meant to distance him from the scandal and present himself as a victim in this saga. But it has spectacularly backfired on him, after the allegations made on the BBC TV ’Spotlight’ programme that the First Minister and DUP leader assisted his fellow MP and wife’s attempt to cover up the fact that she had accepted money from developers illegally. It is clear Mr Robinson made his statement on the eve of the Spotlight broadcast in order to throw suspicion on his wife and not himself. But the allegations made by Iris Robinson’s ex-political adviser Selwyn Black, that Peter Robinson became involved in the consequent bid to give the money back to solicitors representing Fraser’s estate and Ken Campbell, has now raised the question of whether the First Minister has broken the ministerial code which obliges him to act in the public interest. His failure to report Iris Robinson’s actions could now lead to the First Minister stepping down in disgrace and resigning as leader of the DUP, after less than two years in power: a humiliating result for an ambitious politician who spent nearly 30 years serving as deputy leader of the DUP, under Ian Paisley.

What this scandal has unearthed has not just been the revelation of how out of touch the political establishment is but the extremely close relationship between them and wealthy business people. Fred Fraser was one of the wealthiest property developers in Northern Ireland and has been involved in many housing developments in Castlereagh, a council area politically dominated by the Robinsons for decades. Iris Robinson has also been involved in lobbying on behalf of Ken Campbell, to secure for him commercial developments in her constituency. If Iris Robinson can so easily access free money from property developers, then the next question must be asked – how many other councillors, MLA’s and MPs have close corrupt links to wealthy business people? Business people do not give money to politicians for nothing. He who pays the piper ultimately calls the tune! The parties in the Assembly Executive are responsible for procuring huge public contracts to private companies with a guaranteed profit. Their policies of privatisation, even if not directly linked to bribes or "donations", reward the rich at the expense of working people.

While this scandal has unfolded, working class people are being told they must pay water charges, accept cuts to services jobs and wages and young people must accept mass unemployment. The capitalist system, together with its political establishment, is utterly corrupt. The case for the building of a mass working class party, with representatives who live only on a workers’ wage and are fully committed to fighting for the rights of working class people, has never been stronger.

For further background information, read ‘Power Sharing’ Assembly delivers austerity, as sectarianism grows

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January 2010