Swift reaction to 'Spotlight' findings

Fri, Jan 8, 2010, 00:00

Reaction to last night's BBC broadcast of the investigative programme Spotlight which featured allegations about First Minister Peter Robinson and his wife Iris was swift today, marking a notable change in the tone of comment from other parties.

The DUP responded initially to the BBC programme with a party statement which said: “Following allegations made about Peter Robinson in the BBC’s Spotlight programme ... Mr Robinson will be consulting his legal team on Friday.”

This was followed early today by a statement in Peter Robinson’s name.

“I completely reject BBC Spotlight’s attempt to implicate me by insinuation and innuendo,” he said.

“I am even more appalled by the inclusion on that programme of comments and conclusions made without any supporting facts - indeed with facts in the programme which support a contrary position. While I have learned from Spotlight for the first time some alleged aspects of my wife’s affair and her financial arrangements, I will be resolutely defending attacks on my character and contesting any allegations of wrongdoing.”

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was “shocked” by the programme’s revelations.

“I have sought an urgent meeting with the First Minister to discuss the implications for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister,” he said.

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said Mrs Robinson should stop claiming parliamentary privileges and allowances immediately and added that her position as MP and Assembly member was untenable. He said the matter is of “deep concern to all those concerned with the integrity of political life and the democratic process”.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan called for investigations into the First Minister's affairs and said Mrs Robinson must resign from her public roles immediately.

“It will be up to [Mr Robinson] to now prove that the issues raised do not affect his ability or suitability to carry out his public office," he said. "If Peter Robinson is to be brave it is imperative that he calls for proper investigations to take place. Otherwise it would appear his position as First Minister is questionable. Questions will also be posed now by officials at Castlereagh Council and I would expect the Local Government Auditor will be taking a very close interest.”

Castlereagh Council has always been a showcase for the DUP as their model of best practice, he said.

“However it must be investigated to discover why only one business met the criteria designed for the tender for the café at the project on the River Lagan.”

He added: “There are serious political issues that the public need addressed and it is all our responsibility as politicians to ensure that the events of the past few days do not cause any further distraction or delay getting on with good public business.”

Alliance leader David Ford agreed that Mrs Robinson should step down. “Iris Robinson must resign as an MP, MLA and councillor immediately.

“The revelations within the Spotlight programme have sent shockwaves across Northern Ireland. The BBC must give all the information they have to the appropriate authorities.

“Peter Robinson must now make a statement addressing all the issues included in the documentary,” he said.

“Given the current political problems between the DUP and Sinn Féin it is important that every measure possible is taken to safeguard the Assembly and political progress. Irrespective of what else is happening, politicians must remain focused on the need for dialogue between all parties at this time.”

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chair of committee on standards in public life, said a major investigation into the allegations was called for.

“On the basis of these allegations it seems to me that, prima facie, there are grounds for a major investigation by the various commissioners who have responsibility for standards in Westminster and the Northern Ireland Assembly, and presumably at a local council level as well,” he said.

A spokesman for British prime minister Gordon Brown said: “The prime minister’s view is that completing the devolution process is extremely important and Peter Robinson is very closely involved in that.

“Obviously there are personal issues that Peter Robinson has spoken about, but that is not for the prime minister to comment on.”