And now the fall-out

How remarkable that the leaders of both Northern Ireland’s two main deeply divided parties have been engulfed in personal scandals they’ve been concealing for some time. It would hard to make up more dramatic evidence of how mores and lifestyles in Northern Ireland have changed even in the puritan parties.

Adultery in the DUP! Confessions of dire perversion in Sinn Fein! To be fair – and what else can we be? – and to deploy natural human sympathy, the Adams and Robinson scandals are very different and neither is of each man’s making. But might hubris have played some part in each case?

The Robinsons, once an unremarkable-looking hard-working pair, acquired an aura of sleek high maintenance as they slowly ascended the political ladder and actually began to look younger as they biologically aged. Gerry Adams, for all his studied humility and sentimentality for his working people, has been a man for whom the normal rules haven’t applied for as long as the Robinsons have been married.

And the political fall-out? Containable for Adams, it seems. On the big picture of the devolution of justice and policing and the supposed threat to the Assembly, the human dynamic of the Robinson revelations must surely buy some time for a settlement.

Any Saturday deadline however faint before today, has surely receded further now. Internally in the DUP, judging from the great warmth of Nigel Dodd’s statement of support, Robinson is safe. Good . This shows a human decency the DUP have not always extended to others in the past.

The experience offers conclusive proof to the DUP that family dynasties are far from an unmixed blessing; instead of sharing the burden, they can spread the damage. Why did Peter Robinson choose today to speak out?

Was it anything to do with pressure from the BBC and further disclosures? A shadow still hangs over the couple – Iris’s admission of a financial as well as a personal relationship that according to alleged BBC evidence, may be improper.

Note how carefully Peter replied to that question. He said “I” throughout. and he wasn’t asked the obvious supplementary.

He did not answer for Iris, who failed to explain the financial relationship in her own statement.

During his interview Mr Robinson was also asked if his financial affairs were under investigation.
In reply he said he had always acted “in the most professional and ethical way.”
He also confirmed he had received a letter from the BBC which he said contained no allegations against him but “asked questions which are easily answered.”

The BBC Spotlight programme has confirmed it has been investigating matters involving Iris Robinson for some time. In a statement the BBC added that allegations have been put to the Robinsons and their response is awaited.

Call me old fashioned but listening to the gripping exchanges between the First Minister and the correspondents, I was irritated by how they talked about “Peter” this and “Peter” that. Granted they seemed stunned, sitting before a man in an otherwise cosy domestic setting, by the starkest display of public emotion unconnected with terrorism I can recall. But their tone was inappropriate.

Ours is a tiny culchie world and we all know each other all too well. But if ever there was an ideal time for the media to observe the correct distance between themselves and the subject, this was it.

They sounded like a bunch of guys consoling a mate in the pub. This over-relaxed style may draw politicians and the media closer together in the little Stormont village but it distances them both from the public they serve.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London