Did Peter break any rules?

From the BBC News report of the Spotlight Special

The programme said that while he pressed his wife to return the money, he failed to tell the proper authorities about the transaction, despite being obliged to act in the public interest by the ministerial code.

Questions arise whether Mr Robinson himself breached any rules ( his lawyers deny it ); whether his alleged failure to report his wife’s conduct was unethical, or excusable because he is said to have urged her to pay the money back. There’s little doubt that this will be hotly debated – expertly and inexpertly.

On the outcome may rest his political survival.

Just before the hue and cry starts, his alleged conduct – as distinct from Iris Robinson’s – is worth considering carefully, set alongside extracts from the ethical rules for ministers, MLAs and MPs.

Note that the references are to “stewardship of public funds” and “ use of public funds” etc. It doesn’t appear to limit the scope of the rule to “his” use of public funds. Does knowledge of any potential or alleged breach of the rules by a spouse or partner entail breach of the rules by oneself?

In listing each rule, I don’t imply that Mr Robinson is necessarily in breach of it. For instance, a specific rule referring to money allegedly given to a partner seems to rule out implicating him if it was not given in furtherance of his public duties. I assume the funds cannot be classified as public anyway since they came from private donors, although they were used to finance a public contract.

The extracts below the fold show the spirit of the rules and how a public representative’s conduct is circumscribed. Each code insists the guidelines are not exhaustive and that an MP’s or minister’s conduct should be governed by the Principles of Public Life.

Meanwhile… the personal crisis failed to move anyone to take a Damascus road to break the political deadlock.
Ministerial Code of Conduct
1.5 The Ministerial Code of Conduct referred to at (g) above is as follows.
Ministers must at all times:-
(i) observe the highest standards of propriety and regularity involving impartiality,
integrity and objectivity in relationship to the stewardship of public funds;

(iv) follow the seven principles of public life set out by the Committee on Standards in
Public Life;
(v) comply with this Code and with rules relating to the use of public funds;

(vii) not use information gained in the course of their service for personal gain; nor seek to
use the opportunity of public service to promote their private interests;

(ix) declare any personal or business interests which may conflict with their responsibilities.
The Assembly will retain a Register of Interests. Individuals must ensure that any
direct or indirect pecuniary interests which members of the public might reasonably
think could influence their judgement are listed in the Register of Interests.

The Seven Principles of Public Life
1.6 The seven principles of public life referred to at (iv) above are as follows:-
Selflessness
Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They
should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their
family, or their friends.
Integrity
Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation
to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their
official duties.
Objectivity
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts,
or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make
choices on merit.
Accountability
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and
must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Openness
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that
they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when
the wider public interest clearly demands.

Assembly members’ code of conduct
Rules of the Code of Conduct
Members shall base their conduct on a consideration of the public interest, avoid conflict between personal interest and the public interest and resolve any conflict between the two, at once, and in favour of the public interest.

Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of the Assembly and never undertake any action which would bring the Assembly into disrepute

Register of Member’s interest

The Categories of Registrable Interest
Part 1

Category 5
Gifts, benefits and hospitality (UK): Any gift to the Member or the Member’s partner, or any material benefit of a value greater than 0.5% of the current salary of an Assembly Member (currently £217), from any company, organisation or person within the UK which in any way relates to membership of the Assembly (including those received in a ministerial capacity) or to a Member’s political activity.

House of Commons

Rules of Conduct
15. Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament and never undertake any action which would bring the House of Commons, or its Members generally, into disrepute

Categories of registrable interest

Category 5
Gifts, benefits and hospitality (UK): Any gift to the Member or the Member’s spouse or partner, or any material benefit, of a value greater than one per cent of the current parliamentary salary from any company, organisation or person within the UK which in any way relates to membership of the House or to a Member’s political activity

Category 8
Land and property: Any land or property—

(a) which has a substantial value. (unless used for the personal residential purposes of the Member or the Member’s spouse or partner), or
(b) from which a substantial income is derived.
The nature of the property should be indicated.

  • TAFKABO

    Mr Robinson has known since March that Mrs Robinson was unfit to hold public office, he was in a position to do something about this, both as first Minister and leader of the DUP. He was perfectly willing to let her continue in office, until forced to act due to this story being about to break.
    In this matter alone he has failed to act in the public interest, and for that reason he must resign.

  • Mick Fealty

    Have you actually read Brian’s post Taf?

  • TAFKABO

    Yes I read it Mick and I was thinking of this part when I posted.

    Members shall base their conduct on a consideration of the public interest, avoid conflict between personal interest and the public interest and resolve any conflict between the two, at once, and in favour of the public interest.

  • LukeCass

    He must resign.

  • Peter Fyfe

    I think TAF has it right. It was the fact he knew and proceeded to do nothing about it that puts his position in question. Same with Gerry.

  • TAFKABO

    Have to confess I’m a bit stung by your comment Mick, I don’t claim to be the fount of all knowledge but I always do people the courtesy of reading their blogs before commenting.

  • Mick Fealty

    Sorry Tak, I’m tired. It would be good if you could should us how you get to your conclusion though. I’m going to bed.

  • TAFKABO

    No worries Mick, I’m sure it’s been a hectic week for you. As ever, your work is much appreciated.
    I hope my second post explained where I was coming from and why I reached the conclusion I did. I’ve more to say but it’s late and I don’t want to monopolise the thread, I’ll leave it till others have commented.

  • Alias

    It’s a tough call because it can’t be argued that Mr Robinson did not do the right thing by ensuring that his wife returned the money, so he complies with the Integrity part of the seven principles (“Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.”)

    The problem will be with whether or not he colluded in a cover-up of a serious breach of the code of conduct by another MLA, notwithstanding that the other MLA was his wife. If he did, then it’s a tough sell to claim that he did not commit a breach of the spirit of the code even if there is no clear breech (as yet) of the letter of it.

    Is it consistent with the high standards of the ministerial code if the First Minister conspires with another MLA to conceal serious violations of codes that are applicable to public office and that are in place to prohibit the type of behaviour that the other MLA was engaged in?

    The public should not accept low standards, and should not permit the First Minister to make any deviation from the high standards that are to be expected from a holder of the most senior political office in the state simply because he has a personal relationship with the person who has violated the code.

    Human sympathy – and it is hard not to feel for a man who has been so horribly and so publically betrayed – shouldn’t override accountability, and shouldn’t be used to tolerate low standards in high places.

    He clearly had knowledge that a serious violation of standards had occurred and he did not act to censure this MLA by reporting her violations of the Ministerial Code to the relevant authority (assuming there is one in the Assembly), nor did he act to censure an MP who he as party leader was aware had also violated another Code of Conduct that requires MPs to register their financial interests in a Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

    Again, there may well be no clause requiring him to report or censure, but that is simply hiding behind the letter of a code while breaking the spirit of it. You can’t regulate for every action.

  • Ben

    Isn’t it reasonable to assume that a spouse stands to benefit from (some of) the actions of their partner? Ignorance doesn’t seem to nullify the law, so even if Mr. Robinson didn’t know what Mrs. Robinson was up to, he may have benefitted from it. He’s no Richard Nixon, but he’s still culpable.

  • Danny O’Connor

    the PSNI should be brought in at once.any allegation of corruption should be investigated thoroughly,and the matter referred to the attorney general, not the pps they are a shower of shit who would say it is not in the public interest to pursue it as it doesnt meet their criteria for prosecution,bollix to them this is a huge issue involving 2 MPs and the GA case is another,Prosecute and let the jury decide.

    As someone involved in politics I am appalled that the people will tar all with the one brush unless Justice is done and seen to be done

  • Alias

    Apparently there isn’t any ‘duty to report’ clause in any of the standards regulating public life in the UK, with no elected official having a duty to report breaches of codes of conduct by other elected officials to an applicable standards authority.

    There was one in the Local Government Act 2000 governing councillors in England but that was repealed in 2007. Incidentally, Northern Ireland is alone in the UK in having no statutory framework to govern the standards of conduct of its councillors.

    So it doesn’t look like Mr Robinson can be faulted for not exercising a duty that he did not posses. However, being an elected official, he can still be held accountable politically for his actions in covering-up another MLA’s violations of the code if not legally.

  • padraig

    There’s the law, the letter of the law and then there’s moralityIt is surely not too much to ask that the people who make the laws should both be above reproach and the shadow of reproach. Or is that too much to ask?

    Adams should go too.

  • Brian Walker,

    Thank you for taking the time and effort to share …..

    [b]Ministerial Code of Conduct[/b]
    [b]The Seven Principles of Public Life[/b]
    [b]Assembly members’ code of conduct …. Rules of the Code of Conduct[/b]
    [b]Register of Member’s interest … The Categories of Registrable Interest[/b]
    [b]House of Commons … Rules of Conduct[/b]
    [b]Categories of registrable interest[/b]

    …… however, they are all made a mockery of, and are just so much useless obfuscatory fluff to be ignored, whenever you get the following sort of arrogant behaviour by the supposed Honourable Gentlemen/Members and for whom the rules and codes of conduct are written and designed to help …… http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6974024.ece

    It is impossible in such cases, not to perceive such privileges as have been bestowed and are allowed and may be fully justified and accepted, as being morphed into wanton abuses and thus being totally unacceptable by any standards.

    And it is a sad and crazy indictment of All in the System, that Good Simple Common Sense appears to escape them, to be replaced by a Viral Selfish Greed and General Ignorance.

    When the House is full of Rotten to the Core Fish and Phishermen [and Politicians are always Phishing for New and Prime Information they can Use and Present/Plagiarise as their Own for Party Advantage] there is always a Stink to be Explained away …….. but it will always remain the same whilst the Rotten to the Core Fish Phishermen remain in the House.

    Here endeth the Lesson of the Day …… brought to you Today by its sponsor, the DUP.

  • Pompeia was Caesar’s wife. He divorced her, over the Clodian business. To this day we have the proverb about being above suspicion.

    Put aside all the formulae of words which Brian Walker studiously takes us through. What is left would, once upon a time, have ensured that the husband was never allowed near the kitty for the church flower fund.

  • Eleanor Bull

    We need a name for this ‘scandal’, in the style of the numerous -gates we’ve endured in the past. My American pal, the esteemed Kieran J, has suggested that it be ‘Lock Keeper’s Gate’.

    I trust you will all refer to this accordingly in future.

  • willis

    Malcolm

    That is the sort of post that makes Slugger worth reading. I wondered where ‘Caesar’s wife’ came from.

  • Paul

    #

    the PSNI should be brought in at once.any allegation of corruption should be investigated thoroughly,and the matter referred to the attorney general, not the pps they are a shower of shit who would say it is not in the public interest to pursue it as it doesnt meet their criteria for prosecution,bollix to them this is a huge issue involving 2 MPs and the GA case is another,Prosecute and let the jury decide.

    As someone involved in politics I am appalled that the people will tar all with the one brush unless Justice is done and seen to be done
    Posted by Danny O’Connor on Jan 08, 2010 @ 05:04 AM

    Danny I am surprised at your rant which wasnt something I expected from you you are normally very measured.I myself think this is a tough call i think this will have a momentum of its own theres questions to be answered thats for sure.We have seen gerry adams tell blantant public untruths yet adams is still in his position as SF leader.If PR goes which I get the sense he probably will have to then for goodness sake with the issue of the scandal of child abuse aad gerry adams blantant public untruths and the strong whiff of a cover up on the issue of child abuse then danny gerry adams must resign and go as peter robinson should go.Agreed.?????

  • bonaduche

    the clocking and surrounding wrong doing is indeed itself a bigger crime
    this happens in all groups within the north even in sporting organisations primarily the g.a.a.
    when the correct thing would be to stand up and say our member has done wrong and is diassociated from our organisation . the inclination to forgive wrong doing based on past activities of the person overshadows common decency

  • Pigeon Toes

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/8447666.stm

    “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.
    To that end, I will be addressing the media today after I have taken legal advice.”

  • Scaramoosh

    I think the Emperor has got no clothes on..

  • J Kelly

    All I can say is that there is no room for criminality or criminals in politics.

  • J Kelly

    What is they say about events BBC reporting a bomb uder a car in randalstown and a man injured and taken to hospital. Peter could be yesterdays news.

  • KateMcC

    What a twist. Yesterday I was harsh on the media for being fixated on a private affair whilst largely ignoring Adams failure to protect children. Should have guessed there was more to it by Robinson’s performance on UTV.
    Both Robinson and Adams should go.
    There should be full and thorough investigations into both cases.
    By standing by their men, the DUP and Sinn Fein are failing the wider public.
    The cover up of child abuse is as corrupting on governnment and parliament as financial misconduct.
    Political parties in any other part of the UK would have the maturity and foresight to oust these leaders if they refused to go.
    But not in this political backwater …

  • ding dong

    Yes – she allegedly tried to commit suicide, within eight hours he left for work – when she had not recieved any medical attention then he comes on the tele on Wednesday gurning and greetin about how he loves his wife – bollocks

    Nine months ago allegedly she nearly died – he joked and laughed in the Assembly. He never reported or explained his or her actions. He even attacked the press for a witch hunt over the expenses rows – even though he knew about Iris’ indiscretion!! Fianlly he tried to manipulate the public by getting his revenge in first – dispicable he has to go

  • Erasmus

    We need a name for this ‘scandal’, in the style of the numerous -gates we’ve endured in the past. My American pal, the esteemed Kieran J, has suggested that it be ‘Lock Keeper’s Gate’.

    I trust you will all refer to this accordingly in future.
    Well done on your ‘acerbic analsyes’ El.

  • Danny O’Connor

    Paul
    I agree ,but it is not that people should be left to voluntarily decide their own fate,If people break the law they need to be subjected to the consequences.

  • Alias

    “Yes – she allegedly tried to commit suicide, within eight hours he left for work – when she had not recieved any medical attention then he comes on the tele on Wednesday gurning and greetin about how he loves his wife – bollocks” – ding dong

    I’m not convinced by her expedient proffering of depression as mitigation for her behaviour. Apart from its convenience, the details of it are all wrong.

    Irrationality is not a symptom of general or clinical depression, so she is incorrect to offer this as an explanation for what she refers to as her irrational behaviour. Irrationality is only a symptom of manic depression (AKA bi-polar disorder). If she has consulted a psychiatrist, then she would be aware of this since no psychiatrist would have told her that irrational behaviour can be explained this way, and would instead look for other causes.

    Secondly, loss of libido is a symptom of the form of depression that she claims to have (clinical depression), so using an explanation that involves loss of sex drive to explain why she had an affair is obviously deeply flawed.

    Now, what irrational behaviour have we actually observed from Mrs Robinson? It is not irrational to solicit money from business people or to have an affair. The former is simply improper behaviour for an elected official but it is not irrational behaviour; and the latter is a breach of the trust placed in her by her husband but again is not an irrational act – foolish, yes.

    It seems that she is using her alleged ‘mental illness’ to imply that she is not responsible for her behaviour (as though she was clinically insane) and should not therefore be held accountable to others for that behaviour. That looks like it is devised to get her off the hook.

    In using mental illness to obfuscate is this way she is doing a great disservice to those who actually suffer from it. Not to mention, of course, that she is well enough to go on holiday to exotic locations but not well enough apparently to answer questions from those who wish to hold her accountable for her behaviour when – to hear her tell it – she should be on suicide watch.

    Incidentally, the Seven Principles of Public Life in the Ministerial Code apply to MLAs in addition to ministers.