Mr Robinson’s QC is not good enough

So the First Minister is defying his critics and demanding a speedy resolution of the crisis swirling around his head. In doing so, he is attempting to keep as much control as he can over events. But what he’s actually agreeing to do in response to the investigation is far from clear. Is he implying that he might resign or withdraw if a QC’s investigation he himself has asked for finds he broke the law or the parliamentary rules by failing to report Iris’s financial dealings with her young lover? Lambasting the BBC for “smears and innuendo,” he has rejected slower options: defamation action against the BBC “which would take years” and an inquiry by one of the standards watchdogs “ which would take months.” He may yet be unable to avoid the latter, especailly if someone makes a complaint against him.

Here is his pledge. “ I have to concentrate on clearing my name speedily. I’m advised the smears by association cannot be sustained. I am happy to answer the question if there was any obligation to disclose.. I am happy to abide by the outcome of the investigation rather than the smears and innuendos by some section of the press.”

Peter Robinson may have come out fighting but he won’t have silenced his critics. Iris Robinson remains an MP tonight. From Mr Robinson’s interview, it is not clear that her conduct will be investigated in full. If so, this is either a staggering ommission, or an inquiry is about to launched into her alone.

He says he was “shocked by some elements in the Spotlight programme “that put an obligation on me.. and that Iris had a duty to disclose details of the financial arrangements.” In his brief account of what he understood had happened up to the time he had seen the programme he says: “ I was told she had assisted a young man and that the cheques had been paid directly to the enterprise. I insisted that the repayments be made directly to the individuals, through a solicitor.” But was that enough? “The only information I had was that There was no obligation on me on the basis of what I knew. That was completely new to me”.

But why did he not ask her to come clean at the time? She was no mere postie , channel or conduit for the two donors. Or why did he not ask Selwyn Black what was going on. when he was plainly lumbered with the fixing ? Mr Robinson will have to allay the impression that he wanted to keep his own hands clean and avoid the murky details.

On the wounding charge that he abandoned Iris after her suicide attempt to answer Assembly questions, his reply is more convincing. Iris was “lucid “ when he left her to go to the Assembly. The family had called a doctor earlier and accepted medical advice to let her sleep before taking her to hospital. Perhaps he was a little detached at the time, understandably in the circumstances. But he was assured she was cared for.

What now? He is prepared to “act in accordance with the investigation”. But he doesn’t say how he will act and unfortunately he doesn’t seem to have been asked. Possible responses to a critical report could range from an apology to the Houses or Houses to resignation. This is too vague

Why should Mr Robinson himself stipulate how he should be investigated? Sir Reg Empey may be right, that both Robinsons still might face “ a plethora of investigations.” A complaint could – indeed should – be made to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards John Lyon to which the commissioner would be bound to respond. Iris’ conduct seems so glaring that this is surely inevitable in her case. On Peter, the investigation need not take long. This might still be necessary whether or not the local QC appointed reaches a firm conclusion. It is still the better course, as this is the commissioner’s statutory function.

The FM and DFM still haven’t talked, though each now knows how the other is proceeding. .Martin McGuinness is asking the departmental solicitor to investigate the implications for the joint office. Mr Robinson wasn’t consulted though would have given his approval if asked, he says. The no speaky must be a nightmare for officials to handle.

What we now need to know are the terms of investigation by a QC and a time scale. This it seems will be handled by officials – just like Direct Rule.

Finally, why an embargoed interview? This is a local anachronism in the age of continuous news. In this case, there are no markets waiting to close or grieving relatives to inform. The media should not have submitted to this minor attempt at news management, the second in as many days.

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  • TAFKABO

    Pretty sound analysis Brian. My only reservation would be that I don’t think it’s any of my business, nor anyone else’s to make judgments on how he reacted to his wife’s alleged suicide attempts, I’d rather that was set aside completely.
    Natural justice suggests he ought to be able to present this story on his own terms, in as favourable a light as he wishes to but, as you say, that’s twice in a few days that the media have been complicit in allowing him to set the terms, this is inexcusable and a sad reflection on journalism.

  • estreeter

    I agree with TAFK on the suicide attempt. However it does finally show how disingenuous his statement on Monday was.

    The story is the attempted whitewash at Stormont. There can be no whitewash. Not when they are using our money for such an investigation.

    This must be a full and frank public investigation taken independently.

    In Iris’ case, she is getting off very lightly today. Her actions were very serious and anyone who had acted in a comparably corrupt way in their private life would now face a police investigation. She will not face such an investigation and it is a crying shame. I do not want to see the woman suffer, but justice must be done.

  • Ramzi Nohra

    Actually I would disagree TAFKABO (what does that acronym stand for btw?)

    I think thats the worst thing he’s done so far. I could feel confident I wouldnt do the same in similar circumstances.

    The stuff about him not-grassing up his wife is completely understandable.

  • joeCanuck

    Iris Robinson remains an MP tonight

    If she doesn’t hang around until the election but simply resigns, she won’t get a severance package. And as she isn’t a money grabbing hussy……

  • Not only should Peter Robinson, at the very least, step aside to Dodds until any inquiry or internal investigation is complete, Mark Devenport should also consider whether he is a journalist worthy of taxpayers money.

    He is complicit in an attempt to subvert the course of justice which is clearly required – an independent and competent inquiry into the relationship between the Robinsons and all developers who may have benefited from their decisions in their various roles over the years – aside from a similar inquiry into the matters directly raised by Spotlight.

    Robinson needed the media today desperately. There could have been a full press conference with all major publications and broadcasters asking the right questions – if Devenport and the BBC had refused this charade. As it stands, the interviewer may as well have been Iris (for whom, btw, I still feel great sympathy if she isn’t lying about her mental health).

    Justice ensures P Robinson the right to defend his name. It does not allow him to dictate the terms of the court and the length of the trial. Twice now Devenport has made a mockery of his position, and he and Robinson are making a mockery of the Assembly.

    It’s so blatant you wonder whether it isn’t intentional. Excellent post Brian.

  • Peter Fyfe

    Why are they wasting Noel Thompson at a time like this presenting the news. Get him asking the awkward questions, the punt will crack under the pressure. He won’t confess but it would be funny to see him loose that famous temper.

  • “The stuff about him not-grassing up his wife is completely understandable.”

    I have thought about this a little today. It made me think of Camus, yet again, saying “I believe in justice, but I would defend my mother before justice.” (In that case condemning an Algerian movement comparable in ways to the PIRA.)

    But logically, if we accept this exemption to the code, it opens the door to corruption for those whose family share positions of government. It is, in effect, a blank cheque for those guilty of the crimes and failures the Robinsons are accused of.

    If you accept that a politician’s first loyalty should always be to family before public interest (which is clearly not a shocking concept for many) and if you oppose corruption, you are then obliged to impose a limit of one family member in politics.

    I think. Any ideas?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Damian,
    I think that many peoples’ problems have been with the nonchalant way which Mr Robinson dismissed his wife’s suicide attempt and appeared to go calmly and cheerfully to work.
    Some ten months later, he appears devastated. Yet the next day …

    Having been on the receiving end of an “independent inquiry” commissioned by the department accused of (lets say) “conflicts of interest” then I have little faith that any similar inquiry in this instance will be little more than a whitewash.

    There is already a fall guy and gal in place, Peter Robinson will survive.

    Strange though, the Paisley’s didn’t.

  • Mrazik

    Panorama on Monday on Robinson affair – just announced at end of Newsnight.

  • estreeter

    Damien,

    If Mark Devenport and the BBC had refused the charade then Robinson would have happily let UTV Live have the exclusive. Don’t be so naive.

  • Sammy Morse

    Mark Devenport must have also known exactly what was going to be in Daragh McIntyre’s programme – why blow tonight’s scoop when you know you have a better one coming up tomorrow.

  • estreeter

    Devenport could not have legally known the details of the programme. I doubt he knew anything.

    I don’t exactly get what you are trying to say Sammy.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I am concerned about the type of advice a QC would give. Lawyers, particularly counsel, are not in the business of delivering a judgements. They point out strengths and weaknesses and leave the decision to the client.

    This is going through the DSO and is kind of like the OFDFM is asking either what are the merits in defending this case. Also, Peter said he would answer questions if required. That’s a laugh. As if a serious advisorwould give advice on a 30 minute program alone. He’ll need alot more.

    Peter has also said in his initial statement that he will not helping with the sordid details. It sounds like he’s treating this like a criminal trial and saying where’s the proof, I have a right not to incriminate myself. While that’s true, in doing so he cannot pretend that this is akin to an enquiry. It does not have the ability to exonerate him.

  • [b] Oscars all round for all in the Thick of IT [/b]

    Everyone appears to be missing the most damning indictment against the DUP and the Robinsons [for one assumes that the one will know of the others actions and be fully supportive of them ….unless we are clearly advised otherwise] and that is that all of this happened and was known nine months ago and there has been a conspiracy of silence since then to keep it from the public domain, and that conspiracy is almost certainly criminal and led by the First Minister and supported by his Office and the Political Party/Gang which he is also leader of. And they all expect the Show to go on as before, as if nothing has happened. They make a good team, do Iris and Peter, Playing to the Gallery and Acting the Injured Innocent for MegaBuck Promotions. Northern Ireland Politics in ITs Rottenest of Fine Phorms.

    I’m with Erasmus on this …. [quote]The whole thing is GUBU [/quote] … Posted by Erasmus on Jan 09, 2010 @ 03:37 AM, http://sluggerotoole.com/index.php/weblog/comments/and-the-ridicule-continues/ ….. Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre and Unprecedented and would also add Crazily Perverse and Madly Subversive …. or if you are into BDSM, Brotherly Depraved and Sinisterly Manipulative but then whatever else can one expect from an Incestuous Closed Church Order for in there is Everything thought to be quite Natural.

  • estreeter,

    That’s ridiculous, the broadcasters should have agreed to demand more. Reid and Devenport asked the same questions, so they were surely pre-agreed with Robinson. They might at least have asked for exclusive questions.

    With just two branches of media, you don’t collapse faced with the whims of the political class.

    On his blog, Devenport says this:

    “During my interview I asked Mr Robinson whether him bringing in a barrister would be seen as a sufficient independent process, given that Martin McGuinness is seeking seperate legal advice of his own. The First Minister suggested that I was in danger of impugning the independence of the Departmental Solicitor’s Office.

    However I have just had a conversation with the TUV leader Jim Allister who pointed out that getting an opinion from a barrister does not amount to an independent investigation.”

    He needed to be told by McAllister of all people that the OFMDFM lawyer was neither independent, nor would be investigating. Seriously?

  • PACE Parent

    This Robinson affair seems akin to the Watergate events of 1972 except that sex is also involved.
    http://www.bookrags.com/research/watergate-sjpc-05/
    Like Nixon, Peter Robinson seems to think that appointing his own investigator and dictating the terms and timescale of the investigation are going to solve his political problems.
    The main obvious difference in the two scenarios is that it was one of the Robinsons’ ex-employees Selwyn Black former RAF Chaplin who gifted this story to the BBC. This expose had nothing at all to do with so called “investigative reporters” sniffing out the story.
    The arrangements between politicians and the media (Nolan etc) are entirely too cozy and parochial to allow either party to effectively fulfill their public roles.
    Where’s the FBI when you need them?