Robinson interview: Some tough questions and tough answers…

Yesterday I had an extensive interview with the First Minister. Despite the brutality of my line of questioning at times to Peter Robinson when the interview on tape and camera ended he and I had a mature adult and balanced conversation with no one else in the room in another area of his headquarters. I had hurt him in the course of one of my Slugger reports. He was generous and forgiving in accepting that I had erred and corrected that error as soon as I realised my mistake. The interview continues below the fold with my own analysis at the end.Mallie: “Mr Robinson when did you find out about the cheques from the two developers?”

Robinson: “The only element that I was aware of – was that my wife during a conversation, I overheard her making arrangements for the repayment of loans.

“I ensured repayment was made through a solicitor using the proper mechanism that can be easily disclosed and made directly to the individuals who had lent the money in spite of the fact one of the individuals had sadly deceased and I insisted the money be given to the estate.”

Mallie: “Was any money held back ?”

Robinson: “No information would have led me to that conclusion until I listened to the Spotlight programme. Both I and Iris’s solicitor have been unable to get answers to those questions. We don’t believe she is in a position to give answers to those questions because of her illness. Not alone did Iris attempt to take her own life – she spent two periods of 6/8 weeks in a clinic. She has consistently been under the advice of a psychiatrist.”

Mallie: “Did you ever accept any money, any contra deals from any developer or businessmen during any phase of your life ?

Robinson: “I’ve been in public life for many decades as you know. I have never once taken one penny for myself during that time from businessmen named or unnamed, or from those who are not in business. I am in public life to do a duty – a service to the community and until the day I leave public life that is what I do.”

Mallie: “There have been historical allegations against you over how you treated your wife. Did you ever beat your wife ?”

Robinson: “I think the question is one which you better be very careful about. My wife made it very clear that we were aware of that political accusation. She made it clear in her autobiography- it was authored by someone else – that it was an absolute lie and continues to be an absolute lie.”

Mallie: “Why did your wife engage in an affair with a nineteen year old teenager?”

Robinson: “Do you really expect me to answer such a question and do you really think it is appropriate for you to ask it ?”

Mallie: “There is a concern you abandoned your wife in her hour of need”

Robinson: “Let me make it very clear my wife attempted to take her life about midnight on the first of March. These events are events which hurt and caused me very considerable pain. I resent very much the attempt by you to make me the person who is somehow responsible because that is the core of the question.”

Mallie: “That is not the core. Where were you at the time.?”

Robinson: “I don’t need any reminder of the question. I heard the question. I will answer the question. The Spotlight team exposed their own bias in the way they treated that element of the programme. The particular piece that they showed of the Assembly even though all of the other questions asked were serious in a serious vein and answered in a serious vein – they chose to take one of the questions that was asked in a more jovial lighthearted manner and that was answered in a more jovial lighthearted manner..”

“Let me tell you what happened during the course of that day. Iris,around midnight attempted to take her own life. Along with family members we ensured as far as lay within us that we removed any drugs from her body. We ensured on medical advice that she kept awake. She became more lucid in conversation we had with her.

“We kept her up during the whole of the night talking. We were then given medical advice that we should let her sleep. After she was asleep and in care of members of her family I went on to the Assembly. During that period of time the advice was given that she as a precaution should be taken into hospital. As soon as I heard that I went directly to the hospital.”

Mallie: “Are you considering quitting because of all these allegations?” (Peter Robinson wants the OFMDFM’s legal department to appoint a QC to probe all allegations.)

Robinson: “I did nothing wrong. I am prepared if it is deemed by that independent counsel that I have breached some obligation that I have not disclosed something that I should that I will take the appropriate action as a result of such a judgement. I have to uphold the office of OFMDFM that is important and its integrity is important to me and if it is that in any way I have fallen short of the standards that are required I will know what to do.”

Was this my last interview with Peter Robinson as DUP leader? The problem facing Mr. Robinson may not be a question of having right on his side legally. This is a political problem for the DUP leader. Nothing was proven against Ian Paisley Junior when he was Junior minister but he had to walk the plank.

Why? The party withdrew it’s support because he was adjudged to be a liability because the system was being stifled with only one show in town, ‘Junior.’ He believes he was taken out to get at his father. That may explain some of the motivation. He had become a liability for the party. Self preservation of the party was instinctive and he had to go.

This same instinct may well be even a bigger factor in the case of Peter Robinson. More digging is taking place. There will be some nasty collateral damage relating to alleged events over which Mr Robinson had absolutely no control but the story is not going away.

There-in hangs the tale of Peter Robin’s future.

  • mootpoint

    Excellent interview Mr Mallie.

    Mr Robinson has seemed tired and distracted for some time. When I met him (on an unrelated matter some months ago) he was clearly not focused. It now seems that he had a considerable weight on his shoulders.

    I believe that his position is untenable and that within a week he will stand down as First Minister.

  • chewnic

    Eamon, a compelling post with no quarter given or taken during the course of a brutally tough interview.Thanks.
    From the first paragraph of your report, it would appear that you have unearthed another skeleton from the tardis-like Robinson cupboard.-that the esteemed First Minister peruses Slugger O’Toole of a lonely evening on his tod. Is that correct?
    If so, and to paraphrase those much-vaunted political analysists, Dexys Midnight Runners, ‘seven days is too long, baby’!

  • Scaramoosh

    Eamonn,

    Good shot. I thought you had gone soft since your Downtown Radio days…

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    In the cold light of day and after a little time has passed would any of us want to continue after such events.

    There is a lot of personal trauma and political trauma gone through and to be gone through.

    Is it worth it.

    (and now a little nast dig)
    Is there any real money to be made out of politics anymore as it may (perhaps) be more difficult to accumulate back handers.
    Ireland and Britain United in lands of rotten politicians. Our politicians could teach the Italians and African banana republics (or monarchies) a thing or two about corruption.

    Apologies to Italians and Africans for stereotyping. In future British/Irish politiciansshould be the stereotypical corrupt legislater.

  • iluvni

    Peter Robinson ‘overheard’ a conversion about cheques, advised they be paid back through a solicitor but didn’t know the full details and facts about their origins…nor did he ask?

    Is that correct, Eamonn?

  • Much better interview than those donse so far. To look at his answers one by one though:

    ““The only element that I was aware of – was that my wife during a conversation, I overheard her making arrangements for the repayment of loans.

    “I ensured repayment was made through a solicitor using the proper mechanism that can be easily disclosed”

    So Robinson didn’t demand repayment for whatever reason, but simply suugested a method for an unknown transaction. Extraordinary and not credible. If this loan narrative is true, there must be a contract on the terms. Yet we have also heard that McCambley was asked to repay and in one go, indicating an absence of such terms. This doesn’t fit.

    ““No information would have led me to that conclusion until I listened to the Spotlight programme. Both I and Iris’s solicitor have been unable to get answers to those questions. We don’t believe she is in a position to give answers to those questions because of her illness.”

    This illness is starting to look like a very serious matter indeed, in which case Robinson had a duty to retire his wife, as indeed he has the powers to do, long ago. The timing, unfortunately, makes it seem like the most distasteful fig-leaf imaginable, particularly for the former Chair of the Health Committee. When did she become so ill as to be effectively untrustworthy? This matter has to be dealt with robustly.

    “they chose to take one of the questions that was asked in a more jovial lighthearted manner”

    That jovial question? Asked by Wille Clarke (SF), with whom we know Robinson commonly enjoys a chuckle was:

    “Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. On a more positive note, and the First Minister has already touched on this point, can he update the Assembly on the economic benefits of the farm modernisation scheme?”

    Seriously? That couldn’t have received a straight and sombre answer from a man whose wife had just OD’d?

    “I’ve been in public life for many decades as you know. I have never once taken one penny for myself during that time from businessmen named or unnamed, or from those who are not in business.”

    Robinson’s word means nothing, perhaps less than his wife’s. We need a competent, indepenent and public enquiry to establish his innocence in this most serious of allegations. Well done for asking this, I hope someone pushes it further.

    ““Let me tell you what happened during the course of that day. Iris,around midnight attempted to take her own life. Along with family members we ensured as far as lay within us that we removed any drugs from her body. We ensured on medical advice that she kept awake. She became more lucid in conversation we had with her.

    “We kept her up during the whole of the night talking. We were then given medical advice that we should let her sleep. After she was asleep and in care of members of her family I went on to the Assembly.”

    She attempted suicide by overdose (this is news) and she wasn’t taken to have her stomach pumped? I don’t know about in the UK, but that is a serious crime of negligence where I live. Who’s reaction would be to try to clear the drugs themselves and not simply call an ambulance, and accompany their wife to A&E? Was the medical advice from a doctor, and if so which? Was (s)he actually present at the scene? Why was she left in the care of the family and not trained medical professionals? If the suicide attempt did occur, did Robinson risk his wife’s life in the hope of discretion?

    “I am prepared if it is deemed by that independent counsel that I have breached some obligation that I have not disclosed something that I should that I will take the appropriate action as a result of such a judgement. I have to uphold the office of OFMDFM that is important and its integrity is important to me and if it is that in any way I have fallen short of the standards that are required I will know what to do.”

    So not only is he refusing the proper inquiries, he does not even commit to resignation if a whitewash, the worst possible way of defending the integrity of his office, goes wrong.

    If it is your last interview, at least you will have some integrity. You could have asked specifically why he feels entitled to bypass the route of independent investigation of all matters raised directly and indirectly, but this interview really puts Devenport/Reid to shame. Excellent post.

  • Excuse the mistakes in haste: done, inquiry not enquiry, whose not who’s, why was Iris left in the care of…

  • Henry94

    It was brutal reading the questions never mind asking them. But that’s a journalists job. Well done.

    The calculation for the DUP is how much better or badly they would do with someone else. Dodds appears the obvious choice but if he doesn’t want it they have nobody that could keep them as the biggest unionist party. Unless Ian Paisley could be prevailed upon to make a comeback for one election while they try to sort themselves out.

  • Garza

    DUP donations are ‘under review’

    Mr Robinson told the News Letter he had donated his salary to the party
    The Electoral Commission is reviewing some donations the DUP should have reported, it has emerged.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/8449844.stm

    More trouble for Mr. Robinson!!

  • TAFKABO

    Finally, a journalist with the balls to ask some difficult questions.

    Ironically I have more sympathy for Peter as a result of this difficult interview than with any of the others so far. I’m still not in the least bit comfortable with the idea of putting anyone on the spot about their reactions to a loved one’s suicide attempt, I have yet to see an argument which explains why this is in the public interest and not a private matter.

  • Spotlight claims the monies were originally one half loan, one half gift. The subsequent amendments to this arrangement appear to be divided into two stages. Firstly, the Church/Iris repayment plan, at which point there is no mention of Peter. Secondly, the KC/FF estate plan, which there is text evidence that Iris claimed Peter was integral in organising, while also stipulating that he wished to kept at a distance.

    With this narrative, Robinson is challenging the Spotlight version and Iris’ texts. His denials are contrary to the word of his wife, and SB, at a time when her health was not in question.

    On the 1/3/09 incident, SB claims that the two doctors, arriving simultanaeously, recommended hospitalisation, at which point the ambulance arrived. If his narrative is true, the Robinson’s failed to get medical advice in the way Robinson claims above. Either Robinson islying or the evidence is misleading.

    Again, why did SB keep the texts but not take action for sl long?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Robinson: “No information would have led me to that conclusion until I listened to the Spotlight programme. Both I and Iris’s solicitor have been unable to get answers to those questions. We don’t believe she is in a position to give answers to those questions because of her illness. Not alone did Iris attempt to take her own life – she spent two periods of 6/8 weeks in a clinic. She has consistently been under the advice of a psychiatrist.”

    Convenient…

  • danielmoran

    Eamon Mallie. Having just read your interview, and comparing that to the two TV interviews PR gave to Devenport and Reid, I’m a bit surprised that the issue of the jocular banter in the chamber was not even brought up the the BBC or UTV footage. Your colleague here has commented on this ‘go easy on Peter’ attitude taken by these two experienced political juornalists. As for PR’s account of the Stormont dispatch box turn, He missed the point in his answer to you, he should not have been able to give even one tart answer in the speech. I don’t believe there was a suicide attempt. Iris is noiw heading off to the ski slopes of the val d’isere or wherever.

  • Robinson admitted to Reid that he knew that one of the businessmen was the now-deceased Fraser. Are we to believe that he didn’t know the identity of the other, the man from whom they bought then sold Iris’ constituency office?

    Reid failed to ask this question.

  • Rory Carr

    “Did you ever beat your wife ?” Hmmph!

    What an old softie you’ve become, Mallie, the question to put was surely, “Tell us, Mr Robinson, have you now stopped beating your wife? Answer! ‘Yes’ or ‘No’?”

    You chose a career in journalism wisely, you’re clearly not vicious enough for the law.

    And I for one am happy that you did. Your pieces here on Slugger over the past week have kick-started my frozen vascular system and blown away the post-Christmas blues. You have banished depression here at Chez Rory and made the future look bright (if not Orange).

  • Jaggers

    “I’ve been in public life for many decades as you know. I have never once taken one penny for myself during that time from businessmen named or unnamed, or from those who are not in business.”

    Given that Iris was demanding that 1/3rd of the profits from the cafe be paid, NOT TO HER but to her church and as I understand it that the repayment of the money given to the lover in part be made to her church, would it have been appropriate to ask the question whether Mr Robinson secured any pecuniary benefit for any person or organisation with which he (or his wife) is or was connected?

  • Jaggers

    “The only element that I was aware of – was that my wife during a conversation, I overheard her making arrangements for the repayment of loans.”

    So loans, PLURAL – not just one loan from KC but the FF payment was also a loan? Which the adulteress didn’t pay back?

  • Jaggers

    ““Let me tell you what happened during the course of that day. Iris,around midnight attempted to take her own life. Along with family members we ensured as far as lay within us that we removed any drugs from her body. We ensured on medical advice that she kept awake. She became more lucid in conversation we had with her.

    “We kept her up during the whole of the night talking. We were then given medical advice that we should let her sleep. After she was asleep and in care of members of her family I went on to the Assembly.”

    Hang on, the statement yesterday was that they were unable to contact their GP on the morning of 2nd March 2009 so another GP was contacted and in the event both turned up at the same time. From whom did they get medical advice in the early hours of 2nd March 2009? About 20 years ago in the UK one of my housemates attempted suicide by storming out of the room claiming he was going to take an overdose of anti-depressants. I didn’t know what to do and called 999 – an ambulance and police were on the scene in 15 minutes and the housemate was taken to hospital amid protestations that he hadn’t taken anything. He was released the next day and a social worker came that afternoon and arranged counselling sessions. Yet in this case, medical advice was given by phone and an overdose had been attempted and the GP turned up, what, 10 hours later? Very strange/

  • Pigeon Toes

    As ark c Gregor pointed out earlier, the cheques were apparently made out to Mr Mc Cambley. Selwyn Black also seemed to think that the businessmen were investing in this young man’s business, through some sense of “social responsibility”.

    How then was Iris or indeed Peter able to demand repayment of same?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Apologies, should read Mark Mc Gregor. The “m” has gone on a winter break (down)

  • Danny Boy

    Mallie: “There have been historical allegations against you over how you treated your wife. Did you ever beat your wife ?”

    Robinson: “I think the question is one which you better be very careful about. My wife made it very clear that we were aware of that political accusation. She made it clear in her autobiography- it was authored by someone else – that it was an absolute lie and continues to be an absolute lie.”

    It may well be, but that is an extremely odd way of saying ‘No, of course not.’

  • danielmoran

    Reid and Devenport have lost any shred of credibility as political journalists this week. Who’s going to trust them to ask questions that need asking of pols in future. Eamon and Brian have done their jobs as they know, as professionals they should.

  • slammer

    A good interview. I am pleased to see that Eamonn Mallie did not shy away from asking the questions that most of us wanted answers to. The cosy style of questioning by some other political correspondents this week was embarrassing.

    I do not think the allegations on their own are enough to bring down Peter Robinson, but Eamon Mallie’s analysis is spot on. From reading other places on the web there appears to be other allegations on the way. At some point the DUP will decide for the good of the party that Mr Robinson must go. In political terms Peter is still a young man, and he would not be the first high profile public figure to walk away in disgrace, only to return to front line politics in the future.

    I think the story is now moving on to who the DUP will choose as his replacement. I think their choice will be based on who will capture the most votes in an election year. The hardliners in the party will be concerned about core DUP supporters deserting them in places like Ballymena for the TUV. They may decide to elect choose a no compromise leader like Gregory Campbell. If this did happen the current Assembly’s days would be numbered.

  • buile suibhne

    Robinson has yet to dent that he beat his wife!

  • buile suibhne

    apologies: ‘deny’ not ‘dent’! though that may have been a factor!

  • courageunderfire

    Great interview .. cutting edge Journalism

  • The Newsletter carried an interview with Iris on 2 November 2009. http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/The-Big-Interview-Iris-Robinson.5786042.jp

    So that’s post-affair, post-loan-return, and around the time Peter says they started to prepare the statements read out on Wednesday.

    Some edited highlights …

    Q: What subjects did you enjoy/not enjoy at school?

    A: … I didn’t particularly like maths. I had a teacher who, because I was taller than him in my intermediate school, picked on me. I think it was the small man syndrome. I had a hard time in maths and I developed migraines simply because of the fear of having him for four periods every Thursday. But Peter says I can add up very quickly when he owes me some money!

    However, in the end I got very friendly with the teacher. He died of cancer and Peter and I were basically the people who looked after him, visiting him and caring for him.

    Q: You turned 60 in September. How does that feel?

    A: I have no hangups about age. I have a very youthful outlook. Dealing with people every day and their problems takes your concentration away from yourself. I am privileged to do what I do and see it as a calling. Sixty is the new 40!

    Q: Is there any one ambition you would like to fulfil?

    A: Politically, I would hope that people would feel able to support me and see beyond the media hype over the last number of months. I hope that that integrity and desire to serve them will come through in terms of the next election.

    I hope I can reassure people that what I am about is not about Iris Robinson, it’s about doing what I can to help resolve issues and problems. That’s all I’ve ever been interested in.

    Q: Have you any plans to retire?

    A: I don’t think I could ever retire. I just hope that ageism isn’t something that creeps in to any election that I stand in. I can do a day’s work to match any man. I don’t like bringing gender into any equation, but I’ve so much still to do and so much want to be part of the political life because I see good times ahead. When you love what you do it’s a gift.

  • LabourNIman

    once I got to the ‘do you beat your wife’ part I stopped reading.

    Many will praise you for asking that kind of thing, I think it just makes you look like a hack.

  • Danny Boy

    I was glad to see the question about domestic violence, but the ‘why did your wife shag a 19 year old’ question was utterly pointless.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Eamonn, that was a great interview. I’m relieved that we have some journalists over here who know how to get to the heart of the matter. I remember when Ian Paisley stepped down as leader, the journalists submitted themselves to the control of DUP organizers who imposed severe restrictions on the interviews given and the line of questioning permitted. The fact that such controls were not imposed this time (or if they were, you chose to ignore them) shows how the DUP organization is in disarray.

    I wonder what kind of medical advice the family had sought in the 8 hours prior to the doctor being called.

    LabourNIman,

    Those particular allegations put to Robinson by Mallie are persistent. I first heard them about 15 years ago and I keep hearing them. There is no evidence to substantiate them, of course, but the line of questioning comes from the fact that the nature and state of the Robinson marriage is now deemed to be a matter of public interest.

  • Rory Carr

    Quite right, Danny Boy. The question should have been:

    “What on earth attraction could your 60 year old wife have possibly held out that enticed a 19 year old lad into believing that she was worth shagging?”

  • LukeCass

    Great interview Eamonn, Devenport and Reid should have red faces. It seems they were sucked in by the “emotional chat with poor Peter on the sofa.”

    Haha:
    “What on earth attraction could your 60 year old wife have possibly held out that enticed a 19 year old lad into believing that she was worth shagging?”

    Indeed Rory Carr ! My guess would be another 50,000 big ones.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Labour, it is an accusation that has gone round for years and has been hard to avoid, it has been something that has influenced my thoughts, probably unfairly without proof but we are human, I was glad therefore when Eamonn asked the question as I generally take a person at their word and a straightforward “no” or some sort of similar denial would have finally allayed those concerns, but as Danny Boy pointed out the answer seemed to be Iris’ biographer says it is lies. If Peter wants to clear this rumour then he should refute it in the strongest terms possible, and leave the lawyers out of it, the last resort and all that.

  • courageunderfire

    haha.. shagging a 60 year old.. he should have been at the Europa getting a medal and award for that one

  • Mrazik

    I think community confidence requires that we see bank statements.

  • smcgiff

    ‘haha.. shagging a 60 year old.. he should have been at the Europa getting a medal and award for that one’

    What is it with Wayne Rooney and your man Kirk?

    Now Iris does look well fit for a 60 year old, but excellent make-up and designer clothes can only do so much when up against the ageing process.

    However, I agree with Danny Boy – “Why did your wife engage in an affair with a nineteen year old teenager?” was below the belt. You were obviously trying for information relating to the state of Iris and Peter’s relationship – but this question wasn’t the way to do it.

    Good interview – but I imagine it’s your last interview with Peter regardless of whether he is FM. 🙂

  • danielmoran

    courageunderfire msg 9
    Well he did in a way. from iris herself, who insisted on taking her cut. Pimping is the word that springs to mind.

  • Echos

    Eamon:

    Is this an example of you having performed greatly, or greatness thrust upon you? Same question for Kirk.

  • he didn’t even answer your first question

  • Peter Fyfe

    Damien

    According to the Irish News today, the other developer was appointed to the board of titanic quarter developments on the recommendation of the MP for the area, no less than PR himself. I am sure he has plenty of people that he has helped get appointed to jobs that give his wife 25k and don’t mention it.

  • buile suibhne

    There is another point and that is ‘why you did not shop your wife’. Tessa Jowell resigned her cabinet post after her husband was associated with corruption in Italy. While she had done no wrong she realised that she would become the story and needed to distance herself from him and her post.
    So what about peter? The fact that he did not blow the whistle on Iris but merely get her to do the right thing was in effect pushing her corrupt actions in relation to the tendering of the cafe under the carpet. Did he know about that? Could he have known? Even if he did not did was he unknowingly complicit in brushing a crime under the carpet. If it is to be seen as a crime of course!

  • Peter,

    Happy new year, I hope you’re keeping well. I saw that in David Gordon’s excellent piece – actually I wasn’t that concerned by it. However it may have come about, KC is clearly an experienced and successful developer and probably had a strong CV for the post. Whether Robinson should have interfered or advocated is another question and is more disturbing, but I think the constituency office questions are of greater import, meriting further investigation.

    Take care of yourself btw, they’re a litigious bunch, as everyone says.

  • don’t start an interview by letting the person not answer the first question

  • Skintown Lad

    Some of your questions were well off course, Eamonn. Of what relevance to the public is the answer to the question: “Why did your wife engage in an affair with a nineteen year old teenager?”. I’m glad he gave you a telling off for that because you certainly deserved it.

  • LabourNIman

    Sorry everyone, a hack is a hack. Regardless if there has been rumors, the question shows that the interviewer holds no personal boundaries for other people. Even those in the public spotlight.

    Even if it is true, and regardless of a 19 year old glory hunter spilling the beans for money, it shouldn’t be asked.

  • Pigeon Toes

    I’ve asked this on another thread.

    If as Petr Robinson states his wife is too ill to give coherent answers, why did they allow her to make a statement?

    Who has Power of Attorney?

    Did Iris pen the statement?

    I’ve also noted that he is prepared to accept all aspects of the Spotlight programme.

    Except those which paint him in a bad light…

  • sigh

    I’m afraid I got stuck at this point, “She made it clear in her autobiography – it was authored by someone else”

    If he can’t get that simple distinction…

  • still flabbergasted by this interview, you at least lead up to questions like this. you didn’t get any new info on the political scandal.

    im surprised the guy didn’t punch you,ironic as that would be.