The ideal temporary little arrangement
We tend to instinctually think that it is the right and honourable thing for a Minister to do to resign if there has been a hint of wrongdoing. It’s frequently said of Irish Ministers that they don’t take fall on their sword and take that ultimate responsibility, often for faults that are later forgotten. People wonder why it is that we don’t have this in our culture; after all, Peter Mandelson does it all the time.
Sometimes, though, it isn’t the best thing to do. In the case of Peter Robinson, after hearing that had left some of his wife’s financial dealings undisclosed and only revealed them now that he was being investigated by Spotlight and Panorama, many people felt that his position was untenable. Then, we wondered if it would be worth it, given the instability that exists already in the process of devolution. Given that there is at least some professional relationship and understanding between Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, this would be set back if a new DUP leader were to succeed him. This new leader would not as strong a figure within Unionism as Mr Robinson. And he would have to be put to a vote of the Assembly, jointly with Martin McGuinness, which could not be secured at this impasse.
Then consider the human element of the story. Iris Robinson’s affair and the financial impropriety that followed cannot be laid at the hands of her husband. When he found out about it, she was in a state of mental distress and suicidal.
Under these circumstances it should really be enough that he did everything mostly right. As I said elsewhere, I would not like to think that I’d have acted much differently in a similar situation.
Also, given the increasing suspicion that Gerry Adams concealed knowledge of his brother’s paedophilic abuse, the Robinson affair has been put in some perspective.
The six-week break from his duties, with Arlene Foster now as Acting First Minister (progress as some small level to have a woman in the office), he can allow the investigation to continue. The report may find minor misdemeanours, but nothing to warrant his resignation. He might be subject to censure by the Assembly, but nothing more. This will bring us up to 22 February, with the Westminster election expected in May. Hopefully enough time to put this behind, and allow the DUP and UUP/Conservatives to focus on minimizing the impact of Jim Allister and the Traditional Unionist Voice, which does not really have the manpower to launch a serious attack on a unified DUP.