The First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, has temporarily stepped down. Robinson has been implicated in a scandal relating to his wife’s financial dealings. The scandal has thrown the delicate political process into chaos.
Robinson, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), is accused of having knowledge of his wife’s dealings and failing to report them. Iris Robinson acquired £50,000 from two property developers to help her lover, 19 year old Kirk McCambley, set up a business. She failed to declare the money to the authorities at Westminster and Stormont.
Arlene Foster, Minister for Enterprise, has taken over from Robinson and will remain as First Minister for six weeks while Robinson attempts to clear his name. The DUP has reiterated that this is a temporary measure and Robinson will return to his position as First Minister. Robinson has asked for two government enquiries.
The NI assembly’s Standards and Privileges Committee is to examine whether Robinson has breached the ministerial code. A separate investigation will also take place at Westminster. Solicitors from the Department of First Minister and Deputy First Minister have indicated that Robinson has not broken any rules.
In a statement to the assembly Foster said: “I am personally confident and my party is very confident that this will confirm that Peter Robinson acted entirely properly at all times.”
The next six weeks will be crucial for the DUP, as their party leader seeks to clear his name. If Robinson fails to do this he may be forced to resign. Many commentators have suggested that Nigel Dodds, the current Deputy Leader, would be a likely successor.
The scandal will have far reaching consequences, particularly in relation to the devolution of policing and justice. In recent months tension between the DUP and Sinn Fein over the issue has been mounting. This latest scandal has serious implications for the next round of negotiations and threatens to derail the political process in Northern Ireland.
If both parties fail to resolve the deadlock, it is likely that the assembly will be dissolved, and governing power will return to London, something which the people of Northern Ireland do not wish to see happen.