Thursday, 7 January 2010

Suspicion that questions remain unanswered as public stays polarised on Robinsons.

If I’m honest, there was a moment when I wondered whether an article I'd written for yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph, criticising Peter Robinson’s conduct after Cardinal Daly’s death, might not have been rather badly timed.

Watching the television broadcast, during which the First Minister issued a statement about his wife’s affair and subsequent suicide attempt, was a disconcerting experience. It felt like an intrusion on personal trauma. It was difficult not to react, instinctively, with sympathy and pity.

For the time being, the public mood, and media reaction, has swung, predictably enough, in the Robinsons’ favour. But the truth is that the about turn hasn’t been as dramatic as one might expect and neither has it been universal. There remains a degree of cynicism about the timing of these revelations and the sequence of events which led to the First Minister’s statement. The curious formulations which Robinson used to respond to financial allegations did little to dispel a sense that there is more of this story to come.

When I revisited the contents of my article, in light of what we had learned, I wondered whether it impacted upon any of the points which I had made, or invalidated my criticism of the First Minister and the DUP / Sinn Féin carve-up. Honestly I believe that the thrust of the piece stands scrutiny.

It WAS fair to expect a response, issued on behalf of the DUP leader, to Cardinal Daly’s death. Robinson’s response WAS characteristically petulant and the media’s cynicism WAS conditioned by contradictory messages, sent out over months and years, by the First Minister and his party.

Although the Robinsons’ crisis has blown up in the media over a period of days, it is important to remember that for the family, the apogee was nine months ago. Iris Robinson announced her withdrawal from public life after Christmas. Peter Robinson became ‘out of circulation’ over the weekend. But the events which apparently led to all this trauma took place in March last year, and the period immediately before.

In addition, there remain lingering suggestions of financial impropriety. Clearly, although the BBC had been summoned to the Robinson’s Dundonald home in order to film a carefully scripted statement, its journalists did not feel that all the questions which they had raised were satisfactorily answered. Today, Bobballs hints at a link between Iris’ lover and public money issued by Castlereagh Borough Council (Iris is a prominent councillor).

A Spotlight documentary, due to be screened on the BBC, is now the focus of frenzied speculation, which previously centred around the First Minister’s possible resignation.

There are a number of sets of circumstances which could explain why Peter Robinson withdrew to his family home this week. Few would excuse his failure to respond, in timely fashion, to Cardinal Daly’s death.

There may, for instance, have been issues pertaining to Iris’s affair which were not known to Peter in March last year. Some of these matters might have been financial. Their disclosure might even have been prompted by a forthcoming Spotlight documentary.

If the Robinsons wished to take charge of a set of events which were spiralling out of control and limit damage to Peter, then they would have been hard pressed to deliver a more effective piece of crisis management. If the revelations end here, then the First Minister will probably emerge from the episode with his reputation undamaged, and a little more time in which to solve the policing and justice impasse.

But there remains a widespread suspicion that the story has not yet reached its conclusion.

For now, your chosen interpretation of the Robinson saga is likely to be determined by the view you previously held of the couple. Supporters will choose to see a flawed, ill woman and a brave husband, struggling to come top terms with events which have reached a sudden crescendo. Opponents will suspect an exercise in media manipulation, timed to halt a story which was quickly gaining momentum.


Timothy Belmont said...

As neither a supporter, nor an ememy, of the Robinsons I was quite startled by the developments.

Perhaps Iris Robinson ought to have stayed out of Politics. Who knows?

Do we know when the Spotlight programme will be broadcast?

Sam Semple said...

Yesterday's charade was all about buying time for the Robbos while they plan out their lines of defence on the finance questions.

Bloggers, Journos and the public need to make sure they don't get off the hook if they've been up to financial hanky panky.

thedissenter said...

Think your point on what Peter may not have known until this past week is on the mark, as commented on Jeff Peel's Diary last night. Perhaps it was hoped initially that Iris retiring would dampen down the wider story, and then all the rest fell in to the point where the whole lot had to be spread in public - though in that case the time from knowledge to action was fairly sharp. For anyone to have to spread private personal family details out in public would take more than a day or two to steel up.

At this point all seems to be a matter of consenting adults and while scandalous, not something that need impact on Peter Robinson other than in a personal capacity.

On your BT piece. It did look out of place yesterday evening, but if it were read in the morning then it was OK. Just a case of timing - and his very expensive OFMDFM PR team should have been on the ball on that one and pushed for a joint statement...

monkeybone said...

This snmacks of damage limitation and my sympathy runs as shallow as a 1990's loyalist hunger strike threat! Public funds expended by the First Minister's wife to her twnety something year old lover! Ulster may say No! But Mrs Robinson says YES! YES! YES! I am sure Doddsy is licking his lips but we should remember his wifes credentials which are erm ah erm. Oh well onwards and downwards for politics in NI.

Anonymous said...

You know damn well why he had to make the public statement that he did. Because the BBC were planning to run a documentary about the information they had. Peter Robinson did the right thing. He bared his sould and shielded his wife and family to the best of his ability. If you could put your obvious hatred for the man to the one side you would recognise that.

David said...

'It was difficult not to react, instinctively, with sympathy and pity.'

And quite right too. Just because you disagree with someone's politics should NEVER mean that you don't appreciate their humanity. If people are in pain, we should feel for them, no matter who they are.

The frustration comes when we don't know how stage-managed public grief is, but I prefer to withhold my cynicism as much as possible.

thedissenter said...

Well there was certainly more, and no wonder PR was distracted. Still, although many will want PR to go, IR seems to have been very selective in information provided to her husband... which in the end may just save him. IR, on the other hand, is political history. Again, at this point only.

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