Northern Ireland

Iris Robinson in 'serious breach', and Peter Robinson cleared, says committee

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Media captionAlastair Ross, chair of the Standards and Privileges committee, said there was a "serious breach" of conduct

Iris Robinson committed a "serious breach" of the Northern Ireland Assembly's code of conduct, an investigation has found.

The assembly's Committee on Standards and Privileges report follows BBC Spotlight allegations four years ago.

Mrs Robinson broke assembly rules by failing to register three payments, including two from property developers to help her teenage lover.

The investigation found First Minister Peter Robinson did not breach the code.

'Important'

A Democratic Unionist Party spokesperson welcomed the report, and called on the BBC to "apologise for its malicious comments" made about Mr Robinson.

In a letter included in the report dated 1 August 2014, Mr Robinson said he wanted "an unconditional and fulsome apology from the BBC".

A BBC spokeswoman said: "The key facts as laid out by the programme in relation to Iris and Peter Robinson do not appear to be disputed by the Assembly Commissioner for Standards' report. Spotlight did not allege that Peter Robinson had breached the members' code."

The spokeswoman said the BBC was satisfied that the Spotlight investigation raised legitimate, and important, issues of public interest.

"Our journalism was fair, robust and evidence-based," she added.

BBC Spotlight programme four years ago revealed Iris Robinson's financial and personal relationship with the then 19-year-old businessman, Kirk McCambley.

The January 2010 programme revealed Mrs Robinson obtained £50,000 from two property developers in order to help Mr McCambley secure a tender for a south Belfast café, the Lock Keeper's Inn.

One of the property developers had agreed to provide money on condition that Mr McCambley give £5,000 from the payment to Mrs Robinson to use for charitable purposes.

'Persecution'

The first minister temporarily delegated his responsibilities to a colleague, and Mrs Robinson stood down as an MP, MLA and Castlereagh councillor.

In a letter submitted to the committee, Mr Robinson described the media's reporting of the allegations as a "witch-hunt", and said the "persecution of Iris" was "dark and brutal".

The Stormont Standards Commissioner, Douglas Bain, found that Mrs Robinson had committed only one breach of the code of conduct, but that it was a "serious" breach.

He found that Mrs Robinson had failed to register the two payments from the property developers, and payments totalling £5,000 by Mr McCambley to her, in the assembly's register of members' interests.

Mr Bain said: "Although there is no evidence that any of the three payments was in fact connected with her role as an MLA, they would assuredly have been perceived, by members of the public who became aware of them, as likely to influence her actions as an MLA.

"The fact that she failed to register them itself adds weight to the perception of their improper nature.

"In these circumstances she had a clear duty to register the payments. She failed in that duty."

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Image caption The Northern Ireland Assembly has released its findings on claims made by Spotlight on Peter and Iris Robinson

The commissioner cleared her of breaking the code of conduct in relation to several other claims made in the Spotlight programme.

Mr Bain also found that the Mr Robinson had not broken any rules.

He said: "I am satisfied that none of the allegations made in that programme against Mr Peter Robinson could, even if established as true, constitute a breach of... the code of conduct."

MLAs on the Standards and Privileges Committee unanimously endorsed the commissioner's findings.

'Damage'

The BBC Spotlight programme was broadcast in 2010.

The commissioner produced a draft report in November 2013. Its publication was delayed after a lawyer acting for Mrs Robinson was concerned that some material might infringe his client's privacy and have a negative impact on her health.

A final report was submitted to the committee in July this year.

The leader of the Ulster Unionist party, Mike Nesbitt, compared the publication of the report to "the North Korean culture of tell-you-nothing".

Alliance MLA, Anna Lo said: "This report should have been published years ago. Serious damage has been done to public confidence in the political institutions by the length of time taken to publish this report."

She added: "I'm concerned that too much was deleted from the commissioner's report and what has been published does not do justice to his original report."

Ms Lo's comments were challenged by South Belfast DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt.

"It should be noted this report was agreed unanimously by the Standards Committee, including Ms Lo.," he said.

"Furthermore, the record shows that Anna only voted against three of the redactions, most of which were on the basis of legal opinion."

He added: "It is equally strange for the UUP leader to make comments which stand in stark contrast to the actions of the UUP's representative on the committee who only voted against two of the redactions."

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