Robinson faces calls to publish legal advice in full

Robinson faces calls to publish legal advice in full
DUP leader Peter Robinson

Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson faced calls today to publish legal advice clearing him of breaching his code of office.

He has resumed his role as the North's First Minister after receiving the legal opinion, raising hopes of progress in the search for a deal to save the power-sharing government.

But ministerial executive colleague and Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said there were more questions to be answered.

“I don’t think the scope of this inquiry by senior crown counsel was sufficient to address fully public interest issues or answer the questions that are out there,” Ms Ritchie, a nationalist SDLP leadership candidate, said.

She added that she had the utmost respect for the barrister who produced the advice, Paul Maguire QC, and said she was sure he had done a thorough job.

Mr Robinson has said he is happy to co-operate with other reviews.

An Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) spokesman said there should be full transparency.

“It would clearly be in the public interest for this legal opinion to be published in full,” he said.

“However there are also ongoing investigations, including a police inquiry, together with investigations by Parliamentary, Assembly and Electoral Commission authorities.

“We will await the conclusion of those investigations with interest.”

In the latest move, after weeks of drama at Stormont, Mr Robinson said he had been cleared of breaching his code of office in the first of a series of probes into his handling of the financial scandal surrounding his wife, Iris.

This comes as his party was accused of being split over proposals for a deal on policing, justice and parades with Sinn Féin after nearly two weeks of round-the-clock negotiations.

And with the DUP denying internal divisions, and the Government still searching for agreement, there is speculation yesterday’s announcement may strengthen Mr Robinson’s hand.

Mr Robinson stepped down temporarily from the job on January 11, after it emerged that his wife secured £50,000 (€57,000) from two property developers to set her teenage lover up in business while she was an MP.

A BBC documentary questioned whether Mr Robinson, who was said to have known that his wife had received the money, should have informed the authorities.

Confirming that he was replacing temporary First Minister Arlene Foster, also of the DUP, after a legal review of the case, Mr Robinson said: “I welcome the QC’s detailed advice which follows a thorough and comprehensive examination of all the issues raised in the Spotlight programme that, on the material provided, his considered view was that there were no breaches whatsoever by me of the Ministerial Code, the Ministerial Code of Conduct, the Pledge of Office and the seven principles of public life.”

Mr Robinson said he had informed the Assembly Speaker that he was to resume his role as First Minister following the legal opinion sought by the Departmental Solicitor’s Office from Paul Maguire QC.

Mr Robinson said of the findings: “His advice supports my consistent contention that I have acted at all times properly and in full compliance with my public duties.”

The DUP leader, who has been involved in the talks with Sinn Féin, added: “I am therefore glad that at this critical time I can resume fully the functions of my office with confidence.”

He still faces parliamentary probes, while the police are reviewing the claims made against his wife, the former MP for Strangford, but there was speculation that Mr Robinson’s return to office could help deliver a deal with Sinn Féin.

He said he looked forward to the outcome of other reviews of the allegations against his wife and his knowledge of the episode.

Mr Robinson said he would then “determine what legal action I should take against the BBC and others”, but the BBC said it stood by its programme.

A DUP spokesman said: “While we understand that there are a number of legal impediments the First Minister is very keen that the advice can be released in as transparent and complete a form as possible, and is asking the minister of finance (Sammy Wilson), who commissioned the advice, to examine how this may be done.”

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