PETER ROBINSON’s bid to face down unionist hardliners trying to block a deal on devolution with Sinn Féin was strengthened last night as he resumed the role of First Minister.
The DUP leader said a legal probe had cleared him of breaching the Belfast Assembly’s code of ethics over the financial scandal which engulfed his wife Iris Robinson and her teenage lover. Mr Robinson stepped down temporarily as First Minister after it emerged his wife secured £50,000 from property developers to help the 19 year old she was having an affair with set up his own cafe business.
Mr Robinson’s future as First Minister had been thrown into uncertainty by a BBC programme which claimed that in not reporting his wife Iris’s financial dealings to the relevant authorities, he had broken the code which governs Stormont politicians.
The First Minister said he had been cleared of any wrong-doing by the investigation by a senior Queens Counsel which he himself had set-up.
The move came earlier than expected and bolsters his position as he battles hard liners in his own party opposed to a deal with Sinn Féin which would see policing and justice powers devolved from London by early May.
As negotiations dragged into their ninth day, Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward warned the talks were “on a knife-edge” and failure to reach an agreement would put much of the achievements of the peace process at risk.
A rebellion by a third of his Assembly members forced Mr Robinson to back off from a deal on Monday as hard liners demanded concessions from Republicans on Orange Order marches being allowed through nationalist areas.
The Taoiseach and British Premier Gordon Brown have been on stand-by for several days to return to Belfast and seal a final agreement.
Mr Cowen said the Irish and British governments may have to step in if the parties do not broker a solution, but he said a local settlement would be more solid.
“If, however, that is not possible, the Governments must take on their responsibilities and respond to public opinion with Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland, whereby people want to see the talks concluded successfully, with the institutions they have voted for working as envisaged,” Mr Cowen said.
Senior DUP figures again denied widespread claims the party was seriously split over the negotiations with Sinn Féin and that Mr Robinson may have to put his leadership on the line in order to bring the bulk of his colleagues with him into an agreement with Republicans which would effectively complete the 1998 Good Friday Accord.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved