January 10, 2010 in Nation/World

N. Ireland leader’s wife to step down

Iris Robinson embattled over affair
Associated Press
File Associated Press photo

Iris Robinson is shown with her husband, Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, in June 2008. Iris Robinson will soon step down as a lawmaker.
(Full-size photo)

LONDON – The wife of Northern Ireland’s leader will step down as a lawmaker within days, British media reported Saturday, as pressure mounted on Peter Robinson’s shaky coalition government over her admissions of an affair with a far-younger man.

The BBC and Britain’s Press Association cited unidentified sources within the Robinsons’ Democratic Unionist Party as saying that his wife Iris, 60, would relinquish her dual position as parliamentarian in London and representative to Northern Ireland’s regional assembly in Belfast within days.

The reported move follows the revelation that she had an adulterous relationship with a man nearly 40 years her junior – and allegations that she solicited tens of thousands of dollars from businessmen to help the teenager launch a cafe.

Iris Robinson was 58 at the time, and the man, Kirk McCambley, was 19.

News of the affair has played poorly with the Robinsons’ socially conservative political base. Protestant minister Rev. David McIlveen, a friend of former Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley, who preceded Robinson as Northern Ireland’s first minister, said Peter Robinson needed to step down – at least for a while.

“I do believe that his position is becoming increasingly untenable,” he told the BBC. “He has a major problem with regard to solving his own family difficulties, and I personally cannot take the view that a person’s private life does not affect their public life.”

The scandal has turned the couple into a target of ridicule in the British press. Five separate Facebook groups with hundreds of followers have sprung up, lampooning the affair and comparing it to the 1967 film “The Graduate,” in which an older woman named Mrs. Robinson has a relationship with a much younger man.

The scandal could have serious political consequences, as well. Robinson’s shaky coalition with Irish Catholics – the central achievement of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord – is already under strain over his refusal to agree to transfer responsibility for Northern Ireland’s justice system from London to Belfast.

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