Sunday, January 10, 2010

N.Ireland leader's wife under psychiatric treatment

BELFAST — The disgraced politician wife of Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson is undergoing intensive psychiatric treatment as her husband's future hangs in the balance, he said.

Iris Robinson is being treated after revelations she had an affair with a lover 40 years her junior and secured 50,000 pounds (56,000 euros, 80,000 dollars) from two wealthy developers to help him set up a restaurant.

She is quitting her seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly and Britain's House of Commons, and pressure is mounting on her husband to resign over allegations about how much he knew about his wife's financial dealings.

Robinson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), moved to quash speculation about 60-year-old Iris' whereabouts, saying: "Iris is receiving acute psychiatric treatment from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust."

His wife has been suffering from acute depression.

Her former lover, Kirk McCambley, now 21, has refused to comment on the allegations.

Robinson has vowed to clear his name, but one of his predecessors as leader of the semi-autonomous British-run province said Sunday his position was becoming untenable.

David Trimble, who jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for his efforts to bring stability to Northern Ireland after three decades of violence, predicted in a BBC interview that Robinson would quit in the "next few days".

Trimble, an Ulster Unionist who was Northern Ireland's inaugural first minister from 1999, said: "If (Peter Robinson) is going to fight to clear his name, then the place to do that is from the back benches.

"To have a situation where a party leader sees his wife expelled from the party and acquiesces in it, doesn't even persuade the party to give her a decent way out, shows there has been a complete loss of authority."

Robinson denies any knowledge of his wife's financial dealings. If he had been aware of them, he should have reported them to parliamentary authorities.

The scandal emerged as tensions were already running high between the pro-British Protestant DUP and its Catholic partners in the power-sharing government in Belfast, Sinn Fein, who want a united Ireland.

The two former arch-enemies have shared power since 2007 but have failed to reach agreement on when policing powers for the province should be transferred from London to Belfast, the final part of the devolution process.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams vowed to keep working to resolve Northern Ireland's political problems, regardless of the scandal.

"There is a crisis but it is a political crisis. That is the difference," he said. "We are prepared and others are prepared to work through these issues and more particularly to work beyond these issues."

Fears of a return to violence in the province rose significantly last year, when two British soldiers and a policeman were shot dead in attacks claimed by dissident republicans.

In the latest incident Friday, a Catholic police officer was seriously injured after a bomb exploded under his car as he drove to work. He remains in a critical condition.