The ongoing saga of the Robinsons is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining spectacles in Northern Ireland for many a long day. Its focus changes from day to day – from shock to sympathy, to amusement, to naked vengeance.
But questions that should be answered remain unasked. Why, for instance, was Peter Robinson so upset in his interview when, in fact, he had known all of the facts of the case for around 10 months? He had learned of Iris’s affair, her financial dealings, and her suicide attempt, since early 2009 – so why was he acting like a broken man in 2010 when the whole world saw him smiling and laughing on television on the day after Iris’s suicide attempt?
Either Peter Robinson was upset because he knew that the imminent revelations were likely to destroy his political career, or he was a good actor seeking to sway public opinion in advance of the revelations.
A more important question remains, though. Why did these revelations come out now – 18 months after Iris’s affair, and 10 months after her suicide attempt? It is certain that a number of people, and organisations, knew about both events. An affair – even a brief one – is almost impossible to keep secret even if one is not in the public eye. But Iris must have been the subject of some interest from the media, and probably the various ‘security services’. Her numerous text messages, cited in the Spotlight programme, cannot have gone unnoticed by those agencies which monitor such things. A suicide attempt, involving at least two different doctors, cannot have gone unrecorded. And yet, there was a complete media silence until 6 January 2010.
Why? Who could have benefited from covering these events up ... and from uncovering them?
One possibility – not the only one, of course – is that the timing of the revelations was planned by certain agencies to cause the maximum damage to the House of Robinson, and to the DUP.
Who might benefit from DUP weakness? Well, the UUP for one. Apart from North Antrim and North Belfast, every seat that the DUP might lose would go to the UUP – or to UCUNF – thereby adding to the Tories chances of gaining the majority in this year’s Westminster election. If the results in Britain are close, then even an extra three of four Northern Irish seats might be vital. If the cost of such seats is Iris’s mental health and Peter’s career, then so be it. England’s Tories, and Britain’s security services (which tend to be pro-Tory) have done much worse in the past. A subtle leak that destroys the House of Robinson may have seemed additionally sweet to those Tories who remember the DUP’s support for Gordon Brown’s pointless proposal to extend the maximum time police could hold ‘terror’ suspects to 42 days, and in particular Iris Robinson’s reported ‘nine-finger’ gesture to the Tories in the House of Commons. As the expression goes, revenge is a dish best served cold – but if it happens also to give the Tories an electoral advantage, then it must have tasted good.