Northern Ireland riveted by scandal involving Iris Robinson, wife of government leader

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — A political scandal riveting Northern Ireland has a certain cinematic feel: an affair by a 58-year-old woman named Mrs. Robinson with a 19-year-old male lover.

Five separate Facebook groups with hundreds of followers have sprung up, lampooning the affair and comparing it to the 1967 film The Graduate.

But there is a serious side to the story of Iris Robinson, who also happens to be a member of Parliament and the wife of Peter Robinson — Northern Ireland's government leader.

The BBC's investigation team in Belfast reported that Iris Robinson allegedly solicited $80,000 from business executives so that her young lover could open a restaurant — without disclosing the fact to lawmakers.

Iris Robinson has said she will not seek re-election because she is suffering from clinical depression that has left her unable to function in public life, and she revealed that she attempted suicide. She also begged for forgiveness from her husband and the public.

Peter Robinson, who in 2008 succeeded the Rev. Ian Paisley as head of Northern Ireland's government and its major Protestant political party, vowed Friday to stay on, despite the revelations about his wife. He said he hadn't known key details of his wife's affair before the BBC program.

The Robinsons have been married for 40 years and have three grown children.

The BBC interviewed the former boyfriend, Kirk McCambley, now 21, who had a relationship with Iris Robinson in 2008 that lasted several months. She had been friends with the boy's father, who died earlier that year.

"She looked out for me to make sure I was okay," McCambley told the BBC.

He said Iris Robinson, now 60, gave him two checks for $40,000 each, but she then asked him for $8,000 back, possibly to donate to the evangelical Protestant church she attends.

The BBC said Peter Robinson was aware of the financial deal — which should have been reported to British parliamentary standards authorities in both Belfast and London. Peter Robinson denies having known about the deal.

The affair had Protestants and Catholics united in gossip Friday — including at the Lock Keepers Inn, McCambley's thriving cafe.

"It is just such a surprise, to think with someone so young," said Janice Richards, 33, sipping tea while her baby slept beside her in a stroller.

Northern Ireland riveted by scandal involving Iris Robinson, wife of government leader 01/08/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 8, 2010 11:07pm]

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