Robinson affair: Calls for first minister to publish legal advice

Doubts will surround the Northern Ireland first minister unless he publishes legal advice he claimed cleared him of any wrongdoing in the affairs of his wife.

The chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Christopher Kelly, has said doubts will surround Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson unless he publishes the legal advice he claimed cleared him of any wrongdoing in the financial dealings of his wife Iris.

Last month, Left Foot Forward reported the allegations made by the BBC’s Spotlight programme that Peter Robinson had breached the ministerial code by failing to declare alleged improprieties in his wife’s financial dealings, despite being aware of them.

Having stepped down temporarily to clear his name, Paul Maguire QC was appointed by the government’s legal services, the Departmental Solicitors Office, to investigate the claims made by the Spotlight programme.

At the beginning of the month, Mr Robinson resumed his duties as first minister after stating he had been cleared of any wrongdoing. In a statement he said:

“I welcome the QC’s detailed advice which follows a thorough and comprehensive examination of all the issues raised in the Spotlight programme that, on the material provided, his considered view was that there were no breaches whatsoever by me of the Ministerial Code, the Ministerial Code of Conduct, the Pledge of Office and the seven principals of public life.”

However, at the time the legal advice was not published, leading a spokesman for the Ulster Unionist Party to say:

“Mr Robinson has indicated that he has returned to office because his legal advice indicates that he has done nothing wrong. It would clearly be in the public interest for this legal opinion to be published in full.”

It now seems that Sir Christopher Kelly shares that view. Speaking before an appearance in front of Stormont’s Committee on Standards in Public Life, he said:

I think there must remain a doubt until the reported investigation is published. This is an area where transparency is important. There is no obligation, as I understand it, to publish reports of this kind, but I certainly think everyone would be well advised to publish.”

At the time, a Democratic Unionist Party spokesman made clear Robinson had expressed a desire to see the advice published, saying:

“While we understand that there are a number of legal impediments the First Minister is very keen that the advice can be released in as transparent and complete a form as possible and is asking the Minister of Finance who commissioned the advice to examine how this may be done.”

Two weeks later however and nothing has so far been published.

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