To understand how it came crashing down, one must first understand the foundations from which it was built. The Robinson dynasty has its genesis in the property and development market and within the formative days of the Democratic Unionist Party.
The lucrative dynasty almost ended many years prior to the Nama scandal, when Peter Robinson’s wife, Iris, was caught having an affair with 19 year old Kirk McCambley. That young man’s life was never the same afterwards- he was set up and ultimately exiled in the most Machiavellian way.
Peter Robinson is a Unionist politician in Northern Ireland, the current First Minister (at the time of writing) and the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, a party he co-founded along with the late Rev Ian Paisley in 1970. Born on 29th December 1948, Robinson was in his early twenties when the troubles began in Northern Ireland. He was among a great number of young and articulate Unionists and Loyalists that rallied behind the stirring speeches and passionate calls to defend Ulster that epitomised one of Unionisms most charismatic leaders, Ian Paisley.
Robinson was initially a Parliamentary assistant to Ian Paisley before becoming the secretary of the DUP in 1975. His position as secretary gave Robinson a great deal of latitude when it came to shaping the party and its early policies. With an intelligent, sharp and strategic mind, Robinson was one of the key architects of DUP strategy from the earliest days of the party.
In 1977 the young Peter Robinson was elected for the first time, taking a seat on Castlereagh Borough Council and in 1979 Robinson became the youngest serving member of Parliament when he took the East Belfast constituency seat, a seat he held until 2010 when he lost out to Alliance party candidate, Naomi Long, in a shock defeat. He was re-elected to Westminster in 1983, 1992, 1986 (He resigned his seat in 1985 in protest at Anglo-Irish Agreement but was re-elected in a by election the following year) 1987, 1992, 2001 and 2005. Following the aforementioned defeat to Naomi Long in 2010, it became a personal crusade for Peter Robinson to win back East Belfast. Ever since the defeat in 2010 he had endured the taunts of political opponents. During a rally outside the Maze prison site, protesting against a planned IRA shrine, one speaker told the crowd that “Peter Robinson couldn’t even hold East Belfast for the Union.” In 2015 the DUP regained the East Belfast seat, with considerable assistance from the UUP who agreed to an electoral pact. Belfast City councilor, Robinson protégé and namesake, Gavin, was elected. It is a common that people think Gavin Robinson is related to Peter Robinson; in fact the two are no relation whatsoever. Peter Robinson has two sons; one is called Gareth, a lobbyist who was deeply involved in Namagate. His other son is called Jonathan and his only daughter is called Rebekah.
Peter Robinson, in his early days, prior to his election successes, worked as a clerk in McConnell-Martin estate agents and earned around £40 a week. He was described as an intelligent and shrewd business operator with a keen eye for detail.
When Peter entered politics a shrewd Fred Fraser, a now deceased property developer, spotted the potential in the young political activist. He could see that Peter Robinson was destined for a political life of power and influence- so Fraser made an investment. He hedged his bets on Robinson and it proved to be the start of a long and fruitful relationship, which earned both men a lot of money but also quite nearly brought it all crashing down on more than one occasion.
When Peter Robinson was first elected he purchased a dilapidated bungalow, situated just behind where the Dundonald Ice Bowl now is. The bungalow was a 1200 Sq. Ft. property and was ideal for Peter and Iris, a young couple setting up a family home.
David Harper was an architect who once worked for Fred Fraser and his brother Bill. David Harper never really liked Fred Fraser so when he and his brother Bill fell out, he went along with Bill to continue his work there. At this stage in the story however, Harper was an architect working for both brothers.
Fred Fraser asked Harper to draw up plans for an extension to Robinson’s bungalow, he done this and the extension was completed. There was never an invoice passed between Robinson and Fraser- this was done in kind, a sweetener to entice the young Robinson into the world of cash, favours and gifts for influence.
Fred Fraser continued, right up until his death, to provide Peter and Iris Robinson with £10,000 each prior to every election for their ‘expenses’. Many of these donations are alleged to have never found their way into an election campaign or the DUP coffers- it was given as a ‘personal’ donation and received as such.
These donations were small in comparison to Fred Fraser’s other contributions to the Robinsons bank accounts. There was once a cheque for a staggering one million pounds passed between Fred Fraser and Peter Robinson. A DUP councillor resigned in protest after personally witnessing the transaction.
With Robinson’s political career flourishing, he never found himself short of businessmen and willing allies, who were only too happy to lavish financial rewards and gifts on the young politician in return for his influence.
A bizarre incident took place during the early days of the DUP and Robinson’s rise to power. Ronnie Ferguson, a long standing UUP councillor, was a window cleaner and had acquired the contract to clean the windows in Peter Robinsons rapidly expanding Dundonald home. It has been said that whilst on the roof of Robinson’s home, he looked through a dormer window and witnessed two people making love, neither of whom was Peter or Iris Robinson. Sammy Wilson, and another woman with strong DUP links, was using the Robinson home for their sexual purposes. It is unclear whether Peter and Iris consented to this, but it does seem unthinkable that Sammy Wilson- and his lady friend- would have broken into the home of Peter Robinson. Eileen Paisley would later quip, in a television interview, that “all the sleaze came from Peter’s house”.
Ronnie Ferguson later had a run in with Peter Robinson over damage the window cleaner caused to an archway that had been built, by Fred Fraser, between Robinson’s house and garage. Ferguson had clipped the archway with ladders that were pointing skywards from his trailer, rather than in their usual position attached to the roof of his car. A furious Robinson demanded remedy and Ronnie Ferguson, extremely embarrassed by the incident, organised and paid for the repair himself. This, however, did not stop Peter Robinson from submitting an insurance claim in the region of £1,100 for the damaged archway.
In the early 1980’s, following his elevation to Deputy Leader of the DUP, Peter Robinson began a project, without the knowledge of Ian Paisley, which eventually led to the formation of Ulster Resistance and the arrest of three of their members in Paris in 1989. Robinson held two all day ‘strategic sessions’, over two successive Saturdays during the mid-1980’s. The agenda for these sessions had three items- The purchase of property by the DUP, methods of increasing party membership and a close working relationship with loyalist paramilitaries. The DUP would later call for the death sentence for loyalist prisoners.
These strategic planning days were attended by party members such as Gregory Campbell, Nigel Dodds, Roy Thompson, Denny Vitty and Cedric Wilson. After the two Saturday sessions, a thick document- around 1.5 inches- was drawn up. The document outlined the strategic vision of the DUP in terms of building a property portfolio, increasing their party membership and integration with a loyalist paramilitary organisation. Robinson always envisaged the DUP having a closer working relationship with the UDA, although many loyalist paramilitaries resented the DUP and especially their leader Ian Paisley. The loyalist organisations suspected that they were only cannon fodder for the DUP, who would use them as muscle and later condemn them, or worse still, call for them to be hung. In 1985 Robinson told a car full of Unionist activists, returning from Portadown where young loyalist Keith White had just been killed by a rubber bullet, that he wanted a “nice wee army, who would throw bricks and stones when told and stop when told.” Denny Vitty, Alan Wright of the Ulster Clubs and two other men were present in the car during this conversation.
It would be many years later and only following the coup that removed Ian Paisley Snr that Robinson’s early vision of closer integration with a loyalist organisation would come to fruition. In 2011 the UDA, particularly in Robinson’s heartland of East Belfast, began to “link in with the DUP” in the words of an East Belfast UPRG community leader speaking to Josephine Long for a BBC Radio Ulster documentary during the Union Flag protests of 2012/13. This “link in”- particularly in East Belfast- was seen as part of an attempt by the UDA at moving on a path of strategic integration into the political process and civic society. The Ulster Democratic Party, which had represented the UDA during the Belfast Agreement negotiations were defunct by 2011 and the Ulster Political Research Group had taken up the role of a lobbying group.
In September and October 2015 a UDA magazine “the Loyalist” was openly critical of the DUP and Robinson in particular. The magazine appeared to reflect a ground swell of anti-DUP feeling amongst grassroots Unionists and certainly won the approval of many within the Unionist community.
Following Robinson’s strategic planning days, which he had organised to coincide with periods in which Ian Paisley was out of the Country, his plans of integration with the established loyalist paramilitary groups fell through. The UVF and UDA were not keen to be used by big house Unionists and at times open hostility existed between the loyalist organisations and the DUP. This was evidenced in 1998 when a war of words erupted over the Belfast Agreement, which was supported by the Progressive Unionist Party, representing the UVF and the Ulster Democratic Party, representing the UDA. The DUP opposed the agreement and Ian Paisley denounced it as “traitors and treachery together.”
Not long after the production of the document it was not only the scorn of the UDA and UVF that threatened Robinson’s vision for a “nice wee army”, but his mentor and party leader Ian Paisley issued a stark warning to the young political hardliner that he should “avoid getting involved with paramilitaries.” A meeting, initiated by Paisley, was due to take place in his church in Belfast, but once another one of those summonsed by Paisley arrived at the Church, he was driven to the home of Peter Robinson, where Paisley delivered a withering rebuke of Robinson’s document and plans.
In 1986 however, Ian Paisleys attitude following the Anglo Irish Agreement began to soften in relation to militant loyalism and thus he supported the formation of Ulster Resistance, a group designed to protect Ulster in a doomsday scenario. Paisley has always denied that he was aware Ulster Resistance was ever going to be anything more than a Dads army, but it is hard to believe that Paisley really believed this himself. It has been claimed by prominent DUP sources that Paisley preferred to “hear no evil and see no evil” when it came to Ulster Resistance. Following the formation of Ulster Resistance the DUP lost all control over the movement and found that they were consigned to the role of bit part players. One former prominent member of Ulster Resistance had this to say in relation to the DUP:
“Following the initial political support we treated them like mushrooms. Kept them in the dark and fed them shite. We needed the initial political cover, and senior members of the DUP like to have their ego massaged, so we let them present themselves as the new Carson’s. They used us and we used them. And I think deep down they knew that and we certainly knew that.”
Others dispute that version of events and claim that Peter Robinson was kept briefed about all of Ulster Resistance’s plans via Noel Little, the father of his current special advisor Emma Pengelly. Noel Little would later find himself arrested in Paris in 1989, as part of a sting operation which had major political ramifications. The American Government and CIA were delighted with the seizure of the blowpipe missile part that Little and Ulster Resistance had stolen for their South African arms contact- had South Africa got the technology they required it would have enabled them to develop their own missile systems- something that was of a major National Security and Foreign Policy concern for the US Government and intelligence apparatus.
On the 7th of August 1986 Peter Robinson sought to demonstrate his militant leadership qualities by leading a group of around 500 loyalists on an ‘invasion’ of a small town in the Republic of Ireland- Clontibret- County Monaghan. Initially it was believed this invasion was the brainchild of DUP leader Ian Paisley, but many years later in an interview Paisley gave to Eamonn Mallie for a special program “Genesis to Revelation” – the then retired DUP leader mocked Robinson’s incursion over the border and stated that the whole plan was thought up by Peter Robinson himself. Following the explosive interview, in which both Ian and his wife Eileen participated, Peter Robinson responded by saying that he would serve Ian Paisley one last time and “bless him with his silence.”
Robinson was arrested during the ‘invasion’ and held at Monaghan Garda station. The DUP deputy leader pleaded guilty to unlawful assembly and was fined 17,500 in Irish currency. Robinson initially vowed to refuse to pay the fine but later did, leading scornful loyalists to label the future DUP leader “Peter Punt”.
As Robinson’s political career soared, he continued to use his influence to further increase his personal wealth. Fred Fraser was Robinson’s main source of ‘cash for influence’ payments and throughout Robinson’s time as a Castlereagh councillor- a role he maintained until 2 July 2007 when he resigned his seat- Fraser benefited greatly from the influence Robinson was able to exert to help “get things done”.
Fred Fraser made a considerable profit out of Cairnshill developments, which is a housing area surrounding the Four Winds bar. The area is within the boundaries of Castlereagh Borough Council, which Peter Robinson served on from 1977 until the resignation of his seat in 2007.
At one time Peter Robinson was the chairman of the council’s planning committee. When a planning appeal was held into a proposed development within the green belt area in Castlereagh, it came to the attention of the committee that Fred Fraser had options on all the lands around the proposed developments, and some of the land he owned outright. Initially, he lost the planning inquiry. However, when the then Environment Minister Lord Mitchell was taken out of the Northern Ireland Office in a cabinet reshuffle, he signed a paper giving ministerial approval for Fraser’s development scheme- overriding the planning inquiry- in his last act as minister. That summer Lord Mitchell, with the assistance of Fred Fraser, became the proud owner of a new luxury villa in Portugal .
It wasn’t the only time Fred Fraser seemed remarkably well informed and in possession of insider intelligence. Brian Patterson, who was an estate agent in Hollywood and once of McKibben and Co., once heard in advance about plans to build in the Glenmachan area. Trying to capitalise on this “insider information”, Patterson travelled widely over a number of days trying to purchase quickly any land within this particular “green belt area”. He discovered that Fred Fraser had bought up the land and options between six and eight months earlier.
Robinson greatly assisted Fraser in his development of the Castlereagh green belt area, and another regular feature of these developments was that Peter or Iris Robinson would start complaining to the Department of Environment about sewers or water supplies to the particular proposed development area, saying they were inadequate and that he had numerous complaints. Such a move once brought around £1 million expenditure on a new sewer, which ran along the dual carriageway from Cherry Hill to Quarry Corner, in Dundonald.
Word of Peter Robinson’s openness to a certain amount of bribery spread widely throughout certain business and developer circles. He was known as the ‘go to’ man who could fix planning issues and assist property developers to gain a favourable response to their needs from Government and local Council. Gilbert Graham, of Clearwater Devs and McKinneys, was involved in organising the proposed Sainsbury development of the old Supermac site and he wanted to get the approval and support of the then East Belfast MP and local Castlereagh councillor, Peter Robinson. He, like many others was aware that Robinson was open to bribery, but he was unsure how to approach this subject with the MP. A meeting was arranged in Gilbert Graham’s boardroom and following the completion of the meeting, Peter admired the boardroom table, remarking that he and Iris had always wanted such a table for their home. Within seventy two hours the boardroom table was packed and dispatched to the Robinson house as a ‘gift’. It then took pride of place in the Robinson household for quite some time.
Robinson was also not averse to using the threat of loyalist violence, which the DUP claimed to abhor, when it could assist him in his business deals. In the 1990’s a catholic businessman approached Peter Robinson during a period when the Ice Bowl was going badly and pitched the idea for Indiana Land, a children’s play area, to be opened on the premises. Robinson agreed this was a good idea and used his influence to ensure that the catholic businessman was able to rent that section of the premises from the Council. At this point in time Peter Robinson took no issue with a catholic businessman working in the area.
The business was an outstanding financial success, generating jobs for local people and income into the local economy. All of a sudden Peter Robinson approached the businessman and warned him that, in the present climate, it would be unwise for him to continue operating because loyalists were planning to attack him. Robinson was never able to substantiate this threat of potential violence or explain where the threat came from. It was put to the businessman, by Robinson, that he could either sell to the Council or to another businessman, who naturally, would be a friend of Peters.
Whilst Peter Robinson continued to inhibit the seedy cash for influence world of property developers, bankers and politicians- he also continued his rise to power within the DUP and Northern Ireland politics. In 1987 he had briefly resigned as Deputy leader of the DUP when a task force report, jointly drawn up between Robinson, Ulster Unionist Party MP Harold McCusker and Frank Miller, was dismissed by their respective party leaders- Ian Paisley and James Molyneux. He would soon return to the fold and continue as a ruthless political strategist, who was beginning to plan and plot his way to the very top of the DUP and Unionism in general. Robinson returned to the DUP fold because he knew that without the party machine he would struggle to fulfil his political ambitions. He snuggled up beside Ian Paisley once more, but he never forgot the humiliation of Paisley’s rejection of the task force report and told those close to him that one day, he would have his revenge.
The 1990’s saw the dawn of the peace process and whilst Robinson overtly resisted attempts to create a way forward that would be inclusive of the IRA’s political representatives- Sinn Fein- privately the Deputy DUP leader acknowledged that only a decision to share power would grant him his ultimate wish of reaching the pinnacle of Northern Ireland’s political sphere. Even political enemies of Peter Robinson, of which I am one, have always accepted that he is an extremely ruthless, talented and strategic political operator. His Machiavellian ways mark him out as a political climber whose pragmatism and relentless pursuit of power, and money, would always lead him to effortlessly make the transition from anti-agreement to chief implementer of the agreement.
There is no doubt that Robinson, at once stage, was a fiercely proud Ulster loyalist who would have put principle before personal gain. I got a remarkable insight into Peter Robinson during a private meeting I held with him in the summer of 2013 in his Stormont office. During the course of our conversation I asked Peter Robinson why he had changed and what prompted the change, he told me that there was an event during his political career (I am not sure of the date as I did not ask, and I do not wish to guess) when he broke through the security barrier during a protest at Stormont and charged forward with the aim of entering into the building. Robinson claims that he turned around to find that he was alone and that others had not followed him. The First Minister did not expand on this but I got the distinct feeling that it was at that particular moment, which I could tell by the expression on his face was etched deep into his psyche, he decided that he would do what was best for Peter Robinson and any thought of self-sacrifice for the cause went out the window.
Peter Robinson could also be charming, witty and compassionate. My mother met with him after I had been imprisoned for my part in the Union flag protests and she described how he spent considerable time listening to her concerns and displayed a genuine interest in my case and how he could help. As a political cynic I recognised that Peter Robinson no doubt seen the political capital to be gained out of jumping to my defence, at a time when he was being dismissed as a traitor by hard-line loyalists, but nevertheless he did not have to take the time to listen to my mother. I wrote to Peter Robinson following my release from prison to thank him for his willingness to set time aside to listen to the concerns of my family.
As the peace process gathered pace, the DUP found themselves as the main voice of Unionist opposition, they attracted at least half of the Unionist electorate to their cause as evidenced by the No vote in the 1998 referendum on the Belfast Agreement. Whilst an overwhelming majority of Nationalists and Republicans endorsed the Belfast Agreement, when it finally came, only a tissue thin majority of Unionists voted in favour of the agreement which was seen- quite rightly in my view- as a betrayal of Unionism and a sop to the terrorists of the IRA.
Peter Robinson made a famous speech following the Belfast Agreement when he stated that “the only cabinet the provos should be in, is made of wood and has brass handles”. This comment would come back to haunt Robinson as the DUP would eventually, in 2007, sign up to a mandatory power sharing coalition with Sinn Fein in which Ian Paisley, and later Peter Robinson himself, would occupy a joint First Ministers office with the former IRA Chief of Staff, Martin McGuinness.
Prior to the Belfast Agreement Robinson was elected to the Northern Ireland Forum on 30th May 1996 and served in it until it completed its work in 1998
Following the signing of the Belfast Agreement, and subsequent restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Robinson stood as an anti-agreement candidate for the DUP and was elected to the Assembly- for the Belfast East constituency- on the 25th June 1998. The DUP and anti-agreement Unionists took a considerable portion of seats in the new Assembly, which left the pro-agreement Ulster Unionist Party and their leader and First Minister, David Trimble, two short of the Unionist majority required for the cross community vote that was built into the Belfast Agreement as a so called ‘safety mechanism’- this mechanism discarded the normal democratic system of majority rule or voluntary coalition in favour of a much criticised and dysfunctional system of mandatory coalition.
David Trimble was able to count on the support of the two Progressive Unionist Party candidates, Billy Hutchinson and David Ervine, who had endorsed the agreement and campaigned for a yes vote in the referendum on the issue.
The DUP had decided to take their seats in the Assembly and run their allotted departments, but boycott the Executive due to the inclusion of Sinn Fein. Robinson’s future partner in the Office of First and Deputy First Ministers- which is in reality a joint office- Martin McGuiness, was one of those who was appointed by Sinn Fein for a ministerial post, the other was Barbara De Brun.
Robinson was the Minister for Regional Development, which has overall responsibility for the Department for Regional Development, from 29 November 1999 until 27 July 2000 and one more from 29 October 2001 until 11 October 2002. Under Robinsons ministerial leadership the DRD introduced free fares on public transport for the elderly and also helped formulate the 25- year Regional Development Strategy as well as developing the 10-year Regional Transport Strategy.
David Trimble’s power sharing Executive collapsed in 2002 amidst allegations of continued IRA activity. The DUP exerted considerable pressure on the UUP leader and in the words of one political commentator “forced him from office”. The same DUP would later implement all the core strands of the Belfast Agreement following the restoration of the power sharing Assembly in 2007.
From 2002-2007 the DUP gradually overtook the Ulster Unionist Party as the largest Unionist party and were involved in numerous talks processes aimed at restoring the Assembly. The initial pioneers of the Belfast Agreement, the UUP and SDLP, had both found themselves ditched by the electorate in favour of the DUP and Sinn Fein respectively.
The DUP claimed to have u-turned on their long term position of opposition to Sinn Fein in Government due to the alleged disbandment of the IRA- who in the interim period between 2002-2007 had murdered Short Strand man Robert McCartney and carried out the Northern Bank robbery- and the decommissioning of IRA weapons. The DUP initially demanded photographs as proof of the IRA decommissioning and Ian Paisley memorably quipped that the IRA would have to wear “sackcloth and ashes” and “repent”. In the end the DUP got no photographs and the IRA certainly did not repent. At the time of writing the current PSNI Chief Constable, George Hamilton, and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have both confirmed the continued existence of the IRA Army Council and ballistics tests on weapons and semtex recovered from so-called “dissident” republicans have shown that they have use of and access to IRA weapons- that were supposedly decommissioned. A BBC Spotlight investigation in 2014 also revealed that a senior Sinn Fein negotiator and IRA leader, Sean Murray, had engaged in a gunrunning operation to bring fresh weapons into Northern Ireland from Florida, during the period of the peace process. In the follow up searches following the current IRA Army Council sanctioned murder of Kevin McGuigan in August 2015, which was carried out in revenge for the killing of one time IRA Belfast Brigade commander, Gerard Jock Davidson, in May 2015, PSNI recovered a glock pistol- believed to have been one of the guns imported from Florida- in the home of Sinn Fein member Patrick Fitzsimons.
It was under the false premise that the IRA had stood down and got rid of all their weapons that Peter Robinson, Ian Paisley and the DUP entered power with the IRA’s political wing-Sinn Fein- in May 2007. On the 8 May 2007 Peter Robinson was nominated, and accepted, the ministerial post of Minister of Finance and Personnel. He held this position until the merciless coup that removed the founding father of the DUP, Ian Paisley, from office. Paisley announced his decision on 4th March 2008 and stated that he would officially step down in May 2008. On 17 April 2008 the coup was completed when Peter Robinson was unanimously voted leader-designate by the 120-member DUP executive committee. His co-conspirator in the move against Ian Paisley- Nigel Dodds- was also ratified as the new Deputy leader, fulfilling the position left vacant by the upward move of Peter Robinson. As Peter Robinson entered office he did so selling the lie to the Unionist community that the IRA had gone away. Everyone knew that they hadn’t, at least everyone that wanted to know knew that they hadn’t. Turbulent political and professional times lay ahead for the man who slayed the king, and wore the crown. Robinson officially became DUP leader on the 31 May 2008.
The murder of Paul Quinn, carried out by the South Armagh brigade of the IRA in October 2007 had already caused the DUP to huff and puff and threaten to blow the house down prior to Peter Robinson ousting Ian Paisley. Jeffrey Donaldson, the man who- when it came to the devolution of policing and justice- would turn a “political lifetime” into six weeks, promised there would be “consequences if the IRA were involved”. There were no consequences. The DUP were becoming accustomed to the newly found trappings of power and prestige and thus the murderous activities of the IRA no longer weighted upon their minds. Not for the first time, a blind eye was turned to protect the political institutions.
The murder of Paul Quinn, the Northern Bank robbery, the murder of Robert McCartney and the entire litany of crimes, terrorism and murderous acts perpetuated by the republican movement during their terrorist campaign, was brushed under the carpet. Consigned to history and all current IRA activity was ignored as far as possible, and if it couldn’t be ignored there was always enough willing persons within the policing, justice and political spheres that would create just enough constructive ambiguity, so as to allow the DUP to wriggle out of ever having to take action against the IRA’s political representatives, Sinn Fein.
The heady days of 2008 were happy ones for the Robinson dynasty, at the peak of his political power and having fulfilled his long time ambition- partly driven by revenge and partly by a lusting for power-to replace Ian Paisley at the helm; Peter Robinson sat in the driving seat of political Unionism. The happy days were not to last, for Ian Paisley he was not. Robinson did not have the charisma of Paisley and nor was he adored, worshipped even, by the party faithful in the way his predecessor was. Rifts begin almost immediately and Robinson’s treatment of Paisley had created a huge divide within the DUP. The “family party”, which for the most part religiously rallied behind “big Ian”, was now split into a number of camps, all of which were treacherously plotting against the other. As Robinson officially took the party leadership on 31 May 2008- there were powerful players within the DUP who swore revenge. They knew they would have to wait, they knew they would have to bide their time, but these political veterans knew their time would come.
The heady days of 2008 and 2009 drifted into the turbulent times of 2010, for it was a year that Peter Robinson is unlikely to ever forget. His personal and political worlds collided and collapsed, only for Robinson to fight back in a manner that impressed even his most venomous critics. By 2011 he had found himself back at the pinnacle, with his power restored and with the DUP the dominate voice of Unionism. He had vanquished the UUP and stood as master of all he surveyed, it was remarkable turnaround from the dark days of the previous year. But the wounds inflicted in 2010 would never fully heal, neither personally nor politically. The scandal of the Iris affair, the £5 property deals and that painful loss of his treasured East Belfast Westminster seat had all been buried- but they were buried alive.
On the 28 May 2009 the planning Service of Northern Ireland granted Robinson permission to build six houses in his rear garden on the Gransha Road, in the Dundonald area of East Belfast. At the time this was not a major story, that is until the BBC reported on the 30 March 2010 that Robinson had purchased a piece of land from Fred Fraser, his old property developer friend, for £5 which enabled him to sell part of his back on for almost £460,000. Robinson claimed the BBC was leading a “smear campaign” against him, he did not however deny the allegation of the £5 land purchase. It was subsequently proven to be true. But by the time the BBC got around to revealing details of the huge profit Peter Robinson had made from part of his back garden he purchased for a paltry £5, their Spotlight program had already- for a period of time, at least- brought the whole Robinson dynasty crashing down. The powerful dynasty of Peter and Iris Robinson would never return following the broadcast of that Spotlight program, he would fight back but would do so without his wife by his side. She would vanish from public life.
The 8 January 2010 Spotlight program reported that Iris Robinson had secured £50,000 for Kirk McCambley, a 19 year old who she was having a sexual affair with. Kirk McCambley’s life would never be the same after 2010 either- the Special Branch and Public Prosecution Service made sure of that. Kirk McCambley no longer lives in Northern Ireland.
Iris Robinson had lobbied on behalf of McCambley for his business premises, the Lock Keepers Inn. Once Robinson found out about the financial dealings between his wife, Kirk McCambley and the two property developers, who had given Iris £25,000 each, he is alleged to have ordered the money to be returned. He did not, however, inform the Assembly or any other authorities of what he had learnt about the arrangement. Fred Fraser, the long term Robinson family friend was again involved, lending Iris £25,000. The other contributor was Ken Campbell, who also contributed £25,000. Campbell was also involved in a number of questionable deals with the Robinson’s, including the sale and purchase of a DUP office in Newtownards.
In the wake of the Spotlight program Peter Robinson was quite visibly a damaged man, understandably, both in a personal and political capacity. On 11 January 2010 Peter Robinson stood down as First Minister for what was to be a maximum interim period of six weeks. He was replaced by Arlene Foster.
To make matters worse, Robinson’s long term business and property developer friend- Fred Fraser- passed away weeks later, quite literally in the middle of the biggest personal and political challenge of Peter Robinson’s life. The two men, along with Iris, had achieved much together. They had assisted each other and both reaped great financial benefits from their ‘cash for influence’ arrangement. Fred Fraser had seen the money and gifts he had invested in the Robinson dynasty turn a huge profit for him. He also liked Peter Robinson, and Iris. He had a fondness for them both; they were ‘his’ political people. Peter Robinson owed much of his political career and financial stability to Fred Fraser and, in turn, Fred Fraser owed much of his wealth and enormous property portfolio to the political influence of Peter Robinson.
Following the Spotlight program, and revelations that Iris had failed to declare a monetary interest in the restaurant owned by Kirk McCambley, she was expelled from the DUP and resigned her seats in both Westminster and the Northern Ireland Assembly, retiring from politics. It was also revealed that she had attempted suicide on 1 March 2009 and her solicitor, Paul Tweed, would later successfully argue in court that the media should be prevented from reporting on Iris Robinson due to the fact she was suicidal. Doctors supported this case and as such she remained eligible for a huge Westminster and Northern Ireland Assembly pension, both of which she dutifully collected.
A number of investigations have been carried out into the whole scandal, a PSNI investigation into the financial affairs of Peter and Iris Robinson concluded with a recommendation not to prosecute in 2011. A standards and privileges enquiry had still not been completed three years after it was ordered by the Assembly; however it eventually reported on 28 November 2014. Iris Robinson’s lawyer had successfully stalled the publication of the report-citing his client’s mental health issues.
Peter Robinson returned to his post as First Minister after he had voluntarily stepped down and he immediately began a plan to rebuild his legacy, the party and his political career. With an ambitious grassroots engagement policy, Robinson began to reach out to the old traditional DUP base- which the party had abandoned since coming to power. Robinson also partly fulfilled his long term ambition to work alongside the UDA when that organisation, particularly in East Belfast, began to “link-in” with the DUP.
Robinson also set about surrounding himself with younger and more progressive political figures within the party such as Gavin Robinson and Simon Hamilton. The ‘old guard’ within the DUP had rapidly become disillusioned with Robinson’s leadership and for many of the loyal Paisleyites, the party was a far cry from the “family party” that had stood shoulder to shoulder all over the country during some of Ulster’s darkest days.
In 2011 Peter Robinson remarkably fought back, winning a huge mandate in the local Government elections. It was a stunning turnaround and a testament to Robinson’s incredible personal resolve and political ability that he was able to turn things from such a desperate place to the pinnacle of his career. Alex Kane, the respected political commentator, has often said that Robinson should have retired then, gone out at the top. Robinson however resolved to stay on. Perhaps the hurt of losing his Westminster seat is what drove Robinson to hold on.
In late 2012, with the decision on 3rd December to remove the Union flag from the City Hall, Peter Robinson once again found himself having to batten down the hatches. As a surge of grassroots loyalist anger erupted across the province, the DUP found themselves in no man’s land. Some party members joined the protests- the DUP refused to endorse them, then they condemned them and then called for them to stop. All their calls fell on deaf ears. Robinson’s “link-in” project with the UDA also looked shaky. The DUP leader held the mistaken belief that his ongoing working relationship with that organisation would mean that they could use their influence to halt the protests. He was wildly mistaken. The protests exposed the woeful lack of influence that the DUP could actually wield amongst the majority of grassroots loyalist communities and once again an anti-agreement movement within loyalism began, almost out of nowhere, to grow at a rapid pace. It was almost if the DUP ghost of its former self was coming back to haunt them.
Anti-agreement Unionists, such as myself, were in a bad place in 2011. On the political scrapheap, the electorate had endorsed the power sharing Executive and the DUP had a huge mandate, far and beyond what any other Unionist party could claim. But on the 3rd December 2012 all that changed and suddenly the voices in the wilderness began to resonate louder and louder. The anti-agreement whimper turned into shout that rapidly turned into a chorus of opposition to the peace process. This was the beginning of the end- again- for Peter Robinson. He knows, and anyone with a keen eye on politics knows, that even aside from the property deals and corruption, Peter Robinson’s political career was always on a downward spiral from that cold Belfast night just before Christmas 2012.
The dysfunctional days of late 2012 onwards saw the Assembly stumble from one crisis to the next. The revelation of a Government side deal for IRA OTR’s and of Royal Pardon’s issued for republicans sparked another round of huffing, puffing and threatening to blow the house down by Robinson and the DUP, but-predictably-it came to nothing. The OTR scandal, just like all those before it, was brushed under the carpet for the sake of the peace process.
The parading dispute, epitomised by the ludicrous determinations issued in relation to the Crumlin Road in North Belfast, once again led to the DUP feigning outrage. Robinson got all shades of Unionism, loyalism and Orangeism together and promised a graduated response. It was much like the failed Unionist Forum that he had pulled together to try and take the sting out of the Union flag protests. The graduated response was a farcical affair, a transparent attempt to keep the lid on things over July and then all would be forgiven-and forgotten- come August. And so it came to pass. At the time of writing the Crumlin Road parading dispute, is still ongoing.
In 2015 Peter Robinson’s problems began to come to a head. At the time of writing his personal, political and financial worlds are heading for a perfect storm that is gathering above the Stormont institutions. The perfect storm has many little satellite hurricanes all hurtling towards one central point. The welfare crisis, the renewed questions over the existence of the IRA and then the scheme that will be the biggest political scandal of a generation- NAMA- are all in play. As we will see from this book, it is the NAMA scandal that has sparked a renewed coup within the DUP. The consequences of the NAMA revelations will lead to the collapse of many huge players in the property development worlds, political careers will end, criminal charges could possibly be brought and Peter Robinson’s enemies in the business, political and security worlds, all those who have felt wronged or betrayed in the course of his merciless climb up the political ladder are now coming back to haunt him in a most ironic fashion.
In September it was also reported that a DUP nominee for a peerage had been rejected. The DUP declined to comment and instead they began briefing their favourite paper- the Belfast Telegraph- that the nominated peer was a party donor. This fooled very few people. Private Eye reported that the rejected peer was none other than Peter Robinson himself. The DUP have been unable to deny this.
Peter Robinson lived by the political sword, he is going to die by it.