- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 9, 2010

LONDON (AP) — The disgraced wife of Northern Ireland’s leader will step down as a lawmaker within days, British media reported Saturday, as pressure mounted on Peter Robinson and the province’s shaky coalition government.

The BBC and Britain’s Press Association cited unidentified sources within the Robinson’s Democratic Unionist Party as saying that his wife Iris, 60, would relinquish her dual position as parliamentarian in London and representative to Northern Ireland’s regional assembly in Belfast within days.

The reported move follows the revelation that she had an adulterous relationship with a man nearly 40 years her junior — and allegations that she solicited tens of thousands of pounds (dollars) from businessmen to help the teenager launch a cafe.

Iris Robinson was 58 at the time, and the man was 19.

News of the affair has played poorly with the Robinsons’ socially conservative political base. Protestant minister Rev. David McIlveen, a friend of former Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley, who preceded Robinson as Northern Ireland’s first minister, said Robinson needed to step down — at least for a while.

“I do believe that his position is becoming increasingly untenable,” he told the BBC. “He has a major problem with regard to solving his own family difficulties, and I personally cannot take the view that a person’s private life does not affect their public life.”

Iris Robinson did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment Saturday. The phones listed on her Web site and at her party’s office in Belfast rang unanswered.

The scandal has turned the couple into a target of ridicule in the British press, and it could have serious political consequences, as well. Robinson’s shaky coalition with Irish Catholics — the central achievement of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord — is already under strain over his refusal to agree to transfer responsibility for Northern Ireland’s justice system from London to Belfast.

The political tensions coincide with ongoing attacks by IRA dissidents against police and British soldiers in Northern Ireland. Last year, IRA dissidents killed two soldiers and a policeman. They were the first killings of British security forces in Northern Ireland since 1998.

On Friday, a prominent Catholic policeman was badly injured when a bomb hidden beneath his car exploded. He remained in critical condition Saturday.

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