Family misfortunes for DUP and Sinn Fein leaderships
Deals on hold as speculation mounts over ‘out of circulation’ First Minister and arguments continue over Adams sex abuse allegations
By David Gordon - Wednesday, 6 January 2010 – Belfast Telegraph
It should have been a very different start to the new year at Stormont. But family matters have instead intervened to complicate life for the DUP and Sinn Fein leaderships.
The current week was expected to witness a kickstarting of negotiations aimed at ending the stand-off on the transfer of policing and justice powers.
Secretary of State Shaun Woodward and Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin got together at Hillsborough yesterday to “review progress” towards a DUP and Sinn Fein agreement on what the two governments view as the last piece of the devolution jigsaw.
Instead, all deals are on hold if not quite off amid an avalanche of speculation and intrigue.
Peter Robinson — in the words of his own party — is “out of circulation” for the rest of this week as he attends to “family circumstances”.
His MP wife Iris shocked the party — and everyone else for that matter — by announcing just after Christmas that she was retiring due to mental ill health.
On Monday Tory spokesman Owen Paterson had to go to Mr Robinson's home for discussions on the devolution impasse.
The First Minister's absence from the day-to-day political scene has helped created a vacuum of sorts that is being filled by gossip and speculation.
Some people are even wondering if he is going to follow the other half of ‘Team Robinson’ and walk away from public life. Others say there is no basis whatsoever to that suggestion.
There is also said to be a TV documentary programme ready to roll.
Rumour does not have to be grounded in any hard facts to become a factor in politics. Senior DUP figures were last night admitting to being totally in the dark about what is going on.
The absence of Mr Robinson is hardly helping to soothe Sinn Fein impatience about a lack of meaningful talks on the way forward at Stormont.
Not that Sinn Fein doesn't have its own internal problems to worry about. Its President Gerry Adams is caught up in a very different and potentially career-closing family saga.
Arguments will continue on specific actions the West Belfast MP did or did not take after learning of the abuse allegations against his brother Liam.
But there is now no doubt that Liam Adams was both publicly active in Sinn Fein and in youth work several years after his politician brother was first told of the accusations against him.
Significantly, the Sinn Fein president has said he believed the allegations on learning of them back in 1987. He knows full well that the modern-day definition of collusion includes sins of omission — of not doing enough to ensure an alleged perpetrator faces the full rigours of the law.
Some of the highest church leaders on this island have recently paid a price for their past mishandling of cases. Supporters of Mr Adams must be privately wondering if he will escape that fate.
January 2010 was tipped to be a crunch period for the fledgling power-sharing coalition headed by the DUP and Sinn Fein.
But even seasoned political observers could never have predicted the year starting like this — with both parties' leaders deeply embroiled in personal family nightmares.
These are very unfortunate circumstances, indeed, involving the families of two prominent members on both sides of the impasse presented by the devolution of policing and justice powers from London to Stormont. They could, very well, further delay implementation of that crucial final step set forth in the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen just how patient the public will be while the two politicians involved deal with personal matters and the policing and justice issue hangs in the balance.