Sometimes I feel sorry for Peter Robinson. I felt sorry for him when he did his famous Clontibret raid, swooping over the border to break windows on the main street of that little village, only to get caught. Next he knows he’s white-faced and staring down the throat of a jail sentence in the priest-ridden state to the south and is weak with relief when all he’s handed is a very hefty fine. He wasn’t cut out to do midnight raids, little Peter.
Often, looking at him over the years, I’ve felt sorry for him that he’d got a red-mouthed, demonstrative wife like Iris. Chalk and cheese. Oil and water. Flamboyance and anally-retentive restraint. And so, you might say, it’s proved. He wasn’t cut out to handle a wild woman, little Peter.
And now the BBC are targeting him for that property deal. It seems Peter and his red-mouthed woman bought a bit of land adjoining their back garden for £5 and sold it again for £5. You can hardly fault them for that. Mind you, at the same time they also sold part of the back garden for over £450,000 because it provided access to a major housing development. One of the people involved in the deal was a man called Ken Campbell who later ‘lent’ Mrs Robinson £25,000 to set up her teenage lover in a café. What’s more, Peter didn’t get round to telling the House of Commons he owned the land and he forgot to tell Castlereagh Borough Council as well. Ooops.
His defence is that the strip of land wasn’t essential for access to the housing development. Could well be the case but that’s not really the question, Peter. The question is, was it the best means of acccess to the property development? If it was, £450,000 may have been worth every penny.
So why do I feel sympathy for little Peter this morning? Because a lot of people are going to lump the not-telling-the-Commons-and-Castlereagh bits with the £5-for-land-that-got-them-£450,00+ bit. That kind of money for a bit of your back garden makes most of us go a shade of purple with envy. The bit about not telling the Commons or Castlereagh seems minor almost in comparison. But it shouldn’t. As far is can be established, little Peter and his red-mouthed wife did nothing illegal when they bought and sold the bit of land plus part of their back garden. Yes, they made a huge profit, but that’s the way the market works. Don’t blame Peter or his red-lipped lady – blame the people who allow unfettered market forces to grind out such grand sums. If it’d been your back garden, would you have said ‘Oh no thanks, take that £450,000 away, it’s a bit grubby’?
No, if you want to nail Peter to his garden fence, nail him for not telling the Commons or Castlereagh about his involvement in said deal. That appears to be where he’s fallen short morally and legally. That and Ken Campbell’s generosity with the £25K to Iris. And even then, I still can’t suppress a twinge of sympathy for the little man. His old boss Paisley Senior is fuming with him, the Westminster elections could prove very nasty for his party, and he could well find himself replaced as party leader by Nigel Dodds. Or (omigod) Ian Óg. He wasn’t cut out to suffer such public disembowelment, little Peter. Give the boy a break, would yis?