Iris Robinson's wild and woolly political scandal

You’ve got to hand it to Northern Irish legislator Iris Robinson for producing a scandal that makes Tiger Woods’ look tame by comparison. Revelations of the 60 year-old Mrs. Robinson’s dalliance with a man less than one-third her age have not only produced an explosion of hot tabloid headlines, they’ve also created a mess that could deeply affect Irish politics.

The tabloid frenzy started with an admission around New Year’s from Mrs. Robinson (not the Anne Bancroft character from The Graduate but a real person) that she had conducted a sexual affair with one Kirk McCambley in 2007, when he was just 19 years old. Robinson, who represents a unionist constituency (mostly Protestant) in Belfast, got into real trouble when she helped young McCambley get about $100,000 in loans from developers to open a café. McCambley, apparently not focused on discretion, opened his café in a government building smack in the middle of Mrs. Robinson’s legislative district.

It’s all wonderfully sordid, but politically important as well. That’s because Mrs. Robinson’s husband happens to be Peter Robinson, the first minister of Northern Ireland, who has lead the province’s power-sharing government for almost two years. At least, he was first minister until he stepped down this week. Mr. Robinson, a wealthy lawyer, is in hot water because he apparently learned of his wife’s help on the young lad’s café loan last year and chose not to speak out about it. His current work break is officially for a period of just six weeks. Complete banishment from Irish politics seems to have been avoided, for now, thanks to some strong-arming of Robinson’s angry Democratic Unionist Party colleagues by the ever-colorful Reverend Ian Paisley.

Peter Robinson’s absence from the government could derail efforts to close out a key final step toward Northern Irish independence – the transfer of police and judicial powers from British authorities to local rulers. More ominously, it could create political chaos that might allow Sinn Fein to regain power, a development many fear would send Northern Ireland back into the spiral of violence that existed before the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

Far more amusing than the politics, however, are the celebrity tabloid stories surrounding Mrs. Robinson’s young former boyfriend. They just keep coming. Various Irish news sources have reported that when McCambley wanted to end his affair with her, he found her so tenacious that he decided to tell her, falsely, that he could no longer have sex because of testicular cancer. The Irish Independent reports that the spurned lady legislator “bombarded” McCambley with phone calls, texts and love letters — before turning hostile and demanding his loan money back. Another newspaper reports that Mrs. Robinson had an affair with McCambley’s father, a butcher who died in 2008, before taking up with the 19 year-old son. “Before he died he is said to have asked Iris Robinson to take care of his son…That she almost certainly did,” wrote one reporter.

Perhaps the oddest development is the rise of young Mr. McCambley as a “gay pin up boy,” according to The handsome, now 21 year-old fellow is allegedly being pursued by a gay magazine to pose for a cover photo, although it seems unclear at this point that Mr. McCambley is gay. Iris Robinson, by the way, was once given a “Bigot of the Year” award by a British gay organization for calling homosexuals an “abomination.”

Numerous outlets have reported that Mrs. Robinson attempted suicide last March after breaking up with her young lover, though there seems to be little information available on how she tried to end her life or why she failed. At present, she is, in her husband’s words, being given “acute psychiatric treatment.” She is not expected to return to government service.