Iris Robinson today made an apparent U-turn over her controversial comments that homosexuality is “viler” than child sex abuse.
The First Minister’s wife told the House of Commons, during a debate on the assessment and management of sex offenders, that “there can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing innocent children”.
When contacted by the Belfast Telegraph Mrs Robinson said that homosexuality was “comparable” to child abuse and that she feels “totally repulsed by both.”
“I cannot think of anything more sickening than a child being abused. It is comparable to the act of homosexuality. I think they are all comparable,” she said.
Later today however, she issued a fresh comment via the DUP press office stating: “I clearly intended to say that child abuse was worse even than homosexuality and sodomy ... at no point have I set out to suggest homosexuality was worse than child sex abuse.”
The Strangford MP’s comments have led her into her biggest controversy yet with politicians saying that serious questions have now been raised about her “fitness to be in a position of responsibility”.
“I have a live-and-let-live philosophy,” SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell said. “I find it hard enough to live my own life without dictating to other people how they should live their lives. I think Mrs Robinson is pompous and condescending if she believes that she has a monopoly in wisdom.
“I do not agree with Iris in any aspect of this.”
Mr McDonnell added: “I am not going to tell her what to say. It is up to people to judge. They will maybe realise it is more than a bit bizarre. It raises serious questions about her fitness to sit in a position of responsibility.”
He added: “She is abusing her position. The sort of comments she is making — she may not intend it to be such — but they create space for all sorts of homophobic attacks.”
He added that the comments are “cruel” and should not be “wrapped up in a religious context”.
UUP MLA Basil McCrea said he believes Mrs Robinson has “crossed the line” and added that the DUP must make it clear if she is speaking for the party.
“What Northern Ireland needs is more tolerance and respect. It is completely unacceptable for her to say this. I am amazed. We need politicians who are sensitive to the needs of society. There is a limit to what can be said when expressing personal opinion and this is crossing the line,” he said.
He added: “We do not want to live in a society where everything is black or white. What we need is humanity, tolerance, support and guidance — not lectures from the Old Testament. The challenge goes out to the DUP now — is Iris Robinson putting forward party politics when she makes these statements?
“She is the First Minister’s wife after all. The DUP need to make themselves clear as to where they stand.”
Sinn Fein MLA Willie Clarke, of Stormont’s Standards and Privileges Committee, said that in light of these comments some people will be calling for Mrs Robinson’s resignation.
“I don’t want to curtail free speech but there is an onus on public representatives to represent the views of the whole community. When you become an elected representative you have to at times put aside your own views. These comments are appaling. The gay community is a very vulnerable group.”
Defending her comments, Mrs Robinson told the Belfast Telegraph: “I cannot think of anything more sickening than a child being abused. It is comparable to the act of homosexuality. I think they are all comparable. I feel totally repulsed by both.”
Sources within the DUP said they believe the media is being unfair to Mrs Robinson in its coverage of her views and they should stop “hounding” her.
Mrs Robinson adds a PS to her own words...
Iris Robinson to Parliament
“We all agree that few issues arouse as much interest or concern in the community as that of sex offenders. The sentences served and their subsequent placement back in the community cause considerable disquiet among the public. There can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing innocent children. There must be sufficient confidence that the community has the best possible protection against such perverts and it is important that there be a mature public debate on the issues, but the security of our citizens must be our overriding priority.”
Iris Robinson to Belfast Telegraph
“Can you think of anything more vile than man and man or woman and woman and sexually abusing children? What I say I base on biblical pronouncements, based on God’s word. I am amazed that people are surprised when I quote from scriptures ... I cannot think of anything more sickening than a child being abused. It is comparable to the act of homosexuality. I think they are all comparable. I feel totally repulsed by both ... I am trying to reach out to people. That is what Christ teaches us ...
Anything I say is out of love. I am not hate-mongering. I cannot leave my Christian values hanging at the door when I go into politics. I am speaking out ... because we are getting it more and more rammed down our throats that minority views are more important than majority views. I am not trying to alienate anyone ... I do not turn anyone away. I would never water down anything with the scriptures and I don’t think I should. I find it amazing, if not unexpected, as these days Christians are persecuted for their views, but that will not stop me. There will be a Judgment Day. When I am judged I want to know I did all I could to spread the Word.”
Iris Robinson via DUP press office
“The remarks in the Grand Committee report do not accurately reflect my views. While I will be seeking to check the Committee recording, what I clearly intended to say was that child abuse was worse even than homosexuality and sodomy.
While I have strong views on homosexual activity based on the Scriptures, it can in no way be equated with child abuse. If that had been the impression I created at the Committee, I would have expected other Committee members to correct me immediately.
At no point have I set out to suggest homosexuality was worse than child sex abuse. There can be no comparison between the two. My entire contribution at that Committee meeting was about highlighting the gravity of sex offences and indeed calling for stronger sentences.
In my Christian and political life across a whole range of issues I have always sought to protect the rights and interest of the child. From my work as party health spokesperson and chair of the Health Committee I know the horrific impact sexual abuse has on individuals and families, and I have sought to do my best to assist the victims of abuse.”