Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

We can’t find Iris Robinson; will she ever find herself?

It’s disconcerting when somebody you think you know well suddenly behaves in an unexpected manner. When it’s DUP firebrand Iris Robinson — who had an affair with a 19-year-old — the shock is immense.

Hundreds of thousands of jaws dropped on Thursday night when BBC Spotlight broke the story.

Suddenly the Iris Robinson who dwelt in the popular consciousness had changed beyond recognition.

She maybe hinted that the real Iris was a different creature.

In a Belfast Telegraph interview about her mum Mary, she said: “Am I a strong person? You can always put on a face, but inside I’m a big softie.”

That gives a possible clue to the development of the Robinson persona and the reason it shattered in March last year on a night when Iris felt she couldn’t take any more.

There is no doubt that from childhood onwards Iris imbibed the principles of duty, honesty and the Christian work ethic.

Iris was daddy’s girl and was devastated after her father Joseph died when she was only six.

As one of seven and the oldest daughter, Iris found herself in the challenging position of substitute mother as Mary had to work to keep the family together.

At 16, she enrolled at Cregagh Technical College where Peter was a student.

Iris had noticed the young Mr Robinson and said it was “love at first sight”.

The couple were married and their three children Jonathan, Rebekah and Gareth have all followed them into politics.

Her faith journey has been interesting, taking her from a Presbyterian background to the evangelical Metropolitan Tabernacle.

Being ‘saved’ is the real badge of pride, and Iris has said that when she attended a service in her local church to seek relief for post-natal depression following the birth of Jonathan she had an experience that confirmed her faith.

To her amazement, Iris heard the speaker recount a meeting with a dying English soldier in the UVF hospital, Galwally. She was thrilled when she heard that this man who’d been saved at the last minute was her father.

Politically, Iris has come a long way after being initially a political wife, supporting Peter’s career. Her own ambitions surfaced later.

She was elected as a DUP councillor in Castlereagh in 1989, and became the borough's first female mayor in 1992. She was elected to the Assembly in 1998 and became the MP for Strangford in 2001.

In December, Iris said she was leaving public life because of severe depression.

There was widespread sympathy, and even when her husband made an emotional statement on TV last Wednesday and confirmed the rumour that she’d had an affair, the public were inclined to be generous.

But with the details of what looked like a fairly sordid affair emerging, public opinion changed.

Like all women, Iris Robinson has had to balance the demands of home, family and career — and politics is a difficult career for men or women with families.

Even though this phase of her career may have ended ignominiously, life goes on.

Iris will be waking up tomorrow, reportedly abroad, and have the next few decades to fill. She should not despair.

This annus horribilis, to quote The Queen, will pass. The soundbites will fall silent, the headlines fade, and like other survivors such as Edwina Currie she will have the opportunity to reinvent herself, and maybe finally become the Iris she wants to be.

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