Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Iris's admission a courageous step

Iris Robinson was a politician who never shied away from speaking her mind. Her description of homosexuality as an abomination sparked a flurry of outrage but few doubted that her views were sincerely held if not to the liking of most people. There will be much more sympathy for her latest public comments revealing that she is to quit politics because of her battle against mental illness.

Whatever anyone's views of her politics or her public utterances, no-one can deny that she was a very impressive politician. As an MP and MLA for the Strangford area she worked unceasingly for her constituents and was never slow to raise their issues at the highest level. She was also an assiduous member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster, ensuring that the province's problems got a fair hearing at the heart of Government.

Health issues were of particular interest to her - perhaps not surprisingly with hindsight given her condition and the fact that she has had a number of operations for health problems. By speaking out about her own battle against depression she has raised the profile of an illness often swept under the carpet. People are reluctant to reveal their mental health problems for fear that it may affect their employment or social acceptability.

Yet, as Mrs Robinson points out, one in four of the population struggles with mental illness at one level or another. It is an illness that needs greater recognition and much improved services and facilities. However, with her retirement from public life a potential champion of fellow-sufferers has been lost.

Mrs Robinson has been dogged by criticism in recent times both over her comments on homosexuality and also because of the income earned by her and her husband Peter in their various political roles. Given her condition the criticism must have been very difficult to bear, and most people will wish her well as she tries to regain her health.

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