Iris has paid dearly, now it’s time to leave her alone
The news that Iris Robinson has returned to her east Belfast home from England where she was receiving psychiatric treatment for depression will, of course, get the news and gossip networks lighting up like pinball machines.
So spectacular has been her fall, so sudden and dramatic, that we’re in danger of forgetting we're talking about a real person, shattered by the events of the last eight months.
Indeed, Iris Robinson the person now hardly exists. She is, depending on the commentator's mood, the scarlet woman, the cradle-snatcher or — that staple of seaside postcard humour — the desperate older woman. Take it up a few notches, and she is a canting hypocrite, using religion as a cover for her misdeeds. Her life is both the stuff of weighty moral exemplars and the punchline of a dirty joke. And that is a heavy burden for anyone.
Look at the internet. The ‘Mrs Robinson' parodies are the least of her problems. She is to be the subject of a play and rumours her story may be turned into a film continue. Yes, she may have been the architect of her own misfortune, but she has borne a heavy punishment and her image has been etched in the most corrosive acid.
Few of us, I think we could all agree, would not be scarred by the public savaging Iris Robinson has endured. Cruelly, despite this being a woman who indisputably tried to take her own life, questions have even been raised as to whether she was genuinely mentally ill. While receiving treatment in London, she was stalked by the Press. Even the party to which she had devoted her life drummed her out without so much as a hearing.
I, for one, have to admit that I feel more than a little sorry for her. That is not to say that the ex-Strangford MP should not be subject to the same legal processes as you and I would face.
As she convalesces under medical supervision in Belfast, the police investigation still continues — and that is only right. She was questioned by police last June over the allegations in the Spotlight programme and must answer specific questions. And, like the rest of us, take the consequences for her actions. But that doesn't mean that she should be in the dock of public opinion for all time.
Iris Robinson is in danger of being a peculiarly Ulster scapegoat. To those former friends on the religious right, she is testament to the viewpoint that women are inherently sinful; to those on the left, that publicly aired religious belief is seen as little more than a cloak for personal hypocrisy.
The truth is that, as the Iris story gripped the world, we got a bit carried away with ourselves. But when you strip away the speculations and fantasies of those days, the only facts that remain are that she was an older married woman who had a younger lover and that she may have broken the rules as a councillor in Castlereagh in setting up her lover Kirk McCambley in his cafe business. In the months that have followed, there has been nothing else turned up by the tabloids.
As things stand, this is not the stuff of a Messalina or a Lucrezia Borgia. If she had been a man and McCambley his young mistress, Iris would still have had to go but the fall would have been filed under ‘Council, Shenanigans' not ‘Parables, Biblical'. Or more likely ‘Rogue, bit of a ' as opposed to ‘Jezebel, Wanton'.
The sad truth is that Iris is a person, not that unlike many of us, who took a wrong turning somewhere. It happens every day, it’s just most people get to deal with their mistakes in private.
Iris has already paid dearly. It makes sense that she should return home to where her family and friends — yes, she does still have them — remain. Let’s hope we are mature enough to grant her the privacy she needs to continue her recovery. At the heart of this story remains one family — a husband, wife and children — who deserve the chance to work out a future.
As Iris Robinson takes another step on her road to recovery, the media should step back and let events take their course. We should also get a little more perspective.