Belfast Telegraph

What that photo of Iris really says about her...and us

By Gail Walker

It is just a small picture among the hundreds of society pictures in the latest edition of Ulster Tatler magazine - blink and you'd miss it - yet it says so much that is good about life, other people and this place we call home.

There is Iris Robinson in a smart, sunny yellow dress, smiling straight into the camera lens. Beside her sits husband Peter and standing behind her is DUP MEP Diane Dodds, both looking relaxed and cheery.

But it's the people all around them which clinches it. Ordinary women and men, of all ages, out supporting a Charity Celebrity Ready Steady Cook event and looking utterly non-plussed at having the First Minister's wife in their company. Just getting on with taking care of business, raising money for Friends of the Cancer Centre.

Who'd have thought it possible? Seriously? Just over two years ago, Iris's affair with 19-year-old Kirk McCambley was a scandal that filled newspapers. There were endless lurid headlines and precious little sympathy - and in many quarters, not just fascination but barely disguised glee at her fall. Part of that maliciousness was because Iris was a woman. A beer gutted male politician would have just trundled on, to cries of "Well done, my son."

But Iris ... Iris was different. She was a woman who made the most of her appearance, loved clothes and make-up and looking glamorous. Therefore, she was due special punishment. The script largely wrote itself. She was in 'hiding', with photographers clamouring for that first snatched picture.

The chatterati said with full confidence that she would have to leave Northern Ireland and eke out an anonymous existence elsewhere, forever marked by her shame. And, furthermore, Peter would be divorcing her once the hallabulloo had died down. Even the best scenario had Iris being shunted off into being a DUP housefrau, offering tea and buns - while wearing sackcloth and ashes, obviously - at some anonymous branch meeting in a quiet backwater.

It was a bleak little morality tale. There are special punishments for women who commit the indiscretions men do all day everyday.

And yet ... well ... here we are. Iris has made a low-key appearance at a charity event and the world is still spinning on its axis, birds aren't flying backwards and the sky hasn't turned blood red.

Life just keeps on going on. And that's the thing. The older you get the more you realise there is always a way back from most crises. A situation may seem unbearable, irrecoverable from, but given time and space and a few deep breaths, there is always a way through, a road back.

Even - in fact, especially - somewhere like Northern Ireland, which may seem the oddest thing of all. This place may have a strong religious hue, but it's also home to compassion and understanding. Maybe it's a legacy of all we've come through - we know what really is a matter of life and death - but people here can be surprisingly forgiving.

And we don't really like the idea of gawping at our neighbours or making sport out of their misfortunes. Besides, few families nowadays get through life unscathed by emotional upheavals, bankruptcy or some other disaster. We know what goes around can all too quickly come around.

Time lends a new perspective. Iris's husband stood by her, which makes you think, too, about the value he puts on his marriage vows and on the woman he made them to. Ironically Peter Robinson's handling of the crises that engulfed him has only enhanced his standing.

And for all BBC NI's braying over their investigation into Iris, she was cleared of any legal wrongdoing.

Iris Robinson was always a feisty woman; we saw a flash of that when she met the Queen in Dublin last year. But that was a controlled event, with the public at a distance.

The recent charity event was different - more intimate, more informal. Walking into that room took true courage, no matter how decent, mature and kind people are.

But at least she knows the next one will be a little bit easier, as will the one after that ... and soon we'll stop talking about it at all.

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