Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: An acutely public baring of the soul

First Minister Peter Robinson is a man who usually hides his emotions well.

Apart from the occasional public flash of temper over some political issue, he is regarded as a cold fish, a man devoid of the humour or personal touch that could be displayed by his predecessor Ian Paisley.

But last night we saw that persona dissolve before our eyes as Mr Robinson spoke of the efforts to rebuild his marriage after his wife's affair and subsequent suicide attempt. He struggled for composure and the hurt of the betrayal was still very obvious and very raw, even 10 months after he learned of what he called his wife's inappropriate relationship.

It would take a very stony heart indeed to be untouched by the personal drama being played out in the Robinson household at this time.

A long-standing marriage is under enormous strain and it is obvious that in spite of the efforts of both partners, rebuilding the trust that previously existed will be a difficult task.

But it is a task not without hope, as Mr Robinson said, and most people will wish the couple well. Both partners have been very badly hurt and the healing process, inevitably, will be lengthy.

Some people may argue that the private marital problems of the Robinson family should remain just that - private. However, that is a hopelessly idealistic vision completely at odds with how the modern media works, especially when it comes to personalities in the public eye.

The Robinsons have seldom been out of the headlines for various reasons - their political roles, huge salaries, double-jobbing, employment of family members and Iris's intemperate views - however strongly or sincerely held - on homosexuals.

Politicians never seem to learn that trying to lecture the public on how they should lead their lives on issues of morality invariably backfires. Remember John Major and his 'Back to Basics' campaign on family values - and then we learned that he had had a passionate affair with Edwina Currie.

Politicians should steer well clear of moral issues, especially sexual morality issues, unless they are certain of their own unblemished behaviour.

Mr Robinson says he hopes that his public baring of his soul will be the end of the matter. That seems unlikely given the fact that a television company was investigating his wife's financial dealings before this latest revelation.

The one ray of good news is that Mr Robinson was back at his desk this morning, prepared to tackle thorny issues such as the devolution of policing and justice, parades and the disbandment of the police reserve. It would have been a serious blow to the peace process had his personal problems prevented him doing his political duties.

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