I was going to write something along broadly sympathetic about Iris Robinson - guilt drove her to make an attempt on her life, dreadful shame etc etc - hoping to strike just as mature and worldly a note as Splints
did but then I saw that her um, ex-boyfriend was NINETEEN (19)!
The last time I was this shocked was when it emerged that John Major, of all people, had been enjoying some late-night Curry suppers.
What on earth
was Iris thinking of?
On second thoughts, I don't want to know what she was thinking of. Just one shock at a time, ok?
It goes without saying that Kirk McCambley, the other party to the affair, is from the Catholic community. Of course he is. If you're going to go in for a bit of walk-on-the-wild-side taboo-busting you may as well go the whole hog, so to speak.
It also goes without saying that BBC Northern Ireland's Spotlight Programme made a number of allegations about the Robinson's financial dealings
with McCambley. Auntie wouldn't have broadcast a documentary that was just about adultery, no matter how, er, eye-opening it was.
No wonder Peter Robinson looked so shell-shocked
in the interview he gave on Wednesday.
A good deal of the comment about Iris Robinson's affair has naturally contrasted her ill-judged, less than charitable public pronouncements on homosexuality, which Iris is given to describing in lapidary Old Testament language as an "abomination" and comparing to child-abuse, with her extra-mural activities. Quite simply, she's charged with hypocrisy of the grossest kind.
It's partly true. I say partly because if you look at the timeline of events I think one can discern another possible explanation for her actions.
We are told that Iris's affair with McCambley began in Summer 2008, that it continued for about five months before the relationship ended acrimoniously and that four months later, in March 2009 she made an attempt on her life. That dates the beginning of the affair to somewhere between July and August 2008. In her statement, Iris said the affair began over
a year and a half ago, which would date it to June 2008.
The affair began quite innocently, as these things so often do, with friendship; Iris comforted young McCambley whose father, Billy, died
prematurely in February of that year. Whatever else may be said about her, Iris isn't an unattractive woman; she's aged well, looking more like a glamorous women in her fourth decade than a 60 year old. Press reports which dwell enviously on her "luxury home" in Belfast as well as properties in Florida and East London, said to be collectively worth in the region of £1.3 million indicate that far from a lifestyle of severe Protestant austerity, the audi-convertible driving Mrs Robinson has a taste for the finer things in life. The picture of her in her throwing her head back in exuberant laughter while her husband grins ackwardly next to her gives away the competing tensions in her mind. There's a hint of friskiness about her, wearing a tight top which displays the merest suspicion of cleavage. But resting demurely on the skin above is a cross.
At some point during the five or sixth month period between late winter and summer, Iris's feelings - and as her outbursts
show, she's a passionate woman - spilled over into ardour. Did she fall in love with Kirk McCambley or was it a mere peccadillo? She herself said that the affair had "no emotional or lasting meaning". Maybe, maybe not.
But go back to that timeline again, it was in June 2008
- when she was either embarking on her affair or noticing a change in her feelings for McCambley and was about to do so - that she began haranguing the world about homosexuality.
On the 6th June 2008 just as Northern Ireland was reeling from the news of a shocking homophobic assault
she told startled listeners of BBC Ulster's Stephen Nolan Show that homosexuality was "an abomination" which made her feel "sick and nauseous" and offered the services of a psychiatrist she knew to help "turn them around". In a subsequent interview she defended herself saying, "just as a murderer can be redeemed by the blood of Christ so can a homosexual".
The Elim Pentecostal Church, to which Iris belongs, has a highly-coloured dramatic view of sin and redemption. Was that what was on Iris's mind at the time?
Later that month
she told the Northern Ireland Grand Committee Session on Risk Assessment and Management of sex offenders that "there can be no viler act other than homosexuality and sodomy than sexually abusing innocent children". She went on to note that "a young person should have the emotional and psychological maturity to cope with the consequences of sexual activity."
Was Iris, conscious of her transgressions, attempting to purge the world - her
world - of sex?
On 17th July she spoke again to the Stephen Nolan show
and quite unabashed declared that "it is the government's responsibility to uphold God's law".
Reading that comment with the benefit of hindsight it seems uncannily as though Iris was shifting the blame for her personal failure to keep the Divine law onto the government.
I suspect not only that Iris's anti-gay crusade coincided with her extra-marital affair but that the former was intimately related to the latter. The violence of her language about homosexuality - it made her "sick and nauseous" - recall the Old Testament themes of sin, filth and contamination which necessitate more than ritual cleansing but complete purging: "the earth will vomit you out", as Leviticus puts it. But what I think Iris was really expressing by all this was how tortured her conscience felt and how much she wanted her own life-disordering sins to be vomited out.
For now the vultures are circling around the Robinsons
. Martin McGuinness has pronounced himself "shocked" at the revelations and demanded an urgent meeting with Peter Robinson while Sir Reg Empey openly speaks of a "post Robinson era". The fallout won't surprise Iris at all. She would have been aware of the fates she was tempting when she indulged in her risky affair - indeed the dangers probably added to the frisson pf the experience at the time. How she must be regretting it now.