Wednesday 6 January 2010

Coming down from the High Moral Ground in Northern Ireland

The post below was printed in full by the Irish Times on its Letters Page on Saturday 9th January 2010: CLICK HERE

Northern Ireland is one of the more conservative societies in Western Europe and that is not a criticism but a statement of fact. This conservatism is no doubt in part because of so many years of violent strife which have polarised and entrenched whole communities. And so even after years of ‘peace’ the leadership of the DUP could not see their way to attending the funeral of Cardinal Cahal Daly who was universally recognised as a man of peace and a staunch critic of those who took up arms in Northern Ireland. It is clear he was no friend of Sinn Fein or the IRA! Though the DUP response was hardly surprising it was disappointing to see this opportunity for inclusive and courageous leadership squandered. The 1st Minister seems to forget that he leads the whole people of Northern Ireland not just those who adhere to his religious/political stance. The Roman Catholic community of Northern Ireland had the right to expect that at least a representative of the 1st Minister would attend the funeral of their former religious leader.


But then within 24 hours the unthinkable happens: Peter Robinson, 1st Minister and leader of the DUP appears on TV to reveal that his wife Iris has had an affair which has rocked their marriage to its foundations and actually led Iris to an attempt at suicide. One has to have sympathy for any couple who have endured such terrible trauma. That is the proper human response. We may squirm as I did when I heard him place the blame firmly on his wife and emphasize his own forgiveness for her, but if that is the way they want to play it so be it. They live in a black and white world and in that world you are either good or bad, at fault or blameless. I could not occupy that world but I am I and they are themselves.


It is I think an impossible standard they set for themselves and one which makes failure all the more devastating and destructive. However that would be their own business were it not for the fact that as a couple they have imposed this standard on the people who they claim to represent and lead. Peter stood behind his wife when in 2008 she declared in public that homosexual people were an "abomination" and … made her feel "sick" and "nauseous" and that "just as a murderer can be redeemed by the blood of Christ, so can a homosexual.... If anyone takes issue, they're taking issue with the Word of God". That Iris Robinson escaped prosecution for this and other outbursts was a disgrace and raises serious questions about legal protection for members of the gay community in Northern Ireland.


I am genuinely sorry that after her affair she found herself in the situation where suicide seemed to be the only way out and I hope and pray she finds the help she needs to recover from this. However I am also acutely aware of how many gay people have been driven to self-harm and even suicide because of such callous black and white statements by people who claim to speak on behalf of God. I came across this quote this week which is particularly instructive in the light of Iris Robinson’s previous outbursts:

You can tell you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do” - Anne Lamott


I would like to think that the Robinson’s traumatic experience of human frailty would make them more sympathetic to the many shades of grey that make up the human condition. It is clear that the 1st Minister’s interview this evening was a plea for sympathy and support from the public – As a fellow human being I find it hard not to be sympathetic but that sympathy demands something more than either Robinson has given the people they serve to date. It demands a humility and repentance not from Iris Robinson for her ‘inappropriate’ behaviour but from both Robinson’s for allowing condemnation to continually trump compassion in their public pronouncements. Iris Robinson’s career is almost certainly over but if her husband expects to continue in his vital role in Northern Ireland politics he needs to show far less arrogance and a lot more conciliation in his political dealings. I am not confident but I am hopeful.



Read Bock the Robber's take on the story HERE

27 comments:

blackwatertown said...

It was an amazing televised statement from Peter Robinson. Some of your points notwithstanding, still moving.

Robert said...

Amazing story, Stephen. Heartbreaking on several faces. I must ask, though, for more reasons than being difficult for the craic of it (though that can suffice), if your implication that things are never so black and white might be, well, black-and-white?

Stephen Neill said...

Blackwatertown - It would have been more genuine and moving if his behaviour in recent days (vis a vis the funeral of Cardinal Daly) had shown the compassion he so obviously wants from the public - not suggesting in circumstances that he should have gone but his reps should have attended the funeral

Robert - Too clever by half ;)

Gary said...

Two DUP Ministers (Sammy Wilson and Arlene Foster) were present at the funeral, being greeted by Cardinal Brady here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stepbar/4247987331/

It's a tragedy for sure, I haven't had dealings with Mrs Robinson myself, but she is our local MP and is well thought of in the constituency. They certainly need our prayers at this difficult time.

Donna McCusker said...

An excellent personable analysis Stephen.
DonnaMcCusker

ladygeekgeek said...

Spot on Stephen.

Stephen Neill said...

Donna & Ladygeekgeek - thank you for your kind comments

Gary - they didn't stay for the funeral stating that they didn't feel welcome because they couldn't recieve the Mass.While all of us find this Eucharistic exclusion painful this was not the occasion to make a theological statement! If we can't be with one another in death what hope is there in life? I despair!

Daithí said...

Even more sobering is the fact that the DUP is actually somewhat to the left of the GOP here in the States when one considers certain domestic issues such as health care, social welfare, education and public expenditures.

Anonymous said...

On at least one blog I read a holier-than-thou type endlessly snarks about Catholic priests abusing small boys in Ireland, as if the republic was some uniquely depraved and corrupt place.

Recent development in N.I., mercifully on both sides of the communal divide, have shown that human frailty is fairly universal.

Catherine said...

This was indeed some revelation and I was pretty amazed at his emotional statement - he lost the sympathy when he blamed her and magnanimously forgave her - and her statement mirrored his so I wonder did he script both? I hadn't heard them referred to as Swish Family Robinson until I saw a UTV clip and another reference on a Facebook comment. Hard not to feel a bit of schadenfreude in the light of her hatefully homophobic statements last year - very unChristian I know but then so was she! I too was horrified by the intransigence of the reps (Sammy Wilson and Arlene Foster) comments that they couldn't stay for the Mass of the Cardinal as they couldn't partake fully in the service - do you think that meant they would have taken Communion if they were able to? I can't see such hardliners wanting to take it in the RC Church with their antipathy over the years. Anyway I think they are innately anti-ecumenical. Good for the other Church reps - Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist - who found it possible to stay for the funeral mass. The DUP fundamentalists are so hardline I can't imagine what living in their society must be like. I met many good "Northern Prods" (self-styled!) over the years especially in development work and none of them were bigots or hardliners, whereas many of the fundamentalist Christians I met were Irish former/ex-catholics - nothing to beat the zeal of the convert!

JanetWJ said...

Spot on - I was watched in horror when the DUP said they couldn't attend the mass. When will they realise that sometimes the world is not about them. This was an opportunity to show humility, respect and they completely blew it. I too now hope that the Robinsons will be able to see that life is not black and white and that it's in the nuances and shades of grey that we are more likely to encounter God. thanks for this thoughtful post.

Ó Rothláin said...

Cardinal Cahal Daly's passing was sad. The real question is are there men waiting to fill the void that he leaves?

Toast Apparition said...

Great, thoughtful post Stephen, and what an incredible story, though I suspect, not yet the full story.

Stephen Neill said...

Catherine - I suspect you are right re the DUP and ecumenism - they consider it a dirty word!

Janet - Agreed re DUP they are totally wrapped up in their own egocentric existence!

Ó Rothláin - Our own Willie Walsh in Killaloe springs to mind but sadly retiring

Toast Apparition - Yes looks like their may be another angle - Spotlight tonight on UTV may reveal more?

Toast Apparition said...

well now, that was an interesting Spotlight programme wasn't it? Holy hell. She was obviously out of her mind. And I think her husband will be obviously out of a job......

Stephen Neill said...

Indeed - considering his position I reckon

Catherine said...

What a revelation on Spotlight! My goodness who said Northern politicians were boring - but this is surely the end of the road for his career if there were such conflicts of interest apart from all the prurient interest in the affair. The wheeling and dealing was awful and so compromised. She was clearly not a well person - not sure all this washing of linen publicly is a good idea personally for them both. What pride comes before a fall.

Cromdubh said...

I think you jumped into this a little precipitously.
I am no DUP follower, but I felt nothing but sympathy for Peter Robinson as I watched his interview.
Even SF held their fire, of course though they have their own dirty laundry.
The Unionist community has not been best served by their leadership over the years but they still need a leader. I cannot see an alternative to Robinson on the horizon and I feel nothing should be done or said to weaken his position any further.
The Robinsons will sort themselves eventually but the NI Assembly is all we've got.

Brian O'Donovan said...

I must be honest to say I have absolutely no liking for the politics of the DUP and the Robinson. I might was I don't even understanding of them.

However, I must say that their personal lives are personal and although I am naturally fascinated with the "soap opera" style revelation - I don't think it is right for me or anyone outside of the Robinson family to get involved in sorting out their personal affairs.

I always understood that the christian message was to "love your enemy". Maybe I am a christian aferall :-O

Stephen Neill said...

Brian - I think you missed my point - I agree re personal affairs being personal and I said as much in my post - but then went on to point out that Iris saw fit to condemn the personal and private behaviour of others using her political office as a mouthpiece. She was the one who moved things into the public sphere. The potential damage that she did to people struggling with their sexuality is something we can never quantify. Because of that I feel my comments were entirely justified

Cromdubh - I think you have blinded by the Peter Robinson spin - that interview was a cool calculated and cynical ploy - no more no less. I too worry about NI politics but I think PR's usefulness has expired

Bock the Robber said...

Stephen I'm inclined to agree.

When Peter Robinson gave that interview, I felt every possible sympathy for him as a man, even though, on a personal level, I could never find anything to like about the man.

However, on mature reflection, so to speak, the interview does seem to have been stage-managed, and what's worse, it seems to confirm my initial instincts that there isn't an ounce of human warmth in him.

He seems to have been well matched with Iris, whose reptilian personality has been laid exposed for all of us to examine in recent days.

Is it a fundamentalist Christian thing? I can't understand their tight-arsed atttitude to everything. Is there no joy at all in their lives?

But anyway, this is all irrelevant to our daily existence. It matters nothing who Iris conducts liaisons with. What matters is whether the precarious Northern fudge can hold together in the face of icy-hearted Presbyterian judgement and if Peter Robinson can cling to power.

What's the alternative?

Can Sinn Féin do business with Sammy the Creationist Nudist?

Recorder said...

You might like to see Winter views of Churches from Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland:

http://catholicheritage.blogspot.com/2010/01/sixteenth-monthly-mass-in-diocese-of.html

johnpercival said...

Paddy Anglican, At the Funeral Service of Douglas Hyde at St Ptrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Eamon De Valera and the members of his govermment stood outside the Cathedral. Why? Because their Church - the Roman Catholic Church- did not allow their members to attend Protestant Services. What a mark of direspect to the memory of a great Irishman.

It was until after Vatican II that the ban was lifted. It was some years that RCs gradually began to attned Protestant Funeral Services in Church. I can remember RCs standing outside the entances gates of of Protestant Churches while the Funeral Servce was in progress. Some may have ventured inside the graveyard for the Committal but took good care to stand at a distance from the graveside. This is fact.

And what about the injustice of the Ne Temere Decree? A Decree that has emptied Protestant Church in the Rpublic over a period of some 70+ years!

It pains me even to think on such matters, but facts are facts.

Bock the Robber said...

In my opinion, the fact that deValera and his cabinet stood outside the church was an abdication of their civil responsibilities and their duties as men. The fact that they pandered to the dictation of the RC church says more about them than it does about the Catholic hierarchy.

After all, a dog will bark, and Rome will issue its edicts. We all have a choice whether or not to jump at the sound of either.

Stephen Neill said...

Thanks Bock - couldn't have put it better. John seems to be stuck in a time warp - most of us, DUP excepted, have thankfully moved on.

Cromdubh said...

I'm old enough to know better, but yet again I've been suckered by the "Carefully drafted statement".
it's not as though we haven't had enough of them down South of late.
i have an aversion to kicking someone when he/she's down, but as this story unfolds its obvious that such sentiments were wasted.

Anonymous said...

I want not approve on it. I assume polite post. Particularly the title attracted me to study the whole story.