Peter Robinson – a man more sinned against than sinning
A few days ago, it appeared right and proper (to His Grace at least) to leave Iris Robinson to heal her wounds and Peter Robinson to heal his broken heart. Condemnation upon personal trauma is cruel, and criticism of those who are suffering quite heartless.
And Cranmer was himself fiercely criticised for expressing ‘sentimental favouritism’ and of ‘bare faced, cherry-picked hypocrisy writ large’ in his compassion for those with whom he was deemed to have a certain religio-political affiliation. He was falsely accused of condoning adultery while condemning homosexuality, of ‘getting on bended knee to pray for this woman’ while being content to revel in the purgatorial pains of the likes of Harriet Harman.
But that was before Mammon entered the frame.
Of course, the allegations made by the BBC’s Spotlight programme have to be properly investigated. And Mr Robinson is right to consult his lawyers to discuss issues of defamation, libel, insinuation and innuendo. It appears likely that Mrs Robinson, an MP, an MLA and a councillor (where does she find the time?), broke the law by not declaring her financial interest in a business deal. There is more than a whiff of corruption in the allegation that she obtained £50,000 from two property developers and paid this to her 19-year-old lover Kirk McCambley to help him launch a new café. And quite inexplicably, despite her vast income, flashy cars and three houses, it is alleged that she later asked him for £5,000 for herself.
It is further alleged that Peter Robinson failed to properly report these improprieties and to act in the public interest, and he will doubtless defend himself. He has already forgiven his wife as he is commanded to. And he must forgive her 70x7 times should such a further chronic series of calamities befall their partnership.
But Eamonn Mallie tweeted earlier today: “Peter Robinson doesn't know what we in the media know”.
And that is most ominous.
Cranmer does not know how Eamonn Mallie knows what Peter Robinson does or does not know. But he does know that the lies which conceal the half-lies and the unknown knowns which are about to be heaped upon the known knowns will greatly erode expressions of compassion, even from the most devout DUP theocrats.
When the Robinsons decided (or were ‘obliged’ by circumstance) to discuss their marital problems in public, it was a desperately sad and personal affair. But the allegations made by Spotlight have made the matter acutely political.
In the empires of politics and the temples of religion, when avarice is combined with extravagance, lust, hypocrisy and pride, we have the makings of an Inferno or at least a Purgatorio worthy of Dante. What has befallen Peter and Iris Robinson is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions: we have the handsome young suitor cuckolding the king, the sexual hypocrisy and self-righteousness of Angelo, the greed of Shylock, the arrogance of Lear, the ambition of Lady Macbeth and a Hamlet-like contemplation of suicide.
Is it any wonder that Peter Robinson might feel like expressing the wrath of Othello as he is besieged by a pack of baying Iagos.
Cranmer has considered Iain Dale’s point about the age gap between Mrs Robinson and her lover: she was 58 while he was just 19, which Mr Dale equates with paedophilia.
And one of Cranmer’s communicants makes the observation that if this had been a homosexual liaison, it would have been denounced as a perverse ‘grooming’ of young boys in the fashion of Ancient Greece.
The opinions are valid, but they are not facts. It was neither paedophilia nor was it ‘grooming’ as the laws of the State defines these terms.
But the laws of God?
When an older person engages in a sexual relationship with a person who is 40 years their junior, eyebrows may be raised and the gossip in the pews may be disapproving. But God looks at the heart.
Yet when an older person engages in a sexual relationship with a person who is 40 years their junior, and that younger person is receiving financial inducements from the older in order to better their life, God might indeed be frowning.
There is little difference between Mrs Robinson’s relationship with a 19-year-old Kirk McCambley and that which a teacher might be tempted to form with a student of similar age.
The former may have been pressured into the relationship for financial reasons, the latter as a means of securing higher grades. Either way, teenagers manifestly desire to succeed and make progress in life and so are vulnerable to the possibility of forming inappropriate relationship with authority figures. As the law of the State protects students from this (even after attaining the age of majority), it accords with the laws of God which would seek to guard all vulnerable subordinates from a corrupting influence or an abuse of power.
Thanks to the BBC, we now know that Iris Robinson did not only betray her marriage vows but is perceived to have broken the law and abused her power. She had known Kirk McCambley since he was just 9 years old: he said “She looked out for me and made sure I was OK and obviously anyone who has lost a parent knows it is an incredibly hard time and she was there to help.”
And ‘perceived’ is the important word, for this is politics in which seeming is all, and it is why Peter Robinson may have no choice but to voluntarily lay his head upon the block and submit to the inevitable axe. He is not his wife’s keeper, but the two manifestly vowed to become one 40 years ago. She is entitled to a private life and so is he, but not when one or the other stands accused of financial impropriety and the failure disclose interests. Their marriage may be for richer or poorer, but their reputation is in tatters following the revelation that Mrs Robinson enriched herself in contravention of the law. They may be united for better or worse, but they can no longer work together, for the worse will only worsen. Mr Robinson may support his wife in sickness and in health, but it is difficult to argue that this will not be a distraction from his role as First Minister.
He may now have greater understanding of the anguish of Hosea, to whom God gave an adulterous wife in order that he would feel the searing hurt and bleeding pain caused by the unfaithful children of Israel. But Hosea was a prophet, not a king.
Peter Robinson is a king in Northern Ireland, put there by God to rule with justice and righteousness.
One cannot help but feel, hearing the anguish of his heart, seeing the tears of pain as he talked of his wife’s infidelity, and witnessing the unconditional flow of forgiveness which followed his wife’s repentance, that he may have fulfilled his kingly role and now is the time to name his political successor.
Peter Robinson has contributed much in his 40 years of political involvement: he has risen to the very top by being honourable, canny and wise. But whatever he has fulfilled politically, whatever he contributed to the bringing of peace to Northern Ireland, whatever he accomplished behind the scenes following the departure of his mentor Dr Paisley, he will be remembered in history for his heart-rending forgiveness of a contrite and repentant wife: he is the incarnation of the heart of the Christian faith.
There is no doubting that the downfall of Peter Robinson is unjust and his resignation will be a blow to the politics of Northern Ireland. Like Lear, he is a man more sinned against than sinning.
But it is time for the First Minister to heal the one he loves, to weep day and night at the side of the one with whom he vowed to remain for better or for worse, until death do them part. And that will require unique patience, obsessive commitment and infinite sensitivity.
And, with apologies to Thomas More:
“Peter, it profits a man nothing to give his wife for the whole world... but for Northern Ireland?”