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Sunday 15 June 2008

Iris may be a bigot but she's not a killer

The North's first lady should leave consenting adults alone and put her own house in order, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

THE good news for gays is that although Iris Robinson, MP and wife of first minister Peter, finds their sexual practices "disgusting, loathsome, nauseating, wicked and vile", she loves the sinners themselves. Indeed, she speaks much of love. She has "a very lovely psychiatrist" in her office who claims he has turned unhappy homos into happy heteros.

Now, though I'm repelled by the bigotry and ignorance of fundamentalist Christians, and am unlikely to be turned round on that by even the loveliest psychiatrist, let's give them their due. It's better to be gay in born-again land than under Islamic rule.

For instance, the Dublin-based European Council for Fatwa and Research has as its leader an unpleasant Qatar-based Egyptian called Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who, like Iris, thinks that homosexuality is an abomination, but favours stoning, burning or chucking the sinners off cliffs rather than therapy. Iris has strongly condemned gay-bashing.

Sinn Fein, who to my knowledge never criticise the public words of Islamist clerics, are now demanding that Iris be forced to quit as chair of the Assembly's health committee. Martina Anderson, who served 13 years for terrorist offences, is in the lead on this one, although Martin McGuinness has gravely made his displeasure felt.

One gay activist has complained to the police and the Equality Commission on the grounds that Iris has breached his human rights by hurting his feelings and his solicitor is also investigating if she can be done for breaching the Public Order Act by using "threatening behaviour and insulting words". A member of a policing partnership believes her comments "amount to an incitement to hatred".

Iris is relaxed about all this. "I think, at the moment, there is a witch hunt to curb or actually stop or prevent Christians speaking out and I make no apology for what I said because it's the word of God," she told the BBC. And with a sideswipe at the Shinners, she added, "just as a murderer can be redeemed by the blood of Christ, so can a homosexual".

I'm not in favour of dropping Iris off a mountain for offending the politically correct. And she's right about Christianity being given shorter shrift in the UK these days than any other religion. and, if she wants to show herself off as a social dinosaur, that's her affair. Her critics would be far better off using the Bible against her, her husband and colleagues, who have been accused by innumerable political commentators of having last week sold their birthright for a mess of pottage (Genesis 25:34) -- ie of having done a squalid deal with Prime Minister Gordon Brown to save his political career

(temporarily), by voting for extending the period during which one can be held without charge from 24 to 42 days. They and Brown deny there was any deal. But those who don't believe them do believe the rumours of a £200m package for the North.

The DUP say they are tough on terrorism and voted on principle. If that was the case, they should have said so from the outset, instead of getting involved in backroom meetings and making their decision at the last moment. "Selfish bigots" was how they were described in the Daily Mail, a newspaper more sympathetic to North's unionists than most.

That they are saying they will be reminding parties they are a force to be reckoned with in knife-edge votes makes people even more sceptical.

Now, were the DUP Fianna Fail, no eyebrows would be raised at speculation about their having sold their votes for constituency advantage. But the DUP, like their ex-leader Ian Paisley, claim to be a party of uncompromising integrity. It would be unprincipled for people who say they are British to take a bribe to vote for an issue of enormous importance to British civil liberties. And it would also be bad for people who claim to revere the truth to lie about what they've done. "Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are his delight." (Proverbs 12:22).

If I were you, Iris, I'd shut up about private acts by consenting adults and encourage your party to repent and make its peace with the Lord. Remember Matthew 7:4? "How wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull the speck out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?" And I would respectfully suggest that the Shinners read the same passage and do likewise.

Iris Robinson may be a bigot, she may even be colluding to save an authoritarian government in order that her husband can better balance the books, but at least she's never killed anyone.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards