Should we kick a politician when they are down?

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Well, sighs of relief all round. Northern Ireland politics has stepped back from the abyss, for now, and Peter Robinson has (perhaps) shown some admirable leadership in continuing to focus on Police and Justice to get a deal. There’s an excellent commentary, along those lines, by Brian Walker on Slugger O’Toole.

I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy BBC’s Spotlight programme on Iris Robinson. I was also fascinated by this this little piece from Suzanne Breen of The Sunday Tribune:

The Robinsons’ home – a huge white villa in east Belfast – is Iris’s pride and joy. The opulence is overpowering: curtains of wine and gold silk rising into a central coronet, towering Chinese vases, hundreds of priceless antiques, and chandeliers in every room. ‘I think I was born in another era,’ Iris said as she gave me a tour. Each room is themed. The dining room is oriental, the sitting room old English, the bathroom Italian, and one bedroom was French. Iris designed them all herself. She hired an artist to paint frescoes – a Tuscan landscape in the bathroom, an African one in the porch.

A massive four-poster Gothic bed with heart-shaped cushions dominated the Robinsons’ bedroom. Iris had her own dressing room. Black lacy underwear was laid out for a function she was attending later. She opened her “bra drawers” to reveal row upon row of sexy lingerie. “Peter has over 1,000 ties and I have as many bras,” she said.

1,000 ties? 1,000 bras? Clearly, we are dealing with an exceptional couple here. Imelda Marcos, eat your heart out.

But aside from the gentle remarks above, I have refrained from attacking Iris Robinson in the last week. She is ill. I wish her a quick recovery. (My restraint did temporarily disappear over the weekend when I read a Guardian report that alleged that she was about to go on a holiday in the French Alps. In response to that I posted an embedded link to the “So here’s to you, Mrs Robinson” song on You Tube. I deleted that link as soon as I read that Peter Robinson said that the reports were untrue and that Mrs Robinson is receiving treatment from an acute psychiatric unit. Though I regret that departure, I note the original report is still on the Guardian website (and it was the Guardian, after all).)

There’s been a fascinating debate on Slugger O’Toole on whether we should ridicule a politician who is reported to be mentally ill, thereby possibly making that illness worse.

As a fellow human being I have great sympathy for Iris Robinson. This issue raises the continually important matter of the public’s attitude to mental illness. Having had a (thankfully, mild) stress related illness ten years ago, I had some taster of mental illness and it’s appalling. If someone was off a normal job because they were ill, we would not demand that they resign. They would be on long term sick.

First of all, I doubt whether Iris Robinson is reading any of the ridicule, unless her carers are incompetent – which I very much doubt. Indeed, when I was ill I didn’t read any newspapers or listen to/watch any media or log onto the internet. I couldn’t – physically. You can’t when you’re ill. Gentle Radio Three classical music was about the limit for me (I couldn’t even bear listening to Classic FM because I vaguely recognised the tunes, which seemed to put a strain on my brain which I couldn’t bear). So there shouldn’t be censorship – but obviously carers for an ill person will make sure that they are not exposed to something that will make them more ill or impede their recovery.

Secondly, I very much doubt whether receiving all the ridicule the MSM and WWW can throw at someone can be as bad as bearing depression.

Thirdly, we ought to remember that political life – even just being a councillor – can play havoc with family life – and Iris has had to be married to a politician for many years. Believe me, it’s enough to disrupt any marriage in some sort of way. It’s just not natural – all the meetings, long hours and pressure – and the Robinsons have had the extra danger and pressure of the Northern Irish political world surrounding them.

All this leads me to conclude that Peter Robinson has taken the right course to temporarily give himself a bit of a break, although launching himself into the issue of police and justice with renewed vigour may not entirely fit that bill.  He would do well to more permanently take a load of pressure off himself, and his wife in the process, and concentrate on getting his wife back to full health, and enjoying his marriage.

One last point on the ridicule. Quite frankly, there seems to be more satisfaction for the soul to be sympathetic to someone, even if (and perhaps because) they haven’t come across as particularly sympathetic to others in the past. – Occupying a sort of moral higher ground, if you like. Carrying on and on with schadenfreude tends to sully or debase the humanity of the person dishing it out, more than the person who is the object of the ridicule. I mean, why carry on? She’s got depression. It can’t get much worse than that for a human being. And, as someone pointed out, she hasn’t killed anyone – as several people involved in Northern Ireland politics have perhaps done.

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