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Iris Robinson is not a sinner. She's a heroine

Everyone has missed the point about Iris Robinson. The woman is a feminist icon. Were it not for the fact that she's an arch-Protestant, she should be sanctified as St Iris, the patron saint of middle-aged women brave enough to rebel and stick it to the God-fearing men of Ulster.

Instead of regarding her as a sinner, we should be celebrating Iris for her modernity, her spirit, her black lacy underwear and her sheer chutzpah in breaking centuries of convention.

At its fundamentalist worst, Northern Irish Presbyterianism is up there with the Taliban when it comes to the suppression. The average hardline loyalist, secure in the knowledge of his own rectitude, thinks women were placed upon this Earth to support him in his struggle to keep Ulster on the straight and narrow.

For him, the female sex are keepers of cleanlinesss, defenders of family respectability and child-bearing vessels of future loyalism. They go to church; they bake; at night they lie back and think of King Billy. Conjure up a vision of Ian Paisley -- I know, I know -- and repeat that in his accent, and you'll begin to get the feel of being a prisoner in that society.

That's why, when Iris went rogue, and introduced a plot from Sex And The City, or maybe it was Desperate Housewives, into one of the most traditional, conformist societies on this planet, it was a spectacularly brave thing to do. Somewhere along the line, thankfully, Iris realised that that there was more to life than Leviticus and became a woman behaving badly. Here is a heroine for a deeply flawed middle-aged rebellion. She got glamorous. She smouldered. She took lovers -- at least three, it is rumoured, and one of them was, at 19, young enough to be her grandson.

What can we say? To a woman hellbent (to coin a good Presbyterian phrase) on self-fulfilment, pleasure, escape, vanity, money, silk, satin and all things non-puritanical, having spent her best years being stifled, subordinate and holy, I'm inclined only to say: "Atta girl."

But we shouldn't underestimate the terrors of being trapped in a society like that. When her pitiful transgressions were exposed, Iris felt her only option was suicide.

Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, most women in a similar predicament would have got a divorce and a new BMW, or gone on daytime telly.

And no, not one word of this column is to excuse that Iris Robinson is probably fairly ghastly.

But she's ghastly in that thrilling, outrageous Sarah Palinesque way. She believes homosexuality is an abomination; and she has been less than transparent over £5,000 of start-up cash she took back from her 19-year-old lover.

In the fight for freedom, let's face it, all girls make a few mistakes.

Iris Robinson is both courageous and pitiable. She was an unhappy prisoner of fundamentalist Christianity who woke up to the fact that there is, after all, only one life to enjoy. And who knows, maybe she needed the £5,000 for new shoes. After 40 years, I think she deserves them.


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