Why did Iris Robinson leave office? That’s the £840,000 question. The reflex response is to focus on the giant sum and to link it with the Swish Family Robinson image, but that’d be unfair. Mrs Robinson will get her money (i) because she has served a specific amount of time in Westminster and at Stormont and (ii) because she retired on ill-health grounds. There’s no disputing the time spent as a public representative. She held the Strangford seat since 2001, and she’s been an MLA since Stormont and power-sharing was established.
So was it mental health problems that caused her to resign? Well, a rooster crowing and the sun coming up each morning doesn’t mean the rooster caused the sun to come up. Likewise Iris’s resignation happened at the same time as revelations about her teenage lover and money being shovelled around in a suspicious way surfaced, but that doesn’t mean her resignation was caused by the teenage lover/dodgy financial stuff. The thing is this, though: while it’s easy to see how teenage lover/dodgy financial stuff could cause her to resign, it’s not clear what mental ill-health factors could have caused her to resign. And what if the mental health problems arose as a result of the adultery and the dodgy financial stuff – would that make a difference to your judgement on the pension arrangements?
It’s something we’re not good at but we need to separate the actions of the individual in claiming the money and the system that makes such a claim possible. Do I blame Iris Robinson for reaching out for her nearly-a-million goodbye money? Not for a moment, whether she resigned because she was ill or whether she resigned because she was caught with her designer drawers down. I do blame the system, if it allows a woman who was caught up in a sex-and-money scandal to put her fist into the public purse.
And that’s what, rightly or wrongly, an awful lot of people are thinking this morning.