Of course, we can’t really be surprised by Iris Robinson’s outbursts, at least not if we’re familiar with the realities of the North. If you listen to Talk Back on a regular basis, you’ll be well aware that most callers are fiercely sectarian, and indeed most are homophobic if the issue arises. Day in and day out, you get comments on Radio Ulster that you’d never get away with broadcasting on, say, LBC.
And we’ve been here before in political terms. Last year, Ian Paisley Jr gave an interview to Hot Press wherein he claimed to be “repulsed” by gays. Immediately the DUP supporters swung into action, defending his right to free speech and to express his personal religious beliefs. But his personal religious beliefs were neither here nor there. The point was that, at the time, Baby Doc was a junior minister with responsibility for equality issues – including gay rights.
And so it is with Iris. Her attitude to homosexuality could be overlooked if it was just a matter of her personal religious beliefs. It’s another matter for the chair of the Assembly health committee to declare that homosexuality is a psychiatric disorder that can be cured with just a little Jesus-centred therapy. Likewise, her remarks in the abortion debate caused controversy not because she opposes legalising abortion – the majority of the public would support her in that – but because she said the job of the government was to uphold God’s law. Iran has a religious government. Good for them. I don’t particularly want to live under a religious government.
But what do we have here? We have the inimitable Gail Walker coming out batting for Iris. Unfortunately, Gail is put in an awkward position vis-à-vis the gays, as only a week ago she was bigging up UTV’s Julian Simmons for coming out. So instead Gail chooses the safer ground of abortion. But she doesn’t even really argue about abortion. This is just the jumping-off point for a rant about Gail’s great bête noire, the leftwing media:
Protestant and Catholic, urban or rural, our country is conservative. No amount of phone-ins are going to ‘correct’ that truism and make us all bohemians, run off with Russian girlfriends, advocate gay bishops or think polygamy is a good thing for society.
There is a serious problem in Northern Ireland, yes. But it isn’t what people believe that’s the problem.
The problem is that our media still haven’t got to grips with the new dispensation by which we are governed.
Over the years, the media got into the habit during the ‘Troubles’ of seeking out the minority view — that meant finding someone who didn’t represent any of the main political viewpoints. Somehow that became the sensible view.
Hence people who increasingly represented nobody at all, only themselves, gained access to the media almost by rote. ‘Liberal’ people. The pro-abortion lobby. The gay rights lobby. Conservative party candidates. Those advocating so-called ‘integrated’ education. Or, a favourite of the media, trades union activists who could always be counted on to fly in the teeth of their membership by raising Iraqi flags in protest at the visit of a US president. That type of thing.
These causes — which have their own merits — unfortunately became, for the media, something of a ‘middle ground’. They were causes the media deemed to be ‘good’ and ‘progressive’ and ‘nice’ and it never really mattered that practically the only people who espoused them were the spokespeople themselves.
This take on the Norn Iron media is so grotesque that, not for the first time, I’m left wondering whether Gail lives in an alternate universe. The big problem with the local media during the Troubles was that, with very few exceptions, they were content to relay whatever they were spoonfed from the Northern Ireland Office media centre.
Ireland is united on abortion, you see. And on Euroscepticism. In fact, it is a united Ireland on just about every single social and moral issue you care to name.
The freaks now are those who take opposing views.
They are easy to find, if you wish to speak to them. They are the bottom of every single poll in every single constituency in every single ward in Northern Ireland.
And in a few newsrooms across the province.
Because Gail is rarely specific when referring to “liberals” or “lefties”, it’s really quite difficult to know what she means. What are these far-left media outlets? Who are these unrepresentative people? Is Gail saying that, in a society where violent gay-bashing is all too common, gay activists shouldn’t get their thirty seconds on the evening news? Is she simply trotting out her own prejudices, which she imagines to be the popular will, and demanding the news reflect her priorities? A strange argument for a journalist to make.
And, by the way, the media outlet that’s made the most out of Iris Robinson’s outbursts has not been the Socialist Worker, or even BBCNI, but a venerable old unionist newspaper called the Belfast Telegraph. Gail may have heard of it – it’s where her column appears, and also where she’s employed as features editor.
I don’t know, maybe Gail ought to stick to what she’s good at. Like, for instance, slagging off fourteen-year-old girls.