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Mary Robinson

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Title: Mary Robinson  
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Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson in 2013
7th President of Ireland
In office
3 December 1990 – 12 September 1997
Preceded by Patrick Hillery
Succeeded by Mary McAleese
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
In office
12 September 1997 – 12 September 2002
Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Preceded by José Ayala Lasso
Succeeded by Sérgio Vieira de Mello
In office
5 November 1969 – 5 July 1989
Preceded by William Bedell Stanford
Succeeded by Carmencita Hederman
Constituency University of Dublin
Personal details
Born Mary Therese Winifred Bourke
(1944-05-21) 21 May 1944
Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland
Political party Independent (Before 1977, 1981–present)[1]
Labour Party (1977–1981)
Spouse(s) Nicholas Robinson (m. 1970–present)
Children 3
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin
Harvard University
From the BBC programme Desert Island Discs, 28 July 2013[2]

Problems playing this file? See .

Mary Therese Winifred Robinson (née Bourke; Irish: Máire Bean Mhic Róibín;[3] born 21 May 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo) served as the seventh, and first female, President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, from 1997 to 2002. She first rose to prominence as an academic, barrister, campaigner and member of the Irish Senate (1969–1989). She defeated Fianna Fáil's Brian Lenihan and Fine Gael's Austin Currie in the 1990 presidential election becoming, as an Independent candidate nominated by the Labour Party, the Workers' Party and independent senators, the first elected president in the office's history not to have had the support of Fianna Fáil.[4]

She is widely regarded as a transformative figure for Ireland, and for the Irish presidency, revitalising and liberalising a previously conservative, low-profile political office. She resigned the presidency two months ahead of the end of her term of office to take up her post in the United Nations. During her UN tenure, she visited Tibet (1998), the first High Commissioner to do so; she criticised Ireland's immigrant policy; and criticised the use of capital punishment in the United States. She extended her intended single four-year term by a year to preside over the World Conference against Racism 2001 in Durban, South Africa; the conference proved controversial, and under continuing pressure from the US, Robinson resigned her post in September 2002.

After leaving the UN in 2002, Robinson formed Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative,[5] which came to a planned end at the end of 2010. Its core activities were 1) fostering equitable trade and decent work, 2) promoting the right to health and more humane migration policies, and 3) working to strengthen women's leadership and encourage corporate responsibility. The organisation also supported capacity building and

Preceded by
William Bedell Stanford
Independent Senator for the University of Dublin
Succeeded by
as Labour Party Senator
Preceded by
as Independent Senator
Labour Party Senator for the University of Dublin
Succeeded by
as Independent Senator
Preceded by
as Labour Party Senator
Independent Senator for the University of Dublin
Succeeded by
Carmencita Hederman
Political offices
Preceded by
Patrick Hillery
President of Ireland
Succeeded by
Mary McAleese
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
José Ayala Lasso
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Succeeded by
Sérgio Vieira de Mello
  • Biography at Áras an Uachtaráin website
  • Realizing Rights was founded in October 2002 by Mary Robinson
  • Mary Robinson Calls for Global Climate Justice Fund - video report by Democracy Now!
  • Lecture transcript and video of Robinson's speech at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice at the University of San Diego, March 2005
  • Stewart, Bruce. "Mary Robinson". Ricorso. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 

External links

  • Stephen Collins, Spring and the Labour Party (O'Brien Press, 1993) ISBN 0-86278-349-6
  • Eamon Delaney, An Accidental Diplomat: My Years in the Irish Foreign Service (1987–1995) (New Island Books, 2001) ISBN 1-902602-39-0
  • Garret FitzGerald, All in a Life (Gill and Macmillan, 1991) ISBN 0-7171-1600-X
  • Fergus Finlay, Mary Robinson: A President with a Purpose (O'Brien Press, 1991) ISBN 0-86278-257-0
  • Fergus Finlay. Snakes & Ladders (New Island Books, 1998) ISBN 1-874597-76-6
  • Jack Jones, In Your Opinion: Political and Social Trends in Ireland through the Eyes of the Electorate (Townhouse, 2001) ISBN 1-86059-149-3
  • Ray Kavanagh, The Rise and Fall of the Labour Party:1986-1999 (Blackwater Press 2001) ISBN 1-84131-528-1
  • Gabriel Kiely, Anne o'Donnell, Patricia Kennedy, Suzanne Quin (eds) Irish Social Policy in Context (University College Dublin Press, 1999) ISBN 1-900621-25-8
  • Brian Lenihan, For the Record (Blackwater Press, 1991) ISBN 0-86121-362-9
  • Mary McQuillan, Mary Robinson: A President in Progress (Gill and Macmillan, 1994) ISBN 0-7171-2251-4
  • Olivia O'Leary & Helen Burke, Mary Robinson: The Authorised Biography (Lir/Hodder & Stoughton, 1998) ISBN 0-340-71738-6
  • Michael O'Sullivan, Mary Robinson: The Life and Times of an Irish Liberal (Blackwater Press, 1993) ISBN 0-86121-448-X
  • Robinson, Mary (2013). Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice. New York: Walker Publishing Company.  
  • Lorna Siggins, The Woman Who Took Power in the Park: Mary Robinson, President of Ireland, 1990-1997 (Mainstream Publishing, 1997) ISBN 1-85158-805-1
  • Torild Skard, "Mary Robinson", Women of Power - Half a century of female presidents and prime ministers worldwide(Bristol: Policy Press, 2014) ISBN 978-1-44731-578-0

Further reading

  1. ^ Robinson stood as an independent presidential candidate but received support from the Labour Party, the Workers' Party.
  2. ^ "Mary Robinson". Desert Island Discs. 28 July 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 13 November 2013.
  3. ^ "Máire Mhic Róibín". Retrieved 29 December 2008. 
  4. ^ "Elections Ireland: Presidential Elections". Retrieved 29 December 2008. 
  5. ^ "Our Board: Mary Robinson". Realizing Rights. Retrieved 2012-03-14. 
  6. ^ "Our President: Mary Robinson - About Us". The Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice. Retrieved 2012-03-13. 
  7. ^ IHRB
  8. ^ 'Fireside chat' with Mary Robinson Retrieved 11 August 2011
  9. ^ "Mary Robinson". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17 January 2009. 
  10. ^ McGreevy, Ronan (4 April 2007). "Mount Anville hands over control".  
  11. ^ "Chancellor's Biography".  
  12. ^ "Europe | Mary Robinson: Human rights champion". BBC News. 18 March 2002. Retrieved 2010-08-28. 
  13. ^ 
  14. ^ a b  
  15. ^ O'Connell, Edel (9 November 2011). "Child of Aras answers Ireland's call at Occupy Dame Street protest". Irish Independent. Retrieved 9 November 2011. 
  16. ^ "Professor Mary Robinson". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 21 June 2009. 
  17. ^ Crawford, Caroline (18 September 2012). "'"Priest blasted Mary in family's church: 'Mum and dad fled cathedral as I was denounced. Evening Herald. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  18. ^ "Mary Robinson". Retrieved 21 June 2009. 
  19. ^ Shiel, Tom (22 December 2008). "Robinson has no hard feelings over Flynn jibe".  
  20. ^ McDowell, a former TD, had been a controversial figure in the government. Though with no seat in parliament, he was nevertheless projected as the party's "conscience", launching attacks on Fianna Fáil that caused considerable anger in Fianna Fáil. The PDs threatened to quit the government after the revelations about Lenihan. They gave Haughey an ultimatum: either hold an inquiry into the pressure placed on President Hillery, or dismiss Lenihan. Through professing loyalty to his "friend of thirty years" Haughey chose the latter option and dismissed Lenihan.
  21. ^ "1990 Presidential - Ireland First Preference Votes". Retrieved 2011-06-09. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ President’s State visit to UK opens up ‘limitless opportunities’ Irish Times, 2013-11-18.
  24. ^ O'Hanlon also criticised Robinson for not making a state visit to the Vatican. That was revealed to be unjustified. She could only make a state visit if invited. No invitation had been issued. As the last state visit had been carried out by President Hillery in 1989, another state visit was not due for at least a decade.
  25. ^ James Jacobs (2010). "Presidential Lectures: Mary Robinson - Free and Equal in Dignity and Rights: The Life and Work of Mary Robinson". Stanford University. Retrieved 5 July 2013. 
  26. ^ Robinson, Mary (2013). Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice. New York: Walker Publishing Company. pp. 154–6.  
  27. ^ "Chancellor's Distinguished Lecture Series". University of California, Riverside. 28 January 2005. Retrieved 17 January 2009. 
  28. ^ Statement by the Taoiseach on forthcoming resignation of President Mary Robinson, Department of the Taoiseach (24 July 1997)
  29. ^ Statement by the Ceann Comhairle, being "I wish to formally announce to the House that I received a message from President Mary Robinson that she has resigned from the presidency with effect from 1 p.m. on Friday, 12 September 1997."
  30. ^ Website of the President of Ireland, Mary Robinson profile as at 1 June 2013
  31. ^ Islamic Republic of Iran's commitment to Human Rights
  32. ^ Asian Preparatory Meeting for World Conference on Racism Adopts Declaration, Action Programme
  33. ^ U.N. Rights Chief Says Islamic Headscarf Protest Was Mistake
  34. ^ U.N. rights chief says Islamic headscarf protest was mistake
  35. ^ The Durban Debacle: An Insider’s View of the UN World Conference Against Racism
  36. ^ Burkeman, Oliver (31 July 2002). "America forced me out, says Robinson".  
  37. ^ Rubin, Michael (20 May 2002). "Mary Robinson, War Criminal?".  
  38. ^ lantos, Tom (winter/spring 2002). "The Durban Debacle: An Insider's View of the UN World Conference Against Racism".  
  39. ^ "Mary Robinson". Retrieved 2013-03-07. 
  40. ^ "Former U.S. President and ex-Human Rights Council chief call for ICC probe into Gaza war". Herald Globe. Retrieved 7 August 2014. 
  41. ^
  42. ^ "The North South Prize of Lisbon". North-South Centre. Council of Europe. Archived from the original on 15 February 2008. Retrieved 21 January 2008. 
  43. ^ "News: Honorary doctorates 2004 Spring Convocation". McGill University. 20 April 2004. Retrieved 11 November 2009. 
  44. ^ "Robinson to lead global jurists group".  
  45. ^ "Former Irish President becomes honorary graduate". University of Bath News. 17 September 2009. Retrieved 17 September 2009. 
  46. ^ Editor. "Editor". None. Irish Publishing News. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  47. ^ "Club of Madrid". Archived from the original on 26 May 2008. Retrieved 31 October 2008. 
  48. ^ "Eminent Advisory Board". 
  49. ^ "Famine in Somalia Ignites Parliamentary Action". 
  50. ^ "Mary Robinson shared her grave concern about spreading famine in Somalia". 
  51. ^ The Associated Press (18 March 2013). "Ex-Irish president Mary Robinson named UN envoy to oversee implementation of Congo peace deal". The Edmonton Journal. Retrieved 18 March 2013. 
  52. ^ "Robinson to head United Nations effort on climate change". Irish Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  53. ^ "President Obama Names Medal of Freedom Recipients". White House Office of the Press Secretary. 30 July 2009. 
  54. ^ "Pro-Israel groups attack US honour for Robinson".  
  55. ^ 'White House'': Remarks By The President At The Medal Of Freedom Ceremony"'". 13 August 2009. Retrieved 2011-06-09. 
  56. ^ 'Amnesty International'': Amnesty International congratulates Mary Robinson on Medal of Freedom"'". 10 August 2009. Retrieved 2011-06-09. 
  57. ^ a b : Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel congratulate Mary Robinson on Medal of FreedomRealizing RightsMandela and Graca Machel congratulate Mary Robinson on Medal of Freedom.pdf
  58. ^ a b c d 'Jerusalem Post'': Despite critics, White House honors Robinson"'". 12 August 2009. Retrieved 2011-06-09. 
  59. ^ Mary Robinson’s Medal of Freedom, WSJ, 10 August 2009
  60. ^ Landler, Mark (6 August 2009). 'New York Times'': Jewish Groups Say Obama’s Pick for Medal Has Anti-Israel Bias"'". Retrieved 2011-06-09. 
  61. ^ 'Belfast Telegraph'': Former Irish president Mary Robinson 'bullied' by pro-Israel lobbyists"'". 3 August 2009. Retrieved 2011-06-09. 
  62. ^ 'White House'': Press Briefing By Press Secretary Robert Gibbs"'". 5 August 2009. Retrieved 2011-06-09. 
  63. ^ United States Speaker of the House: Pelosi Statement on Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients
  65. ^ Congressman Michael E. McMahon: McMahon Congratulates Medal of Freedom Recipient Mary Robinson
  66. ^ "Congress of the United States". 11 August 2009. 
  67. ^ "Nancy Rubin — Open Letter to President Obama". Nancy Rubin. 12 August 2009. Retrieved 12 August 2009. 
  68. ^ "Israeli human rights groups back Robinson pick". JTA. 10 August 2009. Retrieved 12 August 2009. 
  69. ^ "Oxfam International congratulates Mary Robinson on US Presidential Medal of Freedom". Oxfam International. 11 August 2009. Retrieved 12 August 2009. 
  70. ^ 'Council of World Women Leaders'': 2009 US Presidential Medal of Freedom Awarded to H.E. President Mary Robinson"'". Retrieved 2011-06-09. 
  71. ^ 'Champalimaud Foundation'': Mary Robinson Awarded 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom"'". Retrieved 2011-06-09. 
  72. ^ Investing in Ireland. 'Business Week'': ImagineNations Group Congratulates Mary Robinson on Receiving Presidential Medal of Freedom"'". Retrieved 2011-06-09. 
  73. ^ 'International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission'': USA: IGLHRC Congratulates Presidential Medal of Freedom Winners"'". 13 August 2009. Retrieved 2011-06-09. 
  74. ^ "DPI Press Kit".  

Media coverage in The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Examiner (now renamed the Irish Examiner), The Star, The Irish Mirror, The Irish Sun, The Sunday Tribune, The Sunday Independent, The Sunday Times, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian. Also briefing notes issued on various occasions (notably state, official or personal visits by Robinson abroad) supplied by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Buckingham Palace, Áras an Uachtaráin, the Holy See and the press offices of the United Nations (including[74] the text of her Romanes Lecture in November 1997). Some background came via an interview with Robinson.



The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission congratulated Robinson, saying she "helped advance recognition of the human rights of LGBT people in her capacity as President of Ireland and as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She has been unwavering in her passionate call to end torture, persecution, and discrimination against LGBT people globally."[73]

In a letter to President Obama, Nancy Rubin, a former American ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission, welcomed the award and praised Robinson as a "dedicated crusader for human rights for all people".[67] Oxfam confederation also expressed its strong support for Robinson.[68][69] The Council of Women World Leaders,[70] the Champalimaud Foundation,[71] and the ImagineNations Group[72] welcomed the presentation of the Medal of Freedom to Robinson.

United States Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi,[63] United States Senate Assistant Majoriy Leader Dick Durbin,[64] and some other legislators[65] welcomed the presenting of the award to Robinson."[66] Forty-five Republican Congressmen sent a letter to President Obama raised issue with the presentation citing "her failed, biased record as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights".[58]

The award was criticised by some American and European Jewish groups, while other groups offered support for the award. Parties opposed to the award included [58] In response to the protests by some Jewish groups and commentators, Robinson said she was “surprised and dismayed” and that "this is old, recycled, untrue stuff,” “I have been very critical of the Palestinian side. My conduct continues to be on the side of tackling anti-Semitism and discrimination,” Robinson said.[60] "There's a lot of bullying by certain elements of the Jewish community. They bully people who try to address the severe situation in Gaza and the West Bank. Archbishop Desmond Tutu gets the same criticism," Robinson also said.[61] In an open letter to Robinson, Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, rejected Robinson's claim at being misunderstood or bullied by those who criticize her role in Durban. He said that she failed to confront purveyors of anti-Israel rhetoric. "You may not have been the chief culprit of the Durban debacle, but you will always be its preeminent symbol", he added.[58] When asked about the opposition to the award by AIPAC and other Jewish groups, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs replied "Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland, and she is somebody whom we are honoring as a prominent crusader of women's rights in Ireland and throughout the world."[62]

Amnesty International congratulated Mary Robinson on being named as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. "Mary Robinson has long defended the rights of the underdog and has never shirked from speaking truth to power,” said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International. "As an outspoken, passionate and forceful advocate for human rights and human dignity in all regions of the world, Mary Robinson has helped countless individuals from Sierra Leone to Rwanda to the Balkans to Somalia and to the Middle East," she continued.[56] Nelson Mandela[57] and Graca Machel[57] also congratulated Robinson on her acceptance of the award.

In July 2009, she was awarded the [55]

Robinson receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.

Presidential Medal of Freedom

[52] In July 2014, Ban Ki-moon made Robinson his Special Envoy for Climate Change to interact with global leaders ahead of the 2014

U.N. Special Envoy for Climate Change

In March 2013, Robinson was chosen to oversee the implementation of a peace deal to stabilize the troubled central African country of Congo. Appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Robinson was expected to play a key role in supporting implementation of the U.N.-drafted peace deal signed by 11 African countries in late February 2013.[51]

U.N. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region of central Africa

Robinson currently serves on the Eminent Advisory Board[48] of the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA), which has been used as a platform to promote her messages on issues such as the Famine in the Horn of Africa.[49][50]


Mary Robinson serves as an Honorary Co-Chair for the World Justice Project. The World Justice Project works to lead a global, multidisciplinary effort to strengthen the Rule of Law for the development of communities of opportunity and equity.

World Justice Project

She is a member of the Club of Madrid.[47]

In September 2012 Mary Robinson's memoir Everybody Matters was published with Hodder & Stoughton.[46]

On 29 September 2010, at a ceremony in Dublin, Mary Robinson received a knighthood from the Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem. As a former Head of State and in recognition of her significant contribution towards human rights she was awarded the honour of Dame Grand Cross of Merit.

In September 2009, she was awarded the 2009 Inamori Ethics Prize by Case Western Reserve University where she gave a lecture entitled "New Challenges to Human Rights in the 21st Century" at Severance Hall in Cleveland, OH. In the same month, she was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Bath at the 1100th anniversary celebration of the Diocese of Bath and Wells, where she gave a lecture entitled "Realising rights: the role of religion in human rights in the future".[45]

In January 2009, Robinson was appointed as head of the International Commission of Jurists.[44]

In 2007, she joined the Arab Democracy Foundation as a founding member of its Board of Trustees.

In October 2006 she was awarded the Social Science Principes de Asturias Prize. The jury commended her for "offering her non-conformist, brave and far-reaching voice to those who cannot speak for themselves or can barely be heard." In the same month she was the keynote speaker at The Future of International Criminal Justice Symposium hosted by the Penn State Dickinson School of Law, where she spoke on "The Rule of Law and International Human Rights in Challenging Times".

In May 2005 she was awarded the first "Outspoken" award from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).

In March 2005, Robinson gave a lecture entitled "Human Rights and Ethical Globalization" at the University of San Diego's Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series.

In 2004, Mary Robinson was awarded an Honorary Degree by McGill University.[43]

in 2003 the prestigious Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold of the United Nations Association of Germany in Berlin.

In 2002 she was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize for her outstanding work as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and

In 1997 she was one of the two winners of the North-South Prize.[42]

Robinson is a member of the Club de Madrid, a group of former democratic leaders who work to strengthen democratic leadership and governance. She was formerly president of the Club.[41]

In 1991, Mary Robinson was awarded honorary doctorates by Brown University and the University of Cambridge.

Post president period

Robinson is the twenty fourth, and first female, Chancellor of University of Dublin (i.e. Trinity College). She represented the University in the Senate for over twenty years and held the Reid Chair in Law.

University of Dublin

Mary Robinson has been active in The Elders' work, participating in a broad range of the group's initiatives. She has travelled with Elders delegations to Cote d'Ivoire, the Korean Peninsula, Ethiopia, India, South Sudan and the Middle East.[39] In August 2014 she was joined by fellow Elder Jimmy Carter during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict to pen an article in Foreign Policy, pressing for the inclusion of recognition of Hamas as a legitimate political actor, noting the recent unity deal between Hamas and Fatah when the former agreed with the Palestinian Authority to denounce violence, recognize Israel and adhere to past agreements. Robinson and Carter called on the UN Security Council to act on what they described as the inhumane conditions in Gaza, and mandate an end to the siege.[40]

"This group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken," Mandela commented. "Together we will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair."

On 18 July 2007 in Johannesburg, South Africa, The Elders, in a speech he delivered on the occasion of his 89th birthday.

The Elders

Robinson's posting as High Commissioner ended in 2002, after sustained pressure from the United States led her to declare she was no longer able to continue her work.[36] Robinson had criticised the US for violating human rights in its war on terrorism and the World Conference against Racism was widely condemned in the US for its perceived anti-semitism. Michael Rubin even went so far as to suggest in a tongue-in-cheek article that she be tried for war crimes for presiding over "an intellectual pogrom against Jews and Israel."[37] United States Congressman Tom Lantos faulted her for neglecting "to provide the leadership to keep the conference on track" and accused her of shouldering "much of the responsibility for the debacle."[38] On 9 November 2006 in Yogyakarta, she attended the international Conference, then she became one of 29 signators of the Yogyakarta Principles, adopted for protection of LGBT rights by International Human Rights Law.

Though she had initially announced her intention to serve a single four-year period, she extended the term by a year following an appeal from Annan, allowing her to preside over the 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, as Secretary-General. The conference drew widespread criticism, as did Robinson. Former US Congressman Tom Lantos said, "To many of us present at the events at Durban, it is clear that much of the responsibility for the debacle rests on the shoulders of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who, in her role as secretary-general of the conference, failed to provide the leadership needed to keep the conference on track."[35]

In 2001, Robinson chaired the Asia Regional Preparatory Meeting for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related intolerances, which was held in Tehran, Iran.[31] At this meeting, the representatives of neither the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish group, nor the Baha'i International Community were permitted to attend.[32] Robinson wore a headscarf at the meeting, because the Iranians enforced an edict that all women attending the conference must wear a headscarf. Women who did not wear the headscarf were criticized, and Robinson said that it "played into the hands of religious conservatives."[33][34]

Robinson was the first High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Tibet, making her trip in 1998. During her tenure she criticised the Irish system of permits for non-EU immigrants as similar to "bonded labour" and criticised the United States' use of capital punishment.

In November 1997, still new to her post, Robinson delivered the Romanes Lecture in Oxford on the topic of "Realizing Human Rights"; she spoke of the "daunting challenge" ahead of her, and how she intended to set about her task. She concluded the lecture with words from The Golden Bough: "If fate has called you, the bough will come easily, and of its own accord. Otherwise, no matter how much strength you muster, you never will manage to quell it or cut it down with the toughest of blades."

Robinson in Somalia, 2011.

Robinson became the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 12 September 1997, resigning the Presidency a few weeks early in order to take up the post. Media reports suggested that she had been head-hunted for the post by Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan to assume an advocacy as opposed to administrative role, in other words to become a public campaigner outlining principles rather than the previous implementational and consensus-building model. The belief was that the post had ceased to be seen as the voice of general principles and had become largely bureaucratic. Robinson's role was to set the human rights agenda within the organisation and internationally, refocusing its appeal.

High Commissioner for Human Rights

On 24 July 1997 Robinson announced her intention to resign as President of Ireland. The Irish Government stated that her announcement "was not unexpected" and wished her "every success".[28] She resigned by addressing a message to the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil and her resignation took effect from 1 p.m. on Friday, 12 September 1997.[29] She resigned in order to take up appointment as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.[30] Upon her resignation as President, the role of President was transferred to the Presidential Commission (which comprised the Chief Justice, the Ceann Comhairle and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad) from 12 September to 11 November 1997, when the new President Mary McAleese was sworn in.

Resignation as President

Browne's comments matched the attitudes of Irish people on Robinson's achievements as president between 1990 and 1997. By halfway through her term of office her popularity rating reached an unprecedented 93 percent.[27]

She invited groups not normally invited to presidential residences to visit her in Áras an Uachtaráin; from the Christian Brothers, a large religious order who ran schools throughout Ireland but had never had its leaders invited to the Áras, to G.L.E.N., the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network. She visited Irish nuns and priests abroad, Irish famine relief charities, attended international sports events, met the Pope and, against pressure from the Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, not to do so, was the only head of state to meet the 14th Dalai Lama during his tour of Europe.[26] She put a special symbolic light in her kitchen window in Áras an Uachtaráin which was visible to the public as it overlooked the principal public view of the building, as a sign of remembering Irish emigrants around the world. (Placing a light in a darkened window to guide the way of strangers was an old Irish folk custom.) Robinson's symbolic light became an acclaimed symbol of an Ireland thinking about its sons and daughters around the world. She visited Rwanda where she brought world attention to the suffering in that state in the aftermath of its civil war. After her visit, she spoke at a press conference, where she became visibly emotional. As a lawyer trained to be rational, she was furious at her emotion, but it moved many who saw it. One media critic who had slated her presidential ideas in 1990, journalist and Sunday Tribune editor Vincent Browne, passed her a note at the end of the press conference saying simply "you were magnificent."


In one of her roles as president, the signing into law of Bills passed by the Oireachtas, she was called upon to sign two very significant Bills that she had fought for throughout her political career: a Bill to fully liberalise the law on the availability of contraceptives; and a Bill fully decriminalising homosexuality, and which unlike legislation in much of the world at the time, provided for a fully equal age of consent, treating heterosexuals and LGBT people alike.[25]

To the surprise of her critics, who had seen her as embodying liberalism that the Catholic Church disapproved of, she had a close working relationship with the Church. She visited Irish nuns and priests abroad regularly, and became the first president to host an Áras reception for the Christian Brothers. When on a working trip to Rome, she requested, and was granted, an audience with Pope John Paul II. The outfit she wore was condemned by a controversial young priest, Fr. David O'Hanlon, in The Irish Times for supposedly breaking Vatican dress codes on her visit; the Vatican denied that she had — the Vatican dress codes had been changed early in John Paul's pontificate — an analysis echoed by Ireland's Roman Catholic Bishops who distanced themselves from Fr. O' Hanlon's comments.[24]

Foreign Minister Dick Spring, who was leader of the Labour Party, advised her not to meet Adams, whose party was linked with the Provisional IRA. However the Government refused to formally advise her not to meet with him. She felt it would be wrong, in the absence of such formal advice, for her as head of state not to meet the local member of parliament during her visit, and was photographed publicly shaking his hand. During her various visits to Northern Ireland, she in fact regularly met politicians of all hues, including David Trimble of the Ulster Unionist Party and John Hume of the Social Democratic and Labour Party.

In the previous 52 years, only one address to the Oireachtas (parliament) had taken place, by Éamon de Valera in 1966, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising. Robinson delivered two such Addresses. She was also invited to chair a committee to review the workings of the United Nations, but declined when asked to by the Irish government, who feared that her involvement might make it difficult for it to oppose the proposals that would result. Controversially, on one trip to Belfast she met with the local MP, Gerry Adams, the President of Sinn Féin.

Her political profile changed also. Charles Haughey, Taoiseach when she was elected (and who had had to dismiss her rival, Brian Lenihan when the Progressive Democrats, the smaller party in government, threatened to leave the government unless he was sacked) had a diffident relationship with her, at one stage preventing her from delivering the prestigious BBC Dimbleby Lecture.

Robinson was inaugurated as the seventh President of Ireland on 3 December 1990. She proved a remarkably popular president, earning the praise of Brian Lenihan himself who, before his death five years later, said that she was a better president than he ever could have been. She took an office that had a reputation as being little more than a retirement position for prominent politicians and breathed new life into the role. Robinson brought to the presidency legal knowledge, deep intellect, and political experience. She reached out to the Irish diaspora (the large number of Irish emigrants and people of Irish descent). She also changed the face of Anglo-Irish relations, when she was the first serving Irish president to visit the United Kingdom and meet Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.[23] She welcomed visits by senior members of the British royal family, most notably the Prince of Wales, to her official residence, Áras an Uachtaráin.


Robinson became the first Labour Party candidate, the first woman and the first non-Fianna Fáil candidate in the history of contested presidential elections to win the presidency. Famously, RTÉ broadcast her victory speech live rather than the Angelus. Her first television interview as President Elect was on the RTÉ children's television show The Den with Ray D'Arcy, Zig and Zag (puppets) and Dustin the Turkey.[22]

Lenihan's support evaporated, and Haughey concluded that the election was as good as lost. Haughey distanced himself from Lenihan, as he did not want any share in the blame. This had unintended consequences, as disquiet with the Fianna Fáil organisation concerning Haughey's leadership increased dramatically. An episode of an RTÉ current affairs television programme featured Fianna Fáil members in Roscommon openly attacking Haughey's leadership and character. Many canvassers now restarted the campaign to get Lenihan elected. However, Lenihan's personal confidence was shattered and although he recovered somewhat in the polls towards the end of the campaign, it was insufficient. Lenihan won the first count with 44% of the first-preference votes — Robinson attaining 39%.[21] However, transfers from Austin Currie proved critical and the majority of these went as expected against Fianna Fáil. Lenihan became the first Fianna Fáil presidential candidate in the history of the office to lose a presidential election. Robinson now became President, the first woman to hold the office, and the first candidate to be second on first preference votes to win the presidency.

Within days, the "unbeatable candidate" was dismissed as Tánaiste and Minister for Defence. Lenihan's integrity for the highest office in the land was seriously questioned. Lenihan's role in the event in 1982, seemed to imply that he could be instructed by Haughey in his duties, and that electing Lenihan was in effect empowering the controversial Haughey. In a pointless effort to weaken Robinson a government minister and Haughey ally, Pádraig Flynn launched a controversial personal attack on Mary Robinson "as a wife and mother" and "having a new-found interest in her family".[19] Flynn, even more controversially, also joked privately that Robinson would "turn the Áras into the Red Cow Inn". Flynn's tirade was itself attacked in response as "disgraceful" on live radio by Michael McDowell, a senior member of the Progressive Democrats, then in coalition with Fianna Fáil and up to that point supporting Lenihan's campaign.[20] When Robinson met McDowell later in a restaurant, she quipped, "with enemies like McDowell, who needs friends?" Flynn's attack was a fatal blow to Lenihan's campaign, causing many female supporters of Lenihan to vote for Robinson in a gesture of support.

Lenihan denied he had pressured the President but then a tape was produced of an 'on the record' interview he had given to a postgraduate student the previous May in which he frankly discussed attempting to apply pressure. Lenihan claimed that "on mature recollection" he hadn't pressured the President and had been confused in his interview with the student. But the government threatened to fall over the issue.

It emerged during the campaign that what Lenihan had told friends and insiders in private flatly contradicted his public statements on a controversial effort in 1982 by the then opposition Fianna Fáil to pressure President Hillery into refusing a parliamentary dissolution to then Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald; Hillery had resolutely rejected the pressure.

At this point a transfer pact was decided upon between Fine Gael and Labour, as both parties were normally preferred partners for each other in general elections. However the Fine Gael candidate felt shortchanged by this deal as the media was more interested in the Robinson campaign, and privately he did not like Robinson. Currie later remarked that Lenihan was his personal friend, and that he felt personally sick at being asked to endorse somebody he did not like, for the sake of beating Lenihan. The possibility of transfers increased Robinson's chances if only Lenihan could be further weakened.

The head start that Robinson attained in the nomination process, and the fact that the Fine Gael candidate was from Northern Ireland, resulted in Robinson attaining second place in the polls. Given that Fine Gael normally received 25% of the election result, and were reduced to third place this was an achievement in itself. She also obtained the backing of the Workers' Party of Ireland which was strong in Dublin and was considered crucial to getting working class votes. Robinson had proved superior media skills to both alternative candidates, and only now had to compete with the Fianna Fáil party election machine.

Election campaign

However, as the campaign proceeded, it became apparent that Lenihan's victory was by no means a foregone conclusion, and that Robinson was a serious contender. Crucial to her appeal was the deep unpopularity of the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey and the rising popularity of the Labour Party leader Dick Spring. Notwithstanding, Fianna Fáil knew they could count on Lenihan to mount a barnstorming campaign in the last few weeks.

Robinson's campaign was boosted by a lack of organisation in the main opposition party: Fine Gael. Fine Gael, having gambled that former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald would run as its candidate (even though he had insisted for two years that he would not run for office) then approached another senior figure, Peter Barry, who had previously been willing to run but had run out of patience and was no longer interested. The party ultimately nominated the former civil rights campaigner Austin Currie, a respected new TD and former minister in Brian Faulkner's power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland from 1973–74. Currie had little experience in the politics of the Republic and was widely seen as the party's last choice, nominated only when no-one else was available. Fianna Fáil chose Tánaiste and Minister for Defence, Brian Lenihan. Lenihan was popular and widely seen as humorous and intelligent. Like Robinson he had himself delivered liberal policy reform (abolished censorship in the 1960s, for example), and he was seen as a near certainty to win the presidency. The only question asked was whether Robinson would beat Currie and come second.

Candidates from other parties

Few, even in the Labour Party, gave Robinson much chance of winning the presidency, not least because of an internal party row over her nomination. With the Labour Party the first name for a possible candidate was an elderly former minister for Health, and hero to the left, Noel Browne. Browne was a household name for having done more than anybody else in Ireland for tackling Tuberculosis in the 1950s. However Browne's relationship with the Labour Party had been stormy. He was critical of its ties with Fine Gael and had co-founded the short lived Socialist Labour Party in 1977 after leaving the Labour Party. Although he was supported by left wing members within Labour such as Michael D. Higgins, he had little or no contact with Dick Spring and therefore had to live in hope of being nominated without the endorsement of the party leadership. The possibility that Browne might be nominated raised the possibility of an internal argument within the party. The fact that Browne was enthusiastic for candidacy, in a contest where Labour never before contested, now acted as pressure for Labour to find a candidate. Spring did not feel that he could control Browne for the duration of the election, given Browne's history of defying party policy to such a degree that Browne had to leave several political parties. In these circumstances the decision to propose Robinson proved to be politically inspired. Robinson had an advantage in being the first candidate nominated for the election (and the first female), in that she could cover more meetings, public addresses and interviews. However she refused to be drawn on specifics in case she would alienate possible support. Robinson also received the backing of the Irish Times newspaper, and this proved hugely advantageous.

Trinity College Dublin
Robinson served as Reid Professor of Law in the University, as well as being one of its three elected senators in Seanad Éireann for twenty years.

Beating Noel Browne for the nomination

Presidential candidacy

Robinson remained in the Seanad for four more years, although at this point many of the issues she had campaigned for had been tackled. Contraception had been legalised although heavily restricted, women were on juries, and the marriage bar on women in the civil service had been revoked. To the surprise of many, she decided not to seek re-election to the senate in 1989. One year later, however, Labour approached her about the Irish presidency, for which an election was to be held. She thought she was being asked her legal advice about the type of policy programme party leader Dick Spring was proposing. However, as she read the briefing notes, she began to realise that the programme was aimed at her. After some consideration, she agreed to become the first Labour nominee for the presidency and the first woman candidate in what was only the second presidential election to be contested by three candidates since 1945.

In 1982, the Labour Party entered into a coalition government with Fine Gael. When Peter Sutherland was appointed Ireland's European Commissioner, Labour demanded the choice of the next Attorney General. Many expected Robinson to be the choice, but the party leader instead picked an unknown, new senior counsel called John Rogers. Shortly afterwards, Robinson resigned from the party in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement that the coalition under Garret FitzGerald had signed with the British Government of Margaret Thatcher. Robinson argued that unionist politicians in Northern Ireland should have been consulted as part of the deal, despite their reluctance to share power.

Robinson initially served in the Irish upper house as an independent senator, but in the mid-1970s she joined the Labour Party. Subsequently she attempted to be elected to Dáil Éireann (the lower house) but her efforts were unsuccessful, as were her efforts to be elected to Dublin Corporation.[18] Robinson, along with hundreds of thousands of other Irish people, clashed with Dublin Corporation when it planned to build its new administrative headquarters on Wood Quay, one of Europe's best preserved Viking sites. Though Robinson and people who in the past might not have espoused her causes, fought a determined battle, Wood Quay was ultimately bulldozed and concreted over, to build the controversial Civic Offices.

For many years Robinson also worked as legal advisor for the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform with future Trinity College senator David Norris. Coincidentally, just as Mary McAleese replaced Mary Robinson as Reid Professor of Law in Trinity, and would succeed her to the Irish presidency, so Robinson replaced McAleese in the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform.

One of the Civic Offices (nicknamed the 'Bunkers').
Dublin Corporation controversially built them on what had been one of the world's best preserved Viking sites, at Wood Quay. Robinson gave legal support to the leaders of the unsuccessful campaign to save the site.
  • Joint Committee on EC Secondary Legislation (1973–1989)
    • Chairman of its Social Affairs Sub-Committee (1977–87)
    • Chairman of its Legal Affairs Committee (1987–89)
  • Joint Committee on Marital Breakdown (1983–1985)

Robinson's early political career included election to Dublin City Council in 1979, where she served until 1983. However she first hit national headlines as one of University of Dublin's three members of Seanad Éireann to which she was first elected, as an independent candidate, in 1969.[16] From this body she campaigned on a wide range of liberal issues, including the right of women to sit on juries, the then requirement that all women upon marriage resign from the civil service, and the right to the legal availability of contraception. This latter campaign won her many enemies. She was denounced from the pulpit of Ballina Cathedral for her campaigning for family planning rights for women in Ireland, causing distress to her parents.[17] Condoms and other items were regularly sent in the post to the senator by conservative critics and a false rumour was spread that the chain of pharmacies Hayes, Conyngham & Robinson was owned by her family (and so therefore that her promotion of contraception was an attempt to benefit members of her family). So unpopular was her campaign among fellow politicians that when she introduced the first bill proposing to liberalise the law on contraception into the senate, although two other members 'seconded' the initiative, political leaders did not put it on the agenda for discussion. As a senator she served on the following parliamentary committees:

Career in Seanad Éireann

In 1970, Bourke married [14] Together they have three children. Her son Aubrey, a photographer and film-maker who is "committed to social justice", received media attention in 2011, when he participated in Occupy Dame Street.[15]

Mary Bourke attended Mount Anville Secondary School in Dublin[10] and studied law at Trinity College, Dublin, King's Inns and Harvard Law School.[11] In her twenties, she was called to the Inner Bar as Senior Counsel and was appointed Reid Professor of Law in the college, considered to be a prestigious appointment made to accomplished lawyers.[12] A subsequent holder of the title was her successor as Irish president, Mary McAleese. In 1965 she was elected as a Scholar of Trinity College Dublin.[13]

Born Mary Therese Winifred Bourke in Ballina, County Mayo, in 1944, she is the daughter of two medical doctors.[9] Her father was Dr. Aubrey Bourke of Ballina, County Mayo, while her mother was Dr. Tessa Bourke (née O'Donnell) of Carndonagh, Inishowen. The Hiberno-Norman Bourkes have been in Mayo since the thirteenth century. Her family had links with many diverse political strands in Ireland. One ancestor was a leading activist in the Irish National Land League of Mayo and the Irish Republican Brotherhood; an uncle, Sir Paget John Bourke, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II after a career as a judge in the Colonial Service; while another relative was a Catholic nun. Some branches of the family were members of the Anglican Church of Ireland while others were Catholics. More distant relatives included William Liath de Burgh, Tiobóid mac Walter Ciotach Bourke, and Charles Bourke. Robinson was therefore born into a family that was a historical mix of rebels against and servants of the Crown.



  • Background 1
  • Career in Seanad Éireann 2
  • Presidential candidacy 3
    • Beating Noel Browne for the nomination 3.1
    • Candidates from other parties 3.2
  • Election campaign 4
  • Presidency 5
    • Popularity 5.1
    • Resignation as President 5.2
  • High Commissioner for Human Rights 6
  • The Elders 7
  • University of Dublin 8
  • Post president period 9
    • World Justice Project 9.1
    • AWEPA 9.2
    • U.N. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region of central Africa 9.3
    • U.N. Special Envoy for Climate Change 9.4
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom 10
  • References 11
  • Further reading 12
  • External links 13

In 2004, she received Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience Award for her work in promoting human rights.

. Trilateral Commission. Robinson was a member of the European members of the Council of Women World Leaders (IIED) and is also a founding member and Chair of the International Institute for Environment and Development since 2005. She is Chair of the EIUC Robinson served as Oxfam's honorary president from 2002 until she stepped down in 2012 and is honorary president of the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation [8].University of Pretoria and the Centre for the Study of AIDS at the Centre for Human Rights Committee. Robinson is an Extraordinary Professor in the Ibrahim Prize and [7]

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