She became Ireland's first female President, paving the way for Mary McAleese who filled the role after her. But I was very heavily criticized. In the short term, it’s very painful, and you wonder if your life is going to recover. The final count raised her total to 52% and she was duly elected, in what was a watershed moment for Irish politics and society. It’s an important question, but it’s not one that I’m going to answer because I very much value the tradition of former presidents of Ireland not speaking about issues that are in the current political domain. I know you’ve had a long and successful marriage. You’ve described yourself as a provoker, from your advocacy of women’s and homosexuals’ rights when you were a lawyer to your firm stance against some U.S. policies at the UN. She was succeeded as Chancellor by Mary McAleese, who had also succeeded her as president of Ireland. To do that, you have to partner well, to find the niche issue that will point to a whole area to be addressed by those with power. How did you make up your mind to do it? At the same time, I had people who didn’t care about human rights doing almost nothing but on secure contracts, so I couldn’t fire them. A former lawyer (who once thought she’d be a nun), she went on to serve as the United […]. In the Ireland I grew up in, there weren’t many options for young women. MARY MCALEESE (C) AND MARY ROBINSON(R) IN 1984 LEAVE DUBLIN CASTLE. Mary Robinson finished first in the election, with almost 39% of the first preference vote, ahead of Austin Currie (nominated by Fine Gael) and Brian Lenihan (nominated by Fianna Fáil). I wondered, when I was elected, how I would fulfill my promise to represent an Ireland that cared about human rights, and when the opportunity came to go to Somalia and later to Rwanda, I spoke out on the need to address the conflicts, to stop genocidal killing, to support countries coming out of these traumas. Robinson was a popular president, before he died in 2002 Brian Lenihan said that she was a better president than he ever could have been. Before she was elected President of Ireland in 1990, Mrs. Robinson served as Senator for 20 years. I was certainly disappointed not to be chosen as attorney general. Most of my contemporaries were thinking about what to do for a year or two before marrying. For instance, in a speech I made as auditor of the Law Society in 1967, I advocated for changing the Irish constitution and laws to legalize divorce, to introduce family planning, to decriminalize homosexuality and suicide. I was tearing my hair out. I believe they can be useful. She often visited Britain, and became the first Irish president to visit Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. How much emotion should leaders show? She resigned from the office of President on 12 September, 1997, a few months before her term expired, to take up the appointment of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Dec 3, 2015: 25 years since MARY ROBINSON was inaugurated as President of Ireland, writes Cathal Coyle. Photography: MRFCJ Mary Robinson became the first female president of Ireland in 1990 but refused to be a figurehead like her predecessors. In the beginning, maybe their husbands tell them what to do, but a little exercise of power rubs off and they soon begin to think and take their own decisions. Dec 3, 2015: 25 years since MARY ROBINSON was inaugurated as President of Ireland, writes Cathal Coyle. High commissioners come and go, and I’ve had very good successors, but the office has remained a key part of the UN system. Some say that you were passed over for attorney general before the presidency. Born Mary Bourke in 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo, she was educated at Trinity College and King’s Inns in Dublin, and at Harvard University in the United States. It’s a passion for human rights that causes me at times to provoke. He showed that everybody matters, which became the title of my memoir. She had previously criticised the U.S. Government for its perceived violation of human rights in its war on terrorism. At the UN, I agreed to serve an extra year after my first four-year term, and then 9/11 happened. Very shortly after, I had my highest ratings. I went to Paris, and that changed everything. But I learned to be patient. I also wanted to be the chief legal officer in a cabinet government to break that glass ceiling. Mary Robinson has received many honours from various organisations since she was elected the first female chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin in 1998. But obviously, when he consulted everyone, the United States in particular said, “No, she’s too outspoken. I reinterpreted the purely traditional limits that had been put on the office. And yet it hasn’t made the difference that it might have. Harvard Business Publishing is an affiliate of Harvard Business School. Mary Robinson. In 1969 at the age of 25, she became Ireland’s youngest Law professor when she was appointed the Reid Professor of Constitutional Law at Trinity College, Dublin. And I also found it difficult to upgrade very good officers to decent contracts. So a lot of it was playing to the qualities I feel women have perhaps more strongly. After leaving her post at the United Nations, Mary Robinson founded the non-governmental organisation Realising Rights: The Ethical Globalisation Initiative. On one trip to Belfast she met with the local MP, Gerry Adams, the President of Sinn Féin. But it doesn’t take me very long to realize that perhaps I’ve been saved from the wrong choice. Strongly committed to human rights, she used her influence to draw attention to global humanitarian issues. She welcomed visits by senior British royals, most notably the Prince of Wales to Áras an Uachtaráin. She was also a founding member of the Council of Women World Leaders, served as honorary president of Oxfam International and was a member of the Club of Madrid (which promotes democracy). She quickly gained a reputation as a strong advocate for human rights, one such campaign sought to eliminate discrimination against women in Irish society. (It’s now broken: Ireland has its first woman attorney general.) We don’t want her.” I was disappointed, but I could see that I’d had very good innings. What did Irish leaders do wrong in the run-up to the financial crisis, and what advice would you give them now about how to recover from it? 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