She was the first ever female President of Ireland and has always been a champion of the less privileged in this world. As she celebrates her 80th birthday, David Tucker looks back on her stellar career.


PEOPLE’S champion Mary Robinson, Ireland’s first female president – and one of the most popular – celebrates her 80th birthday on May 21 this year.

Admired by all at home and abroad, the former Labour politician turned Independent has, over the past decades, built an unshakeable foundation as a politician, diplomat and champion of the downtrodden.
A graduate of Trinity, she served on the Joint Committee on EC Secondary Legislation (1973–89) and as Chairman of its Social Affairs Sub-Committee (1977–87), Chairman of its Legal Affairs Committee (1987–89), and on the Joint Committee on Marital Breakdown (1983–85).

She was a member of Dublin City Council from 1979 to 1983. Robinson was a founding member of the Council of Women World Leaders and served as the Chair of the Council from 2003-2009.
Robinson served as Ireland’s 7th president building a reputation as Ireland’s social conscience; a voice for the voiceless, a person who was never afraid to speak the truth and defend it.
In her inaugural presidential address (December 3, 1990), Robinson spoke of her desire to represent not only the Irish state but also Irish communities, both living in Ireland and as part of the Irish diaspora abroad.
Robinson spoke of the contribution Ireland could play in an integrated Europe by ‘taking principled and independent stands on issues of international importance’.

In her address she also extended the hand of friendship to communities in Northern Ireland ‘with no strings attached, no hidden agenda’ to encourage understanding and tolerance.
Nancy Rubin, a former US Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission once described Robinson as a ‘dedicated crusader for human rights.’
In a prescient quote Robinson said: ‘Today’s human rights violations are the causes of tomorrow’s conflicts’, a statement still relevant today.

‘I wanted to be a good advocate and someone who could make a difference in political life,’ she told Alison Beard in an interview for the Harvard Business Review.
‘I was elected by the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system. In a society where the rights and potential of women are constrained, no man can be truly free. He may have power, but he will not have freedom.’

Beard writes that lacking formal power, Robinson used the ‘moral authority’ of her office to rally public opinion.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own