Famous Irish Names: Mary Robinson

March 19, 2009
by findingDulcinea Staff
Mary Robinson was the first woman to serve as Ireland's president and is currently one of the foremost advocates of human rights and equality issues. Despite her tireless and impressive work in law, administration and politics, Robinson’s career has been fraught with opposition and resistance.

First Female President of Ireland

Mary Robinson has had a busy and groundbreaking career. From 1990 to 1997, she served as the first female president of Ireland; from 1997 to 2002, she was the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Robinson has been honored with numerous degrees and awards worldwide, and has been the Honorary President of Oxfam International since 2002.

Addressing the Issues

In 1999, Robinson received the Fulbright Prize for International Understanding. In her acceptance speech, she explained the human issues most critical to her, and how they can be addressed both on local and international levels. Robinson outlined her unwavering support of the right to education, and proposed initiatives for economic, social and cultural rights.

Robinson also evoked the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the beliefs of Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the document’s authors, to illustrate the ongoing struggle for equality worldwide.

Robinson’s citation of Roosevelt highlights another issue close to her heart: equal opportunity for women, a topic on which she elaborates during an interview with the BBC. The British news site also features an interactive program entitled “Who Runs Your World,” which includes questions for and responses to Robinson from BBC readers around the globe.

A Career of Facing Opposition

Robinson’s unwavering support for human rights has not always been met with popular acceptance. Indeed, Robinson's position on human rights issues often runs contrary to what world leaders would like to hear, particularly with regard to her positions on China and Israel. For example, she supported the 2001 Durban Conference against Racism, even after U.S. and Israeli representatives left because of an implication that Zionism was equivalent to racism.

In a July 2002 interview with Salon, Robinson touches on her views on those topics, as well as her decision not to seek a second term as High Commissioner at the United Nations. Robinson also discusses her human rights advocacy in her book "A Voice for Human Rights," which includes a foreword from former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. 

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