1st Woman President of Ireland, 1990-1997
An advocate for women, as well as for the poor and underserved, Mary Robinson is said to be the most popular president Ireland ever had. She passed two controversial bills into law:
- Decriminalizing homosexuality
- Legislating contraception
She resigned her office two months before her term ended and took the position of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a post she held from 1997 to 2002. She then formed Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative, which fostered equitable trade and decent work, promoted the right to health and humane migration policies, strengthened women’s leadership and encouraged corporate responsibility. The organization ended by design in 2010.
She set up the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice. It is a center for leadership, education and advocacy to secure global justice for victims of climate change, which includes the poor, disempowered and marginalized. She is chair of Institute for Human Rights and Business and Chancellor of the University of Dublin. Since 2004, she has been Professor of Practice in International Affairs at Columbia University where she teaches international human rights.
Mary Therese Winifred Bourke (Irish spelling of first name: Máire) was born in Ballina, county Mayo, in 1944 the daughter of two medical doctors. She studied law at Trinity College and King’s Inns in Dublin and Harvard University. Although a Catholic, she was a critic of some of the church’s teachings, notably removing the prohibition of divorce in the Irish Constitution as well as those listed above.
She married fellow law student Nicholas Robinson in 1970, a protestant. Although her family had links to the Church of Ireland, her marriage caused a rift with her parents, who did not attend her wedding. Since then, they have been reconciled. The couple has three children.
She wrote her memoir, “Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice,” in 2013. Twenty-five facts about Mary Robinson (link below) as well as the Vanity Fair article (link below) are fascinating and inspirational.