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Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson is an Irish politician who served as the seventh president of Ireland from December 1990 to September 1997. She was the country’s first female president and had previously served as a senator in Seanad Éireann from 1969 to 1989 and as a councillor on Dublin Corporation from 1979 to 1983. Although briefly affiliated with the Labour Party during her time as a senator, she became the first independent candidate to win the presidency, not having the support of Fianna Fáil. Following her presidency, Robinson became the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002.

Robinson is widely regarded as having had a transformative effect on Ireland, campaigning successfully on several liberalizing issues as a senator and lawyer. She was involved in the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the legalisation of contraception, the legalisation of divorce, enabling women to sit on juries, and securing the right to legal aid in civil legal cases in Ireland. She was Ireland’s most popular president, at one point having a 93% approval rating among the electorate.

During her tenure as High Commissioner, she visited Tibet, criticized Ireland’s immigration policy, and criticized the use of capital punishment in the United States. She extended her intended single four-year term as High Commissioner by one year to preside over the World Conference against Racism 2001 in Durban, South Africa. Robinson resigned her post in September 2002. After leaving the United Nations in 2002, Robinson formed Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative, which came to a planned end at the end of 2010.

Robinson served as Chancellor of the University of Dublin from 1998 until 2019 and as Oxfam’s honorary president from 2002 until she stepped down in 2012. She returned to live in Ireland at the end of 2010 and has since founded The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice. Robinson remains active in campaigning globally on issues of civil rights. She has been the honorary president of the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation since 2005. She is a former Chair of the International Institute for Environment and Development and is also a founding member and chair of the Council of Women World Leaders. She was a member of the European members of the Trilateral Commission.

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  • more of a ‘force for good’

  • Less of a ‘force for good’


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