#RespectYourElders: Mary Robinson, is an Irish politician who served as the seventh president of Ireland in the ‘90s — the first woman to hold the position. She later served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Robinson was born in 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo. The daughter of two doctors, she grew up with four brothers and took an interest in human rights early on. Robinson studied law at Trinity College and King’s Inns in Dublin and later at Harvard University.
Robinson was appointed the auditor of the Law Society in Dublin in 1967 where she made her mark. In her inaugural address, she challenged many Irish laws, including on contraception, gay rights, women’s rights and children’s rights. Robinson then became a Reid Professor of penal legislation, constitutional and criminal law, and the law of evidence. She married a fellow law student, Nicholas Robinson in 1970, and the two later founded the Irish Centre for European Law at Trinity College.
Robinson sat in the Seanad, the upper chamber of Parliament, for the Trinity College constituency from 1969 to 1989. While initially a political independent, she joined the Labour Party and served as whip for them until 1985. Robinson fought for a constitution that guaranteed civil rights to all citizens no matter their gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or economic background. In the 1980s, Robinson was elected to the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva, as well as to the Royal Irish Academy. She was also a member of the Dublin City Council. By the end of the decade, Robinson announced she was not going to run again for Seanad — she had bigger ambitions.
In 1990, Robinson announced she’d be running for president. A presidential race in Ireland hadn’t been competitive since 1973. Put forward by the Labour Party, Robinson saw significant support from across the political spectrum and mobilized both liberal and conservative constituencies. On. Dec. 3rd, 1990, she was inaugurated as president; smashing the glass ceiling for women in Ireland.
Robinson made significant strides to shape Ireland into the modern country it is today. Her accomplishments as president included improving Anglo-Irish relations by becoming the first Irish president to visit the U.K. and meet Queen Elizabeth II, made contraceptives available and legal to the public and decriminalized homosexuality. At one point in her presidency, her approval rating was a staggering 93%.
The president resigned in 1997 to become the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She also served as elected chancellor of Trinity College, founded Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative and served as a founding member of the Council of Women World Leaders — among significant other accomplishments.
In a recent interview, Robinson called on the youth to become leaders and step up to make the world a better place.
“We must all collectively work to restore cooperation and compassion as the necessary guides of world affairs: from pandemic preparedness and the response to climate change and nuclear non-proliferation; to racial justice, gender equality and respecting the rights of migrants and refugees.” Robinson said.