When we hear the name “Mary Robinson”, the first thing that immediately comes to mind is our seventh president of Ireland. However, Robinson is so much more than that and can most definitely be considered as a leading transformative figure of human rights in Ireland.
Robinson’s life began in Mayo. She went on to study Law in Trinity College Dublin, and graduated in 1967 with a first class honours degree. Her political career began when she was elected to Dublin City Council in 1979 and was then accelerated upon her election as one of three senators for the University of Dublin. She sent shockwaves through the status quo when she began campaigning for a wide range of issues that, before this, went unmentioned. These issues ranged from the right of women to sit on juries to, most notably, the decriminalisation of contraception in Ireland. Such issues were considered to be taboo, and the subject of contraception was not a subject to ever be discussed in Catholic Ireland. Robinson has put endless work into various aspects of human rights, most notable is her work in the fields of LGBT rights, women’s rights and climate change.
Robinson was the first member of the Seanad to introduce a bill that would liberalise Ireland’s contraception laws, and this won her many enemies. Robinson stuck to her guns, and continued working towards a better Ireland for all. She also worked as a legal advisor for the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform alongside senator David Norris.
Robinson achieved a number of goals which she strived to achieve in her first few years as a member of the Seanad, which is why it came as a surprise when she did not seek to be re-elected. She was then approached and asked if she would consider running for President of Ireland, she then became the first Labour Party nominee for president as well as the first female nominee. This presidential campaign was also only the second ever to be contested by three candidates. Robinson was elected as Uachtarán na hÉireann in 1990.
Robinson went on to prove herself as one of the most popular Irish presidents to date, and also gained the respect of many conservative politicians who once shunned her. She resigned on her own accord in 1997 and went on to become the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a fitting place for a person who fought for equality for all since the beginning of her career and throughout. From standing against the insertion of the, recently repealed, Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution in 1983 to taking the Irish state to the European Court of Human Rights in order to decriminalise homosexuality in 1988, Robinson can be considered nothing less than a trailblazer.