Mary Robinson, the first woman President of Ireland (1990-1997) and more former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), has spent most of her life as a human rights advocate. Born Mary Bourke in Ballina, County Mayo (1944), the daughter of two physicians, she was educated at the University of Dublin (Trinity College), King's Inns Dublin and Harvard Law School to which she won a fellowship in 1967.
A committed European, she also served on the International Commission of Jurists, the Advisory Committee of Interights, and on expert European Community and Irish parliamentary committees. The recipient of numerous honours and awards throughout the world, Mary Robinson is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and the American Philosophical Society and, since 2002, has been Honorary President of Oxfam International. A founding member and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, she serves on many boards including the Vaccine Fund, and chairs the Irish Chamber Orchestra.
Currently based in New York, Mary Robinson is now leading Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative. Its mission is to put human rights standards at the heart of global governance and policy-making and to ensure that the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable are addressed on the global stage.
Question: What does it mean to be Irish?
Mary Robinson: I thought about that a lot, particularly when I had been honored to be elected President of Ireland. First of all I put a light in the window of the official residence for all of those who had to immigrate. Because when I was growing up in Mayo, immigration was just a terrible, terrible loss. There was a book written about “No One Shalt Stop,” and I wanted to gather in that wider Irish family. And there were a number of reasons for that. We were trying to build the reconciliation peace process in Northern Ireland, and I felt that the Irish are, in fact, much more diverse than we think. We’re all over the world, and we have intermingled, intermarried, and we’ve made our contribution. So by gathering in that Irish Diaspora, I think it was very helpful to a modern sense of a more open Irishness, which went beyond being Catholic and Republican to embracing the many strands of Irishness.
Recorded on: 7/25/07