Sunday 28 July 2013

Mary Robinson

I wrote awhile back about The Brother getting a gong from The Head of State of our neighbours.  About a year later, he was invited to talk about his life on BBC radio's Desert Island Discs.  The Boy's comment was that, while an honour from the UK government was just grand, getting on DID was clear evidence that his uncle had arrived.  And numerically that has got to be true, as there are only about 40 Desertees in a year and a LOT more medals are awarded.

Today our own President Mary Robinson was washed up on her island and interviewed by Kirsty Young.  You can/should/must listen to the podcast here.  She, perhaps more than any other person, brought Ireland almost into the 20th Century while there was still some time on the clock when she was elected as Uachtarán na hÉireann in 1990.  One of her first stands when she arrived in Áras an Uachtaráin, was to brush aside a bloodless Mandarin of Protocol who was insisting that, because Irish has precedence over English in all constitutional matters, she sign in as Máire Mhic Róibín.  She replied tartly that nobody knew her as anything but Mary Robinson and signing in as Kathleen Ni Houlihan would be a gross hypocrisy and demean the office to which she had been elected.  Collapse of stout party

She was nominated by the Labour Party but was really elected in a passionate campaign by a raggle taggle army of lefties, feminists, radicals, tree-huggers, protestants and The Irish Times.  Fine Gael the second biggest political party insanely nominated a (ooo frisson) Northerner - admittedly as their third choice.  Fianna Fail, who had nominated every successful candidate since the foundation of the state and was the natural party of government put forward Brian Lenihan - embedded, funny, smart and competent.  At the last moment it was revealed that Lenihan, the shoo-in for the Áras, had applied pressure on a previous president to do a favour for The Old Party, denied it and been caught in the lie ("on mature reflection" etc.).  At this point a ghastly old Fianna Fail hack thought it would help their position by calling into question Robinson's qualities as a wife and mother.  Such outrageous invective caused a lot of wives and mothers to choke back their uneasiness about Robinson's stated positions of contraception and homosexuality, and row in behind one of their own.  Collapse of stout political party! 

It was anyway a close run thing in the election but Ireland elected its first female president and one who wasn't going to be a doormat either.  There wasn't a great deal she could do because the office is the Head of State and constitutionally circumscribed but she did a huge amount for morale; she used common sense and pushed at the political certainties of the day so that we were required to look at them a little more critically. One telling nod to the mythic past was that, while she was in the Áras, a candle burnt in the kitchen window which was visible to the dispossessed outside the gates and diaspora outside the country.  A woman's touch much needed in the bluff blokey world of politics. She has gone on to a wider stage in her subsequent work in the UN and shown the same clarity of vision and pragmatism of approach and has achieved some good in the world.  She would have us believe that she is showing, by her own example and by astute tilting of the political and economic process, moral leadership.  I think I concur in her assessment.

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