In October 2014, the One Young World Summit was held in Dublin. The Summit featured lectures with Mary Robinson, Kofi Annan, Mark Pollock and Meghan Markle to name but a few. KPMG kindly sponsored me to attend the summit. In September 2014, I was asked to write this blog for One Young World in anticipation of Mary Robinson’s contributions to the Summit.
When I was asked to write about Mary Robinson, I was embarrassed to say I was ignorant when it came to Ireland’s first leading lady. In my defence, her term as Ireland’s first female president ended as I celebrated my sixth birthday, which is coincidently shared with the lady herself. So, I asked some people in the know and the general consensus is that without her influence, most of my friends would have been pregnant by the age of 20, and I would still be in the closet!
When I delved into Mrs. Robinson’s past, I was angry I hadn’t done so sooner. A strong member of Seanad Éirinn (the Irish Senate) for twenty years, Mary Robinson was an often controversial figure in Irish politics. Something that particularly piqued my interest was that Robinson backed the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the introduction of contraception. As a gay man born in Ireland in the nineties, it is hard to imagine a world where I could be arrested for my sexuality. However, homosexuality was only decriminalised in Ireland a mere twenty-one years ago.
Mary joined the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform at a time when championing such change could have jeopardised her career. Her campaign for the legal provision of contraception saw her denounced at the pulpit in church, and gained her many enemies on the political circuit. However, Mary stuck to her views – and in my opinion, that’s what a real leader and social revolutionary does. Although her views were not favoured at the time, Mary knew what was right and her determination changed Ireland forever.
I like to think of myself as a modern feminist. I do what I can to support women’s rights, and I thought I was doing pretty well until I researched Mrs. Robinson. If I were to compare myself and Mary Robinson as supporters of feminism, I would be a mere tremble on the Richter scale, and she would be a full force earthquake. Not only did she win the right for women to sit on juries, she is also responsible for repealing regulations that prevented married women from working in the civil service.
Before Robinson became Ireland’s first female president in 1990 the role had almost become disregarded. Mary redefined the presidency in Ireland and ignited a passion in The Emerald Isle. She made efforts to connect with the Irish diaspora when she famously lit a candle in the window of the official residence of the President of Ireland symbolising there would always be a place for them in Ireland. She also breathed life into Anglo-Irish relations, becoming the first serving president to meet Queen Elizabeth II.
Robinson resigned from her post as President of Ireland two months early to serve as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. Although Mary said she found the post “daunting” at the start of her tenure, she yet again conquered so much. She was the first UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Tibet. She also chaired the Asia Regional Preparatory Meeting for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related intolerances. A major career change from the President of Ireland, but she made the transition seamlessly.
Mary is currently a member of The Elders, a group set up by the late, great Nelson Mandela. The Elders are a group of world leaders who provide their wisdom, leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems. Her work with The Elders recently led her to publish an article on the Israel Gaza conflict, in which she pressed the importance of the recognition of Hamas as a legitimate political actor.
In 2010 she set up The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice which aims to put global justice and equity at the core of climate change policy-making, thus empowering the poorest and most vulnerable people of the world. Building on her work on climate justice, this year Mary was appointed as Special Envoy for Climate Change by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. As part of this vital role she is engaging Heads of State and Government around the world to galvanise political will and action ahead of the 2014 Climate Summit in New York and beyond.
I can’t help but think that I owe a lot to Mary Robinson. I can’t help but think that Ireland owes a lot to Mary Robinson. I can’t help but think that the world owes a lot to Mary Robinson. She has revolutionised this small country, and the way we think. She has saved and changed lives and continues to do so the world over. I am privileged to say I share a nationality with this woman and I cannot wait to see her take the stage as one of the prestigious Counsellors at this year’s One Young World Summit in Dublin.
I want to leave you with something Mary said during her Romanes Lecture in Oxford in 1997. I think it is apt as young people all over the world prepare to descend on Dublin for the Summit:
“If fate has called you, the bough will come easily, and of its own accord. Otherwise, no matter how much strength you muster, you never will manage to quell it or cut it down with the toughest of blades.”
Here’s to you Mrs. Robinson!
For more information on One Young World, click here.
For more information on The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, click here.
For more information on The Elders, click here.
Watch Mary Robinson’s lecture on Climate Justice at the One Young World Summit 2014: