WORLD

Breaking new ground

Mary Robinson wins the presidency

ANDREW BILSKI November 19 1990
WORLD

Breaking new ground

Mary Robinson wins the presidency

ANDREW BILSKI November 19 1990

Breaking new ground

IRELAND

Mary Robinson wins the presidency

At 25, she was Ireland’s youngest professor of law. At 26, she was the youngest candidate to win a seat in the Senate. Last week, 46-year-old Mary Robinson once again broke new ground. The civil rights activist and lawyer, listed by Dublin bookmakers as a 1,000-to-1 long shot at the start of her campaign, beat all odds to win election as president and become the first female head of state in Irish history. “We have seen an example of people power,” the victor declared, as supporters sang “Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson,” a line from the classic Simon and Garfunkel hit that became her campaign song. “It was a great, great day for the women of Ireland,” added Robinson, who had the support of the Labour and Workers parties and various women’s groups. “It shows we are a young European country looking to the future.”

Robinson’s victory was a severe blow to Prime Minister Charles Haughey and his con-

servative Fianna Fáil party, which had never lost a presidential election. The party’s candidate, Deputy Prime Minister Brian Lenihan, had been the front-runner until a political scandal broke in October. Haughey was forced to fire his deputy after allegations surfaced that in 1982,

Lenihan had tried to persuade President Patrick Hillery, who is retiring next month after 14 years, to appoint Haughey prime minister without formally calling an election. The scandal dramatically reduced Lenihan’s lead going into the Nov. 7 election, but Robinson did not win enough votes outright to claim victory. That took the support of voters whose first preference was third-place

finisher Austin Currie, who ran for the moderate Fine Gael party. Under Ireland’s proportional representation system, Robinson gained the votes of Currie’s supporters who had listed her as their second choice, thus giving her a 52.8-per-cent majority.

Robinson has been at the forefront of change in Irish life for the past 20 years. In a staunchly conservative nation traditionally ruled by men and heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic Church, she has been instrumental in liberalizing laws that restricted contraception and women’s rights. During the campaign, the married mother of three also called for the introduction of divorce, the legalization of homosexuality and the increased availability of information on abortion. But the woman who campaigned with the slogan “You have a voice, I will make it heard” must | remain largely silent during ? her seven-year presidential 5 term, which begins on Dec. 3. As the defender of Ireland’s

Constitution in the ceremonial post, she is required to remain aloof from party politics.

ANDREW BILSKI

MICHAEL KEANE