The Irish bid fond farewell to `irreplaceable' Mary Robinson

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The Independent Online
The light in the window she made famous signalling the emigrant masses of Ireland's diaspora had not been forgotten was extinguished, and at noon Mary Robinson signed off as Irish President after nearly seven whirlwind years in the post.

With United Nations tags already on her Geneva-bound luggage, the departing head of state, still just 53, joked that her husband Nick would now no longer be walking three steps behind her, but conceded she was feeling mixed emotions.

Yesterday, she was widely praised for the way she took a remote and ceremonial Presidency out to the people, using it to encourage the "can do" dynamism of community initiative in projects for the handicapped, the elderly, travellers and the marginalised. She said her lasting memory of her term "would be the smell of fresh paint everywhere I go". Her aim, she said, had been to be "a catalyst for self-development," and reaching across the border into Ulster "taking risks for peace".

It was a task marked by controversy as when, in June 1993, in West Belfast, she shook hands with Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, as moves towards peace under Albert Reynolds' coalition deepened.

Fulfilling over 6,500 engagements in under seven years had been gruelling but enriching, she said. At the last one yesterday, opening 73 Dublin houses and flats for the homeless, residents gave her a book in which each thanked her for her community support. "You are an inspiration for single mothers. You brought equality to women. Ireland will not be able to replace you," wrote one.

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, said she had changed the Presidency forever. "People responded to her with affection, appreciation and pride," he said

Mrs Robinson left for Switzerland in the afternoon where she starts her new job as UN Commissioner for Human Rights on Monday. Her successor will be elected on 30 October.

Alan Murdoch