The president who became an icon

IN JUST over two years in office, Mary Robinson has become an icon almost above criticism. She has fulfilled her election pledge to expand the presidential role, and has done so without treading on sensitive political toes.

She has reassured those who were afraid she would stray into politics in a way which might spark off a constitutional crisis. According to one of her friends: 'At the start some people were very nervous about her - they thought, 'God, if you let her out, what on earth might she do?' Now it's all very relaxed.'

Her combination of astuteness and a ferocious schedule - with more than 800 engagements in her first year - has meant that, far from becoming contEroversial, she has become a highly-regarded national asset. In THER write erroran opinion poll last month, 65 per cent of Irish women cited her as the woman they most admired. (Mother Teresa only got 24 per cent.)

The initial fears of constitutional clashes disappeared when the previous Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, left office, for he gave the impression of resenting her. Mr Haughey himself had a distinctly presidential style.

By contrast, the current Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, has tended to regard Mrs Robinson as an asset rather than a rival.

In her second year in office she undertook more foreign visits, in particular one to areas of Somalia suffering from famine.

The trip aroused extraordinary interest in Ireland. Newspapers carried colour pictures of her with starving children and television pictures showed her weeping. On her return to Dublin unsolicited donations amounting to pounds 150,000 arrived in her office.

On the domestic front, she has continued to make clear her identification with women and groups on the margins of society. In one unprecedented move, she brought more than 30 members of gay and lesbian groups to her official residence in Dublin.

In another, more private, gesture, she attended a small service for a homeless man who had died of cold on the streets of Dublin. This was not a publicity exercise: the media were not informed and reporters who turned up were asked to leave.

Although her predecessors rarely crossed the border, she has made four visits to Northern Ireland. Some northern nationalists worry that she is too sympathetic to Unionists but she has been at pains to make contact with both communities.

Reciprocal state visits between Britain and Ireland are a real possibility at some stage in her seven-year term. These have never happened before, and could symbolise a new departure in Anglo-Irish relations.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk