Perhaps the monarchy in Britain has descended into little more than a "figurehead" having little to do with "mainstream political life". Not so the Irish presidency. Did Mary Robinson's speech in the UN on Somalia have little to do with mainstream political life? Not to the lives saved by the subsequent UN humanitarian intervention.
Mary Robinson transformed the presidency into one of the most relevant political posts for the Irish people. You say "she kept out of the affairs of Northern Ireland" yet remember the uproar when she shook hands with Gerry Adams. She has also invited many common people from both sides of the northern divide to the Irish presidential home.
These were important symbolic acts. Symbols are often more potent than Acts of Parliament.
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