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Elder stateswoman espouses universal human rights

Comment & Opinion

Mary Robinson takes on the mantle of Tutu and Annan

AS a county and a country, we should be full of pride about the appointment of Iar-Uachtaráin Mary Robinson as the chairperson of The Elders, the international organisation of global leaders working together for peace and human rights.
In her many roles as an ambassador for this country she has done us proud on the world stage from her time as the youngest ever professor of law in Ireland when, aged just 25, she was appointed Reid Professor of Constitutional and Criminal Law at Trinity College. Now aged 74, the Ballina native is just the third person to hold this highly prestigious and influential non-governmental position since it was established by the late South African President Nelson Mandela, in 2007.
She will follow in the footsteps of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the leading South African human rights activist and the late Kofi Annan, who died earlier this year and was United Nations Secretary General from 1997 to 2006.   
The lofty principles of The Elders are underpinned by independence and being beyond ‘the interests of any nation, government or institution’. Humanity’s shared interests and universal human rights are fundamental to the organisation’s ethos. Significantly, the organisation believes that ‘in any conflict, it is important to listen to everyone – no matter how unpalatable or unpopular this may be’ while aiming to ‘act boldly, speaking difficult truths and tackling taboos’.

Late Late
Mary Robinson appeared on the Late Late Show last Friday night, as did Peter Casey, the controversial presidential candidate who garnered 23.1 percent of the vote after he created a media storm about Travellers’ ethnicity and about social welfare recipients.
As we noted in last week’s editorial, one-third of Mayo voters gave their first preference vote to the former Dragons’ Den panelist and multimillionaire businessman. It is a result that must be examined in a measured and open-minded manner.  
But back to The Late Late. One can easily surmise that there was never going to be an appearance side-by-side of Mary Robinson with Peter Casey – at the very least, it would have led to some tense interactions.
It was safer to interview Mr Casey alone, it seems.
However, under sustained questioning by Ryan Tubridy, Casey floundered on several occasions.
In response to a question about one of the more bizarre proposals he put forward throughout his campaign, he said  “I made a suggestion that there is plenty of room in the Phoenix Park. If Travellers wanted to, why not give them . . . there’s 1,100 plus acres there, there’s loads of room, you could make it a beautiful place for them to stay,” he said, suggesting that they could there go for five years and ‘get education’.
Shouldn’t the notion of coralling entire communities be something that sends a shiver down all of our spines?  
One wonders, in the utterly unlikely scenario of Mr Casey being a resident in Áras an Uachtaráin, what kind of a next-door neighbour he would be, in comparison to the former president, Mary Robinson. Her candle in the window was a symbol of reaching out to all Irish people, no what their socio-economic circumstances.

Value-based politics
Mary Robinson’s presidency was a transformative one. It set a high standard for Iar-Uachtaráin Mary McAleese and the present incumbent, Michael D Higgins. A standard that he has undeniably – no matter who we voted for this time – adhered to admirably as our ambassador here and abroad.
On his return to his home city of Galway on Sunday night (November 4), President Higgins observed that democracy could either be undermined by xenophobia and hatred or deepened by changing institutions into more respectful and participatory entities.
Urging that we embrace ‘value-based politics’, President Higgins said: “Those marching to these values will have different tunes but it is in the same direction we are going – [towards] a shared participatory world which is not divided.”
Wasn’t the foundation of our little republic built on the poetry of such aspirations? And, isn’t the inclusivity espoused by our elders, former President Mary Robinson and President Michael D Higgins, a value we should hold dearly, no matter how much we want to protest against the establishment?