seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Mary Robinson Elected First Woman President of the Republic

mary-robinson-1Mary Robinson becomes the first woman to be elected President of the Republic of Ireland on November 7, 1990. She becomes the first Labour Party candidate, the first woman, and the first non-Fianna Fáil candidate in the history of contested presidential elections to win the presidency.

Brian Lenihan, the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence is chosen by Fianna Fáil as their candidate, though he faces a late challenge for the party nomination from another senior minister, John P. Wilson, TD. Lenihan is popular and widely seen as humorous and intelligent. He has delivered liberal policy reform (relaxed censorship in the 1960s), and is seen as a near certainty to win the presidency.

Fine Gael, after trying and failing to get former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and former Tánaiste Peter Barry to run, ultimately nominate the former civil rights campaigner and Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) member Austin Currie. Currie is elected to Dáil Éireann in the 1989 general election and has been a minister in Brian Faulkner‘s power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland from 1973–1974. However Currie has little experience in the politics of the Republic and is widely seen as the party’s last choice, nominated only when no one else is available.

The Labour Party lets it be known that it would for the first time run a candidate. Along with the Workers’ Party, Labour nominates the independent candidate Mary Robinson, SC, a former Labour Party member and senator, and liberal campaigner. Robinson is a former Reid Professor of Law in the Trinity College, Dublin. She is previously involved in the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform and the campaign to save Wood Quay.

Lenihan enters the race as odds-on favourite. No Fianna Fáil candidate has ever lost a presidential election. However, Lenihan is derailed when he confirms in an on-the-record interview with freelance journalist and academic researcher Jim Duffy that he has been involved in controversial attempts to pressurise the President, Patrick Hillery, over a controversial parliamentary dissolution in 1982. As a result of the contrast between his public denials during the campaign and his confirmation during an earlier interview recorded in May, he is dismissed from the Irish government.

At this point a cabinet colleague, Pádraig Flynn, launches a controversial personal attack on Mary Robinson “as a wife and mother,” an attack that is itself attacked in response as “disgraceful” on live radio by Michael McDowell, a senior member of the Progressive Democrats, then in coalition with Fianna Fáil and up to that point supporting Lenihan’s campaign. Flynn’s attack is a fatal blow to Lenihan’s campaign, causing many female supporters of Lenihan to vote for Robinson in a gesture of support.

Lenihan nonetheless receives a plurality of first-choice votes. Mary Robinson beats Austin Currie, forcing Fine Gael’s candidate into third place. Under Ireland’s system of single transferable vote, Robinson receives over 75% of the transfers when Austin Currie is eliminated, beating Lenihan into second place and becoming the seventh President of Ireland.

While the role of the presidency in day-to-day politics is a very limited one, the Robinson presidency is regarded by many observers as a watershed in Irish society, symbolising the shift away from the conservative ultra-Catholic male-dominated Ireland which existed up until the end of the 1980s to the more liberal society symbolised by Robinson.

Robinson is generally credited with raising the profile of the office of president, which has been considered little more than an honorary figurehead position under her predecessors. Prior to Mary Robinson’s presidency it was not unusual to hear commentators advocating the abolition of the office of president, a viewpoint that is almost never advanced nowadays.

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Death of Paddy Devlin, Northern Ireland Labour Activist

paddy-devlinPaddy Devlin, Irish social democrat and Labour activist, former Stormont Member of Parliament (MP), a founder of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and member of the 1974 Power Sharing Executive, dies in Belfast’s Mater Hospital on August 15, 1999 after a long illness.

Devlin is born into a highly political household in the Pound Loney in the Lower Falls of West Belfast on March 8, 1925 and lives in the city for almost all his life. His early activism is confined to Fianna Éireann and then the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and as a result he is interned in Crumlin Road Gaol during the World War II. He leaves the republican movement upon his release.

After the war, and in search of work, he spends some time in Portsmouth working as a scaffolder and in Coventry working in the car industry. In Coventry he becomes interested in Labour and trade union politics and briefly joins the British Labour Party.

Returning to Belfast in 1948 Devlin helps establish the Irish Labour Party there after the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) splits on the issue of partition. He later beats Gerry Fitt to win a seat on the city council. Later Catholic Action claims the Irish Labour Party is infested with communists and ensures the party is effectively wiped out causing Devlin to lose his seat.

In the mid 1960s Devlin joins the revived NILP and beats Harry Diamond for the Falls seat in Stormont. Devlin then goes on, with Fitt, John Hume, Austin Currie, and others to found the SDLP in 1970. He is later involved, at the request of William Whitelaw, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in ensuring safe passage for Gerry Adams for talks with the British government in 1973. He is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, 1973 and Minister of Health and Social Services in the power-sharing Executive from January 1, 1974 to May 28, 1974.

In 1978 Devlin establishes the United Labour Party, which aims to be a broad based Labour formation in Northern Ireland. He stands under its label for the European Parliament in 1979 but polls just 6,122 first preferences (1.1% of those cast) and thereby loses his deposit.

In 1987 Devlin, together with remnants of the NILP and others, establishes Labour ’87 as another attempt at building a Labour Party in Northern Ireland by uniting the disparate groups supporting labour and socialist policies but it too meets with little or no success. In 1985 he loses his place on Belfast City council.

Devlin suffers from severe diabetes and throughout the 1990s suffers a series of ailments as his health and sight collapse.


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Birth of Mary Robinson, 1st Female President of Ireland

mary-robinsonMary Therese Winifred Robinson, seventh and first female President of Ireland (1990-1997), is born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo. Robinson also serves as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 until 2002.

Robinson first rises to prominence as an academic, barrister, campaigner, and member of the Irish Senate (1969–1989). Running as an Independent candidate nominated by the Labour Party, the Workers’ Party, and independent senators, Robinson defeats Fianna Fáil‘s Brian Lenihan and Fine Gael‘s Austin Currie in the 1990 presidential election becoming the first elected president in the office’s history not to have had the support of Fianna Fáil.

Robinson is widely regarded as a transformative figure for Ireland, and for the Irish presidency, revitalising and liberalising a previously conservative, low-profile political office. She resigns the presidency two months before the end of her term in office in order to take up her post in the United Nations. During her UN tenure, she visits Tibet in 1998, the first High Commissioner to do so. She criticises Ireland’s immigrant policy and criticises the use of capital punishment in the United States. She extends her intended single four-year term by a year to preside over the World Conference against Racism 2001 in Durban, South Africa. The conference proves controversial, and under continuing pressure from the United States, Robinson resigns her post in September 2002.

After leaving the UN in 2002, Robinson forms Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative, which comes to a planned end at the end of 2010. Its core activities are fostering equitable trade and decent work, promoting the right to health and more humane migration policies, and working to strengthen women’s leadership and encourage corporate social responsibility. The organisation also supports capacity building and good governance in developing countries. Robinson returns to live in Ireland at the end of 2010, and sets up The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, which aims to be “a centre for thought leadership, education, and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten – the poor, the disempowered, and the marginalised across the world.”

Robinson is Chair of the Institute for Human Rights and Business and Chancellor of the University of Dublin. Since 2004, she has also been Professor of Practice in International Affairs at Columbia University, where she teaches international human rights. Robinson also visits other colleges and universities where she lectures on human rights. Robinson sits on the Board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an organisation which supports good governance and great leadership in Africa, and is a member of the Foundation’s Ibrahim Prize Committee. Robinson is an Extraordinary Professor in the Centre for Human Rights and the Centre for the Study of AIDS at the University of Pretoria. Robinson serves as Oxfam’s honorary president from 2002 until she steps down in 2012 and is the honorary president of the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation EIUC since 2005. She is Chair of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and is also a founding member and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders (2003-2009). Robinson was a member of the European members of the Trilateral Commission.

In 2004, she receives Amnesty International‘s Ambassador of Conscience Award for her work in promoting human rights.

In July 2009, Robinson is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour awarded by the United States. In presenting the award to Robinson, U.S. President Barack Obama says, “Mary Robinson learned early on what it takes to make sure all voices are heard. As a crusader for women and those without a voice in Ireland, Mary Robinson was the first woman elected President of Ireland, before being appointed U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. When she traveled abroad as President, she would place a light in her window that would draw people of Irish descent to pass by below. Today, as an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored, Mary Robinson has not only shone a light on human suffering, but illuminated a better future for our world.”


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Birth of Paddy Devlin, Founder of the SDLP

paddy-devlinPaddy Devlin, Irish social democrat and Labour activist, former Stormont Member of Parliament (MP), founder of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and member of the 1974 Power Sharing Executive, is born in West Belfast on March 8, 1925.

Devlin lives almost all his life in Belfast and grows up in a highly political household. His early activism is confined to Fianna Éireann and later the Irish Republican Army (IRA). As a result, he is interned in Crumlin Road Gaol during World War II. He leaves the republican movement upon his release.

After the war he spends some time in Portsmouth and Coventry, where he becomes interested in Labour and trade union politics and briefly joins the British Labour Party. Devlin returns to Belfast in 1948 and helps establish the Irish Labour Party  after the split of the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP). He later defeats Gerry Fitt to win a seat on the city council. Later Catholic Action claims the Irish Labour Party is infested with communists which effectively wipes out the party and Devlin loses his seat.

In the mid 1960s, Devlin joins the revived NILP and beats Harry Diamond for the Falls seat in Stormont. Devlin then joins Fitt, John Hume, Austin Currie, and others to found the SDLP in 1970. At the request of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw in 1973, he becomes involved in ensuring safe passage for Gerry Adams to talks with the British government.

Devlin is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1973 and Minister of Health and Social Services in the power-sharing Executive from January 1, 1974 to May 28, 1974.

In 1978, Devlin establishes the United Labour Party, which aims to be a broad-based Labour formation in Northern Ireland. He stands under its label for the European Parliament in 1979 but polls just 6,122 first preferences and thereby loses his deposit.

In 1987, Devlin and remnants of the NILP and others, establish Labour ’87 as another attempt at building a Labour Party in Northern Ireland by uniting the disparate groups supporting labour and socialist policies but it is met with little or no success. In 1985 he loses his seat on the Belfast City council.

Devlin suffers from severe diabetes and throughout the 1990s suffers a series of ailments as his health and sight collapse. Devlin dies at the age of 74 on August 15, 1999.