Irish President Eyed for Top U.N. Post
BY Mary Meehan
July 7, 1996 Issue | Posted 7/7/96 at 2:00 AM
WASHINGTON— “Should This Woman Run the World?” That's what The Nation magazine asked in an admiring profile of Ireland's President Mary Robinson. The April 15 feature was among many recent media suggestions that Robinson should be the next Secretary General of the United Nations.
At a June 14 press conference here, President Robinson said that “I have made it clear that I'm not a candidate” for the U.N. job. Noting that her term as Irish president “continues until December of next year” and that she has the option of seeking a second term, Robinson said that “there are enough candidates for the United Nations.”
The day before, however, The Washington Post had quoted her as saying of the U.N. post: “I suppose at the end of the day—because I have a great commitment to human rights—I could-n't decline to consider an offer, were one to materialize.”
Irish pro-lifers, however, question her commitment to the right to life and worry about what she might do if she were selected to head the United Nations. Before she held her current, largely ceremonial position, said Irish pro-life leader Richard Greene in a telephone interview, she was the first Irish politician who “advocated abortion rights.”
Greene, who leads a new Irish political party called “The People of Ireland” (Muintir na hEireann), said he would be “concerned about the agenda that she would bring to the United Nations.” Besides supporting access to abortion information as a lawyer and politician, Robinson has also pressed for legalization of contraception, divorce, and homosexual activity.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, the current Secretary General of the United Nations, has indicated that he wants a second term, but the Administration has made it clear that it is opposed to the Egyptian's return. After meeting with Mrs. Robinson during her state visit here, President Clinton said they hadn't discussed the U.N. job. But then, according to the Washington Times, he added: “I have a very high regard for President Robinson. I think she would do a good job in any position that she might be considered for.”
Some observers in the United States and elsewhere are suggesting that it's time for a woman to head the United Nations. It is not clear whether this is primarily a campaign for a woman or one aimed at Boutros-Ghali, or possibly something else. (The U.N. campaign for population control in poor nations is now waged under the banner of “women's empowerment.” ) Other women mentioned for the post include Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway and U.N. refugee commissioner Sadako Ogata of Japan.
Robinson—tall and pretty, photogenic and articulate—is quite popular in Ireland. Greene attributed her popularity to “round-the-clock media publicity.” He noted that on every trip she takes, “there's always a television crew from the state television company…. She's constantly being promoted.” Some Irish people like her personally, but don't necessarily agree with her policy views. One recently told the Irish Times, “I like the look of Mary, but she has fierce modern ideas.”
In her press conference at the National Press Club here, Robinson didn't stress “fierce” ideas, but focused on the concept of a “modern Ireland” that's an active member of the European Union and has a young and well-educated population. Robinson, a Catholic who is married to a Protestant and has a long-advocated sensitivity to Protestant concerns in Northern Ireland, argued for an “open, pluralist approach.” She suggested reaching out “to those in Northern Ireland who have a sense of themselves as being British,” saying that this “doesn't exclude the possibility of also having a component of Irishness.”
Speaking shortly after the start of peace talks in Northern Ireland—whose prospects were marred by a bomb that exploded in Manchester, England a week later—Robinson remarked that “I am not involved in the politics” of the situation there, but stressed her hope for “sustainable peace.” The key to negotiations, she declared, “is to have everybody in” the peace talks, and the way to accomplish that is for the Irish Republican Army to renew its cease-fire. She said that “if I had one fundamental wish or hope or plea, it would be that that would happen.”
Robinson answered reporters’ questions on a variety of topics, but declined to comment on the Public Order Act, an Irish law that gives police wide discretionary authority against protesters. Youth Defence, an Irish pro-life group, says the law violates the right to protest and has been applied against it in a discriminatory way. Robinson said a question about their criticism involved politics and that she avoids commenting on legislation.
According to Richard Greene, former Irish judge Rory O' Hanlon had just criticized Robinson for a statement she made before last year's divorce referendum. O' Hanlon claimed that she may have influenced the referendum outcome. (Divorce proponents won by a narrow margin, and the Irish Supreme Court upheld the results in a June 12 decision.) Greene said that, as president, Robinson is “constitutionally bound not to interfere in political matters” but that “she has, in fact.” He hoped that O' Hanlon's comment might lead others to “express concern about her activities and the people who are promoting her.”
Mary Meehan is based in Rockville, Md.
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