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Ireland's president to deliver lecture on changing constitutional law

STANFORD -- Mary Robinson, president of Ireland, will speak at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, in Dinkelspiel Auditorium. Her lecture on "Contrasting Constitutional Shifts - Europe and the United States" is free and open to the public. Seating will begin at 11 a.m.

Robinson was invited by the Law School to deliver the lecture as part of its Herman Phleger Visiting Professorship. An endowment for the professorship provides for a person of high distinction in law to deliver public lectures at Stanford and otherwise participate in the intellectual life of the university. Previous Phleger professors have included former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union.

A former civil rights lawyer, law professor and liberal senator from a university district, Robinson became the first woman to be elected president of the Irish republic in 1990. Her skillful use of the largely ceremonial post has made her extremeley popular in Irish public opinion polls, and her international reputation on human rights has led to the frequent mention of her as a possible future secretary-general of the United Nations. She holds degrees from Harvard Law School and from Trinity College and King's Inns, Dublin.

Elected first to the Irish Senate in 1969, Robinson fought for such radical causes as legalizing contraception and divorce in the overwhelmingly Catholic country. (Contraceptives now can be sold in Ireland to adults, information about the availability of abortion in other countries now can be distributed in Ireland, and a second referendum on the country's constitutional ban on divorce will be held Nov. 24.) By bringing cases before the European Court of Human Rights and introducing legislation in Ireland, Robinson also helped win civil rights for gays and for children born out of wedlock, and the rights of women to sit on juries and of 18-year-olds to vote. Her approach to issues of feminism has been to include women who work in the home, and she has characterized American feminism as "exclusive."

Protocol of the Irish presidency now constrains Robinson from making controversial public statements. She is widely credited, however, with providing moral leadership by careful use of poetry, symbols and small meetings with groups from diverse backgrounds. A Catholic who is married to a Protestant, she has tried to aid peace in Northern Ireland indirectly, by being the first major political figure to shake the hand of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, and by speaking of the "genuine fears" of the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland.

From a country where half the citizens born since 1840 have emigrated abroad, Robinson also has paid more attention than past Irish leaders to the Irish diaspora. One of her first acts as president was to leave a symbolic lamp lit in her presidential quarters in Dublin's Phoenix Park to welcome emigrants home, and she speaks frequently to Irish descendants in other countries. In a 1992 profile a Vanity Fair writer noted, "The Irish have never seen anything quite like Mary. She's a little bit of Havel and a little bit of Hepburn. Once a radical crusader, she's now the country's most prominent self-esteem therapist."

Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who last week won the Nobel Prize in literature, has said Robinson's moral leadership embodies "the new secular modern Ireland."


EDITORS ADVISORY: Mary Robinson will hold a press conference immediately following her lecture, at approximately 1:15 p.m. in the rehearsal hall at Dinkelspiel Auditorium. TV cameras and other photo/recording equipment need to be in place by 11 a.m. for a security check. A credentialing table will be in the lobby of Dinkelspiel beginning at 11 a.m.


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