McAleese speaks her mind again
THE President of Ireland famously has almost no executive power, and had long been seen as a largely symbolic role.
But through the efforts of Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese over the past 20 years, it is no longer simply a post to allow prominent, elderly politicians withdraw slowly from public life.
From the start, Mrs McAleese made it clear she would not simply accept the status quo.
She beat a former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, to secure the Fianna Fail nomination for the Presidency in 1997 and, despite a sometimes bitter media campaign waged against her, went on to secure the largest margin to victory in a presidential election.
Since then, she has regularly aired her views on aspects of Irish life -- that previous incumbents would have steered clear of -- culminating yesterday in a stinging attack on the legal, financial and economic systems that she holds responsible for the country's current woes.
This aspect of her widely-lauded presidency has won her many plaudits, but resulted also in plenty of controversy with accusations that she was failing to remain 'above' politics.
Her noteworthy interventions include:
- Her decision to take Communion at Dublin's Church of Ireland Christchurch Cathedral. This provoked an angry reaction from some senior Catholic Church figures with Cardinal Desmond Connell describing it as a "sham".
- Her remarks comparing anti-Semitism to the attitudes of some unionists in Northern Ireland, for which she later profusely apologised.
"They (the Nazis) gave to their children an irrational hatred of Jews in the same way the people in Northern Ireland transmitted to their children an irrational hatred of Catholics," she said.
- Her work to further the Hume-Adams talks which helped lead to the IRA ceasefire.
- Her criticism of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for allegations it made linking the Hunt Museum in Limerick with the Nazi party in Germany. She said the centre had diminished the name of Wiesenthal, who dedicated his life to tracking down Nazis.
- Her support of Turkey's European Union membership application was criticised by Fine Gael.
- Her reaching out towards the Orange Order and loyalist paramilitaries, including her unlikely friendship with UDA leader Jackie McDonald.
- More recently, she gave a ringing endorsement of the work and role of the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin while speaking in Italy, presenting him as a symbol of change in Ireland.