FORMER president Mary Robinson was specially recruited by the head of the United Nations for a challenging role in the troubled Great Lakes region of Africa.
Mrs Robinson (68), who also served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, was understood to be the choice of UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon for the post.
Among her tasks as the UN special envoy will be helping to implement a new UN-mediated peace accord signed by African leaders to try to bring an end to two decades of conflict in eastern Congo.
Mrs Robinson said she was "greatly honoured" that the secretary general had trusted her with this new responsibility.
Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore said Mrs Robinson's "skills and experience", along with her global reputation, made her the "ideal choice" for the role.
Mr Gilmore said Ireland strongly supported the UN efforts to break the cycle of violence in the region.
Plan Ireland, an Irish NGO which operates in several countries in the region including Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda, described the appointment as an "extremely positive development".
David Dalton, chief executive of Plan Ireland, said: "The appointment of somebody of Mary Robinson's experience and stature is likely to give extra impetus to the efforts to find a resolution to the area's difficulties."
Mrs Robinson, through her Climate Justice foundation, has worked in many of the world's stricken regions over the past decade.
After last month's signing of the peace accord by African leaders, the UN Security Council is considering creating a special intervention force. The Congolese army has been fighting rebels since last year in the resource-rich region.
As Mrs Robinson was appointed, it emerged that rebel leader in eastern Congo, Bosco Ntaganda, wanted for war crimes, surrendered to the US Embassy in Rwanda. The Rwandan government requested he be sent to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Ntaganda, the head of rebel group M23, is accused of using child soldiers and of murder in the Congo in 2002 and 2003.
Meanwhile, former Irish president Mary McAleese, who has been studying for a doctorate in canon law in Rome, will travel to Boston College next semester as the Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies.
Mrs McAleese will both teach and lecture, while also researching the US college's Irish book and manuscript collection.