Book on Mary Robinson encourages children to stand up for fairness

Pet O’Connell reviews Mary Robinson: A Voice For Fairness, by John and Fatti Burke (Gill Books €9.99)
Book on Mary Robinson encourages children to stand up for fairness

Mary Robinson. Picture: William B. Plowman/Getty Images)

PEOPLE old enough to remember the event can still tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news of U.S President John F Kennedy’s assassination.

More recently, others can pinpoint the precise moment in their own lives when they heard of Princess Diana’s death, or the 9/11 attacks.

For some, the most memorable moments in history are of a more positive nature, and many of us remember where we were 30 years go, on November 9, 1990, when Mary Robinson was elected Ireland’s first ever female President.

Crediting her election success above all to the women of Ireland who “instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system”, President Robinson famously pledged to keep a light on in Áras an Uachtaráin for all exiles and emigrants, bringing a message of inclusiveness and equal rights for all.

That she has now become the subject of the fifth in Gill Books’ Little Library series, following titles on Granuaile, Brian Boru, Constance Markievicz, and Tom Crean, is indicative of the status Mary Robinson has achieved in the eyes of Irish people both during and after her term as president.

As a senator — the youngest ever, at that time — she had campaigned on behalf of Travellers; for the right of women to sit on juries; and for an end to the civil service ban on married women.

During her term as President, John and Fatti Burke tell readers, she was “the first head of state to visit Somalia after its civil war and famine. She also visited Rwanda and drew the world’s attention to the suffering there”.

“She was very upset by the poverty and hunger that she saw in these and many countries.”

So much so, perhaps, that she resigned shortly before the end of her term as President of Ireland in 1997, to become the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

As much an advocate for the environment as for the rights of the Earth’s people, she combined both concerns by setting up the Mary Robinson Foundation, advocating for “climate justice to help those who are most affected by climate change: The poorest and most vulnerable people in the world”.

With a timeline from her birth in Ballina, Co Mayo, in 1944, to her appointment in 2018 as chair of The Elders, the group of world leaders founded by Nelson Mandela, this is a brief introduction for children to some of the battles for justice fought by one of Ireland’s most inspirational figures.

The bold, blocky illustrations of Fatti Burke, beloved of fans of Irelandopedia and Historopedia, combined with the easily-understood text of her ex-schoolteacher father John, make this a good prelude to further reading on an extraordinary champion of justice for all.

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