For seven years, Mary Robinson served as the first female president of Ireland. Yet, she also has a long record of service as a human rights advocate.
After leaving office in 1997, she was appointed as the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations. She now runs The Mary Robinson Foundation — Climate Justice. This week, she has a new book out called Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice.
She speaks with guest host Celeste Headlee on Saturday’s All Things Considered about her foundation, her views on Catholicism and the EU crisis affecting Ireland.
On the challenges facing the European Union
“I think Ireland has gained a great deal. I think the European Union is suffering from severe financial constraints and they’ve also affected Ireland, and a certain questioning of being part of a larger whole that doesn’t seem to be very responsive to people’s needs, where people talk about a democratic deficit that the EU is kind of behind closed doors too much, and I think that’s a criticism that I think the European Union has to address. It has to be more responsive to the concerns of people.”
On attending Mass
“I had been thinking for a long time about the paternalistic and authoritarian nature of the way the church operated, particularly in Ireland at the time. All of that, I was questioning and then the questions came to the surface and I said, ‘I don’t need to go to Mass every Sunday and feel guilty if I don’t. I will go to Mass but only at times when it’s important from my point of view’ … but I don’t feel compelled to do it every Sunday or in a sort of strictly paid-up way because I disagree with so much of what the church stands for, particularly in reproductive health.”
On advocating for climate justice
“To me, there is an injustice that we have to draw attention to, but the good news is, and we also emphasize this in Climate Justice, there’s so much we can do. … I find it shocking that 1.3 billion people out of the 7 billion in our world today don’t have any electricity. But even more so that 2.6 billion, mainly women, still cook on open fires, with coal, with wood, with animal dung. And ingest fumes that cause 4 million to die every year, and that’s a lot of people.
“So, how come when we have clean cook stoves now, when we have D lights that can be recharged in the solar wonderful sun that shines in poor developing countries, how come we haven’t got the solidarity as a race to say, ‘Everybody should have the basics of clean water, light in the home?’
“That to me is what being part of human life together is about.”