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Mary McAleese, Ireland’s second female president was voted in a second time unopposed. TOLUWANI OLAMITOKE looks at what earns her such a feat.
McAleese was born Mary Patricia Leneghan in Ardoyne, north Belfast, the eldest of nine children. A Roman Catholic .her family was forced to leave the area by loyalists when the troubles broke out. Educated at St Dominic’s High School, she also spent some time when younger with the Poor Clares, The Queen’s University of Belfast and Trinity College, Dublin. She was called to the Northern Irish Bar in 1974, and is also a member of the Irish Bar. In 1975, she was appointed Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology in Trinity College,[ succeeding Mary Robinson.
During the same decade, she acted as legal advisor to, and a founding member of, the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform, but she left this position in 1979 to join RTÉ as a journalist and presenter, during one period as a reporter and presenter for their Today Tonight programme.
McAleese was a member of the Catholic Church Episcopal Delegation to the New Ireland Forum in 1984, and a member of the Catholic Church delegation to the Northern Ireland Commission on Contentious Parades in 1996. She was also a delegate to the 1995 White House Conference on Trade and Investment in Ireland and to the subsequent Pittsburgh Conference in 1996. She became the Pro-Vice Chancellor of The Queen’s University of Belfast. Prior to becoming president in 1997, McAleese had also held the following positions: Director of Channel 4 Television, Director, Northern Ireland Electricity, Director, Royal Group of Hospitals Trust and Founding member of the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas
In 1976, she married Martin McAleese, an accountant and a dentist by profession. He has assisted his wife with some of her initiatives as president.They have three children: eldest daughter Emma, born in 1982, graduated as an engineer from University College, Dublin and is now a dentistry student at Trinity College, Dublin, and her siblings, born in 1985, are twins: Justin, an accountant with a master’s degree from University College Dublin, and SaraMai, who obtained a master’s degree in biochemistry at the University of Oxford.[ All the family are said to be “fitness fanatics” but Justin.
McAleese is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an International network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to mobilise the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.
In 1997, McAleese defeated former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds in an internal party election held to determine the Fianna Fáil nomination for the Irish presidency.
Her opponents in the 1997 presidential election were Mary Banotti of Fine Gael, Adi Roche (the Labour Party candidate) and two independents: Dana Rosemary Scallon and Derek Nally.
She won the seat for Presidency with 45.2 per cent of first preference votes. In the second and final count against Banotti, she won 58.7 per cent of preferences. On 11 November 1997, she was inaugurated as the eighth President of Ireland.
McAleese described the theme of her presidency as “building bridges”.
The first individual born in Northern Ireland to become President of Ireland, President McAleese is a regular visitor to Northern Ireland, where she has been on the whole warmly welcomed by both communities, confounding the critics who had believed she would be a divisive figure.
She is also an admirer of Queen Elizabeth II, whom she came to know when she was Pro-Vice Chancellor of Queen’s. In March 1998, President McAleese announced that she would officially celebrate the Twelfth of July as well as Saint Patrick’s Day, recognising the day’s importance among Ulster Protestants. She also incurred some criticism from the Irish Catholic hierarchy by taking communion in an Anglican Cathedral in Dublin.
McAleese’s initial seven year term of office ended in November 2004, but she announced on 14 September of that year that she would be standing for a second term in the 2004 presidential election. Following the failure of any other candidate to secure the necessary support for a nomination, the incumbent president stood unopposed, with no political party affiliation, and was declared elected on 1 October. She was officially re-inaugurated at the commencement of her second seven year term on 11 November. McAleese’s very high job approval ratings were widely seen as the reason for her re-election, with no opposition party willing to bear the cost (financial or political) of competing in an election that would prove very difficult to win.
On 27 January 2005, following her attendance at the ceremony commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp, she caused controversy by making reference to the way in which some Protestant children in Northern Ireland had been brought up to hate Catholics just as European children “for generations, for centuries” were encouraged to hate Jews .These remarks caused outrage among unionist politicians. McAleese later apologised, conceding that, because she had criticised only the sectarianism found on one side of the community, her words had been unbalanced.
On 22 May 2005, she was the Commencement Speaker at Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania, USA. The visit prompted protests by conservatives due to the President’s professing heterodox Roman Catholic views on homosexuality and women in priesthood. She was the commencement speaker at the University of Notre Dame on 21 May 2006. In her commencement address, among other topics, she spoke of her pride at Notre Dame’s Irish heritage, including the nickname the “Fighting Irish”.
In August 2007, McAleese spoke out against homophobia at the International Association of Suicide Prevention 24th Biennial Conference.
In December 2008, she embarked on a seven-day visit to Hollywood alongside Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Film Board on a mission to promote the Irish film and television industry. A reception held in her honour was attended by Ed Begley, Jr. and Fionnula Flanagan. She later met the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
On 21 January 2009, she signed into law the Anglo Irish Bank Corporation Act 2009 at a ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin, facilitating the nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank.
In 2009, Forbes named her among the 100 Most Powerful Women in the world.
In November 2009 she signed into law the National Asset Management Agency.
On 13 May 2010, she attended the Balmoral Show at the Balmoral Showgrounds, which includes the King’s Hall, in south Belfast. Northern Irish Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Northern Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew gave her breakfast and walked around with her during the day.
From 16 May 2010, McAleese underwent an official visit to New York over several days. She began by appearing at an Irish Voice event in honour of life science She then addressed business leaders at the New York Stock Exchange to say Irish people were “as mad as hell” over the recent Irish banking crisis, and opened An Gorta Mor exhibition with a speech declaring her promise that Ireland’s foreign policy focused on global hunger.
In March 2011, President McAleese extended an invitation to Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to make a state visit to Ireland. The Queen accepted and the visit - the first by a reigning British monarch since 1911.Share