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Bio details Mary’s stance on abortion, rows with Haughey

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — Former President Mary Robinson believes abortion should be available in limited circumstances, according to an authorized biography being published this week.

Robinson, who is now UN Commissioner for Human Rights, says it would be "healthier to be more mature about ourselves, more honest."

Last year, at least 5,325 Irish women were forced to go to England to terminate their pregnancies and the figures have been rising this year.

Introducing limited abortion "would be a kind of coming to terms with the problem instead of exporting it and moralizing about it," Robinson is quoted as saying.

"Even for a country that regrets and feels a great sense of loss at the termination, it would be a preferable situation."

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The biography, "Mary Robinson: the Authorized Biography," written by Olivia O’Leary and Helen Burke, reveals behind-the-scenes rows with the government during Robinson’s seven-year term and her efforts to break down the taboos about official dealings between the presidency and the British royal family.

She repeatedly clashed with former Taoiseach Charles Haughey about what were "appropriate" speeches, interviews and duties for a president.

The biography says the relationship between Haughey and Robinson was hostile almost from when she was elected in 1990.

It claims Haughey encouraged her to reorganize the presidential household and change staff, but as soon as the redeployment started, "all hell broke loose" as details were leaked to the media.

"In other words, I was being shafted," she said. "I didn’t see it coming. It was a particularly difficult and grim experience.

"I remember being terribly distraught about the whole thing and almost disorientated by how naïve I had been. I had been green and I had been shafted. . . . I felt destabilized since I was not in a position to account for myself because the taoiseach was doing that on my behalf, and he was shafting me as he did it."

She also faced opposition to normalizing relationships with the British Royal family.

She was the first president to make an official visit to Britain. When she asked permission to make her first visit to London for the opening of the European Bank for Reconstruction there was outrage.

"Who does she think she is? Presidents don’t do this sort of thing, and it’s Britain and presidents don’t go to Britain," was the official response, Robinson recalls.

She later received permission to travel to Cambridge to receive an honorary degree, but the book claims Haughey and his officials had been unaware that that the university chancellor was Prince Phillip and in meeting him she established a vital precedent.

Strict limits were put on the first visit to meet queen Elizabeth in 1993. It was to be clearly understood it was a "courtesy call" and there was no question of a state visit which would require a return state visit by the queen.

On her 15th visit to Britain, in 1996, it was for an "official" visit to the Queen — which meant Robinson was a guest of the monarch and this still avoided a state visit with all its implications.

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