Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Mary Robinson

For me, the highlight of this year's Festival of Literature, so far, has been Christopher Cook's riveting interview on Saturday with Mary Robinson. This took place in the vast Forum marquee, set up in Montpellier Gardens. Sitting at the very back, I wasn't well placed to catch a photograph. Coming home, though, I found this one of her: I took it after hearing her address a conference I was attending in Belfast while she was still President of Ireland.

With inevitably more lines to her face than 17 years ago, she still inspires in me the same warm admiration I felt after that speech. Whereas Peter Hennessy (the day previously) made recent history seem trivial, Robinson revealed through her thoughtful, often humble, answers to questions a total involvement with the burning issues of the past quarter century: the notes I made show as much.

"We have to make the world fairer... I was taught to believe, not to question... Why, I asked myself, is there so much emphasis on form rather than substance?... It's the distortion of religion that divides us... Admitting your mistakes is sometimes not a bad idea... The United States dipped its human rights standards after 9/11: the war on terrorism [sic] skewed the agenda, political opponents being characterised as terrorists... The rise in anti-Americanism is due to a perception that America operates upon double standards... Climate justice energises me: I wake up every morning with a sense of urgency and passion."

"Is it true," our celebrated guest was asked finally, "that you dance?" "Yes," came the smiling reply: "You bond with people when you dance with them: you dance with your eyes."

Mary Robinson - a prime candidate, I'd say, for the Nobel Peace Prize - and/or being made a Cardinal!

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