Launch by the Taoiseach of Mary Robinson's Memoirs Everybody Matters At Ballina Arts Centre

 

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Monday, 17 September 2012

Desmond Tutu loves Mary Robinson.
He told RTE he did.
And RTE told Ireland if not quite the world.

That's the thing about Mary Robinson.
In her many-faceted career she generates respect, loyalty, admiration.
In her quite singular approach to her life and its living she generates love.

Love for and of her husband, her children, her grandchildren, her many, many friends.
And in many ways this is a book about love both personal and public.

Things like justice, truth, freedom, dignity, respect, human and civil rights.

This is the memoir of an Ambassador from and a citizen of the Republic of Conscience.

Everybody Matters is not just an excellent title of an extraordinary book it is the philosophy by which Mary Robinson lives and works and has her being on what she is so acutely aware of particularly as a mother and grandmother as this fragile Earth.

It is beautifully written and brilliantly observed, managing to be haunting, brave, disturbing, uncomfortable, reassuring, illuminating.

It is also very funny in spots and characteristic Mary Robinson in showing humility and being self-effacing.
I would make Everybody Matters required reading for the under 40s.

In particular, in our schools and universities where I believe there needs to be new moves on teaching others knowledge to look again at teaching our children and young people not just to learn but to think.

And to do so critically, independently and imaginatively.
In a way that involves not just their rights but their responsibilities what they can do for others what they can do for their community their country their world.
Mary Robinson's reflections on Ireland remind us of the huge even quantum gains we have made in terms of what it means to be citizens of a modern Republic.

But equally, they remind us of the duties we have to and for each other

They remind us of the respect required and due for the innate 'otherness of the other'.

And in her reflections on Wood Quay, FX Martin, her young life in Mayo and in Trinity she gives us a chance to reconsider qualities and attitudes that have become perhaps devalued and degraded by a culture that in the last 20 years has tended to place too much emphasis on the value of 'having' over a more authentic, nourishing and intrinsic value of 'being'.

An authenticity that reassures us that we are right to care that we have a duty to be passionate that we have a responsibility to be serious people with serious intent not just to make change where it is needed but in fact..... where at all possible and necessary to be that change ourselves.

I know a woman who came home from London by coach and boat so she could say to her own children, in time, that she voted for Ireland's first woman President, Mary Robinson.

Mná na hEireann might never have called themselves that before but they knew who they were and they knew what they were and they came out in force to put one of their own in the Áras.

And by that I don't mean gender alone.
I mean someone who incorporated their values.
Someone who spent their life and career to that time defending the dignity of the individual...promoting their rights... reminding them of their responsibilities as individuals and as part of the human family.

Someone who made equality not just an issue or a headline but who made it a human and civil right in this country.

And Mary Robinson, you have taken that fight for equality across the world.

This memoir being a powerful testament not just to your work as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, but to your courage, your empathy, your compassion, your abiding sense of the universal values that bind us all....the universal rights to which we are committed but which are still not being implemented and upheld by governments on a universal basis.

You write starkly of your visit as the first Head of State to Somalia after the civil war and famine. And to Rwanda after the genocide.

I believe all over Ireland.... and wherever Irish people are in the world among them those for whom you kept a light burning we remember and are proud of the power of your decision to visit these desolate countries to be with these desolate people.
We cherish the eloquence of your very presence there as Uachtarán na hÉireann.

Your observations on your time as Uachtarán are meticulous, insightful and it must be said at times, absolutely joyful. (I wonder what Green Tea would have made of them and your tenure in the Áras.)

This memoir is also a kind of map of transformation in this country: Josie Airey, FX Martin, gender equality, prisoners' rights, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the legalisation of family planning and divorce, the reaching out to Unionists in N Ireland, the pain and loss of emigration.

But equally it is a faithful account of the faith we need to keep with each other and with our world in terms of climate change, globalisation, the politics of water and migration.

This book shows clearly Mary's belief that everybody does indeed matter and that what we do now the decisions we take now may well decide not just the quality of life for future generations but whether those generations will even exist in the future on this planet at all.

What is palpable here are her insights and concerns not just as a lawyer a reformer a groundbreaker an international stateswoman but more simply and profoundly as a mother and a grandmother.

I believe Mary Robinson's memoir will be a great comfort and a thing of hope for people who are struggling in their lives.

Her first year as High Commissioner caused anxiety, depression and distress.

And I thank Mary Robinson for being so open about this period of her life.

These states are part of the human condition.
Our minds our emotions are both precious and fragile.
They need minding. They need kindness. They need protecting.

She came though that difficult time. Just as people struggling now will come through with the right insight, help and support.

Things that have to come from us their leaders their peers their family their friends.

I'm delighted that Mary Robinson came home to Mayo to launch her memoirs.

Home in so many ways is what makes us who we are and it's wonderful for the people here to have Mary, Nick and the family home.

It's perfectly clear that Nick has been not just a wonderful husband to Mary, but a shrewd advisor, and loyal friend.
Theirs is a family built on love, respect and dignity.

The values that have nourished Mary, Nick , the children and their children.
The values that have shone so brightly in Mary Robinson's career.
The values that have brought the light of understanding to so many issues.

This is your Domestic Interior which you have used to change the world.

As Eavan Boland puts it in the poem you quote of that name.
There's a way of life
that is its own witness:
put the kettle on, shut the blind.
Home is a sleeping child,
and open mind

and our effects,
shrugged and settled
in the sort of light
jugs and kettles
grow important by

This is your light your life your witness.
In the beginning and the end for all of us this Domestic Interior is what matters
Everybody Matters.

And tonight, Mary Therese Winifred Bourke Robinson, I am privileged to affirm it..

And to launch your magnificent memoir.

ENDS.

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