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Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese were fringe political candidates, at best, before their election to the Presidency. Both had failed in their efforts to be elected to the Dail, the main Irish house of Parliament, although Mary Robinson did gain election to the Irish Senate, in an election constituency reserved for graduates of (the originally protestant) Trinity College Dublin which had been created to encourage minority protestant participation in the Irish state.

It was therefore all the more remarkable that both managed to beat quite popular establishment candidates to win the Presidency.

Mary Robinson - then an independent retired from politics -gained the support of the Labour Party and the Workers Party - an offshoot from Sinn Fein. She beat the Fianna Fail governing party candidate, Deputy prime minister Brian Lenihan, by 52-46% of the final vote. The campaign was marked by a controversial attack on Robinson by Fianna Fail Minister Pádraig Flynn as not being much of "a wife and mother" and "having a new-found interest in her family" - a reference to her public career profile in the context of a culture where many still thought that "a women's place is in the home". Flynn, even more controversially, also joked privately that Robinson would "turn the Áras [Presidential residence] into the Red Cow Inn [a popular hostelry]" - a reference to her socialist and feminist background.

Mary McAleese had stood, unsuccessfully, as a Fianna Fáil candidate in the Dublin South-East constituency at the 1987 general election, receiving only 2,243 votes (5.9%). Remarkably, she managed to gain the Fianna Fail nomination for the Presidency despite that position being contested by Albert Reynolds and Michael O'Kennedy. Reynolds was a former Taoiseach while O'Kennedy was a former cabinet minister having served in the very important Finance and Foreign Affairs portfolios. Both were also sitting members of Parliament, Teachtaí Dála (TDs). Fianna Fail, a conservative establishment party, may have felt the need to select a more liberal outsider to broaden the party's appeal and base. Her profile as a campaigning feminist, popular broadcaster, respected academic, and northern nationalist fitted this need perfectly.

The degree to which the very popular Robinson presidency had changed Irish political culture can be gauged from the fact that there were 5 candidates in that election, four of which were women, and the only male candidate came last. Some change from the previous election where Robinson had been the first ever female candidate for the office.

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Mar 9th, 2018 at 11:25:42 AM EST

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