The election of two energetic women in succession to the office of President of Ireland challenged the notion that the presidency was a long-service reward for retiring politicians. Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese broke the male domination of the office, interpreted its functions in a more dynamic manner, and utilised the ‘soft power’ of the presidency with skill. Yet, as individuals they were very different in political focus, experience and ideological disposition. This article charts their respective backgrounds and discusses the context in which each woman came to the presidency. It explores their vision for the office. Focusing on the potential for harnessing the soft power of the presidency, it argues that Robinson adopted a classical representative view of the office, whereas McAleese chose a facilitatory style of leadership. The article concludes that in their different ways, Robinson and McAleese contributed to reshaping the office, utilising its symbolic potential and soft power to make it a more meaningful and fit-for-purpose political institution for the twenty-first century. © 2012 Political Studies Association of Ireland.
- presidential election
- Northern Ireland
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science
- Political Science and International Relations