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Wednesday, 29 October, 1997, 16:03 GMT
Mary McAleese - profile
If Mary McAleese is elected as the next President of Ireland on October 30 it will be the first time in the job's 60-year history that it has been filled from someone north of the border.

Professor McAleese was born Mary Leneghan in Belfast on June 27, 1951. Her father, who hails from County Roscommon in the Republic, ran a famous pub in the Falls area of Catholic west Belfast but was forced to give up his business and home when sectarian violence broke out in the early 1970s.

Mary, her parents and eight brothers and sisters, moved to the village of Rostrevor in rural County Down but she eventually returned to Belfast to study law at Queen's University. She graduated with honours in 1973, at the height of the troubles, and was called to the bar the following year, practising criminal and family practice law.

In 1975 she was appointed Professor of Criminal Law at Trinity College Dublin where she concentrated on the Irish constitution, prisons, and attitudes to crime.

Four years later she joined Radio Telefis Eireann (RTE) as a current affairs journalist and worked on several documentaries before returning to Trinity in 1981.

Six years later she was appointed Director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies, which trains lawyers in Northern Ireland, and later became the first woman Pro Vice-Chancellor of Queen's University. In 1976 she married Martin McAleese, a dentist. They have three children - Emma (15), and 12-year-old twins SaraMai and Justin.

Mrs McAleese has a diploma in Spanish, is fluent in sign language, and has a long-standing interest in the rights of the disabled.

As well as campaigning against sectarianism, Mrs McAleese was also at the forefront of the campaigns against the wrongful convictions of the Maguire family, the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four.

Launching her campaign for the presidency in September Mrs McAleese said: "A once poor, young country has made itself a confident, wealthy, modern state and a valued friend to the nations of the world...

"There are fault lines in our country - some big, some small, some new, some centuries old. Many fissures in our society remain to be bridged...

"My dream is for a presidency which will capture and hold in its embrace this large, colourful family which is the Irish people."

Her chances of winning may rest on her ability to overcome suspicions about her relationship with Sinn Fein. A leaked Irish government document raising questions about this is currently the subject of a police investigation. The damage was compounded when leader of the IRA's political wing, Gerry Adams, publicly endorsed her candidacy on a radio phone-in programme.

Her republican sympathies make her probably the most unpopular candidate among Ulster unionists.

Ulster Unionist Party councillor Chris McGimpsey told The Irish Times: "I have not met with any unionists who find her acceptable. "She is looked upon as an unreconstructed nationalist, a very traditional, conservative nationalist."

One of her sins, in the eyes of the unionists, was to back a campaign to stop the British national anthem being played at Queen's University. "Her public utterances have been extremely unconstructive," said Mr McGimpsey.

Nevertheless, Mrs McAleese is still the clear favourite going into the election and seems sure make a bold showing.

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