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1990: Ireland elects first woman president

VIDEO : Mary Robinson is Ireland's first female president

Voters in the Republic of Ireland have chosen their first female president.

Unofficial returns suggest that Mary Robinson, who is standing as an independent, took nearly 40% of the vote in the first round.

Ireland's system of proportional representation means the result will not be confirmed until tomorrow.

But Mrs Robinson's performance in the first round means it is now impossible for anybody else to win.

Senior sources in the camp of her main opponent, former deputy prime minister, Brian Lenihan, have already conceded victory to Mrs Robinson.

It is the first time in 70 years that a presidential candidate put up by Mr Lenihan's party, Fianna Fail, has been defeated.

Mrs Robinson, a Dublin barrister, is considered radical by Irish terms.

A civil and human rights lawyer, she has campaigned for the liberalisation of laws prohibiting divorce and abortion for more than 20 years.

However, she not only won the support of women countrywide but also polled well in traditionally conservative rural areas.

The mother-of-three has been a member of the Irish Senate for more than 20 years.

She twice ran unsuccessfully for parliament as a Labour candidate.

But five years ago she resigned from the Irish Labour party over the Anglo-Irish agreement because she felt unionists in Northern Ireland had not been consulted.

In Context
Mary Robinson helped transform the role of Irish president from a largely ceremonial position to one of influence.

She resigned a few months before end of her term in 1997 to become the United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights

Her forthright style and uncompromising criticism of some countries' human rights records angered governments around the world.

She made enemies in the United States after with her outspoken criticism of the detention of al-Qaeda suspects at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

In March 2002 Mrs Robinson announced she would not be seeking a second term in the UN post.

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