The country’s first woman president, Mary Robinson, said she would like to see a "greater push for equality" in Ireland, with "more women at the table" in "real decision-making" roles.
She was responding to the recent review of the country’s human rights record by the UN, during which Ireland was strongly criticised for its treatment of women.
Ms Robinson welcomed the airing of Ireland’s human rights record at the hearings in Geneva and said it will “increase debate here” and get people “thinking about those things.”
The UN is due to issue a report on Ireland in the coming weeks. During the hearings, members of the human rights committee were critical of the treatment of victims of rape or incest who cannot legally access abortion in Ireland.
They also expressed concern about the treatment of women forced to carry babies with no chance of survival, who are not entitled to legal terminations, as well as the current Government’s response to women who had symphysiotomy procedures carried out on them.
Asked if she was embarrassed by the hearings, Ms Robinson said: “I would like to see a greater push for equality here in Ireland, more women at the table in real decision-making.
“We have seen possibility in the past, but it hasn’t come through. I think now, with more attention being paid to the need for greater equality at all levels, that we will see a change.”
In an interview on Newstalk Radio, it was put to her that she was not as outspoken on the issues as she might have been.
She said she had “not lost my passion” but that “I really do respect the office of president. I think it’s good that presidents had their time, had their opportunity and now leave the stage.”
Ms Robinson, who has recently been appointed to the position of UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, said she was encouraged by listening to young people and seeing feminism coming back “in a strong way on the street, in discourse and on social media”.
However, she said this generation should be more concerned about climate change: “It’s their future. Anybody with young children and anybody who is young themselves should know that their future is far from guaranteed,” she said. “They need to get very aware of the need to put pressure on politicians.”
Women “because of our nurturing role, tend to be more inter-generational and there is an intergenerational injustice about climate change,” she added.
She also called for reform of the UN Security Council, which, she said, is “too often not effective” because of the power of veto available to the five permanent members, the US, Russia, the UK, France, and China.
The moral authority of the UN “has been undermined by the use of the veto”, she said. “The use of the veto is worse than governments had committed to some time ago. They are abusing even their own standard of using the veto and that has rendered the security council much less effective,” she said.
“We need reform of the UN. It reflects the world of 1945, it does not reflect the multi-polar world we have now and the need for an effective way of addressing issues of peace and justice,” she said.
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