CITY HALL — Mary Robinson, the former Irish president known for her lifetime battle for civil rights, was granted the city's highest honor Wednesday.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel presented Robinson with the Medal of Merit. He called it "the city's highest honor."
A resolution read before a special meeting of the City Council lauded Robinson for her lifetime of work in advancing civil rights, especially women's rights and gay rights in the Republic of Ireland.
Robinson was the first woman elected president of the Republic of Ireland, in 1990, and went on to serve as the United Nations high commissioner for human rights after her term in office.
The former president was in Chicago as part of an effort to raise money to build a presidential museum, the Sun-Times' Michael Sneed reports.
Ald. Edward Burke (14th) led Irish Americans in the City Council in celebrating Robinson.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) championed her efforts at gay rights.
Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th) spoke somewhat comically on how Robinson's efforts to make contraception legal in the Irish Republic had put out of business those who had profited from smuggling "boatloads of condoms" into the country.
Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) also joined in honoring Robinson.
In accepting the Medal of Merit, Robinson spoke of her more recent efforts to address global warming and climate change, especially in developing countries.
"Now the focus of my work is on sustainable development and climate change," Robinson said in accepting the honor.
"It is the poorest communities that are most affected and have the greatest difficulty recovering," she added, citing New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
She lauded Chicago for its work at environmentally sustainable development. "Cities are at the heart of sustainable development," Robinson said. "You are giving real leadership."
She added that sustainability has economic, environmental and social components as "the three legs of the stool," and she urged Chicago to pay more attention to the economic and social elements in downtrodden neighborhoods if its to address problems with street shootings and murders.
Emanuel, who joined in honoring Robinson, declined to take issue with that position after the meeting, allowing that "we have a lot of work to do." He granted that it required a multifaceted approach, adding, "It's not a one-nail issue."
Robinson said she would carry the award into her continuing work on what she termed "climate justice," saying, "I feel very honored, but I also feel affirmed and energized."
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