Mary McAleese 'well used to revolting sexism' in politics

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Mary McAleese and the Man Who Saved Europe
Image caption,
Mary McAleese pictured in the 2015 documentary Mary McAleese and the Man Who Saved Europe

The former Irish President Mary McAleese has said sexism has been "part and parcel" of her political career.

Dr McAleese, who was born in Belfast, served two terms as president of Ireland from 1997 to 2011.

She told BBC News NI's programme The View that she had experienced "cat calling, nasty language and being sneered at because she is a woman".

She added that "developed a skin" that allowed her to "call it out for what it is - violent and revolting".

"Sexism is designed to make you shrink and go away and be silent but it did the opposite with me," she said.

"It made me quite determined to use whatever leverage I have to speak out and call it out," she added.

Church 'steeped in it'

During the interview, she criticised attitudes in the Catholic Church and the unionist government that was in power in Northern Ireland when she was younger, which she described as steeped in "elitism not egalitarianism" and one which did not "embrace the talents of women" regardless of their religion.

However she added that she was "well used to it".

"The church I belong to, at a hierarchical level, is steeped in it," she said.

Dr McAleese, has been fiercely critical of elements of the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Image caption,
Mary McAleese, speaking on BBC programme The View, which airs on Thursday at 22:45

She told the programme she has now pledged herself to "challenge the magisterium of the Catholic Church - the male bishops who regard themselves as the sole arbiters of the church's teaching".

"Large chunks of that teaching are appalling," Dr McAleese added.

She told the programme the Catholic Church, at one point, had a long history of anti-Semitism which it had now resiled from.

Dr McAleese said that she believed that "sooner or later they will resile from sexism and homophobia because science and human rights will interrupt the integrity of their narrative".

However she added she was not "a hater of the church" but that she saw spirituality as "beautiful" and that it should "enhance families, not exclude anyone".

Image source, Press Association
Image caption,
Queen Elizabeth II and President Mary McAleese in Dublin in 2011

Dr McAleese said she had met The Queen before the visit and was able to tell her how "nationalists in NI and on the island of Ireland felt about her".

She added that on each occasion she met the Queen they spoke about how the "ultimate challenge" was in creating the circumstances for the visit to happen.

It was to be not just a visit but a "mission or pilgrimage of reconciliation".

You can watch the full interview on The View on BBC One NI on Thursday at 22:45 BST.