Honorary Degrees 2015 – Celebrating Human Rights

Posted on: 27 November 2015

Artist Panti Bliss, Senator David Norris, Social Activist Fr Peter McVerry, Holocaust Survivor, Tomi Reichental and Mozambican Politician and Humanitarian, Graça Machel received Honorary Degrees at Trinity College Dublin today. All five candidates were conferred with a Doctor in Laws (LL.D). Human Rights was the theme this year, all five recipients  have made a significant contribution in this sphere.

Rory O’Neill performs as the artist Panti who has been the figurehead and co-producer of Alternative Miss Ireland, raising hundreds of thousands of euro for Irish HIV/AIDS organisations.  Performer, actor, writer, orator, activist, campaigner for equality, figurehead and the grande-dame-drag-doyenne of Dublin, both Rory and Panti have entered the nation's conscience as a significant voice speaking for equality, respect and fairness for all. Panti reached out to a global audience with her Noble Call speech at The Abbey Theatre. Her speech spoke to anyone who has been considered and treated "less" in any way

David Norris, formerly a lecturer in Trinity’s School of English has been an Independent Senator representing the University of Dublin since 1987 where he  has an impressive record of contributions to debates.  As a campaigner for human rights for gay people, David Norris has made a lasting contribution.  His campaign to decriminalise homosexual acts ran from 1977, moving from the High Court through to the European Court of Human Rights until in 1988 the laws in Ireland were deemed to be in contravention of the Convention on Human Rights, with decriminalisation of same-sex sexual activity finally occurring in 1993.  Senator Norris is also known academically as a Joycean scholar.

Pictured on the occasion of the Honorary Degree ceremony were (back) Rory O'Neill, Tomas Reichental, Provost Dr Patrick Prendergast, Fr Peter McVerry, (bottom) Senator David Norris, University Chancellor Mary Robinson and Graca Machel

Fr Peter McVerry has worked with vulnerable young people in inner city Dublin for the last 40 years during which time he has campaigned tirelessly for their rights. His vision for the Peter McVerry Trust  is to support all those living on the margins and to uphold their rights to full inclusion in society.  In 2014 the charity worked with 4,460 vulnerable youths. As a social activist Peter is a strong advocate for those who have no voice in society.  He has written widely on issues relating to young homeless people, such as accommodation, drugs, juvenile justice, the Gardaí, prisons and education.  He was ordained as a Jesuit in 1975.

Graça Machel, one of the foremost advocates for women and children’s rights has been a social and political activist over many decades. She was formerly the Minister for Education in Mozambique. Her assessment of the impact of armed conflict on children continues to inform the United Nations’ work to protect children in conflict zones.   She is Founder and President of the Foundation for Community Development, an NGO that works to promote development, democracy and social justice in Mozambique. She is also founder of a series of other organisations including the Graça Machel Trust where she has focused on advocating for women’s economic and financial empowerment, education for all and a range of other issues.

Tomi Reichental is one of only three Holocaust survivors left in Ireland. He has, for the last ten years, dedicated his time to speaking of his experience in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to Irish  schools and Colleges. His aim is to educate the Irish people about the Holocaust, as well as promote racial and religious tolerance.  He was born in 1935 in Slovakia to a Jewish family. Aged nine, he and other family members were taken to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He lost 35 members of his family in the Holocaust. He is closely associated with the Holocaust Education Trust Ireland.  He has been presented with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the highest tribute the Federal Republic of Germany can pay to individuals.

Trinity’s Public Orator, Professor Anna Chahoud gave an oration  on each of the candidates as they were enrolled.  

on Rory O’Neill she said:

“What do you see, I ask, as you watch our next candidate step forward? Do you see a dazzling actor on an austere stage? Do you see a magnificent orator, who would mesmerise you if his eloquence were displayed on this academic platform? Do you see an icon, a totem, a symbol of the fight for equality in modern-day Ireland? Rory Brendan O’Neill wants you to see much more, my friends, in him and in everyone else: he wants you to see a person. This child of rural Mayo was born with the power to celebrate the joy of ‘just being a human being’. The law has no higher aim than respect for this simple right; and yet how difficult the task is. He has embraced it wholeheartedly, as only an artist can do: with an act of creation. He breathed life into Panti, giving her a powerful, polemical, and persuasive voice against oppression and discrimination.”

on David Norris

“It was this Trinity man, Gold Medallist of the University Philosophical Society, who brought down the unjust laws that criminalised homosexuality, fighting brave battles for over three decades in the Courts, in the Parliament and at the European Court of Human Rights. The recent advances in the road to equality would not have been possible without his campaigns. He walks and he talks unafraid. He has served and defended the Seanad for nearly thirty years, very nearly a record in Irish history. While the world acclaims him ‘the most successful Irish politician to appear on YouTube,’ let us ascribe him to the highest ranks of this Senate with resounding commendation.”

on Fr Peter McVerry

“The first act of giving to the poor was a modest refuge for a dozen homeless boys in the inner city; tireless activism and self-sacrifice succeeded in building eleven hostels, over a hundred apartments, and three centres for helping vulnerable young people break the shackles of drug addiction. That noble enterprise, now the Peter McVerry Trust, he had originally named after Fr Arrupe, the enlightened Jesuit who shared his belief that social justice must be at the heart of the Christian church.”

on Graça Machel

“She was a schoolteacher when she joined, as a young political activist,  the Mozambican Liberation Front. With the independence of her country she became the first Minister for Education and Culture in Mozambique; the only woman in the cabinet, she soon doubled primary school enrolment in her country. Education is the inalienable right of a child. In her book The Impact of War on Children, published five years after her ground-breaking report to the United Nations General Assembly, she speaks louder on the subject: every child has the right to a childhood uninjured by coercion and enslavement, by hatred and war.”

on Tomi Reichental 

“At the age of nine he was deported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to suffer starvation and sadism, to breathe an air polluted by death, to walk on a land contaminated by unburial and desecration. How he lived, I cannot bring myself to imagine. Once finally free, before finding in Ireland the home and citizenship he had been denied in his destroyed motherland, he lived in Germany for many years. He knows that a nation’s heart does not share the evil of very few; and even those can be touched by forgiveness. His hand stretched out in friendship to the granddaughter of his persecutor has recently moved the entire world.”

For copies of Orations:

Media coverage:

RTE Television 6.01 & 9pm  News http://www.rte.ie/news/player/2015/1127/20888886-rory-oneill-sen-david-norris-among-honorary-degrees-at-tcd/

Irish Times http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news

Irish  Independent http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/senator-david-norris-and-rory-oneill-panti-bliss-among-those-awarded-trinity-honorary-degrees-34240373.html

Media Contact:

Caoimhe Ni Lochlainn, Head of Library Communications | nilochlc@tcd.ie | +353 1 896 4710