Irish Legal History Society reception

Saloon, Provost’s Housee

Friday 23rd November 2018, 7pm

Pro-Chancellor1, Distinguished Guests,

Welcome, everyone, to the Saloon in the Provost’s House.

It’s thirty years since the Irish Legal History Society was formally inaugurated here, in the Provost’s House, in 1988, at a reception hosted by Provost Watts in the presence of the Chief Justices of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

On the 25th anniversary of that inauguration, in 2013, we held a reception in the Provost’s House, which I was privileged to host.

This evening we’re in the 30th year of the Society and we’re thanking the out-going President, Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Deeny of Northern Ireland

for his service, and welcoming the in-coming President, Professor Patrick Geoghegan.

As it happens, Donnell is Pro-Chancellor of this University, and a graduate, and Patrick is Professor in Modern History here. He is currently ‘on loan’ to An Taoiseach as a special adviser, but we hope to have him back before long!

It’s something of a coincidence that both the outgoing and incoming Presidents are connected to Trinity, but from our point of view, a happy coincidence. The Irish Legal History Society does essential work – and it does

it very well. Its impressive list of publications and of discourses over the past 30 years would be the envy of any Society.

One of the Society’s defining characteristics is that it brings together scholars and practitioners from throughout the island of Ireland. This cross-border dimension has been one of its most significant contributions.

In the ‘age of Brexit’, this dimension is ever more important. We want more north/south connectivity, and more all-Ireland institutions and societies facilitating mobility of people and interchange of ideas across the island.

Trinity has always been an all-Ireland university, welcoming students from all 32 counties. From the 1970s onwards, there was a steep decline in numbers of students from Northern Ireland for a few reasons, including the introduction of the separate UCAS and CAO systems. But thanks to really impressive efforts by Professor Geoghegan, about six years ago, when he was Dean of Undergraduate Studies and by Sir Donnell Deeny, active steps were taken to reverse this decline, including sending out student ambassadors and adjusting A-level requirements for admission.

This was having effect: the number of applications of students from Northern Ireland to Trinity went up. However, I’m afraid that this year numbers are down 20 percent on the previous years. We will need to do in-depth analysis on why this is so, but the most obvious explanation is probably the right one: this is the ‘Brexit effect’ - students in the dark about the future of the border are disinclined to take risks.

I’m not going to say anything more about Brexit to a room of historians and lawyers! Except to say that since law and history are the most pertinent disciplines to the issue, the politicians involved should really be seeking the counsel of members of this society. I hope they are.

In these times, all that individuals and organisations can do is stay true to their values. Trinity, like the Irish Legal History Society, values research collaborations, staff and student mobility, and cultural links North/South and East/West. We will persevere with them whatever happens.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the outgoing and incoming Presidents for their work in furthering student mobility from Northern Ireland to Trinity. And I congratulate the Irish Legal History Society on a wonderful thirty years. The connection of the Society with the Provost’s House is now well and truly cemented by your foundation here in 1988, and I hope that it may long continue.

Thank you.

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1 Donnell Deeny