‘We Raised the Bar for 1916’ by Deirdre Conroy, Barrister–at–Law Candidate
What became the Bar Rising last March was first suggested by auditor, Sam Deasy, as a ‘women for election’ talk. A simple matter of having a few speakers give a pitch to our students, encouraging our budding barristers to think about future participation in local or national representation.
I thought about it and decided that as it was going to be around Easter why not have some sort of commemorative event for 1916 but somewhat different, as by then we would have a new Dáil and everybody would be tired of politics.
I wanted to combine it with a dining event where the students could mix with the speakers afterwards and the speakers would be from areas we have studied.
It could only work if I had a great chairperson; I found that in the generosity of Dearbhail McDonald, law graduate, then legal editor of the Irish Independent. I met her down at the CCJ while she was on a break from reporting and mentoring an intern. She did not hesitate and graciously accepted the challenge. After that, it was about getting a good mix of experts.
The plan was foolproof, by 24th March we would have the 32nd Dáil, naturally, newly elected politicians would be thrilled to join us for dining and contribute to the conversation. Indeed, what better way to commemorate the Easter 1916 centenary for newly elected Dáil members than to join us students at King’s Inns, where Padraig Pearse became a barrister.
The 24th of March was not only in the middle of our final exams, but bang in the middle of the law library Easter holiday, mid–term break for schools AND the day before the bank holiday weekend. The newly elected politicians were still in conclave almost a month after the election.
But there was no going back! After the flood of bookings in the first two days, almost all student places sold out. To the Diploma and Modular students. Hardly any full timers – all taking their exams very seriously.
Potential panelists popped into my head as I heard various advocates on the radio or read their articles. I thought that a panel of leading figures in crime, law, human rights, social justice, media and political comment, would be a great alternative to a speaker at a lectern. I wanted them to initiate a conversation with the newly elected TDs about how we could achieve the diversity and equality idealised in the Proclamation.
Each and every one of the panelists was delighted to attend. I was really honoured by their enthusiasm. There was a transition at the helm of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and the new CEO, former head of FLAC, Noeline Blackwell joined us. Dining with us was the former CEO Ellen O’Malley Dunlop who was a Seanad candidate at the time.
Taking a break from her busy schedule at the UN in Geneva, former Ombudsman for Children and currently Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Emily Logan joined us.
We needed a judge. I had heard Judge Mary Ellen Ring speak at the auditor’s inaugural address and thought she was wonderful. She is now the chairperson of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. I remember Eimear wondering if I had too many ombudsmen on board ;–)
Judge Ring was also very gracious and even more so when it came to the night in question, as she had been unwell. Her contribution on women balancing work and children was so insightful.
Now, I needed some gender quota. Senior Counsel Paul Anthony McDermott was particularly chosen for his witty take on judgments in the Sunday Times.
Noel Whelan was an obvious choice and I was delighted he could attend. He is a state prosecutor in the South East an author and journalist, former Fianna Fail candidate and great political commentator.
A very special guest was John Lonergan, former governor of Mountjoy Prison and Ireland’s top security prison, Portlaoise, now author, speaker and advocate on children’s issues.
I was very relieved that our Under Treasurer provided the hall for us and the sound equipment was kindly sponsored by King’s Inns.
Claire Hanley, Ciaran Dempsey and the catering team made the most wonderful dining experience. Guests of students were thrilled. We had some new TDs come dine with us – Josepha Madigan, family lawyer and Fine Gael TD, plus Maria Bailey TD.
We had our Women for Election team as well; winners of Social Entrepreneurs of the year Michelle O’Donnell Keating came with Hannah Deasy. Madeleine Keane, literary editor of the Sunday Independent was at the INM table, with our own media lawyer James McDermott and fellow fulltimer/journalist Collette Brown with journalist and Seanad candidate, Carol Hunt. We also had a great turn out from the Law Library and William Fry Solicitors, some of whom came in 1916 dress.
At the time, my friend Alison Cowzer, was keeping her Dragon’s Den role under wraps. She was the first to book a table, with other entrepreneurs and her husband, Chairman of Bord Bia, Michael Carey.
Another dear friend, Melissa Curry, fine jewellery designer and Huffington Post blogger, hosted a reception before hand and gifted each participant with a voucher.
With over 130 dining, it turned out to be a fascinating evening. Dearbhail gave a great speech and handled a heckler with humour. Panelists were candid about politics, women’s rights, children’s rights and law reform. It was a once in a 100 years experience.