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History Made with the Inaugural Intervarsity Law Summit

Orla Leahy, News Editor

The Intervarsity Law Summit, spearheaded and hosted by the University College Cork Law Society, took place in the Rochestown Park Hotel in Cork, from Friday, February 25th to Sunday, February 27th. It is the largest ever student-empowered law event. The inaugural Summit brought together all seven university law schools and law societies in the country, as well as thirteen of Ireland’s leading law firms, and ultimately embraced the chosen theme of “Breaking Barriers: Let the Law Unite.”

Bailey Lane, Auditor of the 92nd session of the UCC Law Society, first had the idea for the Summit back in April 2021. Anna O’Doherty, the Summit Convenor for the UCC Law Society, Bailey, and a subcommittee composed of seven law students, have worked tirelessly to turn their vision for the Summit into a highly successful and prestigious event, one of the largest in this year’s legal calendar. 

The weekend kicked off with the semi-finals and final of the Intervarsity Mock Trial competition. UCC took on Trinity College Dublin, and UCD took on NUIG in the semi-finals. UCC and UCD then progressed to the final. The final was judged by the Honourable Ms. Justice Mary C. Irvine, President of the Irish High Court, the Honourable Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan of the Supreme Court, and the Honourable Mr. Justice Liam McKechnie, formerly of the Supreme Court. After a fascinating and engaging mock trial, UCC ultimately succeeded in acting for the defence. Harry Emerson and Fabia Shaw claimed the title as counsel for the defendant, with the support of their witnesses, Heather O’Leary and Mark Cooper. 

In the evening, former Uachtarán na hÉireann, Mary McAleese, delivered the keynote address at this weekend’s historic, first-ever Intervarsity Law Summit. Mary McAleese was awarded the ‘Orientem Solem Award’, in acknowledgment of the barriers that she has broken throughout her career as an academic, author, barrister and jourrnalist, and for being an inspirational figure to law students. McAleese was welcomed by opening addresses from the Auditor of the UCC Law Society, Bailey Lane, the Intervarsity Summit Convenor, Anna O’Doherty, and the Dean of the UCC School of Law, Professor Mark Poustie. Professor Louise Crowley of the UCC School of Law chaired the event and introduced Mrs. McAleese to the stage. McAleese addressed attendees on Friday, February 25th, between 18:25 and 19:25 on the first evening of the Intervarsity Law Summit. McAleese spoke on a variety of topics, including her childhood and education, growing up during the Troubles, the future of Ireland and the future of children’s rights.

McAleese grew up in Ardoyne, North Belfast, with 70% unemployment, which became known as “The Ardoyne” over the course of the Troubles. She and her family were the first Catholics on their street in a primarily protestant area. By growing up with many protestant friends, McAleese saw firsthand the effects of violence on such relationships, and how relationships are pulled apart by violence. She learned that, “you can’t paint people with just one stereotype.” 

McAleese’s father “respected education”, and when the new Education Act in Northern Ireland came in during the 70s, he looked at it as an opportunity for McAleese and her siblings to receive educational training that he did not himself. McAleese’s mother threw a priest out of the house, when he told McAleese that she would not make it as a lawyer because she was a woman, and had no family in the legal profession. Her mother then told her not to listen to him, and McAleese later qualified as a Barrister at Law, and was one of three women to be called to the bar in her year. Ultimately, her parents strived to create educational opportunities for her that they did not have themselves. 

Professor Crowley asked McAleese what barriers she believes lie ahead. She referred to the European Convention on the Human Rights of the Child. The convention changed the dynamic of parent-child relationships, for the better. From here on out, children, particularly adolescents, need to be provided with the information to allow them to develop ideas, opinions and freedom of speech. 

A united Ireland is an important ambition of McAleese’s. She would love to see an Ireland created that is a “house” for all, a united Ireland which everyone contributes to. She stated that, “partition robbed us of the full potential for Ireland to work together.”

“What advice would you give to our students?” asked Professor Crowley. “Stand your ground, never ever be afraid to stand your ground.” McAleese encouraged students listening to stand up not only for their personal beliefs, but to stand up for those beliefs that others require help to stand up for.

Friday evening concluded with an excellent opportunity for students and attendees to network, with a widely attended mixer event. The event featured a raffle, in aid of the Summit’s  charity partner, the Aiséirí Aislinn Centres. Áiséirí Aislinn Centres function to support young people in Ireland who are struggling with addiction. The Centres offer support services and counselling to those recovering from addiction and to their loved ones. 

The mooting quarter-finals, semi-finals, and final took place on Saturday morning. The Honourable Ms. Justice Marie Baker of the Supreme Court judged UCC v. UCC in one of the semi-finals. The Honourable Mr. Justice David Keane of the Supreme Court, Eithne Kavanagh of UCC, Claire Collins, a Barrister at Law in Cork, and the Honourable Ms. Justice Helen Boyle of the Cork Circuit Court judged the final. UCC’s Max Philpott and Eve O’Shaughnessy were ultimately successful in the final against Trinity College Dublin’s Eoin Jackson and Anne Spillane. 

Following the mooting, a sponsored lunch and networking event took place with the law firms who kindly sponsored the Summit. The event functioned as an excellent opportunity for law students to learn more about the work of the firms, and to build connections, in advance of summer internship and traineeship applications. 

The weekend peaked with the Intervarsity Summit Gala, which began with a prosecco reception, and was followed by a three-course dinner in the beautiful Estuary Suite. Students continued to arrive for the afters of the Gala which featured up and coming band, the Off Beats, and late night DJ. Attendees enjoyed a highly atmospheric night of superior quality entertainment. 

The weekend long event closed on Sunday with a panel discussion that embraced the Summit’s chosen theme. Gina Martin opened the discussion with her pre-recorded welcome video. Gina Martin is an English political activist and author. In her speech, she said that breaking barriers is, “actually really hard. It takes a lot of courage to break barriers.” she concluded by saying, “I hope that you go outside of the realm of what’s expected of you.”

Declan Walsh, Vice Dean for Internationalisation in the UCC School of Law chaired the live panel discussion, featuring Senator David Norris, who changed the Irish landscape of rights for LGBTQI+ individuals in Ireland with his case at the European Court of Human Rights, Norris v. Ireland, Dr. Rhona Mahony, first female Master of the National Maternity Hospital, and Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland. 

Key parts of the insightful and comprehensive discussion included Senator Norris speaking about his landmark case that changed Ireland’s perception of the LGBTQI+ community. “I wanted to exhaust the domestic remedies”, Senator Norris stated, prior to taking the case to Europe. He acknowledged the work of his team, and his “star witnesses.” O’Gorman acclaimed the work of Senator Norris, for the LGBTQI+ community, “it was massive.” He himself would have been unable to achieve what he did during his career without Norris breaking barriers.

Dr. Mahony has “been on the frontline of women’s healthcare” and has observed that women’s healthcare is often overlooked. One of the largest barriers to women’s careers is that of childbirth. It is perceived as a problem, but in fact it adds to women’s career landscapes, and they must overcome societal challenges, such as childcare. Dr. Mahony looked at whether fertility should be part of the workplace conversations. “It is about attitude and it is about culture.” By recognising our attitudes to societal and cultural issues realting to matters such as women’s healthcare, we can overcome barriers. Dr. Mahony spoke of the importance of early education for children. She spoke of the challenge of the pandemic for women with young children, trying to educate them. “It is time to start seeing the potential, the opportunity,” rather than the judgement that has led to failures in both education and healthcare.” Dr. Mahony praised the endeavours of the law students assembled, “it is so inspiring…to imagine the capability of this room.”

O’Gorman urged students to challenge injustice wherever they see it. He recognised the issue of class, and how barriers relating to this need to be broken. “If you seriously believe in justice, and you seriously believe in equality…have a finely honed eye and ear…there are constantly orthodoxies that need to be overcome.”

Dr. Mahony spoke about the challemhges associated with advancing technology. People have moved away from dense reading in favour of short slogans and tweets. She observed that institutions of state are fragile across the globe and that misinformation is an alternative to a physical weapon, “feeding people information…that becomes so sophisticated.” People need to be given the opportunity to critically think. One of the biggest challenges for the students assembled will be overcoming misinformation, and having correct information. She concluded by stating that the students assembled are facing a challenging world, with the climate crisis amongst other challenges, and she encouraged all to make good, kind decisions, “to accept all of us…get interested by people…most of all, make your mark…you hold society’s future, you hold the world’s future in your hands.”

As Bailey Lane concluded in his closing statement, “ní neart go cur le chéile.” The momentous inaugural Intervarsity Law Summit shone a light on the fact that together we are stronger, and that together we can overcome the barriers in life to create a better, more just society for us all.