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Professor Maeve McDonagh, School of Law
Maeve McDonagh, Professor of Law
College: Business & Law
Research Interests: Freedom of Information law, & privacy/data protection law
IRIS profile: http://research.ucc.ie/profiles/B012/mmcdonagh
What first attracted you to your academic discipline?
I was very interested in current affairs growing up. I also had a strong sense of justice. It became clear to me that the law is a discipline that equips one very well to participate in public affairs and to work towards achieving just outcomes in society. Also having been brought up as one of the middle children of a family of 10, I had plenty experience of debating and arguing, which again drew me towards the law.
How were you drawn to your current research interests?
The dawning of the information age in the early 1980s sparked my curiosity as to what impact it would have on society in general and what role the law might play. After qualifying in law, both academically and professionally as a solicitor, I undertook a postgraduate diploma in information technology in 1984. This helped to develop my interest in information law generally and in privacy/data protection law in particular. On moving to Australia to take up a lecturing position in the mid-1980s, I encountered Freedom of Information law, which appealed to me as providing a means to address imbalances in power arising from informational disparities. I also developed a strong interest in human rights as they apply in the information law arena. Information law fascinates me because it operates at the intersection of law, politics, human rights and information technology.
What professional achievements do you consider particularly rewarding?
Developing the first course on Information Law at an Australian university back in 1986 and continuing to pioneer information technology law teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels at UCC on my return to Ireland in the early 1990s and ever since.
Contributing to the regulation of the media and to the balancing of such important rights as freedom of expression and privacy in Ireland through my membership of the inaugural Press Council of Ireland and latterly through my membership of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.
Engagement both academically through collaborating with scholars working in the information law area and professionally through engagement with NGOs operating in the access to information arena and through membership of the Asian Development Bank Access to Information Appeals Panel.
Have you had professional role models? What impact did they have on you?
The late human rights Professor Kevin Boyle, who taught me as an undergraduate in NUIG in the late 1970s was an important mentor. He was strongly committed to the promotion of female engagement in legal academia and encouraged me to embark on an academic career when female role models in the field were almost non-existent. While not a professional role model, I also have to mention my mother, who has hugely influenced the course of my life. Not having had the opportunity to study at university when she was young, she became a mature student back in the mid-1970s when her youngest child started school and she was already in her early 50s. The enthusiasm with which she embraced her studies was truly inspiring and she impressed upon her five daughters the importance of having a fulfilling career.
What aspects of your work do you find most rewarding?
Engaging with students, especially on a one-to-one basis, as they develop their legal and analytical skills is hugely rewarding. I also enjoy interacting with colleagues, both academic and administrative. I am lucky to work with a very dedicated group of people, who are committed to giving our students the best possible experience as law students at UCC. I also benefit greatly from my engagement with academic colleagues overseas, who are researching in my area. Finally I very much appreciate the opportunities that my work affords me to engage professionally as a representative of UCC Law School, in particular through my work in regulation of the media.
Any details you wish to share about how being female has impacted upon your career (positively or negatively)?
I believe that my experience as a woman, who has sought to combine a career with raising a family, has made me more empathetic towards both students and colleagues, who may encounter bumps along the road in their journey through life.
Academic careers present specific challenges in achieving balance, whether between research, teaching and administration, or in work/life balance. What advice might you give a student/younger colleague/your 18-year old self?
I would advise younger people embarking on an academic career not to worry about achieving success in every area of professional endeavour simultaneously. It is impossible to deliver on every challenge at once and sometimes it is better to put one aspect of one's work on the back burner so as to concentrate on another. I would also advise that time spent with family will never be a source of regret.