Professor Ursula Kilkelly, School of Law

Ursula Kilkelly, Professor of Law

Ursula Kilkelly, Professor of Law

College: Business & Law

School: Law

Research Interests: Children's rights

IRIS profile:

What first attracted you to your academic discipline?

I have always been interested in human rights, locally and internationally.  I was a young member of Amnesty International, writing letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience through my teens, and my interest grew and focused on children's rights as I studied the subject at university.  My family is a strong influence too and so I had a natural awareness of social justice issues growing up.

How were you drawn to your current research interests?

My interest began when we had a seminar on children's rights during my LLM on Human Rights Law at Queen's University Belfast - it was soon after the UN had adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child and so the area was really just emerging.  Shortly after that I applied for a PhD scholarship and came up with the idea of studying the European Convention on Human Rights from a children's perspective.  It had never been done before and there began a 20-year career in children's rights!

What professional achievements do you consider particularly rewarding?

I greatly enjoy the variety of my job - lecturing, research, engaging internationally, supporting civil society, advocating for change.  The most rewarding achievement was undoubtedly using the culmination of all that - research, collaboration with colleagues and students, advocacy and a commitment to human rights - to support Louise O'Keeffe to win her case against Ireland before the European Court of Human Rights.

Have you had professional role models? What impact did they have on you?

The most obvious role model is Mary Robinson, a fellow Mayo woman and lawyer, who has spent her career using the law to effect social change at a national and international level.  She combines an intelligence with an ability to communicate that is very rare and she has used her skill to great, practical effect in advancing legal and social change.  I also greatly admire former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness, who is an exceptional advocate for children's rights throughout her career.

What aspects of your work do you find most rewarding?

Currently, my work as Chair of the Board of Oberstown Children Detention Campus is both the most challenging and the most rewarding aspect of my work.  It gives me the opportunity to test the theory of youth justice and detention, and to experience the challenges of effecting change in practice.  Returning this learning to my students is a real privilege.

Any details you wish to share about how being female has impacted upon your career (positively or negatively)?

I have never really thought too much about my career from the perspective of gender - fortunately so.  Because I grew up with five sisters, an exceptional role model in my mother, I work in a female dominated field (children's rights) with many exceptional female leaders and am fortunate to work in a Law School with many superb women, I have almost taken it for granted that women excel.  Obviously, though, this is patently not the case for many women and I am very conscious in my leadership roles that I carry the responsibility as a role model on behalf of other women.

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 think we all learn through experience so giving advice to those who follow is difficult.  And I don't think my 18-year old self listened to anyone!  But we are exceptionally privileged to be in academia, as a professor, and so I believe that comes with a responsibilty to give generously of our time and expertise, any way we can.  We each need to find our own way to balance our various responibilities and as long as we can live with the choices we make that is what matters.  For me, I need to do it with passion or not at all!

Athena SWAN

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