Honorary Conferrings Speeches Archive

    at Aula Maxima, UCC

  • 02 Nov 2016






Ms VIRGINIA TEEHAN, Director of Cultural Projects in University College Cork, on

2 November 2016, on the occasion of the conferring of the Degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa, on DEE FORBES



Chancellor, President, Graduates, Colleagues, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since the announcement of Dee Forbes’ appointment as Director General of RTÉ six months ago there has been quiet chatter amongst the con ne scenti about how an outsider got the job. Radio Éireann was established in 1926 and from those small beginnings emerged the national broadcaster Radió Telefís Éireann in 1960. Yet, for the past ninety years its leadership, like so many Irish semi state bodies, has rested in male hands, recruited from within the ranks of the Irish public service.

Then crashing through these predictable certainties was the surprise announcement on the April 1st this year that the London based President and Managing Director of Discovery Networks Northern Europe had agreed to accept the position of Director General of RTÉ. Dee Forbes is not only an RTÉ outsider, but the first woman to hold the job. If that doesn’t make her a maverick in some circles, then being a Munster Rugby supporter, well not just a supporter, a member of the Commercial Board of Munster Rugby, while based in the spiritual home of Leinster rugby, Dublin 4, will certainly set her outside the Pale.  

Being outside the Pale is not, I expect an issue for Dee; her gaze is focussed on global horizons, yet her compass is guided by values nurtured in her formative years.  At home, in Drimoleague, Co. Cork, Dee acquired from her parents empathy for people. She innately understands the value of human contact and the importance of anticipating another’s needs – true customer service.  Vincent (Vin) Forbes, Dee’s late father, was a graduate of this University and as Dee movingly describes, she inherited a passion for history and politics, subjects which he taught at Árd Scoil Phobal, Bantry, from him. He was a man who had a deeply rooted sense of place, of where he came from - its history, culture and also a love of the Irish language. Theirs was a busy house, a home which included a pub. It was a hive of people, politics, talk, activity, sport, fun and hard work for all the family. Influenced by her father’s interests, and with her mother Mackie’s support, Dee completed her primary degree at University College Dublin and was awarded a BA in History and Politics. 

Arts graduates frequently don’t have clear career paths set out for them. Those of us who graduated in Arts from Irish Universities in the 1980s may have dreamt great dreams but our realities were bleakly different.  Unlike the graduates from professional disciples, arts graduates usually don’t know what they are going to do with their lives. People who know what they are doing know the rules, that’s what sets them apart, they know what is possible and impossible.  The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts are made by people who are not restricted by perceived or real boundaries.   

In that spirit of going beyond boundaries, Dee pursued a life in London like so many Irish in the 1980s. Initially she worked with Young and Rubicon buying and placing advertising campaigns. This was followed by a move to Turner Broadcasting. The innovative culture of Turner Broadcasting changed the face of international media, launching many new channels and commissioning new work. Content was at the heart of the company. In this environment, Dee flourished, rising from developing international sales teams to a senior management role. Ted Turner was a personal mentor who set the corporate tone with the phrase, ‘keep pushing until you can’t push any further’.  Fourteen years is a long time to spend with any organization and during Dee’s tenure she ran Turner's business in the UK and Ireland which consisted of seven entertainment channels including Cartoon Network, Boomerang and TCM.   

Global broadcasters set world pace, the challenge of leading in these charged commercial environments is a precious teacher.  Seeing a valuable asset, Discovery International pursued Dee, persuading her to accept the position as Head of UK Business in 2010. At Discovery, she progressively grew her responsibilities to become President and Managing Director of Discovery Networks Northern Europe where she managed all commercial and channel activities covering 27 TV brands in 18 markets and territories. To give a sense of what that means: Discovery's footprint reaches over 276 million cumulative TV households across Northern Europe each month including the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands.

London was Dee’s base for twenty six years and in the 1980s and 90s it was full of young Irish people who worked and played together. At that time, Dee, with other UCD graduates, set up the London branch of UCD Alumni Association and they thus embraced their new home while weaving the émigré tapestry of threads back to their spiritual home. Globally mobile, yet identifying with Ireland and Cork, Dee set up a second home in Glandore close to her parents and family, crystallising her deep-rooted bonds with Ireland.  A profound sense of place appears to be a marker of identity for Dee - that deep and complex sense of belonging to the place and people where she grew up, something which is central to her understanding of herself and others. This is manifest not only in Dee’s decision to create a home in Ireland but in her generous participation in Irish business life as a member of the Board of the Irish Times, the Commercial Board of Muster Rugby and the Advisory Board of the Smurfit Business School at UCD. Closer to home, Dee was central to the creation and development of a digital business initiative, the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen - a stellar exemplar of the art of the possible.

Describing West Cork in 1842 William Makepeace Thackeray observed

“Some way beyond Dunmanway the road takes us through a noble savage country of rocks and heath. There are long black tracts of bog here and there, and the water glistening brightly at the places where the turf has been cut away. Add to this and chiefly by the banks of rivers, a ruined castle or two...”

The West Cork terrain has strongly defined settlement patterns, but it is a bleak country and a challenging landscape. Its towns and villages are vital economic and cultural hubs, inextricably linked to their rural hinterlands. Traditionally, its economic well-being has been very much dependent on the extent to which it can utilise its coastal advantages in tourism, fishing, mari-culture and agriculture. Moving inwards from the pretty coastal towns’ large swathes of land to the west and north of Dunmanway represent significant challenges in achieving balanced regional development and economic diversification. But as evidenced by history, in West Cork challenges become opportunities, because the people of West Cork demonstrate a proven reliance tested over centuries. The Ludgate hub was pioneered by a group of entrepreneurs, digital ambassadors and local business owners. Based in London but passionate about economic revitalization Dee numbered one of these pioneers. Their aim is to work with the wider Irish diaspora to bring ideas and talent to Skibbereen and help local start-ups and digital enterprises compete on a global scale. Together they have developed infrastructure to support 1Giga bit per second speeds of high-quality fibre broadband connectivity – speeds on a par with Singapore and Silicon Valley. Located in a former cinema and bakery the 10,000 square foot hub is the first of its kind in a non-urban area in Ireland.  The project went from concept to reality in the space of just 18 months, all without a single euro in state funding. Neither the Government nor any State agency had anything to do with the development. The Board together with the local community raised €1m for the project.

This facility builds upon the global visions of the founders. The realization of these visions has had a transformative impact on local businesses through the direct and indirect creation of jobs, growth of new businesses, creation of start-ups and the enhancement of the overall economic environment. The leadership exhibited by the Dee and her fellow advocates to re-imagine the bleak landscape of austerity Ireland and their ability to make things happen is a game changer for rural communities across Ireland and the globe. Their success is testimony to their commitment not only to their local community, but to their country. 

Ireland’s creative industries are a real success story. And RTÉ has a vital role in nurturing creative practice across all forms of expression. As our national broadcaster, RTÉ is an organisation that makes a unique contribution to Irish life, with a distinctive, indigenous voice that articulates our stories, relays our experiences and allows for national public debate and conversation. Protecting that uniqueness while charting RTÉ’s sustainability in confused media ecology of internet, powerful commercial channels and a plethora of viewing platforms is an exciting challenge. Dee’s agreement to accept the opportunity to lead RTÉ as Director General opens up an exciting new phase for the broadcaster and we wish her well in her role.

Re-locating to Ireland affords intimacies which the most sophisticated technologies will never replace – closeness to family. Dee’s family are here today and we welcome her partner Dennis Horgan; Dee’s mother Mackie Forbes; her brother Eamonn, his wife Grainne; Dee’s sister, Aodhdin her husband Liam and I can’t omit Eoghan, Ciara, Aisling and Lily Anne. Extended family members include - Mavourneen Smith, Aoife and Pat Looney, Killian and Ruth Forbes.  You are all very welcome.

We sit in a beautiful hall today, the Aula Maxima, the historic heart of the University. Its architecture is inspired by the Great Hall at Lincoln’s Inn, London. Gothic in style, it is designed to draw your eyes upwards, towards those beautiful carved ceiling beams crafted about 170 years ago. Over the fireplace is the collection of presidential portraits which includes all the Presidents from Sir Robert Kane who presided over the University’s opening ceremony, held in this hall 167 years ago. On the Eastern gable is the Boole Commemorative window, erected in 1864 to honour the memory of the mathematician George Boole whose birth date, November 2nd we are marking today at this ceremony. 

Male eyes gaze down, their contributions to society rightly acknowledged in oil on canvas and glass with lead. Women are rarely commemorated in this way, their legacies more usually reside in the hearts and minds of those who come after them, but, by and large, they are the outliers. Eavan Boland, begins her poem Outside History with an obvious truth,

There are outsiders, always.

These stars -
these iron inklings of an Irish January.

whose light appeared

thousands of years before
our pain did: they are, they have always been
outside history.

Today, in the spirit of making history we acknowledge a woman’s contribution to society. Shining a light on women inspires current and future generations and ultimately brings positive change in female leadership roles and society’s perceptions towards them.

The University is honoured to acclaim and congratulate Dee Forbes on her success as a global leader in media and communications; an agent of change and an advocate for Ireland’s economy, especially the economy of West Cork.


Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, totaque universitas!

Praesento vobis hanc meam filiam, quam scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneam esse quae admittatur, honoris causa, ad Gradum Doctoratus in Litteris, idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondee, totique Academiae.



« Previous Item

Next Item »

« Back to Honorary Conferrings Speeches Archive


Bronnadh Céimeanna

Ask a question

Contact us