Skip to main content

News and Events

UCC School of Law Student Awarded Irish Research Council Employment-Based PhD Scholarship

8 Apr 2021

Deirdre Kelleher’s project "The lives, experiences and outcomes of young people who are detained at Oberstown Children Detention Campus - A Participatory Study”, will be an in-depth study of the extent to which the Oberstown Children’s Rights Policy Framework meets the needs of young people in detention. 

UCC School of Law LLM graduate Deirdre Kelleher has been awarded an Irish Research Council Employment-Based scholarship to undertake a PhD examining the life experiences and outcomes of young people detained at Oberstown Children Detention Campus. A key feature of the research will be engagement with young people and hearing directly from them about how their needs are being fulfilled. It is the first long-term participatory study involving young people in detention in Ireland.

This project is a unique opportunity to link the academic scholarship in the fields of youth justice and youth detention with the practical, on-the-ground delivery of care to young people in detention in Ireland.  It confirms UCC School of Law’s place as the leading academic Centre for Children's Rights and Family Law in Ireland. 

Oberstown's support of this work as UCC School of Law’s employment partner demonstrates its commitment to deliver the highest standards of care to young people by utilising evidence-based policies and programmes in line with the children’s rights approach. In 2020, the Oberstown Board of Management adopted the Children’s Rights Policy Framework in order to provide for a comprehensive, modern approach to the care of young people on the campus. The Framework sets out the rights to which young people are entitled, the standards of care they can expect and the responsibilities on duty bearers, including staff, the Director and the Board of Management, to meet those standards. In doing so, Oberstown has set out an expectation that the care provided to young people will meet the highest international standards.

Professor Ursula Kilkelly, Director of the Centre for Children’s Rights and Family Law and Chairperson of the Board of Management at Oberstown, is supervising Deirdre’s PhD. Professor Kilkelly is a leading expert in the fields of international children's rights and youth justice and her in-depth knowledge of Oberstown combined with her children’s rights scholarship will ensure the project’s success.

About the scholarship

The Irish Research Council (IRC) seek applications annually for an Employment-Based Postgraduate Programme.  Applications are made by postgraduate students hoping to pursue a PhD in a given field, backed by an employment organisation in that field.  Essentially the employment partner is prepared to employ the student to undertake an agreed research project, with a view to the student earning their doctorate by the end of four years and the employer benefitting from directly relevant research.  As well as having identified an employer, the student applicant must also have secured the support of an academic supervisor at a third-level institute before completing the application.  Read more detail on the scheme here.

For this project, Professor Ursula Kilkelly secured the backing of Oberstown as an employer to partner with her and the UCC School of Law to seek applicants for the IRC scholarship. Deirdre was successful in the subsequent selection process, and then worked with Professor Kilkelly to draft the application to the IRC. Notice of the IRC award came through in late spring 2020.

The overall award initially amounted to €96,000 over four years, but in January 2021 there was an announcement of a €3,500 per annum increase to the scholarship fund, bringing the overall value of the award to €110,000.  Deirdre’s scholarship took effect on 1 September 2020 and will run until 31 August 2024.

Spotlight on the Researcher

We spoke to Deirdre Kelleher about this scholarship award, and her journey towards PhD studies at the UCC School of Law. Here’s what she had to say, in her own words:

“I am coming to PhD studies a little bit later than most, having worked as a financial accountant for nearly 15 years.  In 2009 I began my first studies in Law when I joined the Evening BCL programme in UCC.  I graduated in 2013 and wasn't sure quite where to take my degree next - I wasn't planning to become a solicitor or barrister but definitely knew I wanted to do more with law.  I did some volunteer advocacy work with Cork Life Centre in 2014 and through the amazing team there, I was first introduced to the emerging issues in the area of youth justice and young people who come into conflict with the law.  In particular I was struck by the findings in the fields of neuroscience and studies into how, for example, the natural development of the adolescent brain can increase the potential for engaging in risky behaviour.  As a direct consequence of this dip into the world of children's rights and youth justice, I applied for a place on the LLM (Child and Family Law) in UCC which I started 8 weeks after my daughter was born in 2015.  

In 2016, I took the first steps towards leaving the world of accounting and financial reporting behind me and began work as a research and administrative assistant in the School of Law, alongside my Masters studies.  I have worked on a variety of projects in the School including supporting Prof Kilkelly, Prof Crowley & Prof O'Mahony in 2017 as they led the Local Organising Committee bringing the World Congress on Family Law and Children's Rights to Dublin.  I have project-managed, under Prof Kilkelly, the Irish element of European-funded collaborations with AIRE Centre in London (Separated Children in Judicial Proceedings) and DCI Belgium (My Lawyer, My Rights) and also been a research support officer, events coordinator and acting Clinical Education Coordinator during my time in the School.  I have also assisted in a number of research projects, like the IRC-funded COALESCE project led by Prof Kilkelly, "Ensuring the progressive reform of youth justice in Ireland in line with international research and evidence based approaches", the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty and a Save the Children (Denmark) project on "The Right of Children to Participate in Public Decision-Making Processes"

I am really excited to be embarking on this PhD project and hugely grateful to Oberstown, Ursula and the IRC for the chance to conduct new research in an area that is inherently complex and sensitive.  I am especially interested to hear first-hand the views of those in detention in Ireland about their experience, as this is a cohort of young people that is not typically heard from.

An employment-based scholarship is probably the only way by which I would ever be able to undertake a PhD, given my family commitments, so I am determined to make the very most of the opportunity that I am so fortunate to have been given.”


IRC website:  



School of Law

Scoil an Dlí

Room 1.63, Aras na Laoi, T12 T656