Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole and former Tánaiste Mary Harney received honorary doctorates from Trinity this afternoon, the first such ceremony presided over by Chancellor Mary McAleese.
O’Toole, an acclaimed political and cultural commentator, was awarded a Doctor in Letters. A columnist for over 30 years, O’Toole has provided commentary on major cultural and political events, such as Brexit, the referendum on the eighth amendment and the death of Seamus Heaney.
Trinity’s Public Orator, Professor Anna Chahoud, extolled his writing in her oration at the ceremony: “In his essay on Freedom of the Press, George Orwell memorably wrote: ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’ We cannot but recall these words as we welcome Fintan O’Toole, proud Dubliner, uncompromising observer of Irish political, social and cultural life, and worthy recipient of the Orwell prize for journalism in 2017.”
Mary Harney, the longest serving female TD and cabinet minister, was awarded a Doctor in Laws. She has held several ministerial positions including Trade and Employment, Health and Children and was the first female Tánaiste. She was also the first female auditor of the College Historical Society (the Hist).
In her oration, the Public Orator stressed her life of public service: “This woman has been a strenuous reformer, capable of effecting long-lasting improvements to environmental policies, to employment and entrepreneurship, and, most notably, to the medical profession and the health service in Ireland.”
Mental health activist Joan Freeman, marine scientist Professor Terry Hughes and neuroscientist Professor Michael Gazzaniga were also awarded honorary doctorates.
Freeman is the CEO of Pieta House, which offers a specialised free treatment programme for men, women and children who have suicidal ideation, or who have attempted suicide.
Prof Hughes is a Trinity graduate and an Irish scientist known globally for his work on coral bleaching caused by rising water temperatures and his public stance on the threat of climate change.
Gazzaniga is widely considered to be one of the fathers of the field of cognitive neuroscience, and is credited with being the first researcher to examine split brain patients in order to understand whether some cognitive functions are predominantly performed in one brain hemisphere or the other.
The ceremony lasted over an hour and was conducted in Latin, a Trinity tradition. Candidates were conferred with honorary degrees at the end of the ceremony in the Examination Hall, after Trinity’s graduating PhD students of the Winter Commencements.
McAleese was inaugurated as Trinity’s new chancellor earlier today, taking over the role from Mary Robinson, another former president of Ireland.