The University of Limerick today welcomes Dr Miriam Hederman O'Brien, an outstanding figure in national and European public affairs. Dr Hederman O'Brien has unstintingly given decades of expert and committed service to a wide range of institutions, governments and civic programmes. In the words of Donal de Buitléir and Frances Ruane (2003) (in a volume of essays celebrating the work of Dr Hederman O'Brien), 'a common thread of her work has been a restless dissatisfaction with the status quo and a passionate desire to make things better'. Between 1998 and 2002, Dr Hederman O'Brien held the posts of Chancellor of the University of Limerick and Director of the University of Limerick Foundation. We thank her for the compassionate and determined leadership which she displayed at that time. In a speech to the American Conference for Irish Studies in 1999, Dr Hederman O'Brien responded on behalf of the University to President McAleese (who opened the conference) with a clear statement of the university's mission: "it is a goal of the University of Limerick to work beyond the walls of its campus. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to offer our facilities to those who are pursuing knowledge, truth and understanding".
Dr Hederman O'Brien, a barrister who holds a Ph.D in Political and Economic Science from Trinity College, Dublin, has enjoyed a remarkably varied career which has spanned the areas of Social Partnership, the Civil Service, The Media, Freedom of Information legislation, the judicial system, Health Services, the character of Irish universities, Taxation (a particular concern in that as she sees it, tax issues 'show how the country actually operates, its problems and issues'), Homelessness and the Arts. Expert comment on this work refers to her 'promotion of the need for greater transparency in . . . the public service', 'keen awareness of the important role of the media' and impressive contribution to health services reform and improvement (de Buitléir and Ruane).
Her substantial contribution to the promotion of European ideals, her vision of Europe as a 'family to which Ireland belongs' as she terms it, has been a continuing interest. Dr Hederman O'Brien contributes to a range of European organisations: Chairman and currently President of the Irish Committee of the European Cultural Foundation, Chair of the Executive of that body from 1996-2003, a Member of the Board of the Irish Centre for European Law 1990-2006, Vice-President for almost twenty years of European Movement-Ireland and Trustee of the Louvain Development Trust for the Irish Institute for European Affairs are among the duties she has selflessly taken on. These examples provide some measure of the comprehensive scope of Dr Hederman O'Brien's involvement in a range of public affairs to which she has generously given of her time, energies and professional expertise.
Her distinguished service in the political and cultural life of Ireland and Europe includes membership of the Top-Level Appointments Committee for Senior Posts in the Civil Service between 1992 and 1998; Director of Music Network 1995-2007, membership of the National Council for Economic and Social Affairs 1984-1990 and chairman of the Foundation for Fiscal Studies between 1989 and 1998. Two contrasting tasks - a Directorship of Allied Irish Banks plc (1998-2002) and Director of the Dublin Grand Opera Society (1982-1987) - point up the astonishingly versatile and creative talents of Miriam Hederman O'Brien.
Currently, Dr Hederman O'Brien is Vice-President of the Statistical and Social Enquiry Society of Ireland, President of the Irish Committee of the European Cultural Foundation, Chair of the Joint Standing Committee of the Dublin Maternity Hospitals; she is also a guest lecturer in the Department of Economics at Trinity College, Dublin and guest lecturer in European affairs at University College, Cork.
Committees and Tribunals, those familiar features of Irish political life, have frequently called upon the informed leadership and widely-respected integrity of Dr Hederman O'Brien. Her chairmanship of the Commission on Taxation between 1980 and 1985 resulted in a series of publications on Direct and Indirect Taxation, Special and Environmental Taxation and Tax Administration that remain landmark publications; the Expert Group Enquiry into the Blood Transfusion Service Board of 1995 was chaired by Dr Hederman O'Brien as was the Commission on Funding of the Irish Health Services in 1989 and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission 1977-1980. Work as Chairperson of the Forum on Youth Homelessness in the Eastern Health Board Region Report of 2000 and as Chair of the Advisory Group on Trauma and Elective Orthopaedic Services for the North Eastern Health Board, 1998 should also be noted here.
Recognition of this dedication to the public good has already been shown by several authorities: the Gold Medal for service to Poland (1992); the European Order of Merit (1984); Honorary Doctorates from the Pontifical University of Maynooth (1997), the National University of Ireland, Dublin (2001) and the University of Ulster (2002). Membership of the Royal Academy of Ireland was conferred upon Dr Hederman O'Brien in 2005.
The clear-sighted realism that Dr Hederman O'Brien has brought to her various tasks recalls Vaclav Havel's comment in 1986, that 'the law is only one of several imperfect . . . ways of defending what is better in life against what is worse. By itself, the law can never create anything better . . . that is a job for people and not for laws and institutions.'
This country and the wider European community have greatly benefited from the wise counsel and dedicated hard work of Dr Hederman O'Brien. Her career includes a rich publishing history of texts on Europe, Taxation Policy, Healthcare, and Contemporary Ireland. In a recent text on the university in the 21st century Dr Hederman O'Brien offers a definition of three key terms commonly used in university parlance - entrepreneurship, innovativeness, leadership. Her definitions strike at the heart of contemporary discussions on the nature of higher education: - 'enterprise', hard work'; 'a positive approach to issues'; 'original thought'; 'problem-solving'; 'rigorous research'; 'a sense of responsibility'; 'an understanding of the dynamics of society'; 'an awareness of what can be accomplished through and for people'.
These wise words succinctly express the aspiration of our higher education institutions and confirm the truth of de Buitléir and Ruane's conclusion: 'a rare and exceptional person in the breadth of her interests and the quality of her contribution over so many fields'.
We acknowledge the remarkable contribution of individual's to the betterment of the lives of those past, present, and to come.