The Catherine McGuinness Fellowship – A Lasting Experience

27 October 2022

James Rooney BL is a civil law practitioner with a focus on civil and public interest law. His has contributed to a wide range of publications in the field of education, housing and constitutional law.

I have been tremendously fortunate to work as the Catherine McGuinness Fellow for 2021/ 2022. The Children’s Rights Alliance, founded in 1995, is a body uniting over 140 members working to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to be a child.

The Fellowship, started in 2015 in conjunction with the Bar of Ireland and the support of the Family Lawyers’ Association of Ireland, provides newly-qualified barristers with a year of in-house legal policy work.

It has been an immense privilege to have spent the last year working as the Catherine McGuinness Fellow. Work at the Alliance is as varied as it is interesting.

During my year, I worked on a wide variety of projects, including:

Equality Law:

I drafted the Alliance’s submission to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth as part of their review of the Equality Acts, with a particular focus on how children’s protection against discrimination, on the basis of age as well as all other protected grounds can be advanced.

UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

One of the largest assignments during my fellowship was drafting sections of the Alliance’s ‘Alternative Civil Society Report’ to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s  Fifth and Sixth Combined Report of Ireland. For this, I researched and drafted sections of the report on areas as varied as the minimum age of criminal responsibility, youth mental health, disability, birth registration, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Right to Education:

I drafted a guide on behalf of the Alliance on the use of reduced timetables by schools. I also presented on this topicon a panel alongside stakeholders from both disability advocacy groups and Traveller advocacy groups, which was a particular highlight and a privilege of my time in the Fellowship.In regards the right to education, I also drafted the Alliance’s submission to the Oireachtas on the proposed Social, Personal and Health Education curriculum in post-primary schools; as well as on primary and post-primary school mental health supports.

Why do it?

I would wholeheartedly encourage any newly-qualified barrister to apply for the Catherine McGuinness Fellowship, particularly those with an interest in public law. The Alliance has been one of the friendliest, most collaborative places I have worked in my legal career. From the start, I was welcomed by the entire team in the office which, particularly after lockdown, was very much appreciated!

At the Bar, I specialise in child protection, immigration, and education law. My time at the Alliance has given me a depth of experience with policy work and advocacy in these areas that has been invaluable. In particular, my meetings with stakeholders from the charitable and advocacy sectors has immeasurably expanded my understanding of the needs of children in care and the need for compassionate responses, prioritising the best interests of the child.

I am very grateful to the Alliance and to The Bar of Ireland for giving me with this opportunity, and am sure that I will bring the experience from my year into my practise going forward.

Join James at our forthcoming webinar on the 7th November at 4.30pm to mark “10 Years since the passing of the Children’s Rights Referendum”, along with with Hon. Ms Justice Catherine McGuinness, Patron, Denise Brett SC, Vice Chair of The Bar of Ireland, Tanya Ward, CEO of Children’s Rights Alliance, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon.

Discover our Specialist Bars

The Family Lawyers Association of Ireland was founded in 1987 and has now grown to be the largest Association of its kind in Great Britain and Ireland. Ordinary membership is open to all practising Solicitors and Barristers, whilst Associate Membership is open to other professionals working in the wider area of Family Law. It is active in the field of legal education; law reform; dialogue between practitioners and Court users; as well as lively social events, both within Ireland and beyond.

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The views expressed above are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of The Bar of Ireland.