In her oration at Blackhall Place, Mary Harney observed that a law degree offers a great pedigree for a political career, citing former Taoisigh with legal training – Charles Haughey, Liam Cosgrave, John Bruton, Garret FitzGerald and Brian Cowen.
She said she hoped that some of the new young solicitors will consider politics which, though hard, is a great career in terms of giving back to society and fighting injustice.
The former Minister for Health told the new graduates that as educated young people, they should not be lazy about challenging the status quo.
“We need people in our country and in our world who are prepared to pursue unpopular causes. We need the perspective of young, educated people. Don’t be passive recipients of the advice given by others.
“Don’t think your voice isn’t powerful,” she urged. “Replace mediocrity with excellence, apathy with enthusiasm, despair with hope,” stressing the importance of working with positive people who give back to society.
“Those of us who have done well do owe it to our society to help to fight injustice, not just in our professional life, but in our private life as well. When we volunteer, we get great satisfaction,” citing her work on the board of the Irish Hospice Foundation.
“It’s one of the great hallmarks of this republic, and of our society, that so many people in Ireland are prepared to give back and are not always looking for what society can give them,” she said.
The legal profession is an honourable one, the former Tánaiste said, and legal graduates have to be bright, assiduous and dedicated to achieve their goal.
We are moving into an unmapped and sometimes frightening world, dominated by technology, Harney said. This world needs people of intelligence, education and critical faculty, such as legal graduates.
“The only way we can deal with this world is by being strong in our beliefs and never afraid to speak out against an injustice that we see.
“As solicitors, you know the difference between right and wrong,” she said, “and this is very important for our society and our country.
“A lot is expected of you, a lot has been given to you. You will be officers of the court, you will be entrusted by your clients in so many different ways,” she said, reiterating the importance of never betraying, or becoming complacent about, that trust but honouring both its privilege and huge responsibility.
“Today you have big dreams. Continue to think big.
“Be bold and ambitious.
“And don’t let anybody tell you, that because you’ve had an elite education, that you don’t know how the ordinary person feels. I object when I see that written, about lawyers and others.”
Mary Harney said that Ireland is now a much more inclusive, caring, tolerant and rewarding society than it was when she left university in 1977, when a very narrow view was taken of those that were different, often fuelled by ignorance and a lack of education.
She recalled that as the first woman auditor of the Historical Society in Trinity, in 1976 she applied for membership of the graduate university club and was refused. She was declined, not because she was a woman but because she wasn’t a man!
Mary Harney stressed the importance of mentors, who she said were invaluable in her own career. But she warned against wasting the time of mentors. If their advice is sought don’t ignore what they have to say. She said it is not a sign of weakness to ask for advice, but rather a sign of strength.
“Surround yourself with positive people. There is nothing worse than someone who is always complaining,” she said.
Mary Harney paid warm tribute to former Law Society President Moya Quinlan, whom she described as a wonderful woman.
“President Michael Quinlan’s mother Moya was the first woman president of the Law Society of Ireland, after 138 years. They are the first mother and son to be president and I think that deserves huge recognition.
“In 176 years [of the Law Society] there have been three women. But it won’t be long until we have woman after woman as President of the Law Society,” she said, smiling down at the many new female practitioners in front of her.