Saorla McDonagh Sharkey (small picture) of St Vincent’s Secondary School, Co Louth, has won this year’s inaugural Gráinne O’Neill Memorial Legal Essay Competition for transition-year (TY) students.
She receives a prize of €1,000 and a shield to be held by the school for one year.
The three top students, four merit-award winners, and finalists were presented with their prizes by the President of the Law Society Maura Derivan at a ceremony at Blackhall Place yesterday (23 March).
The national competition honours the life and legacy of the late Judge Gráinne O’Neill, whose father Terry and brother Olaf attended the ceremony.
More than 80 TY students from 38 schools across the country entered the competition, for which they had to submit a 1,500-word digital essay on the topic of: ‘The law and social media: striking a balance between freedom of expression and responsible usage’.
The judges described the winning entry as “an excellent essay, with superb analysis of the law”, adding that the winning student was clearly passionate about the law and the subject matter.
Hari Chandana Paramkayala (Loreto Secondary School, Wexford) took second place, while Michael Kerley (De La Salle College, Dundalk) was third.
The four merit award winners were:
- Huriyah Baqer (Loreto Secondary School, Balbriggan, Dublin),
- Carys Hudner (Moville Community College, Donegal),
- Saoirse Reilly (The High School, Dublin), and
- Eimear McCarthy (Coláiste na Toirbhirte, Bandon, Cork).
President ‘deeply impressed’
Law Society President Maura Derivan described the competition as a vehicle that would help students to be creative and innovative in their thinking and writing.
She told the students that she was “deeply impressed” by the standard of the essays.
She added that the issues surrounding social media were ones that affected all of our lives, and not just those of the students who had grown up with the technology.
The president cited the downsides of social media referred to in some of the essays – including bullying and harassment – and the fact that it consumed so much of students’ time.
Citing references in the entries to cases of bullying and harassment, President Derivan urged students to be kind to each other.
“Your time is precious – be careful about how you spend it,” she said, adding that no amount of social media would ever substitute for human interaction.
“By all means, embrace technology, but always remember that you are human, and that you have rights,” President Derivan said, praising the many references to the Constitution in the entries.
She also commended the role played by past-president Michele O’Boyle in extending the competition nationwide.
Who was Judge Gráinne O’Neill?
The Gráinne O’Neill Memorial Legal Essay Competition honours the life and legacy of the late Judge Gráinne O’Neill.
In 2014, she became the youngest judge ever appointed in Ireland. Gráinne died in 2018 following a period of illness but, during her life, and especially during her years as a judge, she worked diligently to apply the law in a fair, rigorous and compassionate manner.
The Gráinne O’Neill Memorial Legal Essay Competition was initiated by Judge Keenan Johnson (Judge of the Circuit Court), in collaboration with the Midland Solicitors’ Bar Association, in 2019.
Following two successful years of engagement across Offaly and Westmeath, the Law Society rolled out the competition at a national level for the first time this year.
The Society extends its congratulations to all winners, and its gratitude to all who took part this year.