Q&A with Dr Gráinne Healy, BA 1980 and HDipEd 1981
Dr Gráinne Healy is a successful chairperson, facilitator, trainer and social inclusion project manager. A leader in the social justice sector, her expertise was proven in 2015 as co-director of the Yes Equality campaign. Healy is the editor of Crossing the Threshold – The Story of the Marriage Equality Movement. In 2018, she received the UCD Alumni Award for Social Sciences.
1. What was your UCD experience like – the social scene, classes, lecturers?
UCD at age 17 in 1977 was a whole new world. Travelling across the city from Marino to Belfield by bus – a very small campus compared to today – I took English, Geography and Philosophy in first year and was excited by the lectures given by people like Gus Martin in Anglo-Irish literature, and tried to keep up with others like Denis Donoghue in English Lit. Playing pool in the bar with geography lecturers, like Stuart Daltry and Bill Magahy, was more fun. While I worked most weekends to fund my bus pass, friends I made in Geog Soc remain some of my closest friends today.
2. What is your fondest memory from that time?
My fondest memories would be the days hanging out in the 007 room in the Geography Department, where we were supposed to be practicing our map drawing skills but actually it was one of the few spaces at that time where we could gather in a private space and just chat and share. This, coupled with meeting other feminists in the UCD Women’s group, was the mainstay of my social life at UCD.
3. How did you end up in your current area of work?
My work journey has been varied – I started off with a HDip in Education from UCD and taught in various part-time posts in Dublin. I had some wonderful teachers in secondary school at Dominican College, Eccles Street – my English teacher Marlene Hackett was amazing, and my History/Geography teacher Margaret Walsh was a real role model, and both inspired me to want to teach and lead. However, the lack of full-time jobs in those years meant that many of my friends left Ireland to go abroad for work.
I travelled to Canada for a while but came back and began to get interested in feminist activism and following a return to study journalism in DCU, I became sub-editor in The Irish Press and then editor with Attic Press women’s publishing house. In the early 1990s, I began to write funding proposals for community groups applying to the EU and spent most of the next 20 years writing, supporting, evaluating and delivering social inclusion projects on gender equality, employment and social inclusion. Currently, I chair and facilitate various Public Policy field developments in health and justice, while also conducting research and strategic planning work with the state and NGO sectors. I also deliver an NGO Leadership Programme to build the capacity of younger leaders, especially women, to grow and develop the much needed third sector in Ireland and the EU.
4. What decisions have you made in your working life which were directly impacted by your time as a student?
My involvement in UCD Women’s group over the years helped me to get involved with the Women’s Education Research and Resource Centre in UCD, headed by Ailbhe Smyth. This provided me with both a learning space and, for a while, a teaching space, leading me to take on leadership roles in the women’s movement including as Chairwoman of National Women’s Council of Ireland and later as Chairwoman of Marriage Equality and Co-Director of the Yes Equality campaign. I am delighted to be part of the Expert Advisory Group supporting the new Gender Equality Citizen Assembly.
5. What is the proudest moment of your career to date?
No doubt the day in May 2015 when the Irish people said Yes in such resounding numbers to marriage equality. Best day ever!
6. What have been the most challenging aspects of your career?
Starting off during the recessionary times of the ‘80s in Ireland was tough. The lack of full-time teaching jobs, poor working conditions and the oppressive nature of Irish society towards women were all obstacles that made establishing my early career challenging.
7. What interests you the most about your job?
I have a very varied consultancy business established over the last 30 years – working with different clients each day, conducting reviews, research, delivering training, chairing strategic bodies and groups – always working towards social justice improvements. I’m very lucky to have the varied working life that I enjoy.
8. What does your ideal day look like?
Ideally, a run first thing for 30 mins, breakfast, meeting with clients talking, planning or delivering, home for dinner with my partner of 30 years+, Patricia, and sitting in the garden chatting with her and friends – perfect day!
9. What is life outside work like?
Achieving work/life balance is a constant struggle – learning to say NO to too much work has helped, keeping up connections with family – I have a 6 year old grandson who is delightful and keeps me busy with football, tennis, drawing and Shaun the Sheep!
10. Has your work led you to be engaged in frightening situations? How have you managed to handle these?
I guess leading a referendum campaign was a frightening experience when I stopped to think what would happen if we lost! However, building a team, working in co-operation with others and listening to what the research was telling us about who people wanted to hear speaking on the issue (mothers, grannies and fathers) – all meant that the fear could dissipate, hearts and minds moved and the enthusiasm lifted us all across the winning line.
11. What are the rules you live by?
Be reliable, be honest, be kind.
12. How has your industry changed in the last 5 years?
The public policy and social change sector have seen huge changes in the last 5 years. There is no doubt that the Marriage Equality win, followed so swiftly by the Repeal the 8th referendum win, has allowed Irish society to see itself as progressive and positive – working and leading in this sector has been a privilege. Though challenges remain to be addressed including homelessness, poverty and wider economic equality.
13. How has your career impacted the way in which you understand the world?
I understand the complexity of social change, the need to move hearts and minds towards a kinder society and understand that our time in the world is short and we must ensure a fairer, better future for the next generation.
14. Did you ever think Ireland would have evolved and changed so much in the last 15-20 years?
Having always been involved in seeking social justice change, I have always been an optimist – but I did not foresee the pace of change evident in the last 5 years and I welcome it wholeheartedly.
15. What other issues do you see Irish society campaigning for/against in the near future?
The right to housing must be established and vindicated and ending poverty must be within our gift as a wealthy society. Finally, creating a health service which provides timely, effective health and social care for all must be delivered and I am passionate about the Sláintecare health reform plan.
16. Where do you see your career taking you next?
Continuing to focus on issues that matter to me – for as long as I can.
17. What advice would you give to someone who is now just beginning their career?
Make your friends early, focus on what inspires you, be true to yourself and most of all, be kind to yourself.
18. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
‘Get up out of that bed, there’s a full day ahead of you’ (my mother)’
19. What is the most useful book you’ve read?
Horses Make the Landscape More Beautiful by Alice Walker (poetry) food for the soul for many years.
Twitter handle: @goggshealy