Irish LGBTQ+ icon Ailbhe Smyth awarded Honorary Doctorate from NUI Galway

In addition to queer activism, Ailbhe is also known for her influential role advancing women’s rights in Ireland.

Ailbhe Smyth after receiving her Honorary Doctorate.

On Tuesday, April 5, Irish LGBTQ+ icon Ailbhe Smyth was awarded a prestigious Honorary Doctorate from NUI Galway [NUIG]. The activist accepted the Degree of Doctor of Laws yesterday as a part of the University’s Spring 2022 conferral ceremonies, also offering a speech expressing her delight at the occasion.

According to Helen Maher who spoke at the event, Ailbhe was rewarded in this department “For her leadership and commitment to equality and social transformation over many decades in Ireland.”

“Always both activist and academic, or educator as she would say herself, Ailbhe Smyth is both nationally and internationally recognised for her activism on behalf of LGBTQ+ and gender rights. She has campaigned to address discriminatory laws and exclusions, and to affect positive change in legislation and the wider society,” the NUIG Vice President for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion continued.

“The contribution that Ailbhe has made to date can not be overestimated. She has demonstrated an unwavering resilience in resisting the status quo, in refusing to accept the inequitable legal, social, political, economic and cultural frameworks that have shaped Irish society.” 

Simply put, “Ailbhe has influenced and changed Irish society for the better, in a manner that benefits all of us,” she added.

Involved in radical politics in Ireland for over four decades, the indomitable Smyth was a spokeswoman and convenor for the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, and is also a founding member of Marriage Equality, among other things.

Upon receiving her Honorary Doctorate yesterday, Ailbhe Smyth described it as an “important day” in her life, and emotionally added that she felt “quite moved and really overwhelmed”.

In her powerful speech, she continued by saying that “Universities are vehicles for change”, and added that “They must do more”.

“I really am encouraged by the way in which NUIG is taking the lead in so many key areas that have to do with how we can live our lives in this society today,” she commented.

“Campaigning has been a constant thread throughout my academic career and in the wider world. You don’t do it for material reward that’s for sure, and you don’t expect to be thanked, rather the contrary.

“You do it because there is an injustice, an inequality, a disgraceful disregard for human rights, human dignity, human freedom, big or small. You do it because there is something fundamentally wrong and you believe passionately it should and can be changed and put right.”

As an academic herself, she expressed that having the activist part of her “recognised, valued and honoured” by the University really meant a lot to her.

GCN’s governing board, The National LGBT Federation [NXF], which Ailbhe previously chaired from 2003 to 2013, took to social media to congratulate the activist, tweeting: “Warmest of congratulations to our former Chair @ailbhes on being awarded an Honorary Doctorate from @nuigalway”.

It was originally announced that Ailbhe Smyth would receive an Honorary Doctorate from NUIG in December 2020, but because of the Covid 19 pandemic, she has not been able to accept the award until now.

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