Catherine McGuinness

Catherine McGuinness

At a conference in UCD
Judge of the Supreme Court
In office
Nominated by Government of Ireland
Appointed by Mary McAleese
Personal details
Born (1934-11-14) 14 November 1934
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Nationality Irish
Spouse(s) Proinsias Mac Aonghusa
Children 3
Parents Canon Robert Ellis, Sylvia Ellis (née Craig)
Education Kings Inns, Trinity College Dublin, Alexandra College
Occupation President of the Law Reform Commission, Judge of the Supreme Court, High Court, Circuit Court, Senior Counsel, Senator
Religion Church of Ireland

Catherine McGuinness (born 14 November 1934)[1] is a retired judge and activist. She is a former barrister, Senator, President of the Law Reform Commission and judge of the Circuit Court, justice of the High Court and Supreme Court of Ireland. In January 2012 she was appointed to the Council of State by President Michael D. Higgins.[2] In May 2013 she was appointed Chair of the National University of Ireland Galway Governing Authority.[3]


Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, McGuinness was educated in Alexandra College, Trinity College Dublin and the King's Inns.[4] In the 1960s she worked for the Labour Party.[5] She was called to the Irish bar in 1977 at age 42. In 1989 she was called to the Inner Bar.[6]

In 1979 she was elected as an independent candidate to Seanad Éireann at a by-election on 11 December 1979 in the Dublin University constituency following the resignation of Conor Cruise O'Brien, taking her seat in the 14th Seanad.[1] She was re-elected at the 1981 elections to the 15th Seanad, and in 1983 to the 17th Seanad, where she served until 1987. She lost her seat to David Norris.[5] She was appointed to the Council of State on 2 May 1988 by President Patrick Hillery and served until 1990.[6]

She was appointed a judge in the Circuit Court in 1994, the first ever woman.[5] In 1996 she was appointed to the High Court and remained there until her appointment to the Supreme Court in January 2000.[7][8]

In November 2005 she was appointed Adjunct Professor at the Faculty of Law, National University of Ireland, Galway.[9] She was also appointed President of the Law Reform Commission in 2005, and held that position until 2011.[6]

In April 2009 she was awarded a "Lord Mayor's Award" by Dublin Lord Mayor Eibhlin Byrne "for her contribution to the lives of children and families in the city through her pioneering work".[10] In September 2010 she was named as one of the "People of the Year" for "her pioneering, courageous and long-standing service to Irish society".[11][12] In November 2012 she won the 'Irish Tatler Hall of Fame Award'[13]

In addition to her judicial career, McGuinness has served on the Employment Equality Agency, Kilkenny Incest Investigation, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation,[14] the National Council of the Forum on End of Life in Ireland,[4] and the Irish Universities Quality Board.[15] In June 2011 she became patron of the Irish Refugee Council.[16] In November 2011 she was appointed Chairperson of the "Campaign for Children"[17]

She has received honorary doctorates from the University of Ulster, the National University of Ireland, the University of Dublin and the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC).[14]

In February 2013 McGuinness accepted the Honorary Presidency of Trinity College Dublin's Free Legal Advice Centre

In January 2014 she was appointed by The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte to Chair the expert panel to oversee the preparation of reports on the best underground route options to compare with the Grid Link and Grid West high voltage power lines in Ireland.[18]

In March 2015 she received an Alumni Award from Trinity College Dublin.[19]

She was married to broadcaster and writer Proinsias Mac Aonghusa and has three children.

Catherine McGuinness Fellowship on Children’s Rights and Child Law

In November 2014 the Children's Rights Alliance established the Catherine McGuinness Fellowship on Children’s Rights and Child Law, a one-year Fellowship Programme for newly qualified barristers to work as part of their Legal and Policy Team on law and policy reform for children in the area of children's rights and child law in the Irish context. The Programme was developed in partnership with the Bar Council of Ireland and with the support of the Family Lawyers Association of Ireland.[20]

The Fellowship was launched by the Chief Justice of Ireland, Susan Denham who described McGuinness as "an advocate at heart" and a "patriot, in the true sense of the word" who "stands up for the rights of others, particularly those who are marginalised and vulnerable in our society." [21]


  1. 1 2 "Ms. Catherine McGuinness". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  2. "President appoints seven to Council of State". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. 6 January 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  3. "Judge McGuinness Appointed Chair of NUI Galway Governing Authority". NUIG Website. 1 May 2013. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
  4. 1 2 "Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness". Forum on End of Life. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  5. 1 2 3 Fintan O'Toole. "Agents of change 25 women who made a difference". The Irish Times. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  6. 1 2 3 Doyle, Kilian (6 January 2012). "Higgins unveils his seven Council of State nominees". The Irish Times. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  7. "Galway-bias as President Michael D unveils Council of State appointees". Irish Independent. 6 January 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  8. "New Chief Justice announced as Ahern prepares for reshuffle". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. 25 January 2000. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  9. "Faculty Appoints Adjunct Professor" (PDF). Law Times (2). 2005–2006. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  10. "Norris and McGuinness among recipients of awards". The Irish Times. 4 April 2009. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  11. "Selfless qualities mark winners apart". The Irish Times. 9 September 2010. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  12. "Previous People of the Year". Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  13. "Irish Tatler Women of the Year Awards". Irish Independent. Retrieved 1 December 2012.
  14. 1 2 "Lead Singer of U2 and President of the European Parliament Among Leading Figures to Receive Honorary Degrees at Trinity College Dublin". University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin. 11 July 2003. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  15. "Board Profiles". Irish Universities Quality Board. Archived from the original on 6 January 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  16. "Mrs. Justice McGuinness joins campaign for asylum reform". Irish Refuge Council. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  17. "Campaign for Children website". Campaign for Children. Retrieved 8 January 2012.
  18. "Irish Government Information site website". Retrieved 20 June 2014.
  19. "Trinity College Dublin website". Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  20. "Catherine McGuinness Fellowship on Children's Rights and Child Law.". Retrieved 25 November 2014.
  21. "Retired Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness has said that it is a "very great honour" to have a new fellowship on Children's Rights and Child Law named after her.". The Irish Independent. 19 November 2014. Retrieved 25 November 2014.
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