Fionnuala Richardson - An Appreciation
21 December 2016
Fionnuala is not just a great administrator and a super former Director of the People’s College, she is a person who is kind, considerate, and someone whom anyone would be lucky to have as a friend.For one who has just retired, Fionnuala, as you would expect, has done many things in her life, and you might think you know most of them. But as someone who has known her over many years, I was still surprised to discover some of what she has achieved. Fionnuala has had a varied career and is accomplished in so many ways.
She is a former EU official, a life time member of the Labour Party and is more than just active in the Irish Labour History Society.Fionnuala was recruited to the Socialist Group in the European Parliament in January 1974 following an interview with, among others, Dr David Thornley who was then a Member of the European Parliament. He was one of many Irish MEPs with whom Fionnuala worked during her twelve years in the Parliament.Her job there included involvement with the EP Committee on Cultural Affairs and Youth Affairs as well as the Committee on Social Affairs. She became Deputy General Secretary of the Socialist Group and liaised with members from all of the member states (twelve countries by the time she left).
Working in the Parliament through the first direct elections and the move to the Single European Act was an exciting time for the evolutionary Institution and in her role in the Socialist group Fionnuala had more than a front row seat. She has a strong working knowledge of French and German and picked up elements of Italian and Spanish in her time in the Parliament. She has never lost her connection to the EP and is not only a member of the Irish Association of Former Officials, but is its Vice-President.
When Fionnuala came to take over the People’s College it was thus a move away from a very significant job in the European Institutions. Her rational for the move was twofold, it was a return to her beloved Dublin and it was to a job that excited her, to take up a post in the People’s College as Education Director and ultimately as Director. Having studied in UCD for a B.Comm and a H.Dip in Education as well as having spent some time teaching at second level and in Germany, it was no surprise that Fionnuala would return to education. It was a role she had a watching brief for in her EP career as well. She also completed an M.A. in Adult & Community Education since joining the College.In addition, her lifetime connection and involvement with the Labour movement made it almost inevitable that she would return to work in an organisation with strong links to the Trade Union movement and the ethos that this involves. Once in place, Fionnuala went about ensuring, as much as possible, that all the lecturers, students and Unions become involved in the work of the College. She encouraged those key stakeholders to participate, socialise and to develop an institution that was both welcoming and embracing of lifelong learning.Fionnuala has contributed chapters to several publications, two of whichrelated to MEPs with whom she worked with, Dr David Thornley (Unquiet Spirit) and Frank Cluskey (Cluskey, The Conscience of Labour).The latter book was written with the cooperation of the Irish Labour History Society in which Fionnuala is very active as its Vice President. She is a life time member of the Labour Party and is still very active in the organisation. She is Chairperson of Foras Eireann/The Shaw Trust.
On a personal basis, I came across Fionnuala in the EP in the early 1980’s where I was told to look out for her as she would be bound to look after me. And she did. She was a great colleague and friend and was always there with advice. On my return to Dublin from London, I was not surprised to see the People’s College had developed and grown under her Directorship. I attended a number of courses there and delivered the odd lecture for Fionnuala on EU affairs which she taught for many years. Many years later she invited me to take up the Current Affairs class. Fionnuala has been nothing short of supportive and helpful in organising anything that was required. That is the story all of the other lecturers will tell too.
For me though, Fionnuala will always be a colleague, acomrade and above all a friend. I have had a few conversations with Fionnuala since she retired. Finding time to meet is difficult. You see people like Fionnuala never just retire. They just move on and do other things.