Peter Sutherland RIP

Peter Sutherland (centre) at the official opening of the UCD Sutherland School of Law with (from left), Professor Colin Scott, Ruari Quinn, former Minister for Education, and Dr Hugh Brady, former President of UCD.

Peter Sutherland SC (and BCL 1967) died on Sunday January 7th, 2018.  We are greatly saddened by his passing.  He was an extraordinary supporter of the School.  A member of the Law School Development Council, he retained a keen interest in legal education in Ireland and in his alma mater.  A committed European, he endowed the Sutherland Chair in European Law, a chair I was honoured to take up in 2006.  He subsequently became the lead donor of the campaign for the Law School, culminating in the Sutherland School of Law building opened in 2013 that combined state funding with substantial philanthropy from law firms and many others.  The School is named in his honour by the university – and not at his request – though he was clearly and rightly proud of it when he attended the day long opening, contributing to the seminar on leading ideas in law schools and bringing all his family with him, (including his grandson who arrived in his buggy).

Peter had an extraordinary career that straddled the public and private spheres.  He had a very successful practice at the Irish Bar before becoming Attorney General and then a European Commissioner where he oversaw the introduction of the Merger Regulation as Commissioner for Competition, having previously set in train the ERASMUS programme.  For those of us educated before it came into being, ERASMUS provides students with an enviable opportunity to experience university education elsewhere in Europe.  The School sends over 80 students to our partner Law Schools in Europe and beyond each year – and there are over 9 million students who have benefited from the programme over the last thirty years - an amazing legacy.

Following his stewardship of the transition of the GATT to the World Trade Organisation, his career moved into the private sphere (AIB, BP, Goldman Sachs), while in the last 10 years of his life he was a keen, fearless and passionate advocate for migrants in his role as Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations. 

Despite the demands these roles placed on his time, Peter remained a constant supporter of the School, always keen to hear about new initiatives, what students were now interested in, how pedagogy had changed (he loved to mention that he had tutored Tort Law in the School – one of the most illustrious junior barristers who have tutored here) and what our ambitions were for the future.  In the recent past, he spoke at the 8th Annual Postgraduate workshop and our Eighteenth Irish European Law Forum seminar on Migration.   I met with him after my nomination as Dean and was again assured of his support and interest in the School.

It is a daunting and really an impossible task to do justice to Peter Sutherland in such a short note.  Instead, we will look to the future, continuing to be ambitious intellectually pushing the boundaries of knowledge in our teaching and our research as an Irish Law School with a European identity and an international outlook. 

As Peter wrote in his Forward in the book celebrating the new UCD Sutherland School of Law:

“The School of Law has contributed to the development of our legal system in Ireland, but its faculty and graduates have played an important role more generally in public life.  This splendid new building should enhance the contribution made by the School to the education of future generations of students, but also should play a continuing role in shaping Irish society.”

Our condolences to his family and friends.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.