Former Labour Court Chair, Kevin Duffy, receives Honorary Doctorate

Dr Kevin Duffy (centre) with (l to r) Prof Imelda Maher, Mr Tony Kerr SC, Prof Andrew Deeks and Prof Colin Scott 

We warmly congratulate Dr Kevin Duffy on receipt of his honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws.  Mr. Anthony Kerr SC, lecturer in UCD Sutherland School of Law delivered the insightful citation below at a recent conferring ceremony in the O’Reilly Hall. In front of an audience of graduating students, their families and UCD faculty, he summarised the many achievements and extraordinary work that Dr Duffy has undertaken over a lengthy career in the area of work relations in Ireland.


CITATION DELIVERED BY ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR ANTHONY KERR, UCD Sutherland School of Law on 3 September 2019, on the occasion of the conferring of the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa on KEVIN DUFFY.

President, Graduates, Colleagues, Honoured Guests                                                                                                           

I am humbled to have been asked to deliver the citation today for the conferring of the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on Kevin Duffy because, without fear of contradiction, I can say that he has done Ireland extraordinary service.

I have known, or known of Kevin Duffy for just over forty years, specifically since March 1979.

The 1970's and the 1980's were periods of unprecedented industrial unrest; strikes were common- place and essential public services were regularly disrupted. Many employers resorted to the courts to secure orders restraining strikes and picketing, injunctions which were frequently granted on a ex parte basis. On the 27th March 1979, however, the Irish Times reported that Mr. Justice McWilliam, the senior Chancery judge in the High Court, had discharged an interim injunction against the General Secretary and members of the Ancient Guild of Incorporated Brick and Stonelayers- a trade union which could trace its origins back to 1670- restraining them from conspiring together to cause a withdrawal of labour from a building site at Sydenham Road, Ballsbridge.

The General Secretary of the Ancient Guild, and principal defendant in these procedings was Kevin Duffy.

Kevin was born and raised in Patrick Street in the Liberties. He was the second of three boys. Their father was a bricklayer, as were their grandfather and numerous uncles. Kevin attended the local Christian Brothers primary school in Francis Street. Unlike his elder brother Brendan, who went on to secondary school and a distinguished career in the Civil Service, Kevin went to the Technical School in Clogher Road in Crumlin which he left at the age of fifteen to follow his father into the building trade. Kevin became a member of the Ancient Guild and quickly became active within the trade union. In 1973 he was appointed Assistant General Secretary and then General Secretary in 1978.

His talent was quickly recognised within the broader trade union movement and, in 1988, Kevin was appointed Assistant General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Kevin was responsible for the industrial relations division of Congress and part of his brief was to represent the interests of the trade union movement in negotiations with the then Department of Labour on reform of the law on trade disputes and industrial relations generally. These negotiations ultimately crystalised in the Industrial Relations Act 1990. This Act was “incredibly significant” because it was the first piece of statute law giving effect to the agreed vision of the new social partnership model. What the Act sought to do was to achieve a greater degree of responsibility by trade unions in pursuing industrial action whilst providing additional protection for unions which acted with that sense of responsibility.

During his time with Congress, Kevin sat on the Civil Service Arbitration Board and the Bar of Ireland's Disciplinary Tribunal. He was also responsible,together with Turlough O'Sullivan of IBEC,for resolving many challenging and complex disputes.

In 1997, Kevin was appointed Deputy Chair of the Labour Court. The Court had been established in 1946, charged with the task of promoting harmonious industrial relations. In 1974 and 1977, the Court was given responsibilty for adjudicating on equal pay and employment equality disputes, involving legal issues deriving from European law. This trend accelerated in 1997 and, given the increasing importance of legal argument and the regular appearance of lawyers before the Court, Kevin applied to the Honorable Society of King's Inns to become a barrister. Kevin was called to the Bar in 2003. For someone who had no formal education since the age of fifteen,this was an incredible achievement.

Kevin was appointed Chairman of the Labour Court in December 2003. During his tenure, the Court issued many decisions of profound significance to employment lawyers. He was not afraid of seeking the assistance of the Court of Justice in Luxembourg, often resulting in rulings much cited in subsequent decisions of that court, in particular the 2008 IMPACT decision under the Fixed Term Work Directive.

Kevin eventually retired from the Court in 2016, having overseen the transformation of its role under the Workplace Relations Act 2015, but did not retire from public service. He was chosen by the Government to chair both the Commission examining Water Charges and the Public Service Pay Commission. He continues to make a valuable contribution to society providing advice and assistance through weekly clinics for the Free Legal Advice Centre and lecturing on employment law at the Academy of European Law in Trier.

 UCD are delighted today to acknowledge Kevin's outstanding career and his important contributions to Irish society.


Praehonorabilis Praeses, totaque Universitas,

Praesento vobis hunc meum filium, quem scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneum esse qui admittatur, honoris causa, ad Gradum Doctoratus in utroque Jure, tam civili quam Canonico; idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo, totique Academiae.