Category: Archive

Fordham’s Law

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Fordham University’s Irish roots go back to County Tyrone native John Hughes, later the first archbishop of New York, who founded the university’s forerunner St. John’s College in 1841. Since then, three quarters of its 32 presidents have been Irish American, including the incumbent, the Rev. Joseph McShane S.J.
Fordham Law School has also maintained strong links with Ireland, from its first teachers to the current dean, William Treanor.
As the centenary falls, the school is strengthening those links by reaching out to communities in Northern Ireland through two educational programs.
John Hume visited Fordham as a guest lecturer in 1994. His appeals to then Dean John D. Feerick to get involved with Northern Ireland led to the foundation of the Fordham Ulster Conflict Resolution Program.
“It was a very volatile time, they were working towards the Good Friday agreement,” recalled Jacqueline Nolan-Haley, professor of law at Fordham.
“We wanted a conflict resolution program which took lawyers, judges, police officers, community leaders, all people who were leaders of their fields, from both Catholic and Protestant communities. We carefully screened the people we chose so that it would be truly representative of all classes and religious backgrounds,” she recalled.
Collaborating with the University of Ulster in Coleraine, Fordham Law School brought groups of community leaders from Northern Ireland to New York each summer over a three-year period, where they took part in a two-week training program in mediation and conflict resolution techniques. The program proved successful in more ways than one, according to Nolan-Haley.
“Some of these people were members of the RUC, others were human rights lawyers — they could never be seen talking together in Northern Ireland, but over here, they went out together, they met up in the bars after class,” Nolan-Haley said.
Arising from the success of the Conflict Resolution Program, the Fordham Law School set its sights on creating a cross-border educational program.
“The idea for the program came about out of a desire to use Fordham as the link between UCD and Queens University,” according to Law School Dean William Treanor.
“I think it’s very important that the two law schools that have proved leaders of the bench and the bar and its very important in terms of cross border links,” he said.
“Up to then, there was no academic links between Dublin and Belfast. Its incredible,” said Nolan-Haley.
“We developed a summer program with the intent of creating bridges between communities.”
In 2000, Fordham set up the Belfast/Dublin study abroad program together with Queens University, Belfast and University College, Dublin. Each Summer, law students from Fordham travel to Belfast for four weeks, where they take classes in human rights and Conflict resolution in Queen’s University before moving on to Dublin, where they study at UCD for two weeks.
Between classes, students spend time experiencing everyday life in the two cities. This year, that proved problematic in Belfast, as the program took place amidst with loyalist rioting in Belfast.
“We usually take the students out to see the parades. This year was the first year I didn’t take a group out because of the tension,” according to Dominic Bryan, a lecturer at the Institute for Irish studies at Queen’s University, who lectures on the program.
“In the institute, we often have U.S. and Canadian students coming over,” he said.
“My expectation was getting a large number of Irish Americans coming over with a lot of baggage and preconceptions. Actually, I’ve always been impressed with how they’ve handled themselves.”
“We had a great time but most of us felt more comfortable in Dublin than in Belfast,” according to Lauren Vollano, a 23-year-old law student who took part in the program this year.
“We had one experience with one friend who as walking on his own in Belfast he was approached and questioned by a group of young men. Nothing really happened, but it unnerved us a little bit. Dublin was exactly as I expected it to be. I didn’t know what to expect of Belfast. It was a most unusual experience. Going to see the murals, learning about the history of Northern Ireland, taking the black taxis, speaking to the locals about the Troubles and their experiences, it was fantastic.”
Nolan-Haley said students give positive feedback about the program, but find it an eye-opening experience as well.
“The kids from the U.S. get to see for the first time how deeply the division lies,” she said.
“They would see the Sinn Fein speakers leaving before the DUP speakers took to the stage because they couldn’t be on the same stage together.”
“The parades Commission does a presentation each summer – its one of the highlights of the program,” she continued.
“Its not just Irish American students that take part; we have students from all sorts of backgrounds. From the students’ perspective, it gives them a greater sensitivity to people living in daily conflict. They see the pain; they feel it. How else do you learn greater sensitivity towards human suffering – the books can’t teach you that. It makes our lawyers more sensitive.”
Traoner said the Dublin/Belfast study abroad program is now Fordham Law School’s most popular exchange program. More than 55 students took part this year, comprising almost a quarter of the law School’s student body.
“It’s a terrific experience for the faculty members and students,” he said.
“Many of them have never been to Ireland or Northern Ireland; it’s a very rewarding experience. Our students really love it, particularly Belfast. To talk to people about sectarian strife make them realize the importance of law as a tool for mediating conflict.”

The Green Mile

Fordham law school intends to maintain and expand its academic links with universities throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Assistant Dean Robert Reilly said recently to the Irish Echo.
“We’re working towards creating more internship opportunities within the existing program,” he said.
“In terms of our international programs, we have various exchange programs, but the Irish program is our strongest and most popular. We’re in constant conversation with Queens University and UCD about starting up other programs. We’ve discussed possible academic programs and possible academic conferences in the future,” Reilly added.

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