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Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington

Plant Ecologist and Women’s Rights Activist

Granddaughter of famous suffragette, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington is a widely published plant ecologist, whose life took a sudden turn when she took on and won an equality case against her employers, NUI Galway, who had repeatedly denied Micheline a promotion.

With more than 30 years of experience, Dr Sheehy Skeffington is a plant ecologist with an interest in terrestrial ecosystems. Her interest lies especially in wetlands, including heathlands, river flood-meadows, turloughs, peatlands and salt marshes. Additionally, she carries out research on sustainable farming for conservation, with special focus on grassland management for conservation.

With countless publications on the above mentioned topics, Micheline’s other interests include sustainable agriculture in the tropics including Indonesian and Cuban sustainable forest and agricultural management. All of her academic work has been concerned with protecting the magnificent wildlife habitats of the west of Ireland.

In collaboration with her students, Micheline has worked on overgrazing in the uplands, the flora of the Burren and how to protect it, the wetland grasslands of the Shannon callows and how to improve recent damaging changes, and finally, turloughs which are temporary lakes almost unique to the limestone of western Ireland. All of her research focuses on farming as a conservation tool within these habitats.

In her position as a lecturer at NUI, Galway, Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, who is the granddaughter of Ireland’s most famous suffragette, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, had not been promoted from a middle-ranking College Lecturer to Senior Lecturer over the course of twenty four years. In 2009, only one out of 17 successful candidates was a woman, and a European Union report showed that Ireland had only 10 % of senior lecturing posts held by women at this time.

Mary Robinson was being inaugurated as Ireland’s first female President the same day as Dr Sheehy Skeffington was interviewed for her last – and only- successful promotion from Junior Lecturer to College Lecturer. Since then, despite regularly applying for promotion to Senior Lecturer, Dr Sheehy Skeffington has remained a College Lecturer, watching younger male colleagues being promoted ahead of her.

In data available at NUI Galway, it was evident that in 2010 only 16% of the academics at or above Senior Lecturer level were female, and 53% of those in posts below Senior Lecturer were held by female staff. This glass ceiling occurs in all Irish universities just below Senior Lecturer level but NUI Galway, by its own report, is the worst in Ireland.

These factors motivated Micheline to react: One hundred years after her grandmother’s successful fight for the vote for women, Micheline took an equality case against her employers, NUI Galway. Dr Sheehy Skeffington has taken the case on behalf of all Irish female academics who are known to be severely discriminated against at the level of Senior Lecturer or above.

Dr Sheehy Skeffington is very keen to actively support all female academics so that Irish Universities will be forced to correct their shocking discrimination against women in the promotion to senior academic posts. She has also taken this case to honour her grandparents, Hanna and feminist and pacifist Francis Sheehy Skeffington as well as the other Irish suffragettes who did so much for women in the early 1900s.

Dr Sheehy Skeffington can speak on plant ecology & conservation as well as on gender discrimination in academia. With an immense enthusiasm for botany, while having experienced gender discrimination first-hand, these are topics that Micheline can talk passionately and expertly about. Her talks are mostly illustrated with Powerpoint slides.

    Topics

    • Gender Discrimination in Irish Academia
    • Irish Flora, Habitats and Conservation: the Burren, turloughs, peatlands
    • Organic Horticulture in Cuba in the 2000s