TCD confers honours on McVerry, Norris and Panti Bliss

Women and children’s advocate and Holocaust survivor also among recipients


Honorary doctorates in law were conferred on Friday by the University of Dublin in a colourful ceremony conducted entirely in Latin in the Examination Hall of Trinity College.

The recipients were homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry, women and children’s rights campaigner Graca Machel, independent senator and former Trinity lecturer David Norris, gay rights campaigner Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss, and holocaust survivor Tomas Reichental.

Fifty-five doctorates were also awarded in psychology, medicine and philosophy. But amid the sea of red and gold, and red and green, it was the honorary doctors – robed in cherry red and pink gowns – who received orations as to their prowess and suitability for high honour.

A brilliant path lay ahead of the young Jesuit priest but Peter McVerry “chose the reality around him, grasping, in a flash, what ‘the company of Jesus’ trulmeant. ‘Follow me, and give to the poor’,” pronounced Trinity’s Public Orator, Professor Anna Chahoud, speaking in Latin.

Every dawn brought homelessness to two families - and hopelessness, she said. “In this escalating national emergency, [Mr McVerry]summons us to action, with a voice that has been described as one of the most prophetic voices in Ireland today,” said Prof Chahoud.

Graca Machel had lived a life inspired by dignity and democracy, she said. “She defends the rights to nourishment, education, independence and democracy,” she added.

There was a warm reception for Senator Norris. Gesturing with her right arm, hand urging the university to see the merits of her case, the orator said Norris had deployed “verbal artillery” to a host of causes.

“Was not this Senator’s preservation of Georgian Dublin an act of affection for the hearths of his citizens?” she asked. He used passion fighting for rights and against discord and discrimination.

“The recent advances in the road to equality would not have been possible without his campaigns. He walks tall and he talks unafraid,” said the orator. She said Mr Norris was the most successful Irish politician to appear on YouTube, though the Latin original for the online viewing platform was difficult to discern in the original text.

Restrained Exam Hall exuberance, but several cheers nonetheless, greeted Mr O’Neill’s award. He was born with the power “to celebrate the joy of ‘just being human’,” said the orator.

“The law has no higher aim than respect for this simple right; and yet how difficult the task is. . . [O’Neill had]breathed life into Panti, giving her a powerful, polemical, and persuasive voice against oppression and discrimination.

“ The democratic sanctioning of marriage equality last May crowned this effort: ‘where thou art happy, I am happy’,” said the orator quoting Plutarch’s Roman marriage formula, “is now a formula available to all, or, to say it in Greek, panti.”

Tomas Reichental was born in Slovakia and was four when the Nazis invaded Poland. Aged six, he had to wear the yellow star; by seven he was in Auschitz; and by nine, in Bergen-Belsen. Despite the odds, he survived and came to Ireland.

“His hand stretched out in friendship to the granddaughter of his persecutor has recently moved the world,” said Prof Chahoud . “Promoting forgiveness, he fights against all forms of racism and intolerance.”

In each case, the orator was successful in her urgings. The Chancellor of the University, former president Mary Robinson, and the Provost of Trinity, Dr Patrick Prendergast, sitting with Prof David Dickson, agreed and the honorary degrees were conferred to general approval of the 400 or so people gathered.