Vicky Conway obituary: Legal scholar and campaigner for policing reform

Pioneering academic who worked relentlessly for social justice and the protection of vulnerable groups

Born: May 6, 1980

Died: July 19, 2022

Dr Vicky Conway, the pioneering academic and courageous commentator on the need for police reform, has died unexpectedly. A passionate campaigner for social justice, Dr Conway was deeply committed to the human rights of the most vulnerable members of society.

Policing in Ireland was the main focus of her research and she wrote about miscarriages of justice in Ireland, police governance and accountability, the Irish prison system, restorative justice in Northern Ireland and abortion law in Ireland.


She was appointed to the first board of the Policing Authority in January 2016. She then served on the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland from 2017-2018 before being reappointed to the Policing Authority for a second term until December 2020.

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) said that she was “a thoughtful, authoritative and considered critic of the work and statutory underpinnings of GSOC and an important driver of the transformation of the organisation that is currently under way”.

‘She felt very strongly about these ideals. She had the language and the theory and she fought these campaigns vigorously’

Conor Brady, who served alongside Dr Conway for a time on the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, described her as one of the first academics to show strong commitment to the ideals of independent oversight of policing and police accountability. “She felt very strongly about these ideals. She had the language and the theory and she fought these campaigns vigorously,” he said.

Since 2020, Dr Conway hosted an innovative podcast, Policed in Ireland @policedpodcast, in which she interviewed individuals from marginalised groups about their experiences with the police force while providing expert opinion and context to these experiences.

Active on Twitter, she often expressed her support for a wide range of causes including Traveller rights, abortion rights, transgender rights and the safety of workers in the sex trade. She also voiced her concern about the number of deaths in or after police custody and sought accurate figures on these deaths. As a leading member of Lawyers for Choice, she advocated for the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment during the Abortion Referendum in 2018.

She was widely respected and deeply appreciated by friends and colleagues from academia and the voluntary sector. Professor Gary Murphy from the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University (DCU), where Dr Conway worked, said that she saw all people as equals. “She argued that the law was not abstract – it was about people and relationships,” he said.

Fourth of five children

Vicky Conway grew up the fourth of five children of Jean and Rory Conway in the Cork suburb of Douglas. Her father was a solicitor in Cork. Following her education at the Regina Mundi College in Douglas, she completed a Bachelor of Arts in Law at University College Cork, followed by a Masters in Law there. While at college, she was auditor of the Law Society and editor in chief of the second edition of the Cork Online Law Review.

In 2003, she completed a Master's degree in Criminology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and then she moved to Queen’s University in Belfast (QUB) to work on her PhD from 2003-2008. During this time, she was a teaching fellow at the University of Leeds in England. She lectured in law at the University of Limerick from 2007-2009 and she completed a postgraduate certificate in higher education teaching at QUB while she was lecturing there between 2009-2011.

Dr Conway published her first book, The Blue Wall of Silence: The Morris Tribunal and Police Accountability in Ireland (Irish Academic Press) in 2010 which was based on her PhD thesis. In it, she said then that the lessons of the Morris Tribunal were clear: “What is needed is not just a response to misconduct wherever it occurs but an ongoing effort towards cultural and systemic reform to prevent misconduct.” In 2013, her book, Policing Twentieth Century Ireland: A History of An Garda Síochána, was published by Routledge Solon Books.

She worked as a senior lecturer in law at the University of Kent from 2011 to 2015 before she took a position as a lecturer at the School of Law and Government at DCU in 2015. She was promoted to Associate Professor in 2017. She was the obvious choice when the first convenor of equality, diversity and inclusion was set up at the School of Law and Government at DCU, as students and staff had already come to know her as a compassionate and non-judgmental confidante on various issues.

As a lecturer, she inspired students to challenge perceived wisdom about the law and was one of the academics involved in the Northern/Irish Feminist Judgments project, which rewrites judgments from a feminist perspective. As part of this project, she wrote a (fictional) review of the Kerry Babies Tribunal report from a feminist viewpoint.

During her academic career, she also regularly gave evidence at Oireachtas committees and in November 2020 she gave expert evidence to the House of Lords subcommittee on European security and justice on police co-operation on the island of Ireland post Brexit.

In March 2022, she examined the possibilities for policing in a united Ireland in a Royal Irish Academy journal. In this paper, she suggested that to ensure the legitimacy of the police and the effective achievement of policy and human rights goals, the creation of one or more new police services and the separation of state and security might be necessary. She was also involved in the Council of Europe anti-corruption body, Greco (Group of States against Corruption), for some time.

During the Covid lockdown, Dr Conway moved to Donegal where she thrived, enjoying hobbies including photography and knitting and spending time with her beloved dog, Fionn

In June 2022, Dr Conway organised the conference of its kind to discuss police custody in Ireland, bringing together gardaí, members of the Garda Inspectorate, the Policing Authority, representatives of non-governmental organisations and academics.


She was also involved in several EU-funded projects including groundbreaking work with her DCU colleague, Professor Yvonne Daly, from 2015-2017 which trained 100 criminal defence solicitors in Ireland to enable them to best defend their clients’ interests in police stations. This Irish training, based on which Dr Conway and Prof Daly drafted a book, followed a procedural change which allowed solicitors come into their clients’ police interviews from 2014.

During the Covid lockdown, Dr Conway moved to Donegal where she thrived, enjoying hobbies including photography and knitting and spending time with her beloved dog, Fionn. Apart from her indefatigable work as a lecturer, researcher and social advocate, she was a fiercely proud friend and colleague, and loved spending time with her wider family.

Just before her untimely death, Dr Conway and the Irish Network Against Racism had been commissioned by the Policing Authority of Ireland to research the experiences of Irish policing system by people of African descent and the Brazilian communities here.

She was also planning a conference on police custody in Ireland to cover all aspects, including regulation, oversight, safeguards, lived experiences and vulnerabilities. This DCU conference, which will be held in the Law Society of Ireland in September, will now be dedicated to her memory.

Vicky Conway is survived by her mother, Jean, her siblings, Dermot, Bryan, Susan and Craig, and her nephews and nieces. Her father, Rory, predeceased her.