Tribute: Professor Elizabeth Meehan (1947-2018)

24th January 2018

Elizabeth MeehanProfessor Elizabeth Meehan (Emerita Professor, The Queen’s University Belfast) made an outstanding contribution to political science, particularly around the study of constitutional politics, citizenship, gender and politics, and the study of Northern Ireland politics and British-Irish relations. She was a subtle and incisive thinker, a tenacious debater, a generous mentor, and she was collegial to her core. As a public intellectual she also contributed to important political and civic debates in Europe, the UK and Ireland. As a citizen-activist, she played a role in the Northern Ireland Peace process, including as a member of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, which brought women’s voices to the negotiating table.

As one of the first generation of female political scientists and feminist scholars in the UK and Europe, Professor Elizabeth Meehan not only helped to shape and define the research field of gender and politics, but also acted as a mentor and inspiring role model for subsequent generations. Appointed to a Chair at The Queen’s University Belfast in 1991 (which she held concurrently with a Jean Monnet Chair of European Social Policy), she became the first female Professor of Politics on the island of Ireland. She was the first woman to serve as the Chair of the UK Political Studies Association and her sustained service to the profession was recognized with a PSA “Lifetime Achievement” Award in 2005 and an UACES award to mark her contribution to European Community studies in 2006.

Her abiding intellectual interests around women and politics, equal opportunities policies, and European citizenship were subsequently augmented by concerns with participation, accountability, EU and British-Irish Relations, post-devolution relations, free movement, and governance.

She published widely. Her foundational 1993 book on Citizenship and the European Community explored the origins, nature and prospects for EU citizenship – neither national nor cosmopolitan, but complex and multi-layered – and celebrated the emergence of new sorts of civic space. It remains one of the most significant analyses of transnational citizenship, social rights, and solidarities. It is also exemplary (and unusual) in its attentiveness to gender, race/ethnicity and class.

In 2001, Elizabeth established the Institute of Governance, Public Policy and Social Research at QUB, and served as its inaugural Director. The Institute provided an important space for academic-practitioner dialogue, professional education, and knowledge exchange, especially across Ireland North and South.

Elizabeth was an influential scholar of devolution and constitutional change. She served as one of the NI expert observers monitoring developments in the post devolution politics of the UK (2000 – 2005), and was a member of the Gender and Devolution in the UK project (2001-2003, led from University of Edinburgh), part of the ESRC Devolution and Constitutional Change Programme. She continued to speak and write in academic and public forums about constitutional matters -- including the implications of devolution and, more recently, Brexit -- until her untimely death. 

Generations of women, and many men, have benefited from her mentorship and advice (including this author).  Numerous colleagues have shared their stories about Elizabeth’s quiet encouragement and unfailing support to pursue academic careers, to put themselves forward for promotion or a new job, to serve, and to stand for office. She was also one of a small group of women who created institutional spaces, such as the PSA Women and Politics Group, that have done so much to support not only feminist scholarship but women in the profession.

The eldest of four siblings, Elizabeth grew up outside Edinburgh. After working for a time at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, she completed her undergraduate education at Sussex University and was awarded a D.Phil from Nuffield College Oxford in 1979. She took up her first lecturing job later that year at University of Bath. She has held visiting fellowships at Manchester (as Hallsworth Fellow) and The Policy Institute, Trinity College Dublin. She was an inaugural Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences, an elected Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts and the Royal Irish Academy, and an elected member of the New York Academy of Sciences.

After retiring from Queens University Belfast, Elizabeth held honorary positions at the Policy Institute, Trinity College, and the School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin.

Elizabeth Meehan died suddenly on January 6 at her home outside Edinburgh. She was a good friend and colleague to the Centre on Constitutional Change, and was formerly an Honorary Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She will be sorely missed and fondly remembered by all of us who knew her.

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Fiona Mackay, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh and Associated Fellow, Centre on Constitutional Change.

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post by Fiona Mackay
University of Edinburgh
24th January 2018
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