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Ireland’s first Human Resource Management and Employment Relations Department celebrates 50 years

  • Date: Wed, Mar 13, 2024

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Professor Bill Roche, Miriam Hillery (wife of Brian Hillery) and Conor Hillery (son of Brian Hillery)

UCD College of Business celebrated the 50th anniversary of the formation of the current Human Resource Management and Employment Relations Department on March 12, 2024. 

Gathering alumni, faculty, staff and the wider business community, the event summarised the creation of Ireland’s first Chair, Professor Brian Hillery, and the Department in Industrial Relations in 1974, as well as the education and research that has influenced the field. Fifty years later, the Human Resource Management and Employment Relations Subject Area at UCD College of Business remains at the forefront of innovative research and teaching. 

Professor Anne Keegan and Emeritus Professor of Business Administration Aidan Kelly, UCD College of Business

“Human Resource Management remains a vibrant and influential field concerning how we manage people at work,” said Head of the Subject Area Professor Anne Keegan in her opening remarks. “Since the foundation of the department, certain principles have been at the heart of our teaching and research including the importance of connection with leading actors in the employment sphere including trade unions, employers and other social and public policy partners. The department has engaged in transformative curriculum design and programme innovation, and always strives for impact through research and education.”

“In current research on HRM, industrial and employment relations, our faculty are international leaders in gig work, algorithmic management and the impact on HRM, voice and job quality; the intersection of care in relation to the workplace; European integration and employment relations; trends in unionisation; organisational practices impacting on gender equity; decent work in global supply chains; job quality for essential workers, and much more,” continued Professor Keegan, who is the first woman to lead the HRM Subject Area. 

“We continuously innovate in our teaching with new offerings in recent years covering HRM technology, analytics and digital innovation, and sustainable HRM and employment relations. Continued innovation in research and education will be critically important in the years to come as we face major societal challenges and task HRM leaders to be at the forefront of finding solutions."

Emeritus Professor of Business Administration Aidan Kelly discussed the establishment of the Chair of Industrial Relations and the department's early years. This was followed by Professor of Industrial Relations & Human Resources Bill Roche who gave a fascinating history of 50 Years of Employment Relations and HRM in Ireland covering major developments in the field.

“The field has evolved radically over the past 50 years,” said Professor Bill Roche. “The original Department of Industrial Relations was established during Ireland’s longest and most serious strike wave. Strikes are now considerably less frequent and less damaging in their effects. Unions, at their high point during the later 1970s, organised more than one in two employees at work, now they organize less than one in four, but are pursuing strategies of revitalization. HR management has been transformed into a more strategic and impactful function.” 

“Pay bargaining has evolved through major phases - some involving government involvement through public policy concessions. Notwithstanding these changes, the system of employment relations still revolves around voluntary collective agreements between employers and unions.”

Dr Majella Fahy, Lecturer in Human Resource Management, UCD College of Business

A panel discussion chaired by Dr Majella Fahy, Lecturer in Human Resource Management, featured MSc HRM alumni Norah Ambrose, HR Director, Chief State Solicitor’s Office; Barry Holmes, Director of HR, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland joining from China; and Sarah White, Director of People, Global Customer Experience, at eBay Inc joining from the US, who offered insight on ‘The Changing Roles of Human Resource Managers in Ireland’.

The event concluded with the inauguration of Student Prizes which celebrate the contribution to UCD, business and public life of Brian J. Hillery, Foundation Professor of Industrial Relations at UCD. Members of the Hillery family joined senior leaders of the UCD College of Business to present the two new awards - the Brian J. Hillery Prize for First Place in the Core Module People at Work and the Brian J. Hillery Prize for a Top-Placed BComm Student in the UCD Quinn School Internship Programme.

Professor Bill Roche, who succeeded Brian Hillery in the retitled Chair of Industrial Relations and Human Resources summarized his legacy. 

“With Aidan Kelly, Brian established a foundation of solid empirical research on important issues and developments in the field which we have sought to continue. He left a legacy of engagement with practice, public policy and public affairs which continues in the work of the Academic Group. He was an innovator in establishing a pathway between the social sciences and business education, in conjunction with the late Professor Conor Ward, from which many students of sociology, politics, psychology social policy benefitted. In an era before ‘New Horizons’ and flexible education and career paths, this was truly pioneering and it continues.”

“Above all, Brian’s legacy is to be found in the thousands of graduates who have gone on to be leaders in industrial relations, HR, consulting, journalism, the law, trade unions, business and public affairs in Ireland and internationally,” concluded Professor Roche. 

The Hillery Family, Professors Aidan Kelly, Anne Keegan and Bill Roche in front of the Smurfit Building

More about Professor Brian Hillery

A native of Miltown Malbay, Co Clare, Brian went on to University College Dublin where he graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree. After graduation, Brian Hillery worked with the Agricultural Credit Corporation in Dublin before winning a Rotary Scholarship to the University of Georgia in 1965 at a time when it was very unusual for Irish people to study in the United States. He came first in his MBA class in Georgia and was also awarded Rotary Student of the Year. After his return to Dublin, he worked for Citibank, completing a PhD at UCD. He was appointed to the staff of the University in 1967 and became the foundation Professor of Industrial Relations at UCD in 1974. He was a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1977.

In 1977, he was elected to the Seanad for Fianna Fáil on the Labour Panel and in 1989, he was elected a TD for the Dun Laoghaire constituency.

Outside the Oireachtas and academia, his conciliation skills were deployed to great effect. He was a pioneer in helping to resolve industrial relations disputes in the 1970s when conflict between trade unions and employers was at its peak. His calm and steady approach was instrumental in resolving seemingly intractable disputes.

He was appointed as Ireland and Denmark’s representative on the board of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London from 1994 to 1997. Following his move back to Dublin he was made chairman of Credito Italiano Bank (Ireland) in 1999. He subsequently became Chairman of Independent News & Media and of Providence Resources.

Many colleagues and students recall Brian’s courtesy, warmth and good humour. President Michael D. Higgins said of him, “Those who served with him in the Oireachtas will remember Brian as always courteous and as a warm and intelligent man. Those of us who had the privilege of knowing him personally and enjoying his company will hold the warmest memories of him.”


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