In the news: Nuala O'Loan

December 14, 2001

Nuala O'Loan, the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland, will need all her strength of character in the next few weeks as she fights to defend her office's report into the police handling of the Omagh bombing.

A solicitor, Mrs O'Loan holds the Jean Monnet chair in European law at the University of Ulster. She is the mother of five boys and can empathise with the suffering of many of the people who walk into her office. In 1976, a bomb exploded in a university lecture theatre at Ulster. No deaths were reported, but Mrs O'Loan, who was three-months pregnant, suffered a miscarriage.

The eldest of eight children, she was born in Hertfordshire and studied law at King's College, London. She later married and moved to Northern Ireland where she worked as a law lecturer for four years at Ulster University from 1976, before leaving for Africa where her husband was teaching. She gave birth to her second and third sons in hospitals where egg-timers were used instead of watches and instruments were sterilised with Bunsen burners. Her sons are now aged between 13 and 23 and all still live at home.

In 1984, Mrs O'Loan returned to Ulster. She was appointed to the Jean Monnet chair in 1992. She has chaired the Northern Ireland Consumer Council for Electricity and been a member of the European Commission Consumers Consultative Council and the Ministerial Working Group on the Green Economy.

She knows that the high profile that her job brings is dangerous. In 1999, she attended the funeral of Rosemary Nelson, the Lurgan solicitor blown up by Loyalists.

"I am not naive," she has said. "I thought back to Rosemary's funeral, seeing her children there and thinking that I would never want my children to go through that. It is always a concern, but this is a job that I want to do."

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