The first female professor of politics in any part of Ireland has died.
Elizabeth Meehan was born in Edinburgh in March 1947, educated at Peebles High School and began a course at the Edinburgh College of Art before deciding that it was not right for her. She found employment in the Foreign Office before returning to education for a degree in politics at the University of Sussex (1976) followed by a DPhil at the University of Oxford (1982), where her thesis was on women’s employment rights. She went on to teach politics at the University of Bath from 1986, although this included a spell as a prestigious Hallsworth fellow at the Victoria University of Manchester (1989), before joining Queen’s University Belfast in 1991 as the first female professor of politics in any part of Ireland.
A year later, this became a double professorship when Professor Meehan was also appointed Jean Monnet professor of European studies, and she remained at Queen’s until retirement in 2005, becoming professor emerita in the School of Law. During her time at the institution, she served as dean of the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, took a year’s sabbatical at Trinity College Dublin’s Policy Institute and then returned to Belfast to found the interdisciplinary Institute of Governance, Public Policy and Social Research.
Professor Meehan used the institute to bring the academy together with those working in policymaking and the third sector, and to develop her deep interests in citizenship, gender equality and the European Union and its impact on relations between Britain and Ireland. She set out her views most forcefully in a chapter on “Political pluralism and European citizenship” in a book titled Citizenship, Democracy and Justice in the New Europe (edited by Percy Lehning and Albert Weale, 1997), where she developed the now highly topical notion of cosmopolitan citizenship based on shared moral values.
The first woman to chair the Political Studies Association (1993-96), Professor Meehan remained active in the academy well after retirement, working with the Institute for British-Irish Studies at University College Dublin and taking on an honorary position in the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science.
In a tribute on the website of Edinburgh’s Centre on Constitutional Change, politics professor Fiona Mackay describes Professor Meehan as “a subtle and incisive thinker, a tenacious debater, a generous mentor [and] collegial to her core…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.”
Professor Meehan died on 6 January.