Trinity College Law Society (LawSoc) will award Simon Harris the Trinity Praeses Elit award for his work in the Department of Health earlier this year.
In a letter to Harris, reported by the Irish Independent, LawSoc said he had been nominated on account of his “admirable work” as minister for health and his “leadership during the Coronavirus pandemic”.
The society also commended Harris for his current role as minister for higher education, saying that “no person” is “more equipped than [Harris] to create an education system which is accessible to all”.
The prestigious award aims to recognise “those who have advanced discourse in their line of work and who have been a source of inspiration to others, particularly young people”. Previous recipients include Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese, Frederik Willem De Klerk, Bob Geldof and Lenny Abrahamson.
LawSoc is launching a new programme called Access to Law which aims to increase accessibility in the education system and “highlight socioeconomic, racial, and other structural barriers of entry to Irish University Education”.
In an email statement to The University Times, LawSoc Auditor Jonathan Boylan said: “We felt, in this context, Simon Harris was a suitable guest, for obvious reasons. The event was going to be a discussion about the issues surrounding access to education, and what Minister Harris aims to do to address these issues and create a more accessible education system as a whole. This was the rationale behind Minister Harris’ invitation to speak to the Society”.
After the story broke in the Irish Independent today, LawSoc received some backlash online for the decision. Twitter users criticised the minister’s record on the number of trollies in the health system, waiting list figures, his handling of the nurses strike and the cervical check scandal.
In response to the criticism, Boylan said, “I am genuinely very sorry if Minister Harris’ invitation and award has offended anyone as that was never our intention”, adding: “We just felt that the Minister would be a suitable guest for this particular event, given the position he is in and the opportunity he has to create a more accessible education system.”
The launch of the Access To Law programme, which was supposed to be held today at 6pm, has been postponed due to the cabinet meeting about the coronavirus.
Correction: 6.05pm, October 19th, 2020
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that LawSoc would confer the Trinity Praeses Elit award on Minister Simon Harris tomorrow. In fact, the society has yet to confirm a date for the conferral.