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People :: Alumni :: Niall Kearney

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Niall Kearney

Master of Social Work 1999

Graduated: 1999

I was fortunate to have had offers to attend three universities in different parts of the UK. I chose Edinburgh because the selection and interview process was the most challenging for me - strange but true. The challenge made me think about what I really wanted to do and how I could best learn. I was coming from Ireland and my life there had been challenging in its own way but I had been finding it increasingly restrictive. Before coming to Edinburgh I had been strongly influenced by religious perspectives. I needed a ‘conversion’ course that would give me a platform to broaden my horizons and, in order to do that, like so many people before me, I knew I needed to leave Ireland. The letter offering me a place at Edinburgh University was dated 17 March - an auspicious day for someone with my background! I still have that letter - I kept it because it marked the beginning of a journey that has enabled me to re-evaluate and reframe the values and perspectives I inherited into a coherent secular environment. In addition, would you believe, I was influenced by the film Trainspotting - I could see in it that Edinburgh was a tough but ideal place for learning about social work! I wasn't disappointed.

My friends and family are envious of my first term experiences of sharing University accommodation with six people from such far-flung places as Japan, Malawi, Ghana, mainland Europe and Glasgow! We had some great laughs, particularly at meal times. The kitchen wasn't big enough when Frank and Mohammed were cooking - they used everything in the kitchen and the wash up took twice as long as the cooking! Then there were the sing-songs on Friday nights -we had some very talented musicians in the apartment. It was great.

My first year placement proved a life-changer for me. I was placed in a diversion from prosecution service - aka restorative justice - run by Sacro. I got such a thorough grounding in mediation, conflict resolution, and restorative justice that later, after graduation, my first full time job was in that Diversion service. In addition, I also became an expert on Lothian bus routes as I was sent on cases all over the city using public transport.

The MSW gave me the skills, knowledge and courage to tackle some challenging areas of work. With strong support from colleagues, I was able to pioneer the use of restorative Justice in crimes of severe violence in Scotland.[1] I was able to influence developments in this field as Chair of the European Forum for Restorative Justice and led the Forum’s contribution to the European Union’s Victims’ Directive. The recession in 2008 meant I had to find more secure work and, holding onto skills to do with change from social work, I joined the Scottish Government. I currently work in mental health, and lead on strategic development in suicide prevention and a number of world leading initiatives for Scotland including the Distress Brief Intervention.[2] More recently, in my spare time (!!!) it was a great honour for me to work closely in a professional capacity with Professor Bill Whyte on a restorative Justice project called RISC (restoration in serious crime).[3]

Working with Bill reminded me of what I enjoyed about social work at Edinburgh University - the challenge, the support and inspiration.

Source: own contribution (20.6.2017)

[1] http://cjscotland.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/TASC.pdf

[2] http://www.elament.org.uk/news-events/2016/12/distress-brief-intervention-programme-briefing

[3] http://scottishjusticematters.com/wp-content/uploads/SJM_5-1_April2017.pdf

Niall now