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"How to talk policy and influence people": a special series of Law and Justice


"No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference" is the title of Greta Thunberg's book, which is a compilation of her speeches on the need for urgent action to tackle climate change. One of those speeches is entitled "Together We Are Making a Difference".

I had planned to organise an event on the topic of “How to talk policy and influence people” kindly supported by the Cork Education and Training Board in Ireland on the 2nd of April 2020. Unfortunately, the event had to be cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The planned event was inspired by contributions from the audience after a panel discussion during the UCC ACEs Research Symposium in January 2020 where service-providers expressed frustration about struggling to provide timely and effective child and family-centred services due to precarious and short-term funding. There was an appetite for political change and agreement that a "whole of government" approach to complex social matters was urgently required. Some people expressed eagerness to engage with the policy-making process, but did not know how to best approach this.

I had hoped that the event would highlight the importance of making explicit connections between seemingly disconnected areas of public policy and also demonstrate the value of collaboration and building relationships with other like-minded people in the sector, as well as forward-thinking policy-makers and public representatives.  

I decided to use some of my time and energy during lockdown in Cork to record this special series of Law and Justice in which I interviewed a wide range of people who are interested in the policy-making process about matters relating to maternity services and reproductive rights, early years services and prevention and early intervention, education needs in an environment of social inequity and stress, addiction, homelessness and offending behaviour, influencing criminal justice and penal policy, human rights and participating in international treaty monitoring mechanisms, developing policy within the Department of Justice, shaping policy and legislation in Seanad Eireann, the need for social justice and sustained State investment in public services.

All the interviews were conducted via Zoom and the unedited videos have been uploaded to Youtube. Audio versions of the interviews are available at and an audio podcast compiling segments of the interviews will be produced in due course. I have just begun recording some interviews with international experts.

In the first international interview in the "How to talk policy and influence people" in the Law and Justice series with Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren, we discuss mental health, the intersection of mental health problems and offending behaviour, the establishment of the America's first mental health court in Florida and Judge Lerner-Wren's "presiding with kindness" approach to dispensing justice in that Broward County court, in which respect for human rights and individual dignity are fundamental principles. We address the impact of trauma and the importance of Felitti and Anda's seminal 1998 study on the prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on health outcomes, including matters relating to depression, anxiety and suicide risk. We also discuss Covid-19 and court innovations relating to bail applications that have been driven by the need to minimise unnecessary incarceration during the pandemic. See

In the 1st Irish interview is with Dr Louise Kenny, Consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, we discuss maternity services, reproductive rights, repeal of the 8th amendment to the Constitution prohibiting access to abortion services, the impact of stress in pregnancy and post-natal depression and the need for massive investment in maternal health and supports. See

In the 2nd Irish interview I speak with Katherine Harford from Young Knocknaheeny about early years services, prevention and early intervention, infant mental health, inequity, the social determinants of health and the need for sustained early years funding.

In the 3rd Irish Interview I speak with Nickie Egan, Principal of North Presentation Primary school about education policy, the barriers to being learning-ready due to trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and economic deprivation, the impact of homelessness on children and the desirability of having flexibility in school budgets for spending on non-education matters.

In the 4th (two-part) interview I chat with James Leonard from the Cork ETB. We discuss addiction, homelessness, offending behaviour, imprisonment, trauma and adversity, fear, freedom, reintegration, the transformative impact of education, love and employment, training Irish Prison Officer recruits and engaging with the media, including his moving interview with comedian Tommy Tiernan. See  and  

In the 5th Irish interview I talk to Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT). We address penal policy, the importance of evidence and data, engaging with the legislative process, sentencing matters, human rights issues such as overcrowding, healthcare, complaints mechanisms and inspection, the utility of international treaty monitoring bodies such as the United Nations Committee Against Torture to push for change in Ireland and the value of collaboration and cultivating mutually beneficial relationships with other NGOs, and politicians of all parties and none. See 

In the 6th Irish interview with Emily Logan, who was the first Ombudsman for Children in Ireland and Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) from 2014-2019, we discuss human rights policy, the value of engaging with international human rights mechanisms, the delay in ratifying OPCAT, the ending of child imprisonment in Ireland, the constitutional referendum on children's rights, the impact of child maltreatment, the impact of Covid-19 on children who are unsafe in their homes and the possible positive societal changes that might emerge post-pandemic. See 

In the 7th Irish interview with Yvonne Furey, Principal Officer responsible for Criminal Justice Policy in the Department of Justice and Equality, we discuss the role of civil servants in policy formulation, the impact of international human rights mechanisms and the reasons for recent structural reform within the Department and the opportunities presented. We talk about the importance of public consultation in the development of strategies such as the strategy for the criminal justice system that is currently being developed and the value of listening to voices of people with lived experience of various issues, whether victims, offenders or residents of deprived communities. We also discuss the merits of adopting a "whole of government" approach that recognises that public health and Justice issues are connected, with childhood trauma and adversity and structural inequity at the root of complex social problems including crime. See 

 In the 8th Irish interview with Peter Dorman from Community Action Network we talk about his interest in promoting community safety and restorative practices. We explore the principles of community development, the impact of poor housing on wellbeing and the ways in which antisocial behaviour, drug-related crime, racist abuse and living beside chaotic neighbours impinge on people's felt sense of safety in their homes and communities. We address matters relating to human rights, including the challenge of balancing individual rights against collective rights, and the ramifications of a constitutional right to a home. We also discuss the "Building Community Resilience" research conducted by Dr Johnny Connolly from the University of Limerick and the potential use of Community Crime Impact Assessments to measure community safety issues from the point of view of residents, and to develop collaborative problem-solving interventions in response. We consider the need for greater focus on both preventing childhood trauma from occurring and a more compassionate, person-centred approach by services for trauma survivors, and Peter’s enthusiasm for restorative practice. See 

In the 9th Irish interview with former Senator Colette Kelleher we chat about her experience of policy-making and the legislative process from inside Seanad Eireann, as well as her earlier work in the community and voluntary sector. We discuss some of Colette's particular interests including reproductive rights and the Repeal the 8th campaign, adult safeguarding, work on family reunification legislation and the rights of Travellers. We also consider the Covid-19 public health crisis and what NGOs and other stakeholders can learn from the State's swift and decisive response to the pandemic in terms of instituting a rent freeze and preventing evictions for the common good. See  

In the 10th Irish interview with Ray Byrne, full-time Commissioner at the Law Reform Commission (LRC), we examine the mandate of the LRC, the relevance of public policy, the various ways in which the Commission engages in consultation with interested stakeholders, including in developing its programme for Law Reform, and following the publication of Issues Papers. We also chat about the value of listening to people with lived experience, the conservative approach taken to spent convictions legislation in Ireland and the Commissions early role in this area. We discuss the LRC's work to enhance the clarity and accessibility of legislation on the statute book, and various ongoing research projects. See 

In the 11th Irish interview I speak with Dr Pat Bracken, a critical psychiatrist who previously worked in Uganda, the UK and West Cork. We address his dual interests in psychiatry and philosophy and how the latter has ensured that he has always had an inquiry mind, suspicious of certainties and "grand narratives" aiming to have all the answers about mental illness. We talk about his time in Uganda working with torture survivors and the importance of attending to the cultural and ecological context of people's lives. We explore the impact of trauma, whether it is transmitted across generations and the limitations of the dominant biomedical model, which has become the "bio-bio-bio", due to over-reliance on pharmaceutical solutions. We also examine the significance of relationships, including the "therapeutic alliance" in healing and recovery from emotional distress, the value of curiosity in the meaning-making process, the rise of the survivor movement and novel approaches such as Open Dialogue and Hearing Voices. Dr Bracken also provides some concrete examples of need mental health reform in Ireland, including substantial boosting of the "Authorised Officer" role and that all admissions to psychiatric beds would be made through them, but alternatives to hospitalisation would be explored first. See 

In the 12th Irish interview with theatre and opera director Tom Creed we consider Arts policy and the precarious plight facing artists during the Covid-19 pandemic due to social distancing, the ban on group gatherings and the fact that many live performers essentially work in the "gig economy". We discuss the under-investment in the Arts, the impact of austerity cuts on the Arts, the policy asks of the National Campaign for the Arts, including the need for emergency funding to ensure that there will be a viable Arts sector to assist with meaning-making and story-telling on the other side of the pandemic. We consider the importance of providing access in all schools to artistic pursuits which have been demonstrated to regulate neural state, help with emotional regulation and trauma processing, such as group singing, drumming, dance and theatre. See 

In the 13th Irish interview with Lorna Bogue a Green Party Councillor in Cork City South East we tackled matters relating to the climate crisis, environmental policy, the impact of Greta Thunberg and the Coronavirus pandemic. We also discuss economics, migration, the indignity of Direct Provision and racism in Ireland. We consider government formation talks between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and the role that the Green Party might play, the need for a radically new political model that supports the many not just the few, and the attractions of anarchism. See

* In the 14th Irish interview with Michelle Murphy from Social Justice Ireland we discuss social justice, the impact of educational, health and housing inequality on individuals and groups, the need for the government to commit to improving outcomes for the Travelling community and the merits of a State apology for cultural trauma and systemic discrimination. We also chat about the importance of environmental justice, listening to people with lived experience when formulating policy, and post-Covid 19 investment in public services by the State. We also address the importance of research and evidence in the policy-making process, discuss why the academic community should play a more active role in policy development and consider why some academics might be reluctant to get involved. See 

* Video quality is not great due to a poor quality internet connection. An audio version of the podcast will also be available at  


Readers might also find this piece about the neurophysiology of safety of interest in relation to the fear, stress, uncertainty of the present moment and the embodied manifestations.

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