Current Council

The Gaisce Council comprises of 15 members. Gaisce Council members are appointed for a three year term and comprise President’s Award Leaders, Gaisce awardees, business supporters and those with relevant experience. The nomination of Council includes the appointment of a Chairman.

John Cunningham

John’s career has spanned almost 35 years in marketing, management, business development and executive management in organisations such as Irish Permanent, Friends First, Zurich Bank and Alexander Mann Solutions. John is Commercial Director of Morgan McKinley a global player in the recruitment and talent solutions business. He is also a director and shareholder in CheckRisk. John has a long association with NGOs and supporting the arts in Ireland. He was a director in the Irish Youth Foundation and was Chair of the Immigrant Council of Ireland. He helped to found the initiative ‘IMMA 1000’, a fundraising programme that has seen the Irish Museum of Modern Art raise over €250K for Irish artists and was appointed to the board of the IMMA in 2018.  John is currently Chair of Gaisce – The President’s Award.


Marcella Bannon

Marcella is an independent Arts Consultant with 18 years senior management experience delivering and curating multidisciplinary artistic programmes. For 13 years, she was responsible for the leadership and operational success of two regional arts centres, encompassing arts development, creative partnerships, financial planning and stakeholder relationships.More recently, Marcella was Head of Literature at the Arts Council in 2017 and since January 2018, she is a Freelance Consultant. One of the projects in her consultancy portfolio is the Project Management of the Laureate for Irish Fiction initiative.  Marcella has a Degree in Fine Art, HDip in Community and Adult Education and an MA in International Relations.


Karen Buckley

Karen Buckley is an educationalist based in Dublin and has enjoyed working in a range of settings from traditional, formal, second level through informal adult and community learning, to Higher Education. A proud graduate of Maynooth University, Karen holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and Sociology, a Master of Arts Degree in Sociology and Post Graduate Diploma in Education. Karen is a doctoral candidate in MU Education Department where she is exploring Teacher Education, Identity and Professional Development practices among educators. Karen is an academic developer in the Teaching Enhancement Unit in Dublin City University, which aims to foster excellence in practice through leadership and teaching, the provision of professional development opportunities for staff, and the scholarship of teaching and learning.  Attainment of her Gaisce Bronze award, through community involvement endeavours, ignited Karen’s passion for youth development, education and active citizenship. Karen hopes to perform a key role in securing better outcomes and brighter futures for young people during her term on the Gaisce Board of Council.


Pauric Dempsey

Pauric Dempsey is Head of Communications at the Royal Irish Academy (, Ireland’s leading body of experts in the sciences and humanities where he has devised many projects including Women on Walls with Accenture and Modern Ireland in 100 Arts works with the Irish Times. He has presented radio programmes for RTE including Icons of Irish Science and Making Sense of it all and was Executive Producer on the Irish Mind TV series for CNBC and RTE. He was chairman of RTE’s Audience Council (2013-15) and in 2016 was  Associate Producer on Inside the GPO for Fishamble Theatre Company.


Miriam Dollard

Miriam Dollard is the Head of Protocol in the Department of the Taoiseach. In her current role she co-ordinated the State Ceremonial element of the 1916 Centenary Programme.  She has also worked in the Corporate Affairs and European Union Divisions of the Department.  She has a Bachelor of Arts Degree from University College Dublin and a Higher Diploma in Education from Trinity College Dublin.


Denis Duggan

Denis Duggan, Chief Executive of Macra na Feirme.  He has previously served as the programme manager for Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation Arena at the National Ploughing Championships, Ireland’s largest outdoor agricultural exhibition.  Enterprise Ireland is the Irish Government’s trade and business development board supporting Irish companies as they export goods and services internationally.  Under Denis’s stewardship of the Innovation Arena, Enterprise Ireland sought to discover new innovative agri-tech startup businesses and simultaneously acknowledge the high-end research and new product development that sustains established agri-businesses.   Denis holds an Executive Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from NUI Galway, a B.A in Sustainable Rural Development from Limerick IT, and has completed a Sustainable Development programme in Harvard University.  In the past, Denis was a volunteer and board member of Tipperary Regional Youth Service, amongst other voluntary organisations.


Emma Farrell

Dr Emma Farrell is Education and Training Officer at Jigsaw, The National Centre for Youth Mental Health – an organisation she helped establish and has been involved in since its inception in 2006. Emma’s PhD focused on the lived experience of third level students with mental health difficulties and she continues to teach, supervise and research as a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Education, Trinity College Dublin. Emma was a member of the Board of Directors of Jigsaw (2014-2016) and is currently an advisor to the College of Psychiatry in Ireland. In 2016 Emma was appointed as Co-Chair of the Youth Mental Health Taskforce Youth Reference Group with Niall Breslin by Minister Helen McEntee. Emma is the proud Gaisce gold medal recipient.


Feargal Hynes  

Feargal is currently Head of Operations & Development at Druid, an internationally renowned theatre company based in Galway.Feargal, a BComm graduate from UCD, is a former President & Executive Director of UCDSU Ltd and UCDSU CS Ltd. He is the teenage founder of SkyHigh Promotions and has worked extensively in the Arts and Entertainment industries. He was previously a consultant for a number of Irish companies in the area of strategy building and organisational development. He currently also serves as Chairman of both UCDSU CLG & UCDSU CS CLG.


Maura Kiely

Maura Kiely is the CEO of Leave No Trace Ireland, the national outdoor ethics programme promoting responsible outdoor recreation. Maura is a Science graduate from University College Cork.  She holds a Master’s Degree in Communications, a degree in Psychology and is currently undertaking a PhD with the School of Natural Sciences at NUIG. Previously, Maura worked with overseas with Enterprise Ireland, which supports Irish high potential companies to grow internationally. Her role was to coordinate Presidential and Ministerial environmental trade missions to Scotland. Maura also worked with Fáilte Ireland, the government tourism authority in assisting the development of Ireland’s first Coastal Blueway Kayak and Snorkel trails. Maura is passionate about outdoor recreation and holds senior outdoor coaching qualifications in kayaking, snorkeling, power boating, sailing, lifeguarding, climbing, and mountaineering. Recently, she completed her first trans-Atlantic sailing voyage across the north Atlantic Ocean. Maura has been awarded for her efforts at the “UCC Entrepreneur Awards” as well by her volunteer efforts as “Volunteer Citizen of the year” by the President of Ireland and the Ray Murphy Leadership award. Maura currently sits on the Council for Gaisce – The President’s Award.


 Justin McAleese

Justin McAleese is a PwC trained chartered accountant and is currently Head of Operations of a satellite communications company. In the period 2011 to 2016, Justin held various positions at Ryanair including Head of Investor Relations and Purchasing, and Executive Assistant to the CEO. In 2015, Justin was actively involved in the marriage equality referendum, serving as joint constituency co-ordinator of the Yes Equality Campaign in the Dublin Bay South constituency. Justin is an alumnus of the Washington Ireland Program and holds a Bachelor of Commerce Degree and Master of Accounting Degree from University College Dublin.


Jimmy McGovern

Jimmy McGovern is the nationally elected Vice President for the Border, Midlands & Western Region of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), an organisation representing 374,000+ students on the island of Ireland. He also currently serves as a member of the U.S. Embassy Youth Council. Jimmy studied a BA in Mathematics with Sociological & Political Studies in NUI Galway, where the Student Body elected him as the Vice President / Welfare Officer and subsequently President of the NUI Galway Students’ Union. Notably, he served on the University’s Governing Authority and on the Board of Directors of the Students’ Union Commercial Services Ltd. Jimmy has also been a two time overseas volunteer in Zambia and is an active mental health advocate, where he has trained and worked in the area of suicide intervention. Jimmy is passionate about education, access to support and quality of life, advocating that all members of society are deserving of this.


Philly McMahon

Philly McMahon is a Strength and Conditioning coach and Dublin GAA player, who received his first All Star award while was also being named on the shortlist for GAA Footballer of the Year in 2015. Philly is a business owner and founder of charity Half Time Talk which educates, trains and empowers young, unemployed adults in communities nationwide. In 2017, Philly released an autobiography entitled “The Choice”, with a strong emphasis on the story of his older brother John who died in 2012 as a result of drug addiction. It was named Eir Sports’ book of the year.

Paul Sweetman

Paul is Director of Financial Services Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the financial services sector. Previously, Paul was Director of Ibec’s Technology Ireland group and served as a board member of Digital Europe and FIT. Paul is a Chartered Engineer, holds a Professional Certificate in Governance from the Institute of Public Administration and is a recipient of the Silver Gaisce Award.


Samantha Briody

Samantha is a chartered accountant with over 25 years’ experience across a range of industries and brings a depth of financial, accounting, tax and audit knowledge. Originally trained as a tax consultant with KPMG, Samantha holds a Bachelor of Corporate Law degree from UCG and a Professional Diploma in Accountancy from DCU. A mother of three girls, Samantha appreciates the challenges faced by young people today and it is this role, as a parent, that has provided her with the greatest challenges and achievements to date.