Staff and students of Maynooth University were shocked and saddened to hear of the untimely death last October of Donal O’Neill, Professor of Economics.
After undergraduate studies at Maynooth’s Economics Department, Donal completed a PhD in the US with the renowned Irish Labour Economist, John Kennan. Following a short spell at the University of Newcastle, he returned to Maynooth in 1995, where he quickly became a central figure in the Economics Department.
Donal’s main research interests were in the labour market, inequality and education, typically focussing on policy-relevant issues, though he also had a strong interest in econometric methodology. His research was of the highest calibre, with publications in the top journals. One of his papers became a standard reference, included routinely on postgraduate labour economics reading lists internationally. He was highly respected far beyond these shores.
But Donal was not just an outstanding researcher; he also took seriously his role in passing on the baton to the next generation, through both teaching and support for junior researchers.
He was an excellent and very popular lecturer. He never stopped being fascinated by the insights Economics offered or by its potential as a force for good and transmitted his love of the subject to his students with enthusiasm.
Donal was also known throughout the Irish Economics community for being very supportive of early career researchers. This support was not limited to his younger colleagues in Maynooth or his own PhD students – he was willing to help junior researchers wherever they were, whether by making insightful comments at seminars, or by giving detailed comments on draft papers.
In addition to his contributions in research and teaching, Donal took on several significant public service roles. The one that was most important to him was in the inaugural Low Pay Commission, where he played a key role in the strengthening of the National Minimum Wage during his four years of service. More recently, he co-authored a report that led to the adoption by the government of the Living Wage.
He was deeply respected in the Irish Economics community and was a past-President of the Irish Economic Association and a Fellow of the prestigious IZA Institute for the Study of Labor.
Our thoughts are with his friends and colleagues; his wife, Olive, also a respected member of Maynooth’s Economics Department; his daughters, Rachael, Roisín and Máire; and his mother, sister, and brothers.