New CEO of AONTAS sets her sights on transforming adult education in Ireland

AONTAS, Ireland’s national adult learning organisation, has announced the appointment of Dearbháil Lawless as its CEO. Ms Lawless has a background of teaching in community, Further and Higher Education. Joining AONTAS in 2018 as EU Project Officer, she went on to become the organisation’s Head of Advocacy, and now CEO.

In her role as CEO, Ms Lawless wants to see the profile of adult and community education grow and to foster more connection and collaboration between AONTAS’ members so that anyone, from any background, can access education and feel comfortable doing so.

Key Priorities as CEO

Speaking about her appointment, Ms Lawless said that a priority for her as CEO will be to ensure that all adult learners “feel safe, respected and welcomed in education” and ensuring that learners are supported to continue their education throughout the cost-of-living crisis.

“Accessing education should not feel like a risk or a burden to adult learners and while there have been positive developments in support and policy to address barriers such as childcare, transport and accommodation, AONTAS will continue to address these issues, particularly in the current climate of increasing costs of living.”

Diversity and inclusion are also key priorities for the new CEO: “Rather than individuals shapeshifting to fit into the education system, the education system should be reshaped to fit around the needs and experiences of people of all ages and backgrounds. Representation is hugely important for adult learners and for the NGO sector in Ireland.

“I know that as a 35-year-old gay woman from a working-class background, I’m probably still a rarity amongst CEOs in Ireland. I’m here to advocate for adult learners and for those who work in adult education, and I hope I can also help to shift the balance of representation in Irish society too.”

About Ms Lawless

Growing up in a working-class environment in Wicklow, Ms Lawless attended a DEIS school and finished school believing she wasn’t very intelligent due to the school learning environment. However, Ms Lawless completed a course in Education and Training in Dún Laoghaire Further Education Institute and realised that this model of education suited her better than school.

After her course in Dún Laoghaire, she went on to study a degree in Education and Training at Dublin City University (DCU), before completing a Master’s in Education at Trinity College Dublin. She is currently undertaking a PhD at Maynooth University, which focuses on people’s experiences of the pathway from adult education into higher education.

Further information on Dearbháil Lawless and AONTAS can be found here:

General Info

Date Entered/Updated
15th Sep, 2022
Expiry Date
6th Oct, 2022