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Three exceptional Ulster University academics have been admitted to the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) which has been honouring Ireland’s leading contributors to the world of learning since its establishment in 1785.

Peace and equality champion, Emeritus Professor Monica McWilliams, Professor Andrew Cooper, one of the world's top ten coastal management researchers, and linguist and former Provost of Ulster University’s Jordanstown campus, Professor Raffaella Folli, are being recognised for their extraordinary contributions to the sciences, humanities and social sciences, as well as to public service.

Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan, University Provost at Ulster University commended all three:

It is very fitting that Emeritus Professor Monica McWilliams is being recognised by the RIA this week – almost 25 years to the day that Northern Ireland voted to approve the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, for which Monica and her fellow co-signatories worked so hard. Monica isa renowned contributor to human rights organisations and initiatives internationally, she has worked to advance peace and equality with great courage and consideration throughout her incredible career and is fully deserving of this honour.

“Professor Andrew Cooper’s research on coastal response to climate change and appropriate human intervention is significant and at a crucial tipping point for our planet, and Professor Rafaella Folli’s work has driven societal transformation in relation to language in Northern Ireland. Heartfelt congratulations to all three recipients today on behalf of the entire University - this is a great achievement for each of them and for Ulster University.”

Emeritus Professor Monica McWilliams

Monica McWilliams is Emeritus Professor of Women’s Studies in the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University. She is a signatory to the Good Friday Agreement on behalf of the Women’s Coalition which she co-founded, and former chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission where she drafted the advice on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

Professor McWilliams has been the author of numerous publications, including ground-breaking research on domestic and intimate partner violence in Northern Ireland. She is a specialist in conflict resolution, chaired Interpeace, an international peace-building NGO, and served on the Board of Trócaire, the Irish development agency.

Emeritus Professor Of Women's Studies, Monica McWilliams said:

“I am delighted to be recognised by the RIA in this way, having followed the excellent work the Academy has undertaken and the contribution it has made to research and an informed analysis on the island of Ireland. This work is so much needed and I look forward to being a part of that in the challenging times ahead.”

Professor Andrew Cooper

Professor of Coastal Studies, Andrew Cooper, is among the world’s leading coastal researchers. An independent review put him in the world’s top ten coastal management researchers, and another placed him in the top 1% of the world’s geoscientists. Professor Andrew Cooper is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa, and the Geological Society of America.

Speaking about his admittance to the RIA, Professor of Coastal Studies, Andrew Cooper said:

“I am very happy to have been elected to membership of the RIA and that my work on coastal change has been recognised in this way. I was honoured to represent Ulster University at the Admittance Day alongside my colleagues who have also been elected this year.

“This is a challenging time for coastal environments worldwide and they are in the front line when it comes to climate change and sea-level rise. Understanding how coasts respond to such changes and what modern societies can or should do in response, is a major societal challenge.”

Professor Rafaella Folli

Rafaella Folli is a Research Professor of Linguistics and former Provost of the Jordanstown campus at Ulster University. Following post-doctoral awards at Cambridge and Arizona, she took up a permanent post at Ulster University where she has produced world leading research in theoretical linguistics and has worked closely with colleagues to lay the foundation of the Ulster Centre on Multilingualism as an outreach consultation centre for parents, practitioners and therapists.

Interim Head of School of Communication and Media, Professor Rafaella Folli said:

“I am delighted to have been elected to membership of the RIA. I am particularly pleased that my election has come in a year when two other Ulster University colleagues have also been honoured. I am excited at joining a body whose membership is not only a privilege in itself, but which opens a door to participation in the various RIA committees and working groups which have influence on the shaping of educational policy in the University sector.  

“As someone who has a deep commitment to teaching and research, this is an opportunity which I intend to relish and to enjoy, and it is one of which I am extremely appreciative. I owe a great deal to many colleagues at Ulster University, and to the university itself which has provided an environment in which I have been able to grow and flourish as a scholar.”

There are 670 Members of the Royal Irish Academy and the three Ulster Academics are in incredible company: notable members include: Nobel Laureates William C. Campbell, Peter Agre and John O'Keefe; Frances Ruane, economist; Philip Lane, European Central Bank; Fabiola Gianotti, Director General CERN; Brigid Laffan, Irish political scientist; and Geraldine Byrne-Nason, Ambassador of Ireland to the United States of America. Past Members have included Nobel laureates: WB Yeats, Ernest Walton, Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger, Bob Grubbs and Seamus Heaney.

Professor Pat Guiry, President of the Royal Irish Academy, said:

“These individuals, elected by their peers, have made exceptional contributions in their fields of endeavour. We are delighted to recognise their achievements. As Members of the Academy, they will support the RIA by engaging and leading in activities that strengthen the international recognition of the Academy’s scholarship and serve the public good through their knowledge and insight.”

For more information about the Royal Irish Academy, visit: