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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Dualta Roughneen

Updated: Apr 2



Gordon: Where did you attend college and what degrees did you earn?

Dualta: I am a Civil Engineer by qualification, graduating from University College Galway in 1997 and later received a Masters in Human Rights from University College Dublin, 11 years later in UCD. I might be qualified as an Engineer but I wouldn’t be employable in that area any more. I worked as an Engineer in Ireland for a few years before taking up a volunteering role in Afghanistan for a year – based on my engineering degree to work on a rural reconstruction programme in the North East but realistically, it was a different type of engineering to what I was used to. I was a little out of my depth but pushed through. Soon after I went to North Korea for a few years, as a kind-of engineer, designing rural water systems in the countryside: very basic, gravity fed systems. But nice. A year in Sudan working in Darfur followed along with a few months in Liberia – more project management than engineering, but learning about drilling wells. I ended up back in Ireland to take some time out and study was a good excuse: hence, the human rights. It might not have been the best choice, but that’s a conversation for another day.

 

Gordon: What have you been doing since?

 

Dualta: Since then I have been working in the area of overseas aid and humanitarian work. I had a very fortunate few years where my job in Dublin allowed me to travel extensively and I had, fortune is the wrong word, the responsibility of being part of a number of very important humanitarian responses.

 

In 2013 there was the super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines that caused so much damage, so much loss of life in the country. A year later I was in Sierra Leone working on the response to the Ebola outbreak. Shortly after that I was in Nepal after the very large earthquake. Again, huge devastation. When the second earthquake hit a few weeks later, I was very close to the epicentre dealing with the first one.

 

Those were very blessed years for me in many ways. I had many great experiences but also had the privilege of being able to do what I feel was some great work with great people.

 

Gordon: You recently changed jobs

 

Dualta: Yes. I had been working in my last organisation for 14 years – moving up the ladder, so to speak, and it felt like it was time for a change. For many different reasons. My personal life changed. My wife was pregnant. So, my lifestyle of travelling to far-away and somewhat dangerous places had to be curtailed if not cut back. But I also wanted to move to an organisation that was more aligned to my Catholic faith and Christian value. I received the offer to become the CEO of Christian Blind Mission (CBM) Ireland – a disability rights organisation working predominantly in Africa and Asia to end the cycle of poverty and disability.


CBM Ireland is part of the CBM Global family – an organisation rooted in its Christian origins and holding to its Christian identity at a time when other organisations would try to hide that identity, remove it and sometimes dismiss it. Having sometimes – in my previous roles – fallen foul of cancel culture where there was a strong antithesis to arguing for policy and positions that aligned with a Christian ethical framework even from a reasoned perspective, I found the international development sector to be quite a difficult place to identify as a person of faith so it is nice, freeing to an extent, to be in an organisation that embraces a Christian identity.

 

That said, CBM Ireland also works with all sectors of the population. Our Christian identity has no bearing on who benefits from or participates in our programmes. All of these are designed to work with everyone who has a disability, irrespective of faith or any other identifying characteristic. Anyone that wants to support our work can visit our website at www.cbm.ie or contact dualta@cbm.ie for more information. Of course, there is a donation page that anyone can access.

 

Gordon: You are a popular author. Please share with our readers an overview of The Pope and the World: The Thoughts of Pope Benedict XVI.

 

Dualta: Pope Benedict XVI and his writing became a pet project for me in the last few years. I am not really an author. I don’t see myself as one. It is a hobby or a compulsion, I am not sure which Certainly, I am not not a popular one, nor a prolific one but sometimes there are projects that come along and motivate me to try to write.


The more I read of the Pope Emeritus, the more I felt that there was a need to try to somehow create an overview of this thoughts and writings. With hundreds of books, more papers, and all his speeches and messages as Pope, it isn’t possible to synthesize his work in a way that does him justice. But I kept reading and discovered what I felt was a theme running through a lot of his writing, about the nexus of where faith meets the earthly world. I am never sure if I got that description right because a lived faith is always of the world, but I think I wanted to capture where his writing moved from the abstract to interact with human life.


I know for sure I didn’t do it justice, but am pleased enough with the outcome, even if it only ever sees life on my bookshelf. This piece of work coincided with another where I edited a volume of essays from a range of people in Ireland into a short book, Pope Benedict XVI: An Irish Perspective available from the bookshop at Knock Shrine, in County Mayo in the West of Ireland. I am probably still recovering from the effort of putting together those two books while holding down a full time job. I am still waiting for the next inspiration.

 

Gordon: Before this you had a shorter book published called Humanitarian Subsidiarity: A New Principle? What was that about?

 

Dualta: The principle of subsidiarity is one of those that has its origins close to Catholic teaching but is used in other areas as well. It came up in the course of my work, dealing with humanitarian action, responding to emergencies and all that, a few years ago when I was talking with a few others about the humanitarian principles in life saving work: neutrality, impartiality, etc. I was never fully sure whether subsidiarity was suitable as a principle to underpin this type of work, hence the question mark, but felt if the discussion was moving in that direction that it provided the best ethical framework to understand things better. It nearly gained some traction, but then didn’t!

 

Gordon: Your first book is The Right to Roam: Travelers, Human Rights and the Modern Nation State. What took you there?

 

Dualta: I was doing the Masters in Human Rights that I talk about above and I had to pick a dissertation or thesis for my final project. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to invest my energy into. There was not a lot of new thinking from first principles and I didn’t want to do something prosaic of formulaic, so I partially stumbled on the issue as discrimination against Roma gypsies was increasing in Ireland and Europe at the time and I wanted to explore a theoretical underpinning to a possible right live a nomadic life. I didn’t resolve it but felt I established a normative reasoning under a human rights and recognition framework for it to be considered. Of course it didn’t resolve the reality that most human rights are negotiated and balanced with the rights of others but I still feel there should be room for greater exploration of how sedentary society can accommodate the peripatetic.

 

Gordon: Please share with our readers an overview of North Korea: On the Inside Looking In.

 

Dualta: This just my rambling thoughts from my three years living in North Korea. It is probably an easier read than the other books. I’d recommend it but there are much better insights into North Korea from many Koreans who have escaped the country!

 

Gordon: Who is you favourite writer and why is that writer your favourite?

 

Dualta: I don’t have a favourite but if I was pushed to say someone, I would probably choose the English philosopher, Roger Scruton for his ability to see inside the reality of things and to be able to say in few words what I want to think but don’t have the vision to see. But, of course, I am always taken by the writings of Joseph Ratzinger. I was drawn to his work immediately – there was a crispness and a clarity to it that just made sense.

 

Gordon: Now that you are settled into your new role as CEO of CBM Ireland – I am wondering how you are finding parenthood and juggling those responsibilities with your new and demanding role?

 

Dualta: To be honest, it is not too bad at all. I had imagined that I would struggle. I became a father the day after I left my old job, so had two weeks’ ‘rest’ before starting into my CEO role. Baby Síle was born happy and healthy and her mother equally so. Since then, she really has been a happy baby and a great sleeper. Everyone told me the sleep deprivation would be the hardest but for 90% of the nights, I have managed to get a decent sleep so the work has not been affected. For that, I realise how lucky we are. And I know that it could change at any moment. But she is a beautiful little girl and has changed my life completely. And all for the better. The work itself – I am a new CEO, so there is a lot to learn, especially about leadership as opposed to management, but learning and change is good! Unfortunately, my writing has had to take a bit of a backseat for the short-term. I still do a bit but my output has definitely dropped since new responsibilities have come along!

 

Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.

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