Board of Directors

As a patient-led organisation, our Board of Directors must consist of a majority of patients or patient representatives. Each director works in a voluntary capacity, donating their time to the organisation.

Board of Directors:

Gerard Comerford, Chairperson

Ronan Holahan, Company Secretary

Dairine Dempsey, Vice Chair

Adrian Grenham, Treasurer

Brendan Buckley, Director

David Keegan, Director

John Acton, Director

Elaine Howley, Director

Clare Mc Laughlin, Director

Suzanne Duggan, Director

The operations of the Board of Directors are supported by a subcommittee structure which deals effectively with specific aspects of the business of the company.

The active subcommittees are as follows:

  • Audit Subcommittee
  • Research Subcommittee
  • Counselling and Support Service Subcommittee
  • Advocacy Subcommittee
  • Fundraising Subcommittee
  • HR Subcommittee
  • Nominations Subcommittee

Gerard Comerford, Chairperson

Gerard Comerford has been an airline pilot for 33 years. The majority of his career was spent with Aer Lingus, where he was also an instructor and Check Captain. He has also worked for Malaysia Airlines, Jet Airways in India and currently works for Turkish Airlines. The Comerford family have been “Puppy Walkers” training Guide Dogs since 2007.

Ger first became involved with Fighting Blindness in 2008, when his then 11-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Stargardt Disease. Ger said, “Coming to terms with the sudden onset of her condition, its incurable nature and the immediate impact on her life and education was difficult. That’s when we discovered the Insight Counselling and Support Service and Fighting Blindness. Mary Lavelle was a godsend in helping us at that stage.”

In 2009, Ger took part in our Everest Base Camp Trek. With the help of his extended family and friends, he raised a significant sum, making particular use of the internet, where he created his own website and promoted it through various social media. He has worked with our fundraising team ever since.

Ger said, “To me, Fighting Blindness provides support for people who are visually impaired and their families through counselling and hope for the future through research. It is a great source of information and keeps me up to date with worldwide research related to my daughter’s condition and many others. I have learned so much from attending Fighting Blindness AGMs and seminars. It gives me the opportunity to speak first hand to leading researchers and doctors, staff, other visually impaired people and their families. It is an amazing organisation of dedicated people and I am delighted to have been asked to serve on the Board.”

Ronan Holahan, Company Secretary

Ronan trained as a Chartered Accountant and has spent most of his career in consumer financial services in a variety of commercial and risk management roles.

Members of Ronan’s extended family were first diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) around 40 years ago. More recently, Ronan’s young daughter was diagnosed with RP.

In early 2011, there was a significant breakthrough in identifying the carrier gene that causes RP in the Griffith family (the RPE65 gene). Ronan and his family members are raising funds to continue research into the family condition in the hope that a therapy can be developed.

Ronan’s family condition undoubtedly motivated him to become involved with Fighting Blindness, and he joined the Board of Fighting Blindness in August 2011.

Dairine Dempsey, Vice Chair

Dairine Dempsey is a pharmaceutical executive with 20 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical, biologic and device industries, including 9 years in the Irish Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) working with both the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Commission on technical issues and policy development.

She led the establishment of the National Health Regulatory Agency for Pharmaceutical Products in Bahrain and was involved in the successful global clinical development and post-marketing management of over 10 pharmaceutical products across multiple therapeutic areas, many for rare diseases.

As global Vice President, Strategic Regulatory Affairs at ICON, she has managed and resolved significant regulatory challenges arising in clinical development programs on behalf of clients. In the last number of years, Dairine founded and led the start-up phase of Open Orphan, a pharma company specialising in rare disease/orphan drugs. She is a NED for Soleno Therapuetics Europe Ltd. and OmniSpirant Ltd. and offers strategic consultancy in orphan drug development.

Brendan Buckley, Director

A consultant endocrinologist with over 30 years medical experience, Prof Buckley also has extensive experience in clinical trials and has chaired several independent Data and Safety Monitoring Boards for medium to large cardio-metabolic and rare disease clinical studies.

Brendan recently retired from being Chief Medical Officer of ICON plc, an Irish clinical research organisation which is one of the largest in the world. He is Honorary Clinical Professor at UCC and Adjunct Professor at UCD. He was director of UCC’s European Centre for Clinical Trials in Rare Diseases. He was a board member of the Irish Medicines Board (now HPRA) and a member of European Medical Agency (EMA)’s Scientific Advisory Group for Diabetes and Endocrinology. He was also a member of the EMA Committee for Orphan Medicinal Products from 2000-2003 and a member of the EMA’s panel of experts. Professor Buckley also served as chairman of the Anti-Doping Committee of the Irish Sports Council.

Prof Buckley has had a long relationship with Fighting Blindness and has served on our Medical and Scientific Advisory Board since 2011. He has been a trusted advisor and mentor to members of our board and senior executive for many years and has been a champion of our mission and our goals.

Prof Buckley’s vast experience in clinical trials and all aspects of the regulatory process will ensure that Fighting Blindness remains in the strongest of positions to be able to advance our goals to develop treatments and cures for conditions that cause sight loss, to support people who are affected by those conditions, and to advocate with and for them to ensure that we are doing all we can to anticipate the challenges that will arise as the science translates from laboratories to clinics.

David Keegan, Director

David Keegan is a Consultant Vitreo-retinal Surgeon at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin since October 2006.

A graduate of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1994, he attained a Masters in Anatomy from UCD in 1996. He trained at Moorfield’s Eye Hospital London (1997 – 2005) and completed his PhD in retinal transplantation from University College London (1999 – 2002). He completed his vitreo-retinal training with Prof Stanley Chang at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, New York (2005 – 2006).

He is a member of the Irish College of Ophthalmologists Council and Chaired the Manpower Training and Education Committee. He currently sits on the board of the National Council for the Blind. His clinical interests include management of surgical retinal disease and patients with age related macular degeneration and inherited retinal disease, including use of the Intra-ocular Magnifying Telescope.

His research interests are in the early immunological response to sub-retinal transplants. His clinical research interests are in the discovery of Biomarkers in age-related macular degeneration, clinical trials in anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) therapies along with the development of the National Inherited Retinal Disease Register as Chair of the Ophthalmology Division, Dublin Centre for Clinical Research, Molecular Medicine Ireland, Dublin. He is on the organising committee of the Fighting Blindness Retina Conference.

John Acton, Director

John Acton has a PhD in Organic Chemistry and many years of experience in developing and implementing analytical methods in government laboratories. He participated in several EU led projects to develop standard operating procedures and reference materials.

He was manager of the Pesticide Laboratory responsible for the monitoring of pesticide residues in food using state of the art analytical techniques. John was national delegate at the EU standing committees and joint World Health Organisation/Food Agriculture Organisation working parties from 2001 – 2015 responsible for setting policies and regulations for maximum residue levels in food. He was also a member of the European Food Safety Authority networking group, which reported the monitoring results and assessed the potential risks to consumers in the EU.

Now retired, John welcomes the opportunity to bring his experience of the scientific and regulatory fields to the Board of Fighting Blindness. As we are in the era of clinical trials using gene therapy, John is aware of the urgency that such treatments be delivered to those with inherited retinal diseases in Ireland.

Elaine Howley, Director

Elaine Howley has both personal and professional attributes that the Board of Fighting Blindness benefits from. Elaine lives with low vision herself. She also has experience on the Board of the Disability Federation of Ireland, a Diploma in Company Direction from the Institute of Directors and is a current Director on the Board of Dublin Bus.

Elaine is a firm believer in people with disabilities being fully engaged in the leadership of organisations that exist for the benefit of disabled people. Elaine brings her experience and integrity to the Board of Fighting Blindness as well as her commitment to those the organization is there to serve directly through services and indirectly through research and other activities.

Elaine continuously works to encourage people with lived experience of impaired vision to influence and lead organisations.

Clare Mc Laughlin, Director

Clare Mc Laughlin is a Visual Artist with a particular interest in Socially Engaged Practice. Clare is a full time Artist and she created the art project Seen – Unseen in 2014. The project explores access to art for the visually impaired person in the gallery space and elsewhere. Through Seen – Unseen, Clare has engaged and collaborated with visually impaired people all over Ireland, England, America, Africa and Europe. She is passionate about improving access for the visually impaired person to art and other activities.

Clare has many years experience in business not-for-profit work with Cork Choral Festival, The Irish Cancer Society, The Cutty Shark Tall Ships event in Cork and The Hope Foundation 1st International Womens Day Event. Clare also served as president of Argideen Vale Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club.

Suzanne Duggan, Director

Suzanne Duggan has a long family history with Fighting Blindness as she has significant lived experience of sight loss. Suzanne and her sister Olivia were diagnosed with Stargardt Disease as young children which led their mother Geraldine Duggan to become one of the first members in what was then RP Ireland as a parent advocating for research into cures for degenerative conditions.

Suzanne does not let sight loss define her life but it has played a strong part in shaping her. As a board member Suzanne brings her years of personal and professional experience to use in order to try to positively influence the work of Fighting Blindness and ensure that its aims are being met. Suzanne has a facilitative and supportive manner which enables her to form positive relationships with other board members and the wider Fighting Blindness community. Her values are based on doing good, being non-judgemental and treating others with dignity and respect. Suzanne is also well used to reading, processing and evaluating research papers, policy documents and possesses the business acumen to make a meaningful contribution to the board ensuring that ethical and proper corporate governance standards are maintained.

Suzanne is also a lecturer on the Social Care Practice Degree Programme in TU Dublin and specializes in teaching Disability Studies. She has a Masters Degree in Disability and Rehabilitation Studies from UCD and worked for ten years for the Rehab Group supporting service uses with disabilities.

Suzanne has worked in education for many years so she has knowledge and understanding around research, teaching and learning. She sat on her university’s ethics committee for some years. Her area of expertise is the social sciences and she has a strong understanding of the research process and all that this entails from funding to ethics.

Suzanne was a Director on the Boards of the Rehab Group and the National Learning Network for a number of years.