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Board of Directors

Board of Directors content

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:

Brendan Buckley, Chairman
Ronan Holahan, Treasurer
Gerry Kerr, Director
Gerard Comerford, Director
David Keegan, Director
Mary Lavelle, Director
Colette McNamee, Director
Dr. Tom Clonan, Director
Paul Allen, Director
John Acton, 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

Brendan Buckley, Chairman

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 clinincal 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.

Ronan Holahan, Treasurer

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.

Gerry Kerr, Director

Gerry Kerr was a teacher and assistant principal for twenty six years before having to retire early due to a visual disability. He is currently a Director on the Board of Fighting Blindness. His other voluntary work includes work for the Irish Guide Dogs Association and the NCBI.

He returned to University to successfully complete post graduate studies in Workplace Mediation. Although travelling nationwide with mediation, motivational speaking and training, he lives with his wife and family in Dublin.

Of his involvement with Fighting Blindness, Gerry says, “The Insight Counselling and Support Service in Fighting Blindness helped me at a time when I really needed it. As time went on I became more and more involved with the organisation and am now delighted to be a member of the Board.”

Gerard Comerford, Director

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.”

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.

Mary Lavelle, Director

Mary was a founding member of Fighting Blindness in 1983. She joined the Insight Counselling and Support Service when it opened in 2002 and worked as Senior Counselling Manager there until she retired in April 2014. She joined the Board of Directors shortly after her retirement.

Keeping the need of the patient/client central to all that we do is a core value of Fighting Blindness. Mary has been exemplary in embodying this philosophy; not only in the way she established and developed the Insight Counselling and Support Service but also in the way she has worked to support the development of Fighting Blindness since its inception in 1983.

Colette McNamee, Director

Colette works as a Chartered Accountant and has held various senior roles in the industry. She currently works in the financial sector.

Colette’s family were diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa around 40 years ago. Colette previously served on the board of Fighting Blindness from 2003 to 2010. She has raised funds for Fighting Blindness by participating in treks to Thailand and Patagonia in South America. She continues to raise funds to help find a cure through her connections in the industry.

Dr. Tom Clonan, Director

Dr. Tom Clonan is a Trinity Graduate (B.Ed – 1987). Tom grew up in Finglas in Dublin and now lives in Booterstown, Co. Dublin. He has a family of four children. One of his children, Eoghan, suffers from a rare neuro-muscular disease, Pelizaeus Merzbacher Disease. As a consequence, Eoghan is a wheelchair user. His eyesight is also compromised and he is partially sighted. The story of Eoghan and his Assistance Dog ‘Duke’ is featured in a moving and award winning RTE Documentary, ‘Superdog’ (2012).

Dr. Tom Clonan lectures in the School of Media DIT. He lectures in Journalism, Political Communication, Public Affairs and Research Methodology. He is one of Ireland’s foremost Whistleblowers. As an Army Officer in Ireland’s Armed Forces, Dr. Clonan completed ground-breaking doctoral research on the Irish Defence Forces (2000). His PhD led to an independent government enquiry, ‘The Study Review Group’ which reported in 2003. This report fully vindicated his research findings and recommendations as they applied to bullying, sexual harassment and the sexual assault of soldiers within Ireland’s armed forces. Dr. Clonan’s work has transformed the equality culture of the Irish Armed Forces with identifiable and measurable benefits for over 20,000 full time and part time soldiers, sailors and aircrew.

Dr. Clonan is also Security Analyst with the Irish Times – along with national and international broadcasters – where he provides in-depth defence and military analysis of fast-moving international events. He also has direct experience of armed conflict in Ireland, the Middle East and former Yugoslavia (Bosnia). Tom has also been an advocate for people with disabilities and carers. He has written dozens of articles advocating for increased investment into research and supports for disabled citizens in Ireland. In this capacity, in the 2016 General Election, Tom ran as an Independent candidate for Seanad Eireann (Trinity College Dublin Panel). Tom brings his experience as a carer, journalist, disability advocate and would-be politician to assist the Board of Fighting Blindness.

Paul Allen, Director

Paul is a Commercial Marketer who has 20 years’ experience working with companies in the private and semi-state sector creating strategies, based on transformational insights generated from inspired teams, fostering alignment across stakeholder groups and implementing strategic initiatives which has enabled the companies he has worked for deliver sustained impact in their respective sectors.

As a visionary and dynamic senior leader, Paul has worked with some of the world’s largest brands in the developed and developing markets translating complex data, technical concepts into strategic commercial opportunities and bringing fresh thinking and approaches to a number of NGO’s he has worked with.

Paul is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and has a MBA from DCU. Having led the DCU team to victory in the inaugural intervarsity strategy competition, he joined the university as a part time strategy professor. His practical and technical expertise has moulded him into a results-orientated leader and he joins the board of Fighting Blindness to steer the organisation towards a sustainable future.

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.