Universiteit Leiden

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Book presentation

Book presentation ‘Building the League of Nations and the International Labour Organisation’

Monday 13 November 2023
Turfmarkt 99
2511 DP The Hague

The Embassy of Ireland in the Netherlands and the University of Leiden are proud to present a joint event ‘Building the League of Nations and the International Labour Organisation’.

About the book

During the first half of the 20th century, two exceptional Irish nationals took centre stage in global diplomacy. Both Edward Phelan and Seán Lester, who were born in 1888 in County Waterford, South-East Ireland, and County Antrim, respectively, were to become the leaders of two of the world’s most important international organisations, the League of Nations and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

In his book, ‘The Irish influence: Building the League of Nations and the International Labour Organisation’ Finnegan chronicles the life narrative of the two Irishmen who helped to shape the multilateral system. Seán Lester served as Ireland's delegate to the League of Nations and as its final Secretary-General from 1940 to 1946. The ‘first international civil servant’, Edward Phelan, served as the ILO's fourth Director-General from 1941 until 1948. They grew close in Geneva, the centre of world diplomacy at the time, during the 1930s.

Through their separate Organisations, these often contrasting individuals not only supported social justice and peacebuilding, but also helped to shape international relations and multilateralism in the twentieth Century.


  • 17.00 until 18.00 hrs.: Book presentation by Gerry Finnegan followed by a discussion with Alanna O'Malley
  • From 18.00 hrs. onwards: Reception

About the speakers

Gerry Finnegan is a native of Belfast in the north of Ireland. His career with the ILO began in 1988 when he managed projects in Zambia and later in Guyana. From 1994-2000 Gerry joined the South Asia and later East Asia multidisciplinary teams, before transferring to Geneva to lead the ILO's Women's Entrepreneurship Development activities. He returned to Zambia as Director of the Lusaka Office for Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia until his retirement in 2010.

Alanna O’Malley is Associate Professor of International History at Leiden University. She is a historian of the United Nations, decolonisation, sovereignty and the Cold War, with a specialisation in African history. Currently, she is Principal Investigator of the ERC-funded project, ‘The Invisible History of the UN and the Global South.’ She is a regular contributor to international media, including the Washington Post, Aljazeera News and The Irish Times.

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