New Zealand Law Society - Lawyer diplomat must still feed the meter

Lawyer diplomat must still feed the meter

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Niamh McMahon
Niamh McMahon

As newly-appointed Honorary Consul General for Ireland, Dublin-born Auckland lawyer Niamh McMahon must pay her taxes, feed the meter and cannot claim GST on imported alcohol.

"In the package Foreign Affairs sent there's a paragraph telling what I can do – such as call myself Honorary Consul General (HCG) – and about four pages detailing what I can't do, including no free parking…It's hilarious," says Niamh.

Niamh Elizabeth Mary (Niamh, pronounced Neef) McMahon
Dublin, Ireland 
"I'm not telling you." 
Entry to law
BA from National University of Ireland, Galway, 1983. LLB (Hons) from Auckland University, 1987. MPhil (Commercial Law with First Class Hons) Auckland University 1994. Admitted 1987 
Founding partner in 1992 of McMahon Butterworth Thompson, Auckland. 
Speciality area
Predominantly commercial law.

Having been honorary solicitor to the Irish Consulate for more than 20 years, Niamh succeeds long-serving HCG Rodney Walshe, who helped consulate staff tend to the needs of Irish in New Zealand for nearly 40 years.

"I'll never step into Rodney's shoes, it would be impossible. He made the job what it is and I'm the lucky recipient of what he has made, taking it and going forward…"

"The role of the HCG is to help meet the needs of Irish citizens and making sure they know their rights, especially if they get arrested, get into trouble or strife."

Not that getting into trouble is anything Niamh will admit the Irish are more adept at than say, Swedes or Finns.

New Zealand's fastest growing Irish community is involved in the rebuild of Christchurch and their needs are different to "a partying 25-year old stopped at the airport because he hasn't paid parking fines up and down the country."

The consulate no longer deals with folk fleeing the IRA but its three staff are kept busy, including issuing between 1,800 and 2,000 passports a year and registering foreign births.

Much of the consulate work is involved with the Irish Development Authority and related business initiatives to encourage business links between Ireland and New Zealand.

She is already involved with the Ireland Fund of New Zealand, Enterprise Ireland NZ and the Irish Business Network NZ.

And when not immersed in law and matters Irish – including seven-years co-presenting Planet FM's "Images of Ireland" show - Niamh can be found in her scuba gear diving in remote areas of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia – especially exploring World War 11 wrecks and aircraft.

Her introduction to diving came as a youngster back in Ireland – "where the water temperature is not high and visibility is low" – and where her father – who was in the Irish fire service - had control of the only air compressor in the district.

Now she gets away a couple of times a year with dive buddies to warmer oceans.

Keeping fit involves tough aerobic and resistance training and endurance sports.

Her daughter (23) has first class honours in Latin and is studying the grammatical idiosycracies of Gaius Valerius Catullus (84 – 54 BC), a Latin poet of the late Roman Republic whose surviving works are still read widely and continue to influence poetry and other art forms, for her Latin Masters.

"I think her ideal job will be in university lecturing or being a professor."

Her oldest son (21) is studying law and Latin, "and enjoying tax, of all things," while her youngest boy (17) is in high school and not yet sure what he will pursue.

After leaving Presentation Convent school in Clonmel, Tipperary, Niamh graduated with a BA from the National University of Ireland in Galway.

"I was urged into law by my parents…maybe I wasn't successful getting in anywhere else. I enjoyed English, debating, argument and the nitty gritty…"

At Galway, where she ran the politics society for three years, the requirement for law was to also take other subjects and to finish off through an LLB system.

"In the mid 1980s prospect for lawyers in Ireland were almost non-existent unless you went into human rights – and that had its own series of complications…"

"My interest was in commercial and company law so it was a matter of leaving Ireland and go somewhere else, as all my siblings had done, and find somewhere that had a good economy…"

Arriving in New Zealand in 1984 she graduated LLB (Hons) and joined McElroy Milne in 1987, becoming a partner in 1989, before founding McMahon Butterworth and Thompson in 1992.

"No-one would ever accuse me of being a musician but I love Irish music and you can always rattle up a song after a couple of whiskeys…"

On television she watches the news, Country Calender and BBC Knowledge, and if she wasn't a lawyer she'd probably be an accountant – "a sideways step."

"Our work overlaps and both need to know a bit about the other."

A member of a NZ Law Society standards committee, Niamh is also a costs assessor, was convenor of the Auckland district law society's documents and precedents committee and regularly presents continuing legal education seminars.

But back to her name and its challenging pronunciation.

"It means 'of the golden hair,' which I don't have."

In Irish mythology Princess Niamh came to Ireland on a white horse and took Oisin, the son of warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCoul) back to the Land of the Ever Young. But Oisin was lonely for Ireland and wanted to go home.

"Princess Niamh of the Golden Hair told him if he got off his horse he'd have a problem. He did and aged 500 years – end of a beautiful friendship…"

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for several decades. He also writes the weekly Caseload column for the New Zealand Herald. Contact Jock at

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