Brendan O'Leary

Lauder Professor of Political Science


Brendan O'Leary was born in Cork, Ireland. His childhood and teenage years were mostly spent in Nigeria, Sudan, and Northern Ireland. He is a graduate of Keble College, Oxford University, where he was the holder of an Open Scholarship, and received a first class honors degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (1981). He was tutored by Larry Siedentop, the scholar of Tocqueville and critic of the democratic underdevelopment of the European Union, and by the economist Paul Collier. O'Leary wrote his PhD thesis at  the London School of Economics & Political Science. It was examined by Ernest Gellner and Nicos Mouzelis, and won the Robert McKenzie Memorial Prize. It was subsequently published as The Asiatic Mode of Production: Oriental Despotism, Historical Materialism and Indian History.  

Before coming to Penn, O'Leary was on the faculty of the London School of Economics and Political Science between 1983 and 2003, where he had been Professor of Political Science, head of its Government Department, and an elected Academic Governor. Between 2012 and 2014 he was also Professor of Political Science at Queen's University Belfast. 

O'Leary's professorial career has been combined with political advisory work. He was a political advisor to the British Labour Shadow Cabinet on Northern Ireland between 1987-8 and 1996-7, advising Kevin McNamara and the late Marjorie ("Mo") Mowlam. He advised Irish, British, and American ministers and officials and the the Irish-American Morrison delegation during the Northern Ireland peace process, appearing as an expert witness before the  US Congress, and being a guest at the White House. His ideas on power-sharing are said to have been influential, and his  work with John McGarry on police reform was singled out in the press for influencing the commission on police reform which reported in 1999. O'Leary has also worked as a constitutional advisor for the European Union and the United Nations in the promotion of confederal and federal re-building of Somalia, and for the United Kingdom's Department of International Development in constitutional consultancies on power-sharing in coalition governments in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, and in Nepal.  Between 2003 and 2009  he was regularly an international constitutional advisor to the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, assisting in the negotiation of the Transitional Administrative Law (2004); electoral systems design (2004-5); the Constitution of Iraq (2005), and the Constitution of the Kurdistan Region (2005-). He has been an expert witness on Iraq to branches of the US Government, and to the United Kingdom's Iraq Commission. For the UN he contributed to its 2004 United Nations Human Development Report on Culture and Liberty. In 2009-2010 O'Leary was seconded to the UN as the Senior Advisor on Power-Sharing in the Standby Team of the Mediation Support Unit of the Department of Political Affairs.

In 2009, Rupert Taylor published Consociational Theory: McGarry and O'Leary and the Northern Ireland Conflict, Routledge, a symposium devoted to Professor O'Leary's work with his colleague Professor John McGarry.  The collection is preceded by a lengthy statement by McGarry and O'Leary, and concludes with their reply to the 16 contributions which discuss their work.

Harrison Prize Winner: A paper co-authored by Dr. Paul Mitchell (LSE), Professor Geoffrey Evans (Oxford) and Brendan O'Leary (University of Pennsylvania) won the Harrison Prize in 2010 for the best paper published in Political Studies, the flagship journal of the UK's Political Studies Association in 2009: "Extremist Outbidding in Ethnic Party Systems is Not Inevitable: Tribune Parties in Northern Ireland."

2013. Courts and Consociations: Human Rights versus Power Sharing (Oxford: Oxford University Press) w/C. McCrudden.

2009. How to Get Out of Iraq with Integrity. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press).

2009. The Kurdistan Region: Invest in the Future. (London & Washington, DC: Newsdesk Publications, 2nd Edition), ed.

2007. Terror, Insurgency and the State: Ending Protracted Conflicts (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), ed. with M. Heiberg and J. Tirman.
2005. The Future of Kurdistan in Iraq. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), ed. with J. McGarry and K. Salih.