10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
The announcement comes as IRUPA members embark on a new season facing challenges both on and off the field of play.
In commenting on his new role, Kearney stated: "I am very excited and motivated to take on the role of IRUPA Chairman. The organisation has grown considerably both in size and influence in recent times, making it an opportune time to be taking on such a role.
"We have a real opportunity to continue on the good work that's been done to date, especially promoting players as integral stakeholders in the game."
Kearney is no stranger to IRUPA having being appointed to the association's contracting sub-committee during the 2012/13 season.
He brings an innate understanding of the issues concerning the game coupled with a real commitment to developing player welfare both on and off the field.
These factors coupled with respected leadership qualities made him the natural choice for the role.
In relation to the player welfare initiatives that IRUPA are pursuing, Kearney also commented: "A lot of good work is being done by IRUPA, not only in the contractual space but also in the area of player welfare.
"We have staff at each province who are working closely with players on their lives outside of rugby, providing them with educational opportunities, work experience, short course opportunities, and financial guidance, to name but a few.
"There has been some media coverage lately about the challenges that face elite rugby players off the pitch and in their transition into life after rugby, however people should also recognise the diverse range of initiatives the IRUPA staff are delivering to meet these challenges. IRUPA really is playing a crucial role in the lives of players."
IRUPA CEO Omar Hassanein commented on Kearney's appointment, stating: "I personally feel that Rob is the ideal candidate to take on the mantle of Chairman and ensure the continued growth of our organisation.
"Rob is well respected by his peers, which was evidenced in the entire Board unanimously voting him into the position.
"Both Brian O'Driscoll and Johnny Sexton have served us well in the chairman role over the past few years, and we certainly feel that Rob will build on this strong momentum.
"Johnny will remain an integral part of our Board, allowing him to contribute to player welfare issues from his overseas base.
"Our Board, including Johnny himself, felt that he needed to continue to remain as involved as possible, so we hence created a role on our Board to allow this to happen. His contribution has been excellent to date and I have no doubt that he will continue to serve as a strong asset to us."
IRUPA has grown in numbers and stature over the past three years. The association now has eight staff at its headquarters in Clonskeagh, the increase in staffing is largely due to the success of the Player Services Programme with each of the provinces now having a dedicated Player Services Advisor.
This allows IRUPA to deliver a national, consistent player development programme with local expertise and knowledge.
As well as delivering proactive programmes for all members, IRUPA represents and reacts to player issues on both a collective and individual basis.
Spearheaded by Simon Keogh, IRUPA's Operations Manager and Head of Legal Affairs, players now have access to expert support and advice in areas concerning contracting and disciplinary issues, compromise and negotiation, and financial, insurance and taxation considerations. Since the start of this year, more than 20 individual issues have been successfully resolved by IRUPA.