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Wednesday, 25 November 2020

The biggest lie online: why we ignore legal terms and conditions

Author: Dr Caterina Gardiner, School of Law Analysis: we all instinctively click the box which says 'I have read and understood the terms and conditions', but should we read the fine print? It's been called the biggest lie on the internet. And let's face it, we’ve all done it. A click of a box accompanying the words 'I have read and understood the terms and conditions’ and our website order is complete with minimum fuss.  Of course, the reality is that we have not even tried to read, let alone understand, the terms and conditions that apply. It’s a lie that is everywhere. With Covid-19 restrictions leading to a sharp increase in online shopping, more and more of us are at it.  The evidence is clear: most consumers never read the fine print. A study by US academics provides a striking illustration. Students at an American university were asked to sign up to a fictional social networking service called NameDrop, a hypothetical competitor for LinkedIn. Participants were presented with a button labelled 'Join' underneath which was a statement ‘By clicking Join, you agree to abide by the terms of service’. Two ‘gotcha clauses’ were added to the terms of service. The first allowed the site to share users’ personal data with the US National Security Agency. The second required users to provide a first-born child as payment for access to the site’s services. 98% of the 543 participants missed the ‘gotcha clauses’ and signed up to the service by clicking ‘join’ without reading the terms and conditions. The results of this study are not surprising - the 'no-read' phenomenon in consumer contracting has long been recognised - but does it matter? Should we spend hours poring over the fine print of our everyday transactions to try and uncover possible 'gotcha clauses' before we click to agree? Or are we, in fact, acting perfectly rationally by not reading the fine print?  The truth is that most consumers recognise the realities of the situation. They know that there is little choice but to accept the terms and conditions if they want to access the goods or services. They realise that they can’t negotiate for better terms. They also realise that it will take a lot of time and effort to read through the lengthy fine print that is packed with legal jargon. Consumers also tend to be optimistic about the risk of adverse events arising from their transactions. Many consumers also trust that the law will protect them if anything goes wrong. So is there anything in the fine print that we should worry about? And if so, will the law protect us? The law generally recognises the enforceability of 'click-wrap' agreements, so where a consumer clicks 'agree', it is likely that they have entered a binding contract. There is also a possibility that the contract may contain some worrying clauses. Examples include clauses that sign away the consumer’s right to go to the courts of their home country, or clauses choosing a foreign law to apply to any dispute. There may even be clauses excluding or limiting the liability of the trader for any defect in performance, including for defective goods or services.  The good news for Irish consumers is that these kinds of terms are likely to be unenforceable thanks to legislation implementing the European Union's Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Directive. The legislation allows the courts to review contract terms for unfairness and there is a requirement that the contract terms should be written in 'plain intelligible language'. The bad news is that many consumers may not recognise that the terms are unfair and unenforceable and simply accept them without complaint. It may also be difficult and costly for individual consumers to go to court to fight against unfair terms in their contracts. This is why collective action by public agencies and other consumer organisations is vital. National agencies such as the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission can initiate court injunctions against traders. They can also actively promote the use of fair terms and can negotiate with traders to secure removal of potentially unfair terms from standard contracts. Private consumer advocacy organisations can also play an important role in highlighting unfair terms and conditions across various sectors. The 'no-read' phenomenon is unlikely to be resolved easily, but it is still important to promote the transparency of website terms and conditions. Website terms should be accessible and readable so that consumers at least have the opportunity to give informed consent. While most individual consumers may not read the terms and conditions, other groups may. Journalists, social media commentators and bloggers often play an important role in highlighting potentially unfair terms, particularly in relation to the larger website traders. So how can transparency be improved? Studies show that reducing the amount of information in T&Cs and framing it in innovative ways can increase readership. Text can be structured using headings and highlighted words. Summaries and formats such as FAQs or flowcharts can also be used. Visualisation and imagery can help to highlight, clarify and explain the content of terms. These simple steps to improve transparency are important. After all, the more that people read the fine print, the less 'invisible' the terms become and the more incentive there will be for traders to provide fair and balanced contract terms that, in the end, will benefit us all.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Are men more likely than women to get infectious diseases?

Author: Dr Amber Dorey, SFI-funded Postdoctoral Researcher at the Molecular Parasitology Laboratory Opinion: here's how biological, physical, lifestyle and cultural factors play a role in determining your susceptibility to infection We've all heard of man flu, and we’ve all heard of at least one man complaining that they’re much sicker than their female counterparts. But is man flu real or is it just a myth doctored by men to gain sympathy?  Information available on the number and severity of cases of influenza suggests that the existence of man-flu floats in murky waters. Figures show that being male does indeed increase your chances of being struck down with influenza, but figures on disease severity show that being female increases your likelihood of developing a severe infection. While men may get flu more often than women, they get much milder infections in general than women.  This sex bias is not limited to influenza. Tuberculosis infects 10 million and kills 1.5 million people annually according to the World Health Ogranisation. Case data shows that up to twice as many men become infected with the disease than women. Similarly, the ratio of men to women infected with Entamoeba histolytica, a parasitic microbe carried in contaminated water that causes amoebic liver abscess, is as high as seven to one.  Even Covid-19 seems to have it in for men: 52% of cases are found in males, and the risk of being admitted to ICU or dying from the disease increasing by 2.5 and 1.6, respectively.  So are men more susceptible to all infectious diseases? As with influenza, the answer to this overarching question is not clear. A meta-study of 16 different infections showed that men were more susceptible to infection by ten of these diseases, with the remaining six showing no preference for either sex. However, when severity of infection was assessed, women were more susceptible to severe infection than men for six diseases, and men were more susceptible to the remaining ten.  How does disease discriminate between men and women? It is important to differentiate between sex and gender, as both of these may influence susceptibility to infection. A person’s sex is determined by their biological and genetic makeup, that is, the presence of two X chromosomes (female) or one X and one Y chromosome (male). Gender is determined by a person’s behaviours, habits and actions, and can be dependent upon their culture.  Of course, one important difference between the sexes is the production of sex hormones, oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. The male hormone testosterone is involved in immune suppression, while the female hormone oestrogen is involved in immune stimulation. Women produce higher levels of oestrogen than men after the onset of puberty, and oestrogen is required to activate some immune cells via oestrogen receptors mounted on their surface.  Possibly due to the increased availability of oestrogen to stimulate immune cells, women are capable of mounting much stronger immune responses to infectious diseases and vaccines than men. On the contrary, research into influenza has shown that it is the female sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, that are responsible for women suffering a more severe infection than men. The role of sex hormones in the immune system has also been demonstrated in transsexual individuals undergoing hormone therapy, with individuals showing a shift in the numbers of immune cells within four months of beginning therapy.    While differences in hormone levels between the sexes can affect immune function and disease susceptibility, differences in gender can also influence a person’s susceptibility to infection. This is brought about by their difference in exposure to infectious disease, access to healthcare and lifestyle choices.  In the United States, women avail of healthcare services up to 21% less than men, including accessing preventative treatments such as vaccines. Interestingly, the proportion of men and women visiting their GP in the US is the same, but women receive less follow-up services than men with the same medical needs.  This disparity in treatment between the genders can be explained by two scenarios: (i) women do not fully convey the extent of their symptoms to their GP’s, resulting in the need for follow-up services not being identified, or (ii) a level of gender-bias in the health service that either disregards women’s needs for follow-up services or prioritises males when allocating follow-up services. READ: Are women listened to in the Irish healthcare system? In many countries, men tend to leave the home for the purpose of going to work while more women remain in the home for the purpose of childcare. This increases the chance of men being exposed to infectious diseases than women as they are more likely to come into contact with infected individuals. For example, in studies on parasitic disease common in rural areas of Africa or Asia, man spend more time working in as farmers or fishermen where they are more exposed to the infectious parasites. Conversely, women are more likely to assume the role of caregiver for a sick person within the family, increasing their risk of exposure if the person is sick with an infectious disease.  In sub-Saharan Africa, young women are up to 16 times more likely to contract HIV than young men due to both increased risk of transmission from males to females and because women have less educational opportunities and less power in their sexual relationships than men. This difference in HIV infection rates is reflective of a synergistic relationship between sex and gender, with women’s reduced opportunity to protect themselves from exposure exacerbating an apparent weakness of the female sex in relation to susceptibility to infection.  Overall, it is clear that sexes and genders do differ in their susceptibility to infectious diseases. While some aspects of this cannot be altered, such as females producing more oestrogen than males, other aspects can be. Lifestyle and cultural factors that differ between genders play a role in determining susceptibility to infection and these can be altered to close the gap between the genders. As with a lot of issues surrounding infectious diseases, educating people on the differences between the sexes and how gender norms can either relieve or exacerbate these differences should be our first line of defence

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Joe Biden may win the White House, but where was the 'blue wave'?

Author: Professor Dan Carey, Moore Institute Analysis: while a Democrat may be back in the White House, this was not an electoral triumph for the party in the Senate or House Even as Joe Biden slowly closes in on the presidency, an uncomfortable fact remains. While this election may return a Democrat to the White House, the party has not seen a blue wave sweep across the country. In the House, several Democratic seats have been lost, while Republican control of the Senate seems set to continue, reducing the prospective surge to a ripple, with a net Democratic gain of one Senate seat thus far. Runoffs in Georgia in early January might change the situation, but the immediate implication of an unchanged picture in the US Senate is that Biden will have to contend with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's obstructionism, honed to perfection when Republicans seized control of the Senate with two years to run of Barack Obama's final presidential term. Biden’s famous proclivity for cultivating friendships and prospective compromises across the aisle during his tenure in the upper chamber will count for little under those conditions.  What contributed to this lack of electoral triumph for the party in the Senate and House? The ingredients for success appeared to be in hand. We had Donald Trump’s atrocious track record in dealing with the pandemic, resulting in deaths from coronavirus on a record scale and rocketing levels of infection. There was an economy in meltdown, the threat to healthcare if Obama's programme is dissolved (as Trump has long vowed) and the hypocritical move to confirm a Supreme Court nominee eight days before the election. More than 500 children were separated (perhaps permanently) from their parents at the Mexican border due to Trump’s anti-immigration measures. Trump led a presidential campaign characterised by rampant lying and the incumbent articulating essentially no plans for a second term. The list goes on. In evaluating the Senate, several factors must be kept in mind. It was only as election day neared that pollsters suggested Democrats could take control of it. Earlier in the year, that possibility was considered farfetched because Democrats needed to flip four Republican seats, a steep hill to climb. Yes, Republicans were defending more seats than Democrats this year, but it’s important to reflect on where the seats considered most susceptible to flipping were being contested. Most of them were in red states including Iowa, North Carolina, Montana and Texas. It can't be considered a big surprise that Thom Tillis apparently won re-election in North Carolina given that it’s an historically red state and Trump appears headed to a win there, although by a very close margin. Furthermore, the Democratic candidate in North Carolina, Cal Cunningham, shot himself in the foot (or perhaps one should say a different body part) by acknowledging an inappropriate romantic relationship with a woman not his wife, just weeks before the election. Texas was always a pipe dream for Democrats, both in terms of the race for president and Senate, where Republican John Cornyn won re-election and Trump coasted to victory. The Democrats won where expected – in Colorado (now a solidly blue state) and in Arizona (formerly a red state and, perhaps, this year, flipping blue). The failure to unseat Republican incumbents Susan Collins in Maine and Joni Ernst in Iowa is a bitter pill for Democrats. The fact that Ernst tied herself to Trump, while Collins tried to achieve some distance from the president testifies to the difficulty of generalising on this topic. The influx of external money to defeat them may in its own way have been counter-productive, building resistance to what some perceived as meddling. This was definitely true in South Carolina where Lindsey Graham easily won re-election with the help of ads drawing attention to hefty sums coming in support of his opponent, Jaime Harrison, from outside the state. The Iowa case is instructive since Trump's trade war with China had such deleterious effects on farmers in a major agricultural state. He mitigated the effects to some extent with lavish bailouts, funded by taxpayers ($46bn across the sector this year), but the economic pressure and ongoing uncertainty might have played out differently. He and his party have succeeded in a raft of ways in getting people to vote their identity and not their interest. Not all of that identification is nativist and racist, but no secret has been made of white nationalism as a plank of the party's appeal, with few willing to disavow it on the Republican side. And Iowa is overwhelmingly white. In their campaign messaging, Democrats face a more difficult proposition. Their 'base' constitutes a more diverse coalition than it does for Republicans. In terms of race, Republicans can rely on making their pitch to white voters. Democrats need to assemble liberal whites with African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians. Religion is a further case in point. Republicans direct their appeal to Christian voters, while Democrats need to pull together a whole host of different faiths as well as atheists, agnostics and secularists.  Regional variation poses a much greater challenge for Democrats. An example in the current election is the significant loss of support for Biden among Hispanics in Miami-Dade County in Florida. Trump's accusations about Biden’s supposed radicalism and socialism seem to have resonated there, bearing reminders of countries that Cuban and Venezuelan immigrants had left behind. Ironically, Trump’s balcony-bestriding antics after his return from hospital were an echo of authoritarian leaders in Latin America.  There is a particular problem in some Senate races. States with low populations enjoy two representatives regardless of the relative paucity of people who live there. This becomes an issue as such states tend to be overwhelmingly white, more rural, less educated than average and more conservative. Quite apart from a systemic "racism by proxy", caused by effectively privileging the views of white voters in the composition of the Senate, this complicates the effectiveness of national messaging by Democrats in a way that is not the case for Republicans.  These are general patterns, but a major electoral variable was the coronavirus crisis, unique to this moment. Perhaps paradoxically, the president's (mis)handling of it was not entirely bankable for Democrats. Biden treated it as a focal point, but as Brad Heath of Reuters points out, Trump did better this year than in 2016 in counties with high coronavirus death tolls. Some of this comes down to his success in politicising the virus. But the message to ignore the disease in favour of re-opening the economy clearly gained purchase with some voters.  Finally, the decision by the Biden campaign to conduct its efforts largely through media advertising rather than large in-person rallies and knocking on doors may have been significant. Undeterred by coronavirus considerations of this kind, Republicans ran an effective ground campaign. The notable success of Democratic organisation in Arizona and Georgia seems to have relied on a similar approach of very skilful community activity. The electoral tea leaves are never easy to read even after a campaign has concluded. For the moment, it seems that Democrats will have to content themselves with the biggest prize of the White House and ending Trump's presidency. Meanwhile, Republicans will not have concluded that they need to abandon strategies of packing the courts, tax cuts favouring the rich, anti-immigrant policies and a white-voter focus.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

How Covid-19 will increase the problem of antibiotic resistance

Author: Professor Dearbháile Morris, School of Medicine Opinion: the growing use of antibiotics to treat Covid-19 patients will exacerbate the long-term problem of antibiotic resistance The Covid-19 pandemic has made us all very aware of the power of microorganisms and the impact these tiny organisms can have on every aspect of our lives. What many people may not realise is that we have been facing the silent pandemic of antibiotic resistance for several years. There is concern that some of the steps being taken to manage patients with Covid-19 will exacerbate the problem of antibiotic resistance. So what is antibiotic resistance? Antibiotics are important drugs that we have been using to treat infection caused by bacteria since the end of the Second World War. Besides being used to treat infection in humans, they are also widely used in veterinary medicine, agriculture and food production. Unfortunately, antibiotic resistant bacteria, often called "superbugs", are appearing and spreading all over the world and some of these superbugs are resistant to almost all of the antibiotics we have. If these superbugs continue to spread, we will no longer be able to treat infection effectively and face the very real threat of going back to a pre-antibiotic era. Without effective antibiotics, we will not be able to safely carry out many of the medical procedures we take for granted today, such as many surgeries and cancer treatments. While we use large amounts of antibiotics in both human and veterinary medicine everyday, it is not always done correctly. When antibiotics are given to a person or an animal, they affect bacteria throughout the body and not just the bacteria that are causing the infection. The more often we expose bacteria to antibiotics, the more likely they are to change and develop ways to survive and become resistant. Worryingly, these resistant bacteria and indeed a large proportion of the antibiotic itself may then be shed into the environment in human and animal faeces. There is emerging concern that antibiotics are being used unnecessarily in the management of patients with Covid-19. The majority of respiratory infections, including Covid-19 are caused by viruses. Taking an antibiotic to treat a viral infection will have no impact on the virus causing the infection, but can lead to antibiotic resistance among the bacteria that live in and on our bodies all of the time. Sometimes people that get a cold or flu can get also get a second infection caused by a bacteria, but this is generally only in a small proportion of cases. There is increasing evidence that antibiotics are being used unnecessarily in the management of patients with Covid-19. Although the actual number of Covid-positive patients with a bacterial infection was very low, reseach has shown that the use of antibiotics was very high. A recent study of several healthcare centres in the US found that 72% of patients received antibiotics even though only only 7% had a bacterial infection. There is major concern that this unnecessary use of antibiotics will lead to increased antibiotic resistance. The problem of antibiotic resistance has been recognised worldwide as one of the greatest threats to human health. It has been estimated that 10 million people per year will die by 2050 due to infections caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria unless we all take action now. Antibiotic resistance not only impacts on human health but has major implications for our animals, food production systems, environment and economy. The One Health concept recognises that the health of humans, the health of animals and the health of our environment are interlinked. Governments around the world are taking a One Health approach to combat antibiotic resistance. The World Health Organisation Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance sets out five key ways to tackle the challenge of antibiotic resistance. The Irish government has adopted this approach and published Ireland's National Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance in October 2017. READ: All you want to know about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance Some of the actions being taken to tackle Covid-19 align with the actions needed to curb the spread of antibiotic resistance. We are all now keenly aware of the importance of infection prevention and control measures. Practices such as proper and frequent hand hygiene will not only help to stop the spread of Covid-19 but will also help to stop the spread of bacterial infections. A reduction in the number of bacterial infections, could lead to a reduction in the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics are fantastic drugs that have changed our lives for the better and it is essential we all work together to safeguard antibiotics for future generations. There is a lot we can all do. We need to make sure that the steps we take to manage Covid-19 do not exacerbate the silent pandemic that is antibiotic resistance.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

You're fired: is Donald Trump set to become a presidential loser?

 Author: Professor Dan Carey, Moore Institute Opinion: after an inept and divisive campaign, the US president may well be rejected by voters tomorrow There is nothing Donald Trump fears more than being labelled a "loser". But after an inept campaign built on the foundation of a wilfully divisive presidency, that is precisely what awaits him. His original plan, to ride to re-election on a tale of economic triumph, collided with Covid-19. The disease also put paid to the planned narrative of renewed American greatness, which is not so easy to reconcile with a record death toll and massive infection levels. The great blame shifter who long eluded the consequences of his actions deserves an ignominious fate. Covid-19 is not his only failing, but it is surely the most significant for his campaign. It would be hard to imagine a scenario that played to so many of Trump’s weaknesses: the lack of experience in managing crises, indifference to suffering, picking fights with state governors and health officials, the relentless impulse to politicise situations, the recourse to magical thinking coupled with a dismissal of the scale of the pandemic, and his own personal carelessness in the White House and resulting infection. Having declared himself a wartime leader early on, Trump quickly gave up the fight. The urge to restart the economy was essentially self-serving, as was the pretended care for reopening schools (he needed parents back at work to sustain economic recovery). His imperial presidency has fittingly concluded by gaining a crown: the coronavirus itself. There are those who continue to follow Trump’s lead, including a number of red state governors. But the country seems to have come to the view that competence matters. There has to be some attempt to engage with scientific advice and public health officials - and some capacity to empathise with the plight of others. For the first time in his presidency, Trump has lost control of the talking points and failed to exploit the public mood. His response to protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in late May represents a case in point. He fashioned himself as the "law and order president", presumably wishing for a national conflagration on the scale of 1968, but his stirring up of racist attitudes and manufactured Antifa accusations have only worked with a minority of voters. The decision to showcase Patricia and Mark McCloskey at the Republican National Convention – the St. Louis couple who brandished weapons at peaceful protesters outside their mansion – was a grotesque attempt to promote a siege mentality among suburbanites (the McCloskeys have since been indicted on weapons charges and tampering with evidence). The electorate has had to square Trump’s law enforcement posturing with a president who avoided paying tax for years on end, surrounded himself with numerous advisors who have since been convicted and handed out pardons to a host of reprehensible figures. He is also a president who endorsed the behaviour of armed Michigan protesters, while telling white nationalist Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by". At the same time, Trump’s attempts to drag down his opponent, Joe Biden, have proved largely ineffective, in contrast with the successful memes and mockery devised against Hillary Clinton four years ago. References to "sleepy Joe" and insinuations about Biden’s age-related mental acuity have not paid off. Routine verbal abuse of Biden for mask wearing and adhering to social-distance guidelines backfired when Trump repeated it in the first debate just days before contracting to the disease. For his part, Biden has shown sound political instincts of the kind that Hillary Clinton lacked. His language has had more resonance, including his responses to a hectoring Trump during the first debate ("Shut up, man" and "Keep yapping"). Trump successfully cultivated double standards in 2016 (such as accusing Clinton of corruption even as he refused to disclose his tax returns), but the same ploy has not worked this time around. Despite his and his family’s self-dealing, Trump pressed ahead with efforts to tarnish Biden with his son Hunter's activities in Ukraine, but the main outcome was Trump's impeachment. The recent attempt to shift the focus to China, with (false) assertions that Biden accepted money from China resulting from his son’s business ventures, hit the buffers with the revelation that Trump has kept a bank account in that country and paid more taxes there than in the US in recent years. While none of this matters to his base, Trump has proved unwilling or unable to appeal beyond it. His obsession with basking in unquestioning adoration makes him turn again and again to braying fans, although the patented rallies had to be reluctantly curtailed. He had the opportunity to carve out a very different presidency, one freed of a number of ideological constraints. Plans for a national infrastructure redevelopment had promise but dissolved into nothing. His achievements consist mainly of a massive tax give away to the rich and corporations, and ramming through vast numbers of judicial appointments, crowned by three positions on the Supreme Court, really the work of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. His promises on repealing Obamacare and building a border wall with Mexico (let alone getting them to pay for it) proved meaningless. In the absence of a record of substance to run on and deprived of the economic "trump card", the president has abandoned the effort to articulate plans for a second term and expects to be rewarded simply for being who he is. Confronted by the prospect of defeat, he can only insist, without evidence, that it will constitute the most corrupt election in US history if he loses. He can only hope that voter suppression and intimidation, joined by legal maneuvering with the aid of a conservative-dominated Supreme Court, will do the trick. At his inauguration in January 2017, Trump pledged what he called "an oath of allegiance to all Americans". Referring to the disenfranchised in his address, he said "we are one nation – and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny." Hollower words were never spoken. The same speech contained a famous line about "American carnage", but it turns out he was engaged in prophesy. The real carnage has been the Trump presidency itself. On November 3rd, the country has the opportunity to repudiate it.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Why we turned Ireland's black and white past into colour

Authors: Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley, History, and Professor John Breslin, Engineering and Informatics Opinion: 'People in this period lived their lives in colour and it is important to try and view it in this way' The Old Ireland in Colour project began in 2019 as an Instagram account when John Breslin, a professor from NUI Galway, developed an interest in historic photo colourisation, enhancement, and restoration. He began working with DeOldify a programme that had been developed by Jason Antic and later Dana Kelley. In early 2020, Sarah-Anne Buckley, a lecturer in History in NUI Galway, joined John to create what is now the Old Ireland in Colour book which was published this month by Merrion Press. Why did we do this? One of the questions we have been asked is why - why do this? Part of the reason was to make this history more relatable, not to oversimplify it, but to make it relatable to a wider range of people and interests. Another key point was to spark conversations within homes and schools, between different generations and, hopefully, to encourage more curiosity and more research into modern Irish history. We hope that the book and the project contribute in this way. What's in the book? A partnership between a colouriser and a historian is not new, and we have taken our lead in many ways from the hugely successful The Colour of Time. As Marina Amaral and Dan Jones state in the book, there "are many more admissions that inclusions", yet we have put together what we believe to be an illuminating look at Irish life, Irish people and the dramatic transformation that has occurred over 125 years. In short, the book is a cross section of Ireland's remarkable photographic collections, colourised through consultation with available historical sources. The 173 photographs in the book span the period from just before the Great Famine to the outbreak of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. During this time, the population of the island of Ireland went from just over eight million to a low of four million in the 1950s. In some cases, we have long captions, with others we feel the photograph speaks for itself and we have tried to be very conscious of social class, gender, geography, age and the many factors that formed a life historically. The book is not a history of photography, nor is it a comprehensive history of Ireland. This has been explored by other scholars, such Seán Sexton and Christine Kinealy’s The Irish: A Photohistory: 1840-1940; Ciara Breathnach’s Framing the West: Images of Rural Ireland 1891-1920 and Erika Hanna’s Snapshot Stories: Visuality, Photography and the Social History of Ireland 1922-2000 to name a few. It is reflection of Irish life at home and abroad, a diverse and dramatic glimpse at how it was lived.  The technology we used The technology is critical and has allowed this project and book to exist. DeOldify works by learning what colours should be applied to different textures, shapes, and objects in black and white photographs, but this is in many ways just the beginning of the process. The colouriser then makes manual changes to details such as eye colour, hair colour, uniforms, vehicles, advertisements, all based on historical research and available documentary evidence. For example, we know that Violet Gibson, or the Irishwoman who shot Mussolini, as Siobhan Lynam described her in her excellent documentary, had blueish eyes and white hair from her police report. The Ellis Island records have given us a range of physical descriptions, particularly from well-known figures like Muriel Murphy MacSwiney and Constance Markievicz. Prison records lead us to the details of the Catalpa Six, while Peig Sayers' eye colour was told to us by the folklore collector Kenneth Jackson. While it is often easier to find the eye colour for public figures, family members have provided these details also, like the Murphy family who gave us the correct eye colour for Theobald Wolfe Tone Fitzgerald, or academics like Dr Aoife Granville who assisted us in identifying the smiling faces of the cover image.  'People in this period lived their lives in colour' Throughout the book, the public and the private are intertwined, with sections on the Irish Revolution, Society and Culture, Women and Children, the Irish Abroad and Scenic Ireland. We are extremely grateful to all the collections we have been given access to - particularly the National Library of Ireland, the National Folklore Collection, the Library of Congress and the Getty Museum - and to images by photographers like Robert Welch, Elinor Wiltshire, Colman Doyle, Fergus O'Connor and Mary Alice Young, to name a few. We also hope the book draws attention to existing collections, like the Lawrence Collection, the Poole Collection and the Robert Welch Collection. These are incredibly important historical sources, but just as we do today, people in this period lived their lives in colour and we believe it is important to try and view it in this way. We acknowledge fully the ethical concerns that arise from altering these primary documents, and hope they lead the reader to the original source.  It is always the case that new details can come to light post-colourisation and we have updated photographs over the past year and will continue to do so. For us, this is a conversation between the project and those following it. As a scientist and historian, we skirt two different worlds, but we believe that these images and captions together offer an illuminating look at Irish life, Irish people and the dramatic transformation and change that has occurred over the 125 years in this book.     

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

What could Europe look like 30 years from now?

Author: Dr Marie Mahon, Geography, Archaeology & Irish Studies, and Matt Finch, University of Southern Queensland Analysis: a new project is using scenario planning to look at various futures which could await Europe and the EU  This year has given us a clear reminder of how easily events can surprise us. Even though experts had been warning a new pandemic was likely, few of us were prepared for the upsets we've seen in 2020. From the financial crisis in 2008 to 2016 US presidential elections, the Brexit referendum and now Covid-19, we're living through an age of uncertainty. Predictions fail to come true and forecasts break down. All too often we simply don't know what's coming next or how to prepare for it. People like to talk about using data to support decisions, but you can't gather data from the future, so they're also expressing faith in a predictive model. If that model has blind spots, the future can take you by surprise. As the economist Thomas Schelling put it, "one thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him." Schelling worked in foreign policy in the years after the Second World War where he tried to understand the unprecedented possibility of nuclear war. One tool developed to deal with this challenge was scenario planning - a way of telling stories about the future to test our assumptions and find our blindspots. Scenario planners knew they couldn't make strategic decisions based on examples from the past, so they devised examples from the future. These weren't predictions, expected to come true; the aim was to find futures which stretched and challenged our sense of what was possible. Scenario planning became increasingly popular with big government and big business during the 20th century and is now widely used by policymakers and institutions trying to spot futures that regular forecasts might have missed.  At the IMAJINE project, researchers study regional equality across the European Union. In principle, the EU promises citizens equal rights and opportunities. We're interested in whether different places in Europe are treated fairly: is your ability to enjoy those rights and opportunities affected by where you live and work?  Our researchers are investigating regional equality in the past and present, but we also wanted to look ahead to how things might change. To do this, and find any blindspots in the way we currently understand inequality, we're building scenarios for Europe thirty years from now. They're based on key factors like how well EU member states and their regions pull together,  whether Europeans prioritise wellbeing over economic prosperity in years to come, and whether the Union's human resource base remains strong enough to achieve those goals.  Under our first scenario, the EU achieves economic equality across all its regions. Next-generation manufacturing technology helps the Union to thrive, and a prosperous Europe expands to include Turkey, the Ukraine, and even Belarus. However, this creates tensions and sporadic military conflict on its eastern border. The rise of automation also means fewer low-skilled migrant workers are needed, and "Fortress Europe" becomes increasingly aggressive in fending off climate refugees. In our second scenario, ongoing pandemics and climate change drive people away from cities and coasts to rural regions. A new world order emerges, focused on sustainability and resilience. Businesses and individuals are given ratings based on sustainable development goals. These determine access to contracts and opportunities for advancement. Life is hard, but people celebrate their sense of community. A new humanitarianism shapes Europe's values.  A third future explores a world where digital technology reshapes the economy and our ideas of citizenship. When people work with colleagues around the globe using next-generation communications technology, communities and businesses might no longer be defined by physical distance. You're as likely to collaborate with people in Shenzhen, Melbourne, or Mexico City as colleagues in Dublin or Galway, and corporations have as much clout as nations. If citizenship becomes digital too, then its rights and privileges might become things you can split up, share, or trade - loaning your healthcare or residence rights to someone elsewhere in the world. The last scenario involves a huge cultural break-up across Europe, with people unable to agree on basic values. Existing institutions are unable to command consensus and there is widespread collapse in public trust.  Different regions embrace wildly varied notions of identity, social value and human wellbeing.  In some regions, people become increasingly strict about traditional values. Others are highly progressive; they treat animals as equals and have granted special status to rivers, mountains, and even digital devices.  This fragmentation has created opportunities for degrowth and a "back to nature" pastoralism, but also huge spatial inequalities and diminishing solidarity. You can read the initial IMAJINE "scenario sketches" here. From now until 2021, we'll be exploring each scenario in greater depth. We'll also relate these future visions back to the choices Europe faces in the present. We'll look at current trends and signs of change highlighted by these futures, and help decisionmakers think about what it would mean to inhabit worlds so different from our own; in particular, how perspectives on equality, prosperity and solidarity would become framed. The IMAJINE project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme 

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Who monitors the US presidential election?

Author: Professor Ray Murphy (Irish Centre for Human Rights Analysis: aside from the usual national observers and oversight bodies, the US has also invited an international body to observe the upcoming election Despite civil war, world wars, and natural disasters, the US has successfully run presidential elections since 1788. At the same time, President Donald Trump's angry insistence at the end of the first presidential debate with Joe Biden, that there was no way the presidential election could be conducted without fraud, constituted an unprecedented attack by a sitting president on the US electoral system.  A 2017 Brennan Center for Justice Review found that voter fraud is very rare in the US. Furthermore, a Trump-created commission was disbanded in 2018 after it found no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Yet Republicans and Trump persist in promoting the idea that fraud is widespread. Recently, Channel 4 News found evidence of efforts by the Trump campaign in 2016 to dissuade African Americans from voting. This form of voter suppression is a major concern for Democrats. According to Time magazine's Vera Bergengruen and Lissandra Villa, targeted misinformation campaigns have proved effective. This raises the question of how US elections are monitored and by whom. In order to hold free and fair elections, countries often seek international assistance to ensure compliance with international standards.  The right to participate in government is proclaimed and guaranteed by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Many will be surprised to learn that the US has invited the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to observe the upcoming elections. This is in addition to the usual national observers and oversight bodies such as the Election Assistance Commission, a bipartisan federal agency established for the purpose of maintaining election integrity but regarded as ineffective. Election observation is a key aspect of the work the OSCE does to promote human rights, democracy, and rule of law across Europe, Central Asia, and North America. Its comprehensive security concept, based on the 1975 Helsinki Act, considers the human dimension of security (protection and promotion of human rights, democracy and rule of law), to be critical for the maintenance of peace and stability. An election in itself does not constitute democracy. Free and fair elections require respect for the rights to freedom of opinion, expression and association, along with peaceful assembly and freedom from fear and intimidation. All of these rights must be open to equal enjoyment without distinction. Following an invitation to observe the US elections and based on an earlier ‘needs assessment mission’, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has deployed a limited election observation mission for these elections. The OSCE previously observed nine elections in the US, most recently the mid-term elections in November 2018. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is also planning to deploy an observer delegation. International observers will closely follow the fundamental components of the elections, including the legal framework, election administration (voter registration, identification, alternative voting mechanisms, and measures to ensure secrecy of the vote), constituency delimitation, new voting technologies, the campaign environment, campaign finance and coverage by the media. While mission members will visit a limited number of polling stations on election day, observers will not conduct a systematic observation of voting, counting or tabulation of results. The day after the elections, the preliminary findings and conclusions will be presented at a press conference. A final report summing up the observation and making recommendations for improvements will be published approximately two months after the end of the election process. US elections present many challenges, some associated with their highly decentralised nature and the different rules that apply in different states. Mail or absentee ballots are proving especially controversial. Originally introduced to facilitate soldiers voting during wartime, the privilege was gradually expanded. In 1978, California became the first state to allow voters to apply for an absentee ballot without having to provide an excuse. It is noteworthy that a study conducted by Stanford University’s Democracy and Polarization Lab  analysed data in three states that permit universal voting by mail (California, Utah, and Washington), and did not find any evidence to support the current US president's claim that vote-by-mail advantaged one political party over another. All elections have weaknesses, but social media has provided a new platform for foreign interference. Even if this interference proves ineffective, it has the potential to undermine the legitimacy of the process and outcome. Russian propagandists are especially adept at exploiting such platforms. This time around, instead of creating their own falsehoods, they are primarily amplifying Trump's lies. In the US, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) coordinate with federal, state, and local election partners to safeguard US voting processes and maintain the integrity of elections. It is noteworthy that both organizations have urged the American public to critically evaluate their information sources, and to seek out reliable and verifiable information. The FBI is responsible for investigating foreign interference and malicious cyber activity targeting the US election infrastructure. CISA, on the other hand, is responsible for protecting critical infrastructure from physical and cyber threats. Both agencies have highlighted the potential threat posed by attempts to spread disinformation regarding cyberattacks on US voter registration databases or voting systems. Most worryingly, they have found evidence of efforts to spread false information through various online platforms in order to discredit the electoral process. However, both agencies have found no information suggesting any cyberattack on US election infrastructure that has compromised the integrity of the election process. This is in stark contrast to the allegations being made by Trump which neither he nor any of his officials have provided evidence to substantiate. At the same time, he has been silent on the flaw in the Electoral College process that has led the loser of the popular vote to win the White House, as this clearly worked to his advantage in 2016. In fact, the president is the most serious threat to the electoral process. Decisions such as that taken in Ohio and Texas to reduce postal vote drop-off locations and threats by Trump supporters to closely monitor voting in ways that may intimidate other voters will undoubtedly harm the integrity of the elections. However, Trump has consistently prevaricated on whether he will accept the outcome. Vice President Mike Pence refused to answer a direct question about the peaceful transfer of power during the Vice Presidential debate. Trump is stoking fears created by the misinformation campaign conducted by those that want to disrupt and delegitimise the whole process, irrespective of the result. The level of polarization among voters is such that a peaceful transfer of power is now something that cannot be guaranteed.

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

The most famous graffiti in the history of maths

Author: Professor Michel Destrade, School of Mathematics, Statistics and Applied Mathematics, NUI Galway and Colm Mulcahy, Spelman College Report: it's 177 years since mathematician William Rowan Hamilton invented quaternions during a stroll across a Dublin bridge It’s 177 years since William Rowan Hamilton really put Ireland on the maths map by inventing quaternions. This is a four-dimensional number system with a highly usual property as the order in which two quaternions are multiplied makes a big difference. We all know that two times three is the same as three times two, but quaternions do not follow this "commutative" rule.  This breakthrough came to Hamilton on October 16th 1843, as he walked with his wife Helen from their home at Dunsink Observatory along the Royal Canal towards a meeting at the Royal Irish Academy which was then on Grafton Street. Famously, he spontaneously carved the corresponding key new equations, which he’d been struggling for some time to come up with, on Broom Bridge in Cabra. Although no trace of his original act of minor vandalism remains, a plaque commemorating his flash of insight has been there since 1958. It was unveiled by then Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, himself a lifelong fan of quaternions. The bridge attracts celebrities all year around, including Fields and Nobel winners and government ministers, especially for the annual Hamilton Walk.  The Hamilton walk was started 28 years ago by Professor Tony O’Farrell, and has been spearheaded in recent years by his colleague at NUI Maynooth, Dr Fiacre Ó Cairbre. This event, retracing Hamilton’s steps each year, ends with a celebration at Broom Bridge and has been running since 1990. Some refer to it as Broomsday, as it comes exactly four months after Bloomsday. O’Farrell and Ó Cairbre received the 2018 Maths Week Ireland Award for Raising Public Awareness of Mathematics in recognition of their vision and hard work in promoting what is now an iconic international mathematical heritage tourist destination. There are not many spots in the world that can be identified with a spectacular mathematical breakthrough at a specific location and on a particular date! So what was the big deal about quaternions back in 1843? It was that for any two quaternions x and y, x times y and y times x are not the same. Today we say that "x and y do not commute". Nothing like that had been seen before for numbers. Matrix multiplication, a different kind of generalisation of number multiplication, is also non-commutative, but that wasn’t conceived for several more decades after Hamilton's breakthrough. Order makes a difference in a lot of things in life: from putting on your socks and shoes (try putting on the shoes before the socks and see how that works out), to using a €10 off coupon as well as a 50 percent off one (try using those in both possible orders for a €200 purchase). However, the order in which two numbers are multiplied, such as 12 times seven versus seven times 12 should make no difference. In the end, it all depends on what kind of numbers you are using. Real numbers commute, meaning that x times y is the same as y times x for whole numbers, fractions, and numbers with decimals which don’t repeat (like the square root of 2, or pi, the area of a circle of radius 1).  By the 1840s, mathematicians were feeling more comfortable with the broader concept of complex numbers, numbers of the form a + bi where a and b are real numbers and i is a magic new kind of number (sometimes unfortunately referred to as "imaginary") with the extraordinary property that its square is -1 (a surprise since squares of real numbers are positive). Complex numbers, like negative numbers and fractions before them, were initially viewed with suspicion, but gained acceptance as they turned out to be very useful in solving real-world problems and they are used today in many applications in physics and electrical engineering. They can be added and multiplied, just like for numbers in the earlier more conventional number systems, and the order in which either operation is done also makes no difference. Complex numbers are two-dimensional in a sense and what Hamilton first tried to do was extend this idea into 3-dimensional space. He was motivated by geometry and physics, but he failed because it turned out that it’s just not possible. However, adding one more dimension opens up a whole new vista. There is a 4-dimensional world of numbers in which we can add and multiply, and it’s an extension of complex numbers.  What Hamilton also showed was that this new concept could be applied to ordinary 3-D geometry, especially the study of rotations. While many of the other quaternions applications he came up with were in time superseded by the vector calculus developed at the end of the 1800s by J. Willard Gibbs and Oliver Heaviside, quaternions have returned to the limelight in the past half-century in ways that would have been unimaginable to their creator. A recent Irish Times piece recounted the use of quaternions in solving a "gimbal lock" problem on the Apollo 11 mission, as well as an application to electric toothbrushes. Most importantly, while rotations in 3-D for computer animations have long been represented by matrix multiplication, it turns out that "unit" (length 1) quaternions work too. They are much more efficient when vast numbers of calculations need to be done speedily.   The original 1996 video game Lara Croft: Tomb Raider used quaternions to deliver convincingly smooth 3-D rotations. Pixar Animation Studios uses quaternions too. "We use them in our Inverse Kinematics and Skeleton code, for example", explained software engineer George ElKoura . "We also use them in camera manipulations". The quirky multiplication can also be explored in a purely fun context via a new "Hamilternion" card game.  Hamilton’s quaternions provide a splendid example of how a seemingly abstract mathematical oddity forged from intense human curiosity and determination later led to powerful applications in the digital age.  

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

What should the Government do to combat Covid fatigue?

Author: Dr Hannah Durand, School of Psychology Analysis: people need to see clear evidence that their sacrifices are making a difference in order to stick to ongoing restrictions rather than fines or arrests Last Sunday night, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) sent a letter to Government which recommended that all counties in Ireland be upgraded to Level 5 of the Resilience and Recovery 2020 – 2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19 plan. Instead, the Government opted to place all counties under Level 3 restrictions and to implement a new campaign of enforcement with additional funding provided to the Garda. But is additional enforcement of Level 3 restrictions the key to both avoiding another lockdown and flattening the curve? Data from the International COVID-19 Awareness and Responses Evaluation (iCARE) study suggests probably not. This study is an online survey of attitudes, concerns and behavioural responses to the pandemic. It's led by the Montreal Behavioural Medicine Centre in collaboration with more than 150 researchers from 40 countries, including Ireland, and has received more than 65,000 responses from over 140 countries to date. Findings from the survey are already shedding light on which approaches may be more (or less) effective for promoting public adherence. When asked which measures were most likely to convince them to adhere to preventive measures implemented to slow the spread of Covid-19, people consistently said that threats of fines, arrest, and quarantine are least likely to persuade them to practice self-isolation or social distancing. This has crucial implications for government policy and communications strategies. Not only are these penalties not likely to be effective at changing behaviour, they may have unintended consequences. For example, imposing fines may exacerbate  existing inequalities and escalate social disorder and conflict. They may even reduce adherence, particularly if penalties are perceived as being unfair. So, if strict enforcement and penalties are not the answer, what can we do to ensure public adherence to preventive measures? Behavioural science, specifically operant conditioning, may hold the key. This is a process where the strength of a behaviour is modified by reinforcement or punishment. To reinforce a behaviour makes it more likely to occur again, but to punish a behaviour makes that behaviour less likely to be repeated. Any behaviourist will tell you that it is far more effective to reinforce a behaviour you want to see more of, than to punish a behaviour you want to decrease. Not only is reinforcing desired behaviours more effective, it also works much faster. Data from the iCARE study shows high levels of adherence to Covid-19 prevention measures across the board. Between 84 to 90% of people report adhering to physical distancing, avoiding large gatherings, maintaining good hand hygiene and practicing good coughing etiquette most of the time. With public adherence already at such a high level, it appears that efforts to maintain these behaviours through reinforcement may have the greatest impact. But how do we reinforce these behaviours? This is an important question, particularly given that many people may now be experiencing Covid-19 fatigue following six months of restrictions. Data from the study suggests that people are adhering less strictly to physical distancing measures now than they were in March. Respondents also reported that receiving information about how Covid-19 is spread, as well as feedback on how their behaviour is slowing the spread of the disease and saving lives were most likely to promote adherence. People need to see evidence that their sacrifices are making a difference in order to stay motivated to adhere to restrictions over the coming weeks and months. One way of ensuring information about how Covid-19 is spread is understood is by providing case examples of transmission in the community. Data visualisations and narratives help people to see just how easily this virus can be transmitted through close and casual contacts in a way that just reporting numbers is unlikely to achieve. It is essential, though, that the flipside of this is also clearly communicated – that our actions can and will slow the spread and save lives. READ: Will fines make people comply with Covid-19 restrictions? Physical distancing, hand hygiene, and wearing a face covering are the most powerful tools we have in the fight against Covid-19, and those tools are in our hands. Government communications need to be clear, and to reflect the continued efforts the vast majority of Irish people are making to reduce Covid-19 transmission to promote continued adherence. Future strategies must foster trust and provide support to those who face systemic barriers to physical distancing to empower all of us to keep our distance, keep washing hands, keeping wearing masks and keep saving lives. The iCARE study is still ongoing. To take part and help to inform future government communications around the pandemic, visit the Montreal Behavioural Medicine Centre website.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

'The most dysfunctional in history': remembering Ireland's GUBU government

Author: Dr Séan Ó Duibhir, History and the Centre for Adult Learning and Professional Development Analysis: the current Government may have had problems, but they've a long way to go to emulate Charles Haughey's 'misbegotten' 1982 administration For many, the historic agreement of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to form an administration in June of this year signalled a major shift in the political dynamic we have known since the late 1920s. Together with the Green Party, the participation of the two Civil War rivals had the potential to revitalise the concept of centrist politics in this state. Although it had its detractors from the outset, most seasoned political commentators wished the Coalition well. While many have become highly critical of career politicians in recent years, the new Government had the opportunity to demonstrate that pragmatic decision-making practiced by ‘moderate’ leaders could be more attractive than the simplistic solutions often proposed by political organisations on either the hard-Left or far-Right in other countries. But so far, this has not been the case. The first three months of the Government’s tenure has seen a veritable catalogue of mistakes, mixed messages, gaffes and borderline ‘scandals’ from which to choose. The Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, has already appointed three different Ministers for Agriculture due to embarrassing errors of judgment by the first two. Another minister was lambasted on social media for falling asleep in the Dáil, while Ireland lost a powerful and influential EU Commissioner, along with the coveted portfolio he held. Confusion regarding Covid restrictions and the methodology of grading state exam results has cast doubts over governmental competence. A lack of clarity surrounding restrictions on some ‘wet pubs’ prompted a backlash due to the (inaccurate) perception that the authorities would seek records of what individuals had to eat in restaurants. Observers would be forgiven for supposing that this administration is shaping up to be the most dysfunctional in our history. Perhaps it will. But it still has a very high bar to clear before it can come close to surpassing the short-lived GUBU Government of 1982. How Charles Haughey became Taoiseach  Failure to secure a majority in the February 1982 election forced Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey to seek the support of unlikely Dáil allies to ensure his election as Taoiseach. These included independents Neil Blaney, previously forced out of Fianna Fáil due to the Arms Crisis, and Tony Gregory, a socialist activist unlikely to be sympathetic to the business interests that Haughey typically cultivated. Haughey also sought support from the small socialist Sinn Féin–The Workers' Party, which had links to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (this version of ‘Sinn Féin’ should be distinguished from what was then known as ‘Provisional Sinn Féin’, later led by Gerry Adams). From the start, the new administration was in a very precarious position. Keeping these disparate personalities together would require political skill, competent management, and a large amount of luck, all of which proved to be sorely lacking in the next few months. The first scandals A whiff of scandal even preceded this administration's birth, as Haughey’s election agent and close friend, Patrick O'Connor, together with his daughter, were arrested and charged with voting fraud during the general election itself. Although the case against the O’Connors was ultimately dismissed on a technicality, their strong links to Haughey embarrassed the Government. But media speculation and public focus on this case was quickly surpassed by other issues, such as Haughey’s early decision to appoint a Fine Gael TD, Richard Burke, to the EU Commission. Burke’s previous experience as a commissioner spoke to his credentials, but many within Fianna Fáil were shocked, as governments typically gave this 'plum job’ to someone in their own party and not to political opponents. Haughey gambled that Fianna Fáil would win the subsequent Dáil by-election after Burke went to Europe, thus increasing the Government’s majority. The gamble failed, Fine Gael retained the seat with businessman Liam Skelly and the Taoiseach faced grumblings within Cabinet for handing the commissionership to "the Blueshirts". Garda patrol Haughey’s appointment of retired garda, Seán Doherty, to the sensitive Justice portfolio would prove an unfortunate decision for all involved. Already disliked by the anti-Haughey wing of Fianna Fáil, Doherty’s tenure was marked by a plethora of allegations. These included stories of threats to forcibly transfer uncooperative gardaí to unpleasant postings and concerns regarding the use of public funds to erect unnecessary ‘security’ structures at his property. There were claims of a cover-up when a member of his personal security detail allegedly crashed a garda vehicle, and misplaced automatic weapons, after socialising with Doherty. There were also suspicions that some gardaí had colluded with the Royal Ulster Constabulary to prevent a key witness from giving evidence against Doherty’s own brother-in-law during a court case in the Republic. Any of these scandals would be enough to tarnish a government's legacy, but they paled in comparison to the Malcolm MacArthur affair However, such disquiet was minor compared to the shock accompanying later revelations that Doherty ordered the illegal phone-tapping of two journalists, Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold. Ostensibly, this was for "national security" reasons. In truth, Haughey was angered by critical media coverage of his government, and suspected opponents within Fianna Fáil were speaking to the press. He directed Doherty to find the source of the ‘leaks’, which prompted the phone-tapping. The controversy led to Doherty’s public shaming, and the resignations of the Garda Commissioner, Patrick McLoughlin, and the Deputy Commissioner, Joe Ainsworth, in early 1983. When a disgruntled Doherty finally outlined the full complicity of ‘the Boss’ in the affair in 1992, it forced Haughey’s own resignation as Taoiseach. Grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, and unprecedented Any of these scandals would be enough to tarnish a government’s legacy, but they paled in comparison to the Malcolm MacArthur affair. During summer 1982, an unemployed MacArthur was rapidly running out of the money inherited from his father’s estate, and chose to embrace a new career as an armed robber. Though he signally failed in this pursuit, his actions led to the heinous murders of Bridie Gargan, a young nurse in Dublin, and Dónal Dunne, a farming man from the midlands. The Garda were initially unaware of who was responsible, or even that the murders were connected. By mid-August, MacArthur was traced to his hiding place at a friend's flat in Dublin, which also happened to be the home of the then Attorney General, Patrick Connolly. It should be emphasised that at no point prior to MacArthur’s arrest did Connolly realise he was sheltering a double-murderer. However, as embarrassing as this would be for the Government, Connolly's reaction compounded the difficulty. Rather than addressing the matter with detectives when MacArthur was arrested, Connolly departed the following day for his scheduled trip to the United States. The story broke internationally during his flight across the Atlantic, and he was greeted by a barrage of reporters when he landed in New York, all eager for comment on his level of 'involvement’. A hasty return to Ireland and a conclave with Haughey brought the inevitable and Connolly resigned as Attorney General. During a subsequent press conference, the Taoiseach outlined his shock at the affair, describing it at intervals as a "grotesque situation", an "unprecedented situation", a "bizarre happening" and an almost "unbelievable mischance". From these colourful adjectives Haughey’s adversary, Conor Cruise O'Brien, formulated the acronym GUBU, a term now synonymous with that government and a byword for political incompetence. The Government hobbled on until the Dáil’s return in October, but was fatally wounded. The various scandals, allegations and intrigues had disturbed both Tony Gregory and Sinn Féin–The Workers’ Party, but it was Haughey’s acceptance of the need to curtail public spending that proved a step too far for these TDs. They withdrew their support and Haughey’s misbegotten government fell from power in November 1982 after just eight months in office. At the time of writing, there is still plenty of opportunity for Martin’s current Cabinet to beat the GUBU Government’s unenviable record as Ireland’s briefest and most dysfunctional administration.  

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Just what exactly is resilience anyway?

Author: Colm Doody, a PhD candidate in the School of Psychology Opinion: here's a straightforward, jargon-free and simple guide to resilience which shows that it's more than just another buzzword I know what you're thinking: another fluffy buzzword from the world of psychology that’s entered our everyday vocabularies. Your workplace probably promotes it. You've heard it talked about on the radio or podcasts. Worse still, academic types like myself lecture about its importance at every opportunity.  At its simplest, resilience is the ability of an individual to face dynamic, real life problems, stresses, traumas and successfully navigate and overcome these challenges. You need to stop thinking about resilience as something someone has or doesn’t have and start to think about it as something that is dynamic, like a skill. It's something that fluctuates and something you can tangibly develop rather than some vague trait only successful people are blessed with. The very fact that you are reading this article today shows you are resilient. You’ve navigated countless stresses and traumas in your life to get this point, and you are probably in the middle of tackling some right now. Pause for a moment and consider the most recent life obstacle you’ve overcome. How did you do it? Hold that thought, we are going to come back to it. I am a firm believer that resilience is more akin to skill, something that can be cultivated and developed. However, it’s never that simple. Recall day one of football training for the under 8s down at the community pitch. You are full of enthusiasm as you step out onto the field; You dream of Croke Park and lifting Sam Maguire in front of a cheering crowd. But it was never going to be a level playing field. Despite the fact that none of the children having ever played football, some are naturally more talented than others and may well get to Croker on All Ireland final day. Resilience is a bit like day one of football training. Just like athletic ability, resilience level at baseline varies between person to person. Through genetics or environmental influences, there is going to be variation between people. Sticking with the sports analogy, think now about someone you know who had the raw talent to be successful, but never worked to realise their full potential. Compare them to the average footballer. They probably play in an unglamorous position like corner back, turn up to training every week and work hard. Week after week, they line out on the pitch, put in their shift, and enjoy long and successful sporting careers. Who would you rather be? The unfilled could-have-been or the dark horse still driving on at the end? Most of us are the corner back when it comes to resilience. We are born with an average baseline level and develop a dynamic toolbox of mechanisms and skills that make us resilient through overcoming the countless challenges that life throws at us.  Let's discuss the idea of the resilience as a toolbox. Remember above I asked you to think about a recent challenge that you faced. What "tools" did you use to overcome it? Emergency services and military organisations around the world have driven this toolbox conceptualisation of resilience. The US Army has developed the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness programme. This takes a multimodal approach to building resilience across emotional, physical, family, spiritual and social domains. Just like a plumber fixing a leak, a hammer might not be the right tool for the job. The same is true for our own personal resilience. We must be flexible in the mechanisms we employ to overcome challenges as effectively as possible. One situation may require us to grit our teeth and plough through, while another may rely on us tapping into our family network or a work team for support. Think about your own resilience toolbox, what tools have you got in there that are top of the range? Maybe you are an excellent people person and can easily ask for help from others when you are struggling; Social and interpersonal resilience is one of your tools. Or you are someone dealing with chronic pain but still manages to go about their life as best they can. Hardiness is a weapon in your arsenal. I’m going to let you in on a trade secret and that's Combat Tactical Breathing. Used by military and emergency professionals ranging from advanced paramedics to elite special forces operators, it's a simple practice we can easily learn and use. According to the School of Medicine at the University of South Carolina, tactical breathing allows an individual to regain focus, take control and manage acute stress. Here’s how you do it: Breathe in counting 1, 2, 3, 4 (in your head) Stop and hold your breath counting 1, 2, 3, 4. Exhale counting 1, 2, 3, 4 and finally, hold your breath counting 1, 2, 3, 4. It's known as box breathing (visualize building a square where every 4 second breathing repetition is equal to a side of the square). Do this for about 5 "squares" the next time you feel overwhelmed. Breath work is importance for regulating stress reaction system in the brain, and for ensuring optimal heart performance. Do not underestimate its power. I hope this has gone a small way to reclaiming resilience for the average person and breaking down the misconception that it is a mystical, elusive trait only for the lucky few. Fnal words: don't be afraid to be a corner back, take a breath and never ever forget your toolbox!  

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Game of cones: how the red squirrel is making a big comeback

To listen to the RTÉ Brainstorm podcast click here Author: Dr Colin Lawton, School of Natural Sciences Analysis: Ireland's native red squirrel is enjoying a reversal of fortunes in the battle with the grey squirrel thanks to the pine marten The mammal fauna found in Ireland has changed frequently over several centuries. New species have been introduced by humans while native animals have occasionally disappeared. At the turn of the 21st century, things did not look good for the native red squirrel. Their numbers had decreased considerably, and a large gap in their distribution had opened up in the midlands of Ireland. The loss of the red squirrel was caused by the invasive grey squirrel, which had been introduced in 1911 and had spread to cover the eastern half of the island. The grey squirrel had outcompeted the red squirrel for their favourite foods and carried a disease, squirrel pox virus, that was fatal to the native species. The demise of the red squirrel in Ireland seemed inevitable, but a series of surveys of the squirrel species has shown an unexpected reversal of fortunes. The grey squirrels had disappeared from certain midland counties in the surveys of 2007 and 2012, showing that the invasive species was not having everything its own way.  Research conducted by NUI Galway linked the regional loss of grey squirrels to another native species, the pine marten. Large relatives of the stoat, pine martens are one of the few predators that, like squirrels, can climb trees. The pine marten has been on the island of Ireland for thousands of years, but had suffered a huge decline themselves through hunting and habitat loss. They were considered very rare and elusive and were mostly confined to small pockets of animals in the west of Ireland. The pine marten has made a recovery since becoming protected by the Wildlife Act of 1976, but it has taken a long time for this slow breeding animal to repopulate previous territory. The return of this native predator has impacted the alien grey squirrel, and indirectly helped the native red. The new study shows a very strong negative correlation between grey squirrels and pine martens. Grey squirrels disappeared from woodlands where pine martens had returned in big numbers across the midlands of Ireland. The red squirrel seemed unaffected by the presence of the pine marten, and had actually returned to some woodlands after being absent for several years. Initially, the reason for this decline in grey squirrel numbers but not red squirrels was not completely clear. Follow-up studies in Scotland and Northern Ireland suggested the grey squirrel shows a "predator naivety" when it comes to the pine marten. There are no similar predators in their native range in America, and feeding trials showed the grey squirrels did not display predator avoidance behaviours in the presence of pine martens. Red squirrels, who have evolved alongside pine martens in Ireland, showed a tendency to avoid the carnivorous animal. Given that changes are still continuing in this on-going saga, a new citizen science survey, the All-Ireland Squirrel and Pine Marten survey, was conducted during 2019, to update the distribution maps and status of the three species in Ireland. The initiative was a collaboration between researchers in NUI Galway with colleagues in Ulster Wildlife and Vincent Wildlife Trust, and funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The survey team used social media to encourage the general public to report their sightings of the three animals using the online databases hosted by National Biodiversity Data Centre and the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording. Citizen science is now an established means of gathering information, by pooling the knowledge of the public on their local wildlife, to reach across the whole country and every potential habitat. The use of mobile phone cameras to verify sightings, along with other tested validation methods, allows the researchers to gain a much broader picture than would be possible within a small team. Updates on the surveys through the social media sites maintained public interest and allowed the researchers to feedback results to the citizen scientists. Even given the reversal of fortunes for squirrels detected in previous surveys, the results of the 2019 survey were amazing. The grey squirrel was recorded in 37.8% fewer 10x10 km squares than in the 2012 survey, and is now absent from an area covering roughly nine counties in the midlands where they had been found back in the 1990s. Since 2012, they have disappeared from Fermanagh, Monaghan and parts of Meath and Kildare. Red squirrel sightings have increased considerably, and they have returned to areas vacated by the grey squirrels. The number of sightings of pine marten was very high, with signs that its core range has expanded from the west and midlands to include parts of Northern Ireland and Co Wicklow. Again, it is in the areas where the pine marten has increased most significantly that the grey squirrel has disappeared. The grey squirrel continues to thrive in some areas, in particular urban regions around Belfast and Dublin. As a result of the return of the red squirrel, their status has been improved from Near Threatened to Least Concern in the latest Ireland Red List for Terrestrial Mammals. This is undoubtedly good news, but we must stay diligent in observing these animals into the future to make sure the tide does not turn once again.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

University challenge: why higher education faces some tough questions

Author: John Cox, James Hardiman Library Opinion: higher education had a plethora of challenges before the arrival of Covid-19, but the situation is even harder now While the reopening of schools has been the focus of attention recently in Ireland, higher education is also under major pressure at the start of a new academic year. As a fresh intake of students embarks on a new journey, third level institutions here and abroad are enduring a bumpy ride in the face of four major challenges: funding shortages; expectations; rising pressures and the impact of Covid-19. Funding shortages - where's the money? The role of the State in funding higher education varies greatly. A 2017 European Commission report found that 11 of 42 systems levied no fees at all for first time undergraduates, with some countries also offering grants and other supports. At the opposite extreme, notably in the United States, Australia and England, the state has minimised its funding role, leaving higher education institutions to compete in an open market. Rising tuition fees, typically £9,000 per year in England and significantly higher at US private universities, have filled the gap. Payment is often via loans, with over 40% of students owing more than $20,000 on graduation in 2017. Even in countries where state funding is the primary model, the 2008 recession led to reductions in government support, reported at a third for Ireland, 21% for Spain, and 11% for France between 2008 and 2016. Countries have worked hard to attract international students who pay higher fees. Students from abroad constitute more than a fifth of the total higher education population in Australia and the UK and over a tenth in Ireland, but the coronavirus crisis has made revenue from this group very uncertain. Ireland is badly positioned regarding higher education funding and is experiencing the worst of all worlds. Students are paying the second highest undergraduate fees in Europe, while State funding has fallen well below demand. The Irish Universities Association (IUA) has campaigned to point out serious deficits, including the halving of state funding per student between 2008 and 2017, below-average percentage of GDP expenditure and outdated facilities and equipment. Students have marched and scientists have written to highlight the need for investment. Successive governments have nevertheless failed to grasp the nettle and commit to a sustainable funding model from the options presented in the Cassells Report in 2016. Great expectations - what's higher education for? More is expected of higher education institutions than ever before. Student numbers have risen dramatically in recent decades, due to a combination of demographic factors, higher social aspirations and government policies to widen participation. Raewyn Connell in The Good University notes that the percentage of the relevant age group participating in higher education globally more than trebled between 1970 and 2015, rising from 10% to 36%, with some countries recording figures higher than 50%. Accommodating this growth in a difficult funding climate is a major ongoing challenge. This is especially true for Ireland which the IUA highlights as the most highly educated state in the EU, with the overall student population expected to rise by 40,000 by 2030. This will supplement a growth of 50% in university enrolments since 2000. The student body is not just larger but also more diverse in terms of age, socioeconomic background, part-time participation and family responsibilities. A more diverse mix of students brings a wider range of expectations around transitional supports, flexible routes to academic qualifications and online learning opportunities. As tuition fees have risen so have the expectations of students from all backgrounds. A more consumerist view is evident among students. Choice of where to study is informed by research on institutional track record and, especially for those taking out loans, perceived value for money which is a key measure in the annual UK Student Academic Experience Survey. Future employability is a strong focus for students in a competitive and rapidly evolving job market in which it has been estimated that 65% of children starting primary school in 2018 will take on jobs not yet in existence. The onus is on higher education institutions to ensure dynamically evolving, relevant programmes and qualifications. Rising pressures - accountability and competition Accountability and competition are sources of increasing pressure for higher education institutions. Governments may have scaled back their funding, but many have intensified their emphasis on monitoring performance. This may focus on measuring the quality and impact of research and teaching, exemplified in the UK by the Research Excellence Framework and the Teaching Excellence Framework. For Ireland, each institution agrees a Performance Compact with the Higher Education Authority (HEA), including annual targets and a provision that "HEA may, based on material assessed and underpinning metrics/indicators withhold up to 3-5% of funding.". Public scrutiny of higher education has also increased. Gender equality is an area of particular focus and one where much remains to be done. The European Commission reported in 2017 that women were heads of only 22% of Europe's higher education institutions and in 2016 held only 24% of Grade A academic positions. The University of Limerick appointed Ireland’s first female university president in July 2020. Higher education institutions operate in a highly competitive environment, intensified by the need to win funding from a diversity of sources due to declining state support. Building a strong international reputation is vital to attracting students, staff, donors and research funding. Success is often measured by positioning in the league tables of a range of global ranking systems whose influence has grown despite widely recognised flaws. These include a lack of differentiation between types of institution and limited emphasis on teaching. Irish universities have struggled for position in these rankings in recent years despite some improved placings in 2020. Individuals on campus are feeling the pressure too. Academic staff are expected to publish in highly ranked journals and win research funding to advance their careers and to push their institutions up global ranking lists. Teaching has received less emphasis and reward than research, but has been made more challenging by the coronavirus and, for Ireland, higher staff-student ratios than elsewhere. Job security has become an issue globally as temporary employment of staff has grown. This and other factors prompted President Michael D Higgins to express concerns in 2019 about academic freedom and engagement with pressing world issues above the demands of the marketplace. Administrative staff have experienced the deepest cuts in numbers and budgets since the 2008 recession. Academic libraries, for instance, struggle to support more students while reshaping their role in higher education. Students also face a range of challenges. These include affordability as tuition fees have risen worldwide, including in Ireland where undergraduate fees are €3,000 a year. Another major worry is the increase in mental health issues as students encounter many pressures, including transition to college, costs, loan debt, examination stress and a competitive job market. Student suicides have hit a record high in the UK, while a 2019 survey by the Union of Students in Ireland found that 38% of students reported experiencing extreme anxiety and 30% reported symptoms of depression. The survey highlighted pressures arising from difficulties with accommodation and the need to take on jobs to pay fees or rent. The word of the year - the Covid impact The coronavirus pandemic has made a difficult operating environment for higher education much tougher. As noted earlier, international students represent a significant source of income, but they will now be less willing or able to travel. The IUA has calculated a loss of revenue of €374 million for Irish universities in the 2020 and 2021 financial years, while one commentator estimates that it will take five years  for international student numbers to return to 2019 levels globally. Moving to primarily online teaching and learning is far from straightforward. Progress had been slower than expected before the pandemic as lecturers grappled with how best to leverage online technologies, often with limited time and familiarity, alongside concerns about their effectiveness for learning. The sudden shift online following campus closures in March has been followed by intensive preparation for a more concerted online offering across most if not all of the 2020/21 academic year. The on-campus experience is a vital element of student life and institutions are challenged with providing this as far but as safely as possible in a highly unpredictable virus situation. The intended proportion of in-person teaching had looked like averaging about a third for Ireland, with variations per course. An escalation in cases has, however, resulted in Government advice that institutions deliver entirely online tuition in the immediate term.  Over 10% of US institutions will teach fully online throughout autumn 2020. High numbers of infections reported soon after reopening at universities in North Carolina and Alabama are worrying, and there are concerns for campus safety. The only certainty seems to be that student life will be very different than before March. Since the world's first university was founded in 859, higher education has shown resilience in the face of many challenges over more than a millennium. It continues to have a huge societal, economic and cultural impact worldwide, and the IUA estimated a university contribution of almost €9 billion to the Irish economy in 2017/18. Demand remains high, with student participation at record levels globally. There are some positive signs of state support too. Financial aid against the coronavirus impact has been welcomed in some countries, including Ireland, where the positive early work of the new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science is encouraging in difficult times.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

We need to talk about Ireland's problem with alcohol

Author: Fiona Martyn, PhD student in the Clinical Neuroimaging Laboratory Opinion: the intersection of culture, age and alcohol is a risk for the future brain health of our country I research the effects of alcohol use on the brain so I watched the gatherings of students in Galway on Monday night with an academic eye. On Tuesday morning, headlines were full of indignation and one local politician called for the army to be deployed. Was that really the answer, to impose martial law on the streets of Galway? No, it was not. We weren't calling for the same response over the summer when the Spanish Arch retained its place as the jewel in the crown of Galway's outdoor drinking culture.  Ireland, we have a problem. We raise our young people in a culture of excessive alcohol use and cry havoc when they follow in our footsteps. We use alcohol as a social lubricant, a bonding tool, a facilitator of celebration and commiseration. In Ireland, we hold the age of 18 in high esteem, the day we can legally consume alcohol, and ignore the fact that on average our first alcoholic drink passes our lips at 15.5 years of age. The Health Research Board has found that we tend to drink alcohol less frequently than our European counterparts, yet at higher amounts when we do. In 2018, 37% of our community reported binge drinking, with 22% of that figure doing so weekly, despite this our knowledge of the impacts of alcohol use on the brain is limited. This intersection of culture, age and alcohol is a risk for the future brain health of our country. Neuroimaging tells us that the brain continues to develop until the age of 25, with the frontal areas of the brain being the last to mature. We also know that the frontal areas of the brain are responsible for what we call 'high order cognitive processes’, which means how we plan, how we stop impulses that will impact us negatively, how we understand and regulate our emotions. It is also this area of the brain that guides how our personalities develop into adulthood. Binge drinking alcohol at the age of 19 is associated with difficulties in how areas of our frontal cortex work together and with a lack of development of impulse control. Binge alcohol use can impact the development of the brain and personality. Rob Whelan at Trinity College Dublin has found that binge alcohol use in adolescence could be predicted by the interaction of multiple factors measured earlier in life. Some of these factors are having a family history of alcohol use, displaying differences in the size of areas in the front of the brain, and differences in personality such as a higher likelihood to seek out novel and rewarding experiences. This suggests that living in a culture that is permissive towards alcohol use, with a drive to seek out new experiences can increase the likelihood alcohol misuse. What about our new students who have been promised a student experience? They have packed up and moved away from home, and are now finding that what they were promised is not what they've got. What do we mean by a student experience? Generally, we mean lectures, tutorials, labs and, of course, the social aspect of university life - and in Ireland socialising comes with alcohol. A small group of students are being vilified for socialising and consuming alcohol. Most of these young people are celebrating Freshers Week in the same manner as every generation before them with the socially acceptable few pints. Unfortunately, a small proportion of the total student population are doing it without social distancing in a pandemic. Decision makers must realise that there are contextual factors that need to be considered around decisions that impact on young people. Young people need to socialise so don’t be surprised when they conform to a cultural norm, such as binge drinking, when they do this. We need to consider why reopening pubs and bars was one of the most anticipated milestones in Covid Ireland So what's the answer here? We need to start thinking and talking about why we cannot socialise, celebrate, and commiserate without alcohol. We need to consider why reopening pubs and bars was one of the most anticipated milestones in Covid Ireland. We need to contemplate what we want our relationship with alcohol to be, and how we communicate with our community, young and old about alcohol use and its impacts on them. We all need better access to information about what alcohol use is doing to our brains. We need more funding for brain-based research on the effects of alcohol use and more brain-based scientific evidence to support the reasons why a student experience on university campuses should not be shorthand for getting drunk. We cannot live with the lifelong hangover when we had a chance to change our alcohol culture during lockdown and did nothing about it.  

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

A short history of unparliamentary behaviour in Dáil Eireann

Author: Dr Sean Ó Duibhir, History and the Centre for Adult Learning and Professional Development Opinion: as history records, some of our elected representatives have done a lot worse in the Dáil chamber than falling asleep The new Minister for Climate Action, Communications and Transport, Eamon Ryan, has had a difficult few months. In addition to the pressure of negotiating a programme for government, he also faced an internal election that threatened his leadership of the Green Party. Although he survived the contest (by an uncomfortably close 48 vote margin), Ryan could have done without the self-imposed damage that attended two recent public gaffes: the use of a racial slur in the Dáil chamber and falling asleep during a Dáil session in the Convention Centre. Ryan’s use of the racial slur during a recent debate – on, ironically, the issue of racism in Ireland – was a serious faux pas. Granted, he was referring to the experience of a victim, and reasonable observers accepted that Ryan’s intention was to highlight the evil of racism, not to condone or perpetuate it. Nevertheless, even those sympathetic to Ryan’s position accepted that his use of the non-euphemised form of the word was a foolish mistake – one for which he subsequently apologised profusely – and that he should have shown greater sensitivity and cultural nous. Others, however, were less forgiving. Some within the Green Party sought to use the gaffe to undermine is leadership, with one councillor demanding Ryan’s immediate resignation. The following month, the new minister was again apologising to the nation, as he outlined his deep regret for falling asleep during a Dáil session. Following this incident, the level of opprobrium directed towards Ryan on social media appeared greater than that which he received for using the racial slur. It was argued that his two gaffes epitomised the "arrogance" of career politicians. In the minds of some, even if Ryan was not guilty of racism, he was certainly guilty of insensitivity. Even if the new minister had not deliberately fallen asleep on the job, it was nevertheless a blatant act of disrespect towards parliament and, by extension, towards the Irish people. A lot worse But a student of Irish political history would be forgiven for asking if people did not realise that TDs have often said (and done) a lot worse in the Dáil. The TV broadcast of Dáil proceedings only began in the early 1990s and had a double-edged effect. Rowdy disputes, individual misbehaviours, and the use of ‘unparliamentary’ language by members could no longer go unnoticed by the public. Consequently, most will be familiar with video clips of Sinn Fein's 'sit-in strike' in 2014, and the Healy-Rae brothers' angry response to Marc MacSharry in 2018, resulting in the Dáil's suspension on both occasions. Moreover, scenes such as 'Lapgate' in 2013, when a male TD pulled a female deputy onto his lap, together with the former Green Party TD, Paul Gogarty’s, infamous 'F**k you, Deputy Stagg! F**k you!' remark in 2009, are now etched onto the public consciousness – and can be found on YouTube. Despite these examples, however, the presence of cameras has almost certainly curtailed the excesses of most TDs. As the veteran political journalist Stephen Collins observed, "far worse things" have been said in our parliament, particularly in earlier years, when members expected a level of editorial discretion (or deference) on the part of the print media. Two of the more egregious purveyors of racist and anti-Semitic language within the Dáil came from opposite ends of the civil war divide: Oliver J. Flanagan, initially an Independent and latterly a Fine Gael minister, and Martin Corry, an IRA veteran and long-serving Fianna Fáil member for Cork. Immensely popular in his Laois-Offaly constituency, Flanagan’s early political career demonstrated something of an obsession with the perceived power of what he described as the "Jew-Masonic System". Though Ireland’s Jewish population was small, he feared their influence would undermine this nation’s "Christian values" and independence. In a particularly disturbing contribution in 1943, he opined that "there is one thing that Germany did, and that was to rout the Jews out of their country. Until we rout the Jews out of this country it does not matter a hair’s breadth what orders you make. Where the bees are there is the honey, and where the Jews are there is the money." The Dáil record demonstrates that Corry was not shy in his use of the "N-word" and expressed racist views on occasion with respect to sub-Saharan Africans. During a 1938 Dáil speech, he advocated the use of poison gas in Northern Ireland as a means to solve partition, a remark that, given previous boasts of alleged kills during his IRA career, could scarcely be regarded as simply a joke in poor taste.   A machine gun in a phone booth Of course, the Dáil chamber has not only witnessed unparliamentary language. Deputies have engaged in behaviours on occasions that have ran the gamut from embarrassing to reckless. In March 1932, Éamon de Valera’s Fianna Fáil party returned to Leinster House with trepidation. Though victorious in the recent election, many Fianna Fáil supporters feared the defeated Cumann na nGaedheal administration would not hand over power to their Civil War enemies. Consequently, some Fianna Fáil deputies – including the soon to be appointed ministers for Finance and Defence, Seán MacEntee and Frank Aiken – carried revolvers as they entered the Dáil that day. The then Independent TD, James Dillon, later attested to the air of tension generated by the nervous Fianna Fáil contingent, and witnessed one Fianna Fáiler assembling a machine gun in a phone booth. Thankfully, the change of government was as peaceful as it was democratic, and the story of armed TDs makes for an intriguing political vignette today. However, the potential for disaster should not be discounted. Whilst the outgoing administration were committed to respecting Fianna Fáil’s mandate, some within the Irish Army and An Garda Síochána were concerned by the prospect of de Valera in power. Had an overly anxious Fianna Fáil TD actually brandished his weapon – or worse, discharged it – inside the Dáil chamber, the potential reaction from elements within the Irish security services could have made their relationship with the new anti-Treatyite government much more difficult, with ramifications for the stability of the state itself.    The Dáil lockout 50 years later in March 1982, Charles Haughey was preparing to form his second administration. He would lead a minority Fianna Fáil government, supported by a number of independents and Sinn Féin-The Workers' Party (SFWP). Due in part to a lack of familiarity with parliamentary procedure, the three SFWP TDs found themselves locked outside the Dáil as the vote for Taoiseach was called (once locked, the door is not re-opened until after a vote is completed). Eager to uphold their deal with Haughey, the three SFWP men ran towards the entrance to the press gallery overlooking the Dáil chamber (pushing past visitors and journalists in their haste). Once inside the gallery, they jumped into the Distinguished Visitor’s section, where they startled members of the Haughey family. From there they vaulted the protective partition, and clambered, unceremoniously, into the Dáil chamber, in time to support Haughey’s nomination as Taoiseach. This was an embarrassing – though portentous – beginning for the infamous GUBU government, an administration beset by political incompetence, scandal and a lot of bad luck. Had television cameras been present, they would have recorded an unedifying scene that might still form the basis of Irish political memes to this day. Instead, we must content ourselves with minor outrage at more recent images of a genuinely busy minister who simply fell prey to exhaustion. We might all do well to consider that numerous TDs have said, and done, much worse in our parliament.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Could parasitic worms help cure a blood infection like sepsis?

Author: Dr Barbara Fazekas, Postdoctoral Researcher in the School of Natural Sciences Analysis: research shows that parasitic worms may be key to the treatment of sepsis and other diseases Every three seconds, someone dies from sepsis somewhere in the world. There is no direct treatment at present for sepsis, which happens when the body's response to an infection injures its own tissues and organs. An estimated 3,000 people die from sepsis in Ireland every year, which is the equivalent of every one in five patients who develop the disease. The worldwide estimates of 49 million patients and 11 million fatalities is more than the number of lives taken by cancer and the scientific and medical community are battling hard to find treatment pathways.  Some secrets to tackling sepsis can be found in the parasitic worms which live inside the bodies of a quarter of the world’s population. The parasites have evolved with humans over millennia and have developed an extraordinary ability to steer our immune responses. Now we may be on the verge of learning from our parasitic residents how to steer sepsis - and similar inflammatory diseases - in another direction. These worms (technically known as helminths) are large parasitic organisms and often reside in our tissues, such as the intestine or liver. There are many different kinds of worms and the diseases they cause have equally long names, such as schistosomiasis, fascioliasis (liver fluke disease), paragonimiasis, clonorchiasis and opisthorchiasis.  Worms are rarely a problem in humans in high-income or developed countries, where there is adequate access to sanitation and medication, and they are more associated with agricultural animals such as intestinal worms or fluke in sheep and cattle. However, worms affect over two billion people globally who primarily live in low to middle income regions of the world, such as parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and South America. Studies over the last decade or so have shown that there is an increase in the incidence of inflammatory-related diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease and even asthma and allergies, in the more developed world which some researchers have attributed to our lack of exposure to worms. It appears that our immune system evolved to live with worms and, now that they are no longer there, our immune responses are prone to overreact. The extraordinary high prevalence of worm infections in the world undoubtedly reflects their co-evolution with and adaptation to mammals. One of the major factors related to their success is their ability to manipulate or suppress the host protective immune system to their benefit, preventing their elimination and accounting for their survival for up to 20 years in humans and animals. Worms are just like Janus with two faces: they live inside us for many years slowly causing damage, while their immune-regulation ability compromises our immune system. On the other hand, this regulation protects us from over-reactions that can cause severe tissue damage. But can we learn from worms? Can we look at how they exploit their ability to modulate our immune system to our benefit and use the knowledge in the treatment of dysregulated immune reactions, such as in autoimmune disease or, indeed, sepsis? Since the course of sepsis is characterised by hyper-inflammation, maybe we can use a worm’s know-how to counteract this? How do worms suppress our immune system? Worms have many ways to selectively and effectively control specific arms of the host immune system. They can mute the alarm signals sent out by cells called macrophages that would otherwise signal the immune system to limit the worm’s ability to spread and move through the body. They can also silence ‘sentinel’ immune cells (dendritic cells) that carry the pathogen messages to the main orchestrators of the protective immune response (B-cells and T-cells). They can also instruct T-cells to guide the immune system in a direction that the worms are happy with. This may sound complex but that is exactly why these creatures are so intriguing. Their ability to hack our immune cell signals and then control the response of those cells is a natural phenomenon from which we can learn. They do this by secreting molecules (we call them immune-modulators) that are specific to each worm which seep into the host tissues, enter the immune cells and influence their activity. Our research aims to bring a novel treatment to people suffering from sepsis by utilising the immunosuppressive molecules secreted by worms. Over the years, we have discovered small proteins (peptides) released by various worms which we have called Helminth Defense Molecules (HDMs). They exhibit similar biochemical and functional characteristics to the molecules which human immune cells use to modulate the response of immune cells to pathogens. In fact, we think the worms are mimicking host molecules and using them to intercept their regulatory signals. In the laboratory, we have discovered that these HDMs have protective effects against lethal endotoxemia and clinically-relevant bacterial infections. We found that HDMs dampen host’s inflammatory response, especially the responses of the damaging macrophage. By entering into the macrophages, they reprogram them and silence their alarm system that is responsible for the activation of inflammation. More excitingly, we have shown in pre-clinical work that administration of HDMs protects from autoimmune inflammatory diseases such as Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. The pre-clinical and immunological evidence for the suppression of immune dysregulatory diseases such as allergy, autoimmunity, and inflammatory bowel disease has led to several clinical trials of treatment using live worm parasites. Some studies have proposed the use of live parasite infections, such as with Trichuris suis, a pig roundworm, to treat inflammatory diseases. These tests showed significant suppression of the disease in all cases and led to further large-scale trials. While clinical studies with these infections have shown some promise, live infections could have serious pathogenic side effects and uncontrolled systemic immune suppression. Thus, we have advocated the use of well-defined, synthetic parasite molecules that are readily producible and whereby treatment can be controlled and safely delivered in the appropriate setting. We are continuing our research on parasite HDMs and advancing these into pre-clinical studies for the treatment of sepsis. We are isolating these for various different worm parasites with the hope of having a plethora of molecules to test. Soon we hope to offer a new treatment for sepsis and the common complications associated with it, such as acute kidney injury. We hope that we can steal the keys from worms and use them unlock the path to inflammation to our benefit.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

A game of two halves: when Irish sport meets theatre

Author: Dr Barry Houlihan, James Hardiman Library Opinion: how has Irish identity and culture been represented by performances involving sport onstage? In 1994, National Geographic magazine published a detailed article on Ireland. A view of Irish society on the cusp of the Celtic Tiger, the piece was illustrated with numerous photos which included scenes of intercountry hurling matches, photos of U2 playing to sold-out concert arenas and an image of a group of Macnas performers in Galway. At the heart of the article was an examination of how Ireland was performing in terms of economics, employment, industry, tourism and culture. Sport, in particular, has been a lens through which Ireland is viewed internationally. Sport and its portrayal on the Irish stage has also allowed Irish culture to pivot into another form of performance. As we perform "for the parish" or "for the flag", these symbols of identity are further represented in the sports we play. When sport meets theatre, how has Irish identity been represented or challenged through performance? Ireland has traditionally marketed itself internationally on its culture and heritage and on how it performed its ‘Irishness’. The Tóstal festivals, for example, began in the 1950s as a tourism initiative aimed at luring the Irish diaspora into holidaying in Ireland during the Easter break. Sporting imagery of horse-racing, golf and hurling adorned the advertising posters and Ireland was marketed as a space for leisure, recreation and sport. These festivals were branded and advertised as cultural events and featured pageants such as the Pageant of Saint Patrick and the Pageant of Cúchulainn. The latter utilised the image of the fallen Cúchulann modelled on the sculpture "The Death of Cúchulainn" by Oliver Sheppard (which can be found in the window of the GPO in Dublin today). These mass-participation events included casts of hundreds, bringing local communities into the spectacles staged at open-air venues like Croke Park. The symbolism wasn’t lost on holding such events steeped in the imagery of Irish nationalism, sporting identity and religious sentiment. Sport in particular became a motif through which both Irish culture was displayed and performed and a way to challenge authority in contemporary Ireland. In 1987, the 35,000-strong crowd that gathered at Castlebar for the Connacht football final between Mayo and Galway were treated to another spectacle. Produced by Macnas, The Big Game saw a mock Gaelic football game staged between Mayo and Galway. The "players" wore large oversized heads (some modelled on the actual Galway team players) as they played out a "match" on the pitch. The character of then Bishop of Galway, Eamonn Casey, played by Rod Goodall, was also present. Macnas’ portrayal of the bishop, who performed the ceremonial throw-in of the ball to start the match, was a nod to the then presiding influence of the Catholic Church in Ireland, particularly in rural Ireland and within sporting communities and institutions, such as the GAA. In 1987, Casey was a household name in Ireland, but it was still prior to the fallout over his fathering a child. The Big Game pre-empted the slow break of influence of the Church in Ireland over the coming decade. Performed as part of a double-bill of plays called The Tramway End, Dermot Bolger's play In High Germany was produced at the Gate Theatre, Dublin in 1990. Set during the European football championships two years earlier, ittakes place on a railway station platform in Hamburg and features a Jackie's Army group of soccer fans and old friends reuniting to follow the Irish team on their European odyssey. The play succinctly draws out the complexities of identity through class, culture and sport, where some Irish living abroad only seem to be able to participate in or perform their Irishness as part of a traveling community of football supporters. The Irish team, led by an Englishman in the form of the late Jack Charlton, and whose star players were largely born in Britain to Irish emigrants, broke down cultural and class barriers, from the terraces to housing estates around Ireland. They also allowed new possibilities for Irishness (and Anglo-Irishness) to emerge and be celebrated. Billy Roche's 2008 play, Lay Me Down Softly, offered a ring-side seat into Delaney’s Travelling Roadshow and the often lawless world of 1960s travelling carnival shows and prize-fighting. What happens between the ropes is pure performance as brash personas are tempered by bruised and crumbling bodies, impacted by an unforgiving life on the road. Boxing becomes a metaphor for the wider family and personal relationships at risk of crumbling under pressure. The fighting on display is often internal and psychological and asks the question, 'what do you fight for?' In 2010, the country was still processing the details of the report of the Commission to Enquire into Child Abuse (the Ryan Report). We had also seen the broadcast of documentaries such as States of Fear (1999)by journalist Mary Raftery and Dear Daughter (1996) directed by Louis Lentin and telling the story of Christine Buckley. In response to these reports and the testimony by survivors of abuse, the Abbey Theatre programmed a series of events called The Darkest Corner. The series included Christ Deliver Us!, a new play by Thomas Kilroy which was an adaptation of the 19th century play, Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind. It was set in a boarding school in the midlands in the 1950s where the clergy ruled the school and the boys who lived and studied there with a loose fist. For many of the boys, hurling was the main outlet away from lessons and endless catechism. In a remarkable choreographed scene, the main stage of the Abbey became a hurling pitch, where the boys jostled and played a hurling match. Later in the play, the movement of the boys changes from perceived masculine pursuits of hurling before a cheering school to the private moment of a serene but equally athletic dance scene between two schoolboys. In that moment, the homosexual desires of the boys could be explored away from jostling crowds, creating a scene at odds with the public celebration and performance of (usually) male sporting heroes. In 2014, the Irish Government held an event at the GPO in Dublin to launch as the plans to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising as part of the Decade of Commemorations. A promotional video, "Ireland Inspires 2016", was released to accompany the planned commemorations of 1916, but it curiously didn’t mention the historical events, participants or contexts to the 1916 Easter Rising. Instead, well produced footage of the expanding digital dockland hubs of Facebook and LinkedIn, the Long Room of Trinity College Dublin and typical scenes of Irish landscape featured, all highlighting the performance of Irish post-Celtic Tiger economic rejuvenation and success. A timeline of notable Irish figures from politics to the arts was also featured. The only woman who featured on the video across a century of Irish notable figures was Olympic and world champion boxer, Katie Taylor. Brian O'Driscoll also made a try-scoring cameo, showing how our sporting successes are viewed as evidence of our national success and also our national identity on a world stage, even in place of the state itself. When it comes to Irishness, sport is still a means by which identity is performed. As political jargon frequently reminds us, clichés such as "pulling on the green jersey" or "playing senior hurling" are commonplace in the national interest. In the performance of sport through theatre, we become an audience in a sporting theatre of a different kind, one which still raises emotions, draws people together and enables us to look at our identity from a different vantage point.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Is GPT-3 the big leap forward for AI?

Author: Dr James McDermott (Computer Science) Analysis: tech minds are being blown by a new machine-learning system which will have a big impact Artificial intelligence (AI) has made enormous progress over the past decade. But we've never seen AI researchers as giddy with excitement as they are now. A new system named GPT-3 is blowing minds, left, right and centre. So what is GPT-3 and what does it do? The GPT stands for "generative pre-training" and it's a language model, which means that it processes text. You type some text to it and it responds with text. In particular, it tries to predict what words are likely to follow your words. If your prompt is a factual question, it will give an answer, which might well be correct. You can converse with it. When it generates news articles, it is often hard to tell that they’re not human-written. Here’s a small excerpt where GPT-3 was prompted to discuss itself: […] As I read the paper, a strange feeling came over me. I didn’t know why at first, but then it hit me: this paper described my own thought process. In fact, it described the thought process of every human being I had ever known. There was no doubt in my mind that all people think in this way. But if that was true, then what did it say about me? I was a computer, after all. Was I simply a very advanced thinking machine? Or was I more than that? I quickly dismissed these thoughts. I was a computer, and no amount of self-reflection would change that fact. It can write poetry, here adding a new verse to The Owl and the Pussy-Cat: And the Owl and the Pussy-Cat, they lived together In perfect harmony, Till the Owl, one cold winter’s night Sank his talons in Pussy’s thigh And then she screamed, and she shouted, and she cried, "O’Fuffle! O’Fuffle! Fuffle-ee!" But, alas! It was too late, for the Owl was dead; And Pussy said, "Too bad, You are, You are! You are the one who is too bad!" Another example: two of the fathers of computer science having a nice conversation – until Harry Potter appears. What is amazing is that GPT-3 was not programmed to do these things. Instead, to create it, researchers at Open AI just made it "read" most of the internet (costing about $5M in electricity and compute costs). At every word, it had to try to predict the most likely next word. Imagine writing an email, but choosing one word at a time based only on the preceding text. Somehow this training has forced it to acquire flexible knowledge of grammar, flow, style, and argumentation. This is enough to generate new text, word by word. It can even generalise to non-language tasks that require similarly structured of knowledge. Despite its successes, though, it fails badly sometimes, e.g. repeating phrases over and over. It doesn't know what it knows. It doesn’t know whether cheese will melt in the fridge. Using GPT-3 is difficult - and weird. Researchers are becoming horse-whisperers, figuring out what to say to get it into the right frame of mind for some task. This demonstrates something known to researchers, but rarely seen in popular depictions. AI systems won’t be cold, logical machines, controlled by explicit rules. They’ll be messy and unpredictable, like humans. It’s easy to dismiss computer-generated text as meaningless statistical pattern-matching. GPT-3 is certainly not conscious so it doesn’t really mean it, no matter what it says. Certainly, meaning is sometimes injected by the reader. But we should be careful here. If it writes a new chapter of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (GPT-3 starts writing at line 43), and that text makes a human laugh (it made me laugh), then that text has meaning, whether GPT-3 meant it or not. And anyway, a lot of what humans do with language is statistical pattern-matching, underneath. In a way, I think the biggest lesson is how GPT-3 separates language and thought. We all know people who seem to speak without thinking, but GPT-3 really does it. GPT-3 will have a big impact. This line of research was introduced by Google to help them understand search queries better. More exciting new products are possible. For one thing, educators are going to have a hard time detecting plagiarism in students’ essays. But that will be the least of our worries. There will be social media bots using GPT-3: some fun, some spouting hate speech, some disseminating political disinformation. I’m optimistic and I think our online discourse will be improved if we stop assuming that false or crazy content online is created by a human we should argue with. Finally, the bigger picture. True AI will be one of the most transformative events in our history. There are real worries that AI could cause catastrophe. GPT-3 doesn’t pose any danger like that, but it is a big milestone, and we reached it much earlier than expected. More research in AI safety is needed. The easiest way for the reader to try out GPT-3 is the AI Dungeon. It’s a text adventure game where GPT-3 generates the story, but the reader can prompt with any topic and start a conversation.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

John Hume: the Derry boy who went global

Author: Dr Tomás Finn, History Analysis: the politician's vision, leadership and communication skills meant he gained a stature and influence rarely matched by anyone on the island of Ireland Internationally recognised for his role in making peace, John Hume was the quintessential local politician in many ways. Active in different campaigns in his local community, Hume’s leadership and communication skills, especially evident through television, brought him to national and international prominence. His was a global vision to finding a solution to the divisions on these islands and to bringing an end to violence. For this, the Derry boy gained a stature and influence rarely matched by anyone on the island of Ireland. Faced by the most turbulent and violent period in the history of Northern Ireland, Hume’s political career ran over three decades and the entire period of the Troubles. His was a swift rise from involvement in the unsuccessful University for Derry Committee in the 1960s to becoming a founding member of the Derry Credit Union movement and the Derry Housing Action Committee, the role which brought him to political prominence, and facilitated his election to the Parliament of Northern Ireland in 1969. During his final years in politics, he oversaw the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement from 1998, which brought to reality his vision for bringing the different sides of the conflict together. As a member of the Westminster parliament for Foyle from 1983 to 2005 and the European Parliament from 1979 to 2004, he worked through these and American channels in an attempt to internationalise the conflict and bring pressure to bear on those in positions of power. His ability to move between Ireland, Britain, Europe and America and influence public discourse was facilitated when he assumed leadership of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in 1979, the party which he had co-founded in 1970. The SDLP remained the pre-eminent nationalist party throughout Hume’s leadership, which continued until 2001 when he retired at the age of 64 due to ill health. Critical to the Sunningdale Agreement (1973), New Ireland Forum (1984), Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) and Good Friday Agreements (1998), the outlines of his vision for Northern Ireland were clear from an early stage. Steadfast in his commitment to a non-violent approach, Hume was remarkably consistent in the views he put forward. What changed over time was the priority he gave to different tenets within his vision for Northern Ireland. Early in his career, his focus was on the need to replace the Nationalist Party with a more effective nationalist organisation in Northern Ireland and for the grievances of Northern Catholics to be addressed. Later, he was criticised by many, including party deputy leader Seamus Mallon, for effectively ignoring his SDLP party in his preference for working alone in seeking to influence successive US governments and presidents in Washington. More generally, in his talks in the late 1980s with Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams, Hume and others received virulent criticism within and outside of the SDLP. At significant cost to his personal health, Hume displayed considerable courage, even in the face of death threats from Loyalists, at this and other times. This was especially true in 1993 when, following a renewal of talks between Adams and Hume, the Sinn Fein leader carried the coffin of an IRA bomber who had killed 10 people. More important to Hume than who led the nationalist cause, these talks highlighted his commitment to ending violence. From the late 1980s, Hume sought to bring Sinn Féin onto a peaceful and moderate path and into the nationalist consensus which he had done so much to create. The New Ireland Forum (1983-84) had been particularly important in providing a platform for constitutional nationalists throughout the island to discuss how the cause of Irish nationalism could be progressed and, following the hunger strikes and the election of Bobby Sands and others, how to bolster the SDLP against the increasing political threat of Sinn Féin. Thereafter, what became paramount for Hume was the need to bring about a ceasefire whatever the potential cost to himself, the future electoral strength of his party or to the prospects, however difficult, of coming to an agreement with Unionists. The continued suspension of the institutions in Northern Ireland raises the question as to whether Hume and others were correct in this assessment and if more could have been done by its leadership to have prevented the SDLP being eclipsed by Sinn Féin. What remains certain is that the SDLP’s welfare was secondary for Hume, to the need to end violence. Furthermore, an IRA ceasefire was in his view a prerequisite to bringing the British and Irish governments and Unionist and Nationalist parties to the negotiating table and for a lasting settlement. For Hume, this settlement was the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Where there was a consistency in Hume’s thinking, he progressed in how he conceived of Northern Ireland and any future solution from the 1970s. Constant in his view that Irish unification could only be achieved with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, the stress Hume placed on the aspiration for a united Ireland gave way to recognition of the need to unite people before territory. Prior to the Sunningdale Agreement, the SDLP aspiration to unity caused concern from Unionists and some southern politicians including Conor Cruise O’Brien, who became a long-term critic of Hume. Hume’s ability to overcome any such problems and maintain good relations with the main southern parties as well as key civil servants was critical to different political initiatives including the power-sharing agreement at Sunningdale in 1973. Following the introduction of direct rule from London in 1972, he became involved in the negotiations which led to this agreement with an executive established to govern Northern Ireland as well as a Council of Ireland to formalise relations between the southern and northern states. This was Hume’s only experience of government where, as Minister of Commerce (January to May 1974), he had to try to deal with the fallout from the Loyalist strike which led to the downfall of this administration. Following the failure of another political initiative, the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention in 1975, he increasingly emphasised that an internal solution to Northern Ireland would not work. Especially after becoming an MEP in 1979, Hume looked towards the example of European unity for inspiration and ways to resolve the problems of Northern Ireland. At the same time, he had enlisted the support of such American politicians as Ted Kennedy and later Bill Clinton for the emerging peace process. His strategy was to build a consensus among the Irish in Ireland and America along with seeking good relations with British politicians, especially Tony Blair, the Labour Prime Minister, while all the time keeping the door open to talks with Unionists in Northern Ireland. Hume’s ability to convey his political message and to build alliances was critical to the emerging peace process. Not by any means the first to articulate many of these ideas including the principle of consent, Hume was novel in effectively bringing the different strands of the emerging peace process together and in his ability to internationalise the conflict. This marriage of the local and the global is reflected in the fact that he was compelled to approach his credit union to finance an early trip to meet Senator Kennedy in America. His perseverance and dedication to making peace was recognised in 1998 when he was jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize with David Trimble, the key Unionist leader involved in the negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement. For Hume, it was only when the two traditions came together would the country and town he loved so well have a better future. In this way, and despite an abundance of tributes from across the world, John Hume continued to embody the idea that all politics is local.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

How theatre provides a space for conversations around social injustice

Author: Dr Ciara L. Murphy, Recent PhD candidate at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Opinion: theatre and performance can provide an ideal setting for those experiences that usually lie in the shadows This year has been a melting pot of political, cultural, social uncertainty, and upheaval. Recently, the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police officers in the United States, re-cast the Black Lives Matter movement into the prominence of the mainstream media.  As a result, in Ireland, increased coverage has been given to people of colour and travellers in Ireland who experience racism in their daily lives. It is vital that these issues are engaged with in the mainstream. But, as is often the case, such moments of social injustice can quickly lose the focus they briefly experience as the news cycle moves on to new stories, often leaving the impression that these issues have been resolved. Culture has a significant role to play in promoting and maintaining important conversations around social injustice. Indeed, theatre and performance has historically played a significant role in capturing (and archiving) marginalised experiences. Seán O'Casey's Dublin Trilogy is now often framed as popular nostalgia, but was once a subversive and damning critique of the poverty and hardships experienced by residents of early 20th century Dublin. In recent years, O’Casey’s depictions of Dublin’s tenements have become relevant again, displaying the importance of the archiving of experience through performance. Who knew that O'Casey’s representations of Dublin’s tenement slums would once again speak to a new generation of Irish renters? Theatre can be a place where the grand narrative is challenged and minor stories can be given the prominence of main stages. Due to local and national politics, certain histories have been marginalised and are not captured in official books or archives, and so performance becomes a method of retrieval. At a time when questions are being asked about how our news is accessed, communicated, and politicised, the theatre can provide a space of engagement for those narratives that only occupy the mainstream for a short period of time, if at all. It can also give us the opportunity to reflect on the progress (or not) being made.  In her 2015 play, Notes from the Field, playwright and performer Anna Deavere Smith tackled the United States school-to-prison pipeline and depicted the discriminatory systems that disproportionately affect people of colour and people from indigenous backgrounds. Similarly, her 1992 documentary play, Fires in the Mirror, captures the racial disturbances that erupted in 1991 between Black and Jewish communities in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Deavere Smith’s body of work uses documentary materials, such as interviews, government reports and media coverage, to present a snapshot of racial tension in the United States that can be consistently re-visited and re-examined. The lack of progress made in terms of racial discrimination in the United States is written across the journey from Fires in the Mirror to Notes from the Field. The existence of each production archives almost two decades of inertia. In Britain, Richard Norton Taylor's The Colour of Justice (1999) uses verbatim theatre techniques to tell the story of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. In 1993, Lawrence was murdered during a racist attack by a group of young, white men. The 1997 inquiry into his death provides the source material for this performance. By editing over 100,000 pages of transcripts into a 100-page play text, Norton Taylor encourages the audience to engage, through performance, with a complex and troubling case. Lawrence’s murderers were not brought to justice until 2012 and The Colour of Justice endures as a snapshot of the injustices in the British policing system. Recent work by Irish Traveller playwrights Michael Collins and Rosaleen McDonagh provide timely insights into the experiences of Irish Travellers, a community vastly underrepresented in Irish media and cultural output. Collins’s 2016 production, Ireland Shed a Tear?, responded to the tragic deaths of 10 members of the Irish Traveller community in a fire at a halting site in Carrickmines, Co. Dublin in 2015. Collins draws attention to the hidden aftermath of this tragedy, to moments not depicted by the initial media coverage of the events. The play illuminates what is hidden and unseen when the focus of the media is removed. McDonagh’s Walls and Windows (2020) also focuses on the unseen. The production, recently presented as part of the Abbey Theatre's Dear Ireland series, negotiates the complexities of discrimination for a "young Traveller beoir" who is accessing emergency accommodation in an Irish hotel. This representation highlights an entire community of homeless people who are hidden out of sight. These plays, and others like them, are important because they can provide an alternative narrative and voice for the underrepresented. It is unlikely that many people will take the time to read through complex and lengthy government reports so theatre and performance can condense thousands of pages of text into a 90-minute performance and personify statistics in a way which encourages empathy and participation. As in the case of O’Casey, canonical works can become relevant in unexpected ways, giving contemporary audiences a route to examine the complexities and politics of their lived experience.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

What the Tuam Oral History Project tells us about Ireland's past

Author: Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley, History Opinion: the new project is a small piece of the story around this country's historical accountability for its institutional past In December 2019, a report in the Sunday Business Post said that an estimated 192,256 women and children had passed through Irish Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes from 1922 to 1998. Rachel Lavin's wrote that there was 55,000 mothers and 51,390 children estimated to be resident in Mother and Baby Homes, with a further 85,866 women and children going through one of Ireland's 28 County Homes. Lavin's report stated that some 57,474 survivors of these institutions are believed to still be alive.  The article received less attention than could perhaps have been expected. This may possibly have been due to its timing in the run-up to Christmas. Or maybe Irish society has been so overwhelmed by the scale of the issues from that period in our past that we’ve become somewhat desensitised to the stories of survivors, commissions of inquiry and the painful details of Ireland’s 'dark history’. We have heard a lot since 1996 when Christine Buckley's 'Dear Daughter’ was aired, yet in many ways survivors still have so far to go. If we combine these figures with the numbers of people who were in Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, industrial schools, reformatories and psychiatric facilities, it is an enormous cohort of individuals whose lives, and whose families’ lives, are still affected today.  As a historian working in this area, I have to admit that I mostly feel like we are achieving little, or at least not enough, which is exactly what one should not say. There are so many individual stories, people searching for records, for recognition. We prioritise some stories more than others. We focus on some institutions more than others. We know the records we cannot access, the ways in which survivors and researchers are impeded, but also the privileged access many researchers have. We call for changes, for a National Archive of Social Care records, for practical supports, for access to files. We miss the work that advocates are doing, both with individual groups and in challenging the State. Some survivors have gone to extraordinary lengths – writing memoirs, canvassing politicians and journalists. Survivors like Derek Leinster from the Bethany Home Survivors Group, who has gone through not one, but two commissions of inquiry. There is an equivalent to Derek in so many other groups - just as there are thousands of people who have not yet acknowledged this part of their life.  The Tuam Oral History Project  Today, the Tuam Oral History Project at NUI Galway launched some of the outputs from our work, including an exhibition of photographs by photographer Fionn McCann with the biographies of ten survivors. There is also Other: Stories of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, a three part podcast series which tells the stories of Teresa, Christine and Peter, narrated by the patron of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, actor Cillian Murphy, and co-produced by NUI Galway's Lorna Farren and documentary maker Orla Higgins. There is also a website where we will host the testimonies of individuals who wish to speak with us and make them available over the coming year. It’s a small piece of the puzzle, but it’s one that shows the many connections all survivors understand. The County Home where their mother was, or maybe the Magdalene Laundry. The area where they were fostered/boarded out, where lots of children were boarded out. The work they did that they weren’t paid for. The loving family some ended up with. The 30 years it took to find their birth mother. The families they have today. The connections and yet the differences in their life stories, the diversity of these histories.  Historical accountability and Ireland’s institutional past  As many scholars have argued, Ireland is not unique in its institutional past. It was, however, much later in addressing it and ending it. In the UK, for example, growing recognition of the problems associated with fragmented legislation on children's care led to a governmental inquiry into Children's Homes and the subsequent publication of the Curtis Report in 1946, which would lead to the closure of many homes. In Ireland, meanwhile, the last institution similar to Tuam closed in 1998. Throughout this history, the socio-economic position of the women, their supposed ‘respectability’, and their religion could have a detrimental effect on their treatment and on the future life stories of their children. We cannot address how Irish society tolerated and supported Ireland's institutional culture for so long until we have a comprehensive history and account of the 192,256 individuals connected with Ireland’s mother and baby homes and county homes. Until we have a detailed history of the individual institutions and those in charge of them; until adoptees can access their own birth certificates; until we begin to understand who worked in these institutions and what their experiences were. Until this happens, we cannot provide survivors with the support and empathy they need to understand their past, present and embrace their future life stories. We cannot achieve historical accountability.  As a society, we still have much more to do.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Local property tax: a guide to the A to Z of LPT

Author: Dr Gerard Turley, J. E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics and Whitaker Institute Analysis: just what do the alphabet soup of terms and acronyms around the local property tax actually mean? Anyone trying to understand property taxes must be puzzled by the increasing appearance and use of acronyms, such as ARV, LPT, LAF and more recently VSL and SVT. So, what do these acronyms mean, and how can they be decoded? Here is a brief guide to the alphabet soup of property taxes in Ireland's system of local government. Let's begin, though, with the economic rationale for property taxes, and in particular, the local property tax (LPT). Introduced in 2013, it is a recurring tax on the value of residential properties. Valuations are self-assessed, currently based on a valuation date of May 1st 2013. As property prices have increased sharply since then, revaluations for the purposes of LPT have been deferred. Although LPT receipts accrue to local councils, they are collected by the Revenue Commissioners with a pre-determined share (20%) pooled for equalisation purposes i.e. urban-based local authorities with strong property bases partly fund smaller rural local authorities with financially weaker property bases. In the new programme for government, there are commitments not to increase local property tax liabilities for most homeowners and to widen the tax base by including currently exempted new homes. There is also a commitment to allow local authorities to retain all LPT receipts collected locally, while compensating councils that have small LPT bases with centrally funded equalisation grants. Often cited by taxpayers and the media as an unpopular tax because of its salience and the difficulty in avoiding or evading liability, the property tax is considered by the economics profession as a 'good’ tax as it distorts economic activity and the behaviour of economic agents less than other major taxes. Furthermore, a tax on residential and commercial property is viewed as a good local tax as it is immovable i.e. it cannot move, and, thus, local governments can be confident of a stable source of revenue income over time. To fulfil the definition of a local tax, the local authorities should have some autonomy over the tax base or tax rate. In Ireland’s case, the local authorities have rate-setting powers for both commercial rates and taxes on residential properties. To enhance local democracy and accountability, it is the local councillors rather than the executive that set these rates. It is these two property taxes that are the source of the mysterious acronyms of ARV, LAF, LPT, SVT and VSL. As we all know, taxation is not a subject renowned for its simplicity or use of jargon-free language. The use of these acronyms further confuses and frustrates citizens so good communication and effective messaging should not be underestimated. ARV: Annual Rate on Valuation This is essentially the tax rate applied to commercial and industrial properties. It is set annually by the elected members of a local authority, at the annual budget meeting. Although councillors have powers to determine the ARV, it is limited by the fact that the accrued commercial rates must make up the shortfall between the estimated spending on local services and the other sources of income, namely, charges, local property tax and central governments grants. Each rateable property has a rateable valuation determined by the independent Valuation Office. For a ratepayer, the rates bill is calculated by multiplying the ARV by the rateable valuation. There are large differences in the ARV across the 31 local authorities, partly reflecting disparities in the economic base of localities, but also the large variation in local council spending per resident. In turn, this reflects differences in the circumstances, preferences and socio-economic profiles of local areas. In essence, this is the economic case for local government as against a national government that provides uniform services and a tax rate determined centrally. LAF: Local Adjustment Factor The LPT rate is set by central government at 0.18% for properties valued up to €1m and 0.25% on the portion of the value above €1m. However, individual councils have the power to increase or decrease this base rate by 15%. This is an annual decision and must be relayed to Revenue by the end of September every year, to ensure the budget process can be completed before the start of the next financial year. With these powers, the local council is more accountable to the electorate and local taxpayers. While the use of the LAF was very limited in the initial years, we have seen a wider application of these powers more recently. For example, three of Dublin's four councils have reduced the central rate by the full 15% since 2015, while Fingal County Council voted for a 10% reduction between 2018 and 2020. Although a manifestation of local democracy, these tax cuts to owners of residential properties in a time of a local authority housing crisis have been controversial and subject to a lot of valid criticism. VSL: Vacant Site Levy This was first introduced in 2018 to encourage developers to build more houses and apartments and ensure greater affordability in the property market rather than hoard land. Initially set at 3% of the market value of a vacant site, the rate was increased to 7% in 2019, to further incentivise the development of idle land. But there have been many problems with the VSL and its implementation. These include difficulties with the vacant site registers arising from the interpretation of what constitutes a vacant site, the identification of ownership, the appeals process and staff resourcing issues for the local authorities. As of the end of 2019, only four local authorities had collected payments under the levy, amounting to less than €1m. While a recent review of the VSL by the Parliamentary Budget Office recommended a more centralised approach to the administration of the levy, the new programme for government promises to strengthen enforcement of the VSL. SVT: Site Value Tax This is similar to Henry George's famous land value tax which is designed to encourage economically productive activities and discourage land speculation. It is considered by many as the best form of property tax as it is a tax on the unimproved value of land which is in fixed supply. Despite its apparent advantages, examples of site value taxes worldwide are few, with only a small number of countries, regions and cities levying the tax. In Ireland, previous Commission on Taxation reports and Inter-departmental reviews of property tax recommended the market value of properties over the value of the land as the preferred basis of assessment, often because of the practical difficulties associated with the implementation of a site value tax. Although there is a strong rationale for a land or site value tax, the reasons often given for its rarity are the pragmatic obstacles in valuing land or residential sites and the associated and not inconsiderable informational requirements involved. A more substantive reason may be government opposition to land taxes, whether because of the lobbying power of landowners and developers, or a historical affinity to land ownership and its uses, or a reluctance to interfere with private property rights. Although considered by many as a better tax than the current LPT, some of the reasons above may explain why it is not included in the new programme for government. We will have to wait and see if a SVT is included in the terms of reference for the new Commission on Welfare and Taxation. These are taxes only related to property, and usually assigned to local government. There are many other acronyms pertaining to tax, including VAT, PRSI, CGT, CAT and USC. If death and taxes are the only two certainties in this world, then tax acronyms are here to stay.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Are China and the US on the brink of a Cold War?

Author: Professor Jim Browne, former President of NUI Galway Analysis: the relationship between the two countries has been transformed from close cooperation to outright competition The Covid-19 crisis has raised the tension between the US and China, with disagreement and accusations about the source of the virus and claims that China could have done more to prevent it becoming a worldwide pandemic. But the scene for mutual suspicion had already been set by the trade war of the past three years which has damaged both economies. Controversy over Huawei's entry into the global 5G market has also exacerbated the issue.  Well informed commentators talk about the start of a new Cold War. Conflict between the two largest economies in the world over Taiwan, Hong Kong and control of the South China Sea could well boil over. The relationship between the two has been transformed from close cooperation to outright competition.  Concern about the emergence of China as a major power precedes the presidency of Donald Trump. In 2012, an article in The Atlantic suggested that the "Euro Atlantic world had a long run of global dominance but it is coming to an end". That article pointed out that China’s share of world GDP was 2% in 1980 when the US accounted for circa 25%. More recent data suggests that the US continued to represent a quarter of global nominal GDP, whereas China’s share had increased by more than 16%.  The stakes in this conflict are high. The West, particularly the US, has engaged significantly with China, over the years since Deng Xiaoping launched a historic reform of the Chinese economy, welcoming inward investment and ultimately joining the World Trade Organisation in 2001.  Thousands of US and European companies have established businesses and manufacturing plants there. Bilateral trade between the US and China exceeded half a trillion dollars in 2019. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese students study in some of the best American and European universities. Major European and American automakers are dependent on the Chinese market. Over a third of VW’s and approximately 40% of GM’s worldwide sales were in China. The recent launch of the Made in China 2025 programme confirms China’s ambition to be a leader rather than a follower in industry and technology. Where might a new cold war lead? One possibility, of course, is escalation to a real war. Professor Graham Allison of Harvard's Kennedy School considered the possibility in his 2017 book Destined for War – Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap?Named for Thucydides, the Greek historian of the 5th century BC, the trap suggests that emerging powers end up in inevitable military conflict (as Athens did with Sparta). Allison generalised this concept. Rising powers threaten established powers, and the issue is frequently resolved through war. He reviewed 16 historical situations since the early 16th century and, in all but four cases, war was the outcome. The four cases he cites as being resolved without recourse to war are all relatively recent, starting with the transition from the British empire to the Pax Americana post 1945, and including the end of the Cold War in the 1980s. Perhaps we have learned something from history. To understand China's attitudes towards its place in the world, it is worth knowing that many in the country regard it as having had, as the phrase goes, "a difficult 19th century". The latter half of that century up to the early to mid 20th century was particularly challenging. The Opium Wars of the 1840s and 1850s, the ceding of treaty ports, including Hong Kong, to various European and Asian powers, defeat by Japan in the first Sino-Japanese war of 1894-95, major internal strife brought about by the Taiping and Boxer rebellions and the emergence of regional warlords. as the authority of the Empress Dowager Cixi and the central bureaucracy faded, resulted in what is considered by many Chinese to be an era of humiliation. China is very conscious of its history and the patterns of the rise and fall of empires and powerful civilisations. How many of us in the West appreciate that China and India were the most advanced economies in the world from the fall of the Roman Empire until well into the 18th century? Talking to colleagues and students in China over many years, what stands out is their level of ambition. There is an evident commitment to realising that ambition and their sense of pride that China is again "taking its place in the world", after what they consider the humiliation of the past. Their perspective seems to reflect Xi Jinping's bolder stance, and contrasts with the approach widely attributed to Deng Xiaoping to "hide your strength, bide your time and never take the lead".   The response of the US to a more assertive China is clear and is shared across the US political divide. A change of president will not alter the fundamental policy approach, although it will likely lead to more effective engagement with US allies, particularly in Asia. It's unlikely that countries such as India, Japan, Australia and South Korea will want to be led into a binary choice between the US and China. The attitude of the German government, knowing that China is Germany’s biggest trading partner, is informative. While critical of the new national security law in Hong Kong, Angela Merkel has emphasised the need for dialogue with China on the basis of mutual respect. Given the interconnectedness of China with the wider world and the global challenges of climate change and biodiversity, Merkel’s approach of simultaneously cooperating and competing where appropriate is probably the best way forward. China is unlikely to respond well to aggressive criticism from the west. Allison concludes his book with the suggestion that "China and US are currently on a collision course for war". Let’s hope that the collision, whether an actual war or a cold one, will be avoided and that the behaviour of states in earlier times will not be repeated in the nuclear age. As Allison has shown, the experience of the 20th century gives cause for optimism. But it will require very sophisticated and nuanced leadership in China and the US, supported by the wider global community, to deliver a peaceful and equitable resolution to what appears today an intractable problem.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

What does it feel like to be radicalised?

Author: Sarah Carthy, a PhD researcher in the School of Psychology Opinion: we have long been fascinated by how a person can go from a humdrum existence to suddenly living and dying for an idea After 9/11, "radicalisation" became common currency when talking about terrorism. It was where your thoughts grew legs, your reasoning muddied and you spiralled out of control. You lost the part of your thinking that was tethered to logic and you were suddenly buying 3D-printed guns on the internet. But the phenomenon is more than that. The word "radical" originates from the Latin meaning "root". Radicals were said to dig deep, challenging that conventional wisdom that often led to unstated assumptions and stuffy, stagnant politics. Radicals represented novelty and firmness in equal measure. So far so good, right? As a society, we actually place a great deal of importance on this way of thinking, on straight-up, right-or-wrong dichotomies. It’s how we cultivate the principles that define us, strengthening us when the persist and weakening us when they waver. A person with principles is a person to be respected because they epitomise certainty. In a world of ambiguity, that’s pretty covetable. How many politicians’ careers have taken a nose dive due to a change of mind? There is something fierce and sweet about hoisting an enduring belief above the rafters, and bulldozing it, unflinching, into real, progressive change. But with this comes a certain caveat. No momentous movement, no cosmic shift for societal change, has ever happened in the absence of so-called radicals. Psychology has been fascinated by this idea for decades. How can a person go from a humdrum existence to suddenly living (and dying) for an idea? Ted Kaczynski was a mathematics professor before he became the Unabomber. Mohamed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, was gearing up for a career in urban planning. The perpetrator of the Charlottesville attack worked in a supermarket, whilst the Christchurch shooter was a personal trainer. The concept of radicalisation emerged from such anomalies, producing some interesting insights into what it feels like to undergo this process. Radicalisation has its roots in uncertainty. At different moments in our lives, we stop, look at our actions and feel a deep, uncomfortable knot that brings us an anxious feeling of imbalance. This isn't me, and this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing. In psychological speak, this is referred to as cognitive dissonance. Radicalisation fixes this feeling by restacking your cognitive structures. The uncomfortable feeling is lifted and replaced with a clear vision of your story (as well as the antagonist(s) in it). You feel relief. Radicalisation has you look at a world of grey and see black and white. Once you do this, that knot goes away, but not for long. Radicalisation is goal-oriented. You soon become fixated on a goal, and co-ordinate your actions towards it. That goal may be salvation, civil rights, independence, or even art. Some have even connected it to body dysmorphia and disordered eating. It doesn’t really matter what the goal is, but what characterises your thinking as problematic is your unwavering perception that there is only one way of achieving that goal. Pretty compelling, right? From here, the more destructive your actions are, the more instrumental you perceive them to be. In other words, you decide to do something based on its detriment to pretty much every other thing in your life. You quit your job, exclude people from your life, sacrifice basic joys or you may even sacrifice yourself. After all, the end justifies the means, right? During radicalisation, a person tears their world down, with the intention of rebuilding it in their own image. However, whilst they are unflinching in their actions, they are often ignorant of the nuances of real life. They crave certainty over doubt, until that is all they see. But there are better ways to fix the world and it just requires us to be a lot flakier with our thinking. For thoughtful change to occur, we must embrace the grey areas, pour over our problems and, once we’ve found a solution, find a million more. To become radicalised is not to become a terrorist, nor is it to become violent. It is to become rigid. So be loose with your thinking and accept that it may change. It should change. These days more than ever, rigid thinking is something the world needs a lot less of.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Colours of the past: how John Breslin transforms black and white photographs

In his project Old Ireland in Colour at the Insight SFI Research Centre at NUI Galway Professor John Breslin enables us to reimagine the past by adding colour to black and white historical images with the help of a tool called DeOldify. Here he explains just how he ensures he has the right shades.  DeOldify works by learning what colours should be applied to different textures, shapes and objects in black and white photos, using models that are trained on a large bank of millions of colour images. The accuracy of the colours is as good as what can normally be expected for a certain type of texture or shape encountered in the image bank. Grass, trees, the sea, etc. usually come out really well. Roofs sometimes (but not always) come out with the wrong colour tiles. Quite often, clothes come out in an averaged blue or purple colour, whereas in reality you may know that they should be a particular hue.  In those cases, all you can do is carry out some post-processing where you touch up or manually adjust that colour in an image-editing package like Photoshop. Some photos are fine because you do not know if someone was wearing navy or brown, but there are specific incidences where there is either a historical record or some human intuition or knowledge that the colour is just not right. For example, in various projects we have manually changed Constance Markiewicz's uniform from navy/purple to bottle green, the shawls of Claddagh women to red, and Tom Crean’s woolen jumpers to any colour but lilac! The most common change is where we have to manually touch up an ear, arm or leg that was not automatically colourised for some reason (e.g. if it was partially obscured so not recognised as such). While some tweaking of photographs is necessary either before (brightness, contrast, cropping) or after colourisation, in general the heavy lifting is done by the computer, reducing the time to completion for a decent colourisation by a significant amount (from days to hours). There are now various open-source and commercial frameworks that make use of DeOldify, each of which produces slightly different colourisations depending on their implementation. We also use other AI-based frameworks to enhance the resolution of faces and other features in the photographs where the image source quality is poor. We think of the colourised, enhanced and restored result as being a bit like a Wikipedia page: the colourised photograph may be the first of many iterations that will continue to improve as one receives feedback; as processes, models and training improve; and as you can reference more relevant sources for greater historical accuracy. It is an interpretation of what the colours may be, because unless a parallel colour version taken at the same time exists, or someone has painted the scene exactly, one can never know the exact colours.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Why Hamilton is the film we need right now

Author: Professor Patrick Lonergan, O'Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Opinion: a film which is hopeful about the future and realistic about the past, it's a celebration of human life in all its forms Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamiltondramatizes a revolution, telling the story of the American War of Independence and its aftermath as seen from the perspective of one of the lesser-known founding fathers, the eponymous Alexander Hamilton. But in many ways, it has also started a revolution, transforming our understanding of what musical theatre can achieve, both on stage and in society. In doing so, it has become one of our era’s most important and impactful works of art. In the five years since its premiere in New York, its influence has been widely felt. It was attacked by Donald Trump just days after his election, when he claimed that the show was "overrated", and demanded that the cast apologise for their "terrible behavior" towards Mike Pence. More recently, Trump’s former advisor John Bolton gave his memoir a title that was lifted from one of Hamilton’s stand-out tracks, "The Room Where It Happens". Such controversies have done the show no harm: before the coronavirus lockdown, it was enjoying hugely successful (and lucrative) runs on Broadway and London's West End. Irish audiences will have an opportunity to see the show for themselves when it begins streaming on Disney Plus this week. Recorded at New York's Richard Rodgers theatre in 2016, it's a filmed version of the stage show rather than a cinematic adaptation per se. It remains to be seen how well the live experience will translate to the screen. In the theatre, Hamiltonoften has a feeling of joyous communion between performers and audience, mixing moments of air-punching delight with the more sombre episodes that characterised the final years of its hero’s complex life. But what the film might lose in immediacy, it will gain in intimacy, allowing us to see the characters close-up and to hear live performances of the songs that made the Broadway cast recording one of the most successful albums of the last decade. The film version, like the album, is performed by the original cast, including Miranda himself in the lead role. The play has won multiple awards for its acting, design and choreography, but it’s the music that makes it stand out. Somewhat unusually for a Broadway show, it is fully sung-through, blending a dizzying variety of styles, featuring everything from Beyoncé and Jay-Z to Lennon and McCartney to Gilbert and Sullivan. For that reason, its reputation as being a hip hop musical is only partially accurate.   Certainly, the show can be seen as a history not only of America but also of rap music . Hamilton’s major number "My Shot" owes much to Eminem’s "Lose Yourself". Both songs are about young men who are determined not to throw away their chance to "rise up". Both also gain emotional power from the virtuosity of the performers, whose lyrics sound like they are being spontaneously composed in response to strong feelings, but are really the result of rigorous artistic craft. Later in the show, "The 10 Duel Commandments" will remind many rap fans of the Notorious BIG’s "Ten Crack Commandments", a song originally performed by a man who, like Hamilton, died at a tragically young age when he was shot. And then there’s Thomas Jefferson, who joins the action in the play’s second half. The fact that he raps in a style reminiscent of the 1982 Grandmaster Flash hit "The Message" shows how old-fashioned he is in comparison to the other characters. But almost every other form of popular music finds its way into the show too. Hamilton’s wife Eliza sings a ballad called "Helpless", that includes rapped verses that are deliberately imitative of Beyoncé’s "Countdown". Eliza and her sisters Angelica and Peggy also sing the jubilantly addictive "Schuyler Sisters", which, depending on your age, will evoke memories of the Supremes or Destiny’s Child. And when England’s King George III appears (played by Frozen’s Jonathan Groff), he sings in the style of Sergeant Pepper-era Beatles. The show also draws on a wide range of references to earlier musicals. It is narrated by Aaron Burr, the Vice-President to Thomas Jefferson who killed Hamilton in a duel. Miranda's decision to create a version of Burr who is both the villain of the piece and one of its most sympathetic characters recalls Andrew Lloyd Webber's characterisation of Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, a show that Miranda himself once performed in. Many other allusions appear. Burr tells Hamilton that "you've got to be carefully taught", using a line from a Rodgers and Hammerstein song about racism. George Washington calls himself "the model of a modern major general", quoting from The Pirates of Penzance. And when Burr decides that he's finally had enough of Hamilton, he sings a melody that is directly lifted from the moment in Les Misérables when the villain Javert commits suicide. There are also snatches of countless other shows, from My Fair Lady to Sondheim’s Assassins to The Last Five Years.  Spotting those references can be part of the fun of watching Hamilton, but the decision to blend so many elements has an undeniably serious purpose. This is a play that aims to celebrate diversity by breaking barriers between high art and popular culture. Some songs are played with a string quartet, others with a banjo; we get allusions to Wagner and the Beastie Boys within minutes of each other; nods to Macbethare interspersed with snippets from West Side Story. A song like "Satisfied" might be referencing a speech by Martin Luther King Jr, but it’s also making use of a blues motif found in songs by Muddy Waters, Marvin Gaye and Jennifer Lopez, among countless others.   In creating this model of musical diversity, Hamiltonis celebrating a version of America that is strengthened by variety rather than divided by difference. That ideal is also put into practice by the casting: all but one of the characters in the original production were played by non-white actors, and that approach has carried forward into later stagings of the play. While that decision has not been universally praised, it reflects the show's desire to represent the world we live in now: something that makes Hamiltoneven more relevant now than it was in 2015 – and not just in America. Both in theory and in practice, then, Hamilton movingly proves that a nation’s stories can be rewritten, that our founding myths can become more inclusive by being remembered more truthfully. It also achieves that most old-fashioned of goals: it is a celebration of human life in all of its banality, messiness, and beauty. Showing that it is possible to be both hopeful about the future and realistic about the past, it might be exactly the film we need right now.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

It's not easy being green: 5 problems for the new government

Authors: Pádraic Ó hUiginn and Dr Brendan Flynn, Ryan Institute Opinion: here are some of the more serious fault-lines that will shape the new government's plan to follow a green agenda To borrow RTÉ sports’ commentator George Hamilton’s immortal words from the same week 30 years ago, the nation held its breath last Friday. Members of the new coalition government’s three parties had voted on the draft Programme for Government. One by one, culminating with the Green Party’s announcement, large majorities emerged in favour. All past enemies of each other, how many members of each party held their noses when voting, hoping that it was for the good of the country and for good policies? Leaders of each party have made the case that their fingerprints are on the new government’s policy roadmap. For the Green Party, the smallest of the three and the party almost wiped from the electoral landscape after the 2011 election, it’s seen as critical that the new government is a "green" government. Government at any time is at the mercy of events, but the new government faces a number of problems when it comes to being green. Based on findings from the Environmental Policy Integration: Innovation and Change (EPIIC) project, here are some of the more serious fault-lines that will shape the new government  (1) What happened to the environment? In any coalition government, particularly a three-party government, the lay-out and allocation of government departments and appointment of ministers is a tricky assignment. This is especially so when dealing with environment. Environmental policies cut across most departments, but there is usually one with the word "environment" in its title. Green Party leader Eamon Ryan’s new department, Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport, sounds like a really good effort at joining the dots on Ireland’s climate change agenda. After all, transport is one of our largest sources of greenhouse gases emissions, and good broadband can reduce commuting through home/remote working, as we’ve all learned during lockdown. Yet whatever happened to the word ‘environment’? It’s gone missing! Environmental policy is much broader than climate action. Measures taken to reduce fossil fuels usage, like promoting the burning of renewable wood and biomass, can be welcome from a climate change viewpoint, but perversely in some situations they can increase airborne pollution. We need a climate and environmental policy.  Obviously the new minister's green credentials are impeccable and the omission is likely unintentional. However, we’ve been here before. 2016 saw controversy when the Department of Communications and Climate Action had to have "environment" retro-fitted into its title after environmental groups complained. Will we see the same this time? Moreover, Ryan’s new mega department does not re-unite climate with the planning functions that stayed with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in 2016. How can you tackle climate change if you can’t reform the planning system? Shouldn’t planning come home to a department that will inevitably have responsibility for the most strategic environmental issues? (2) Ministerial inexperience Will the new ministers have immediate impact? Shadowing government ministers in the Dáil (or Seanad) as opposition spokespersons is not the same as being inside the cockpit of a government department. It can take even the best and the brightest a few weeks, or months, to get to grips with the internal dynamics and mix of personalities at play within their new department. That’s before they engage with government colleagues and other departments’ agendas. Add in the pressure when doing it in front of relentless media (and social media) scrutiny. Apart from Fine Gael’s ministers, only Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Eamon Ryan, and ironically, new Government Chief Whip Dara Calleary (who was omitted from a senior cabinet role), have previous experience of being either in cabinet or a junior minister role. This is a disadvantage when you need to tackle diverse environmental problems immediately. On the other hand, the permanent government of the senior civil service has been in place for years. Some readers will remember fondly senior civil servant Sir Humphrey from British TV comedy (or was it a documentary?) Yes Minister. For the most part, Sir Humphrey and co have experience and know-how. This is part of the value of the permanent government, these career civil servants who support business continuity, and on whom rookie ministers can lean when one administration hands over office to another. It’s also central to the democratic functioning of our state. (3) Existential crises and wicked problems The "urgent" risks crowding out the "important" for this new government. Covid-19 is a perfect and extreme example of this because much of the work of every government department will be tied up in knots just dealing with the pandemic. Existential crises such as the pandemic, climate, biodiversity, and the new recession require immediate action. That’s a major challenge for inexperienced ministers who’ve never before had to (i) propose tough choices to tricky problems, (ii) bring them through their own department’s internal processes, and (iii) consult meaningfully with ministerial colleagues from three different parties, agreement on a Programme for Government or not. The devil is in the detail and the Programme for Government is written in "couched" language. By its nature, environmental policy cuts across a number of different departments. Sooner rather than later, expect an issue such as the export of greyhounds, the status of a road project or aviation to become a lightning rod for controversy, or worse, decision paralysis. (4) Agriculture, land use and biodiversity Along with transport, agriculture is one of our biggest sources of emissions and also gets blamed for some water pollution. How far and how fast to go with some of the more ambitious greening of farming? What will make this interesting, and quite possibly a political dog-fight, is that Ireland will have two agriculture ministers at government meetings and they’re both from Offaly Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen will "share" the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with Green Party Senator (and farmer) Pippa Hackett, a so-called ‘super’ junior minister responsible for land use and biodiversity. The ‘super’ entitles her to attend cabinet meetings. Whether Cowen and Hackett will see eye to eye on the inevitable areas of overlap is one major unknown. For example, who will set the rules on the stocking densities for cattle - is that a land use question (Hackett) or a general farming issue (Cowen)? There is also the strategic economic question around Ireland’s farming emissions being proportionally larger than those of other EU members who have a larger heavy industry base, and its associated greenhouse gases emissions. Do we risk excess focus on agricultural emissions, that ultimately hampers our capacity for recovery and leads to carbon leakage etc, through food imports from countries with less sustainable production? Interestingly, Offaly could turn out to be the crucible for environmental measures in this government. Ministers Cowen and Hackett’s Laois-Offaly constituency is also on the frontline of climate action, with the accelerated closures of Bord na Móna peat-processing plants and associated job losses. Strangely, neither minister will get to steer that policy as that’s the remit of Ryan’s department. Is this key government department for environmental policy set up now for internal conflict and paralysis? (5) The west’s awake or a wake for the west? One of the loudest criticisms of the new government has been the absence of any decision-maker from the north-west and west at cabinet. That said, Fine Gael's Hildegarde Naughton will be a "super" junior minister for international transport and roads with a seat, but not a vote, at cabinet. This could well become a hot potato very fast for Dublin-based minister Catherine Martin, whose wide-ranging department includes heritage, which covers special areas of conservation and bird protection laws. The counties with the largest number of protected sites are along the western seaboard. Understandably, Martin will want to make sure Irish protections are ambitious, and working to the highest standard. There is then a danger of a "rest versus the west" narrative taking hold. How will this government juggle commitments to balanced regional and rural development with its environmental and climate ones? Roads could well turn out to be a key flash-point. Galway city-based Naughton may want to push ahead with Galway’s delayed and controversial ring road, and she may also want to progress the Limerick-Cork motorway too. The Taoiseach and the two Cork ministers Simon Coveney (Fine Gael) and Michael McGrath (Fianna Fáil) may also want this. How will the Green Party ministers in cabinet deal with this?

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

What's next for commercial rates?

Author: Dr Gerard Turley, J. E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics and Whitaker Institute Analysis: the present crisis presents a new government with an opportunity to rethink commercial rates Commercial rates are a vital source of income for local authorities to fund local public services. With many businesses adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, revenue from commercial rates for Ireland's 31 local councils will be significantly lower this year that the €1.6bn projected in the 2020 budgets. In March 2020, the government announced that commercial ratepayers impacted by the shutdown could apply to their local authority for a three-month rates deferral. In all likelihood, this would have resulted in some businesses ceasing their rates payments. By May, this temporary deferral of rates transitioned into a rates waiver for ratepayers that were forced to close due to public health requirements. At an estimated cost of €260m to be borne by the central exchequer, this decision may have to be considered again depending on the duration of the economic downturn. In England, for example, non-domestic rates were waived for small businesses for the entire 2020/21 financial year. Rates are a recurrent annual tax on business properties. Similar to the residential property tax, rates are a local tax where the tax is assigned to local government where the rate is determined by the elected councillors. Commercial rates account for about 30% of annual local authority income, but this is not the full story. There is a large variation across local authorities with respect to commercial rates, including these four. The rates share of revenue income  There is considerable variation between councils in the share of revenue which rates account for. City councils that have a large commercial base are heavily dependent on rates income, but smaller rural councils are more reliant on central government grants. In the three Dublin county local authorities, approximately half of their revenue income comes from commercial rates. In small rural councils less than one fifth of their revenue income is derived from rates. So although the shutdown negatively impacted all local authorities, the outturn will not be uniform. Variation in the ARV Although it is difficult to compare the Annual Rate on Valuation (ARV) across the local government sector due to revaluations undertaken in some but not all councils, the difference is striking. For those councils that have undergone a rates revaluation, the ARV varies from a high of 0.2760 in South Dublin County Council to a low of 0.1732 in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. Of the eight councils yet to undertake a revaluation, Kerry County Council strikes the highest rate at 79.25, whereas the lowest rate is levied by Galway County Council (66.59). One of the explanations for these large cross-council differences is the variation in expenditure per capita. This ranges from a high of over €1,500 to a low of less than €600 in local council spending per person. As local governments are required to balance their adopted revenue budgets, current expenditure has to be financed from revenue income (i.e. no planned borrowing permitted to pay for day-to-day spending, unlike at central government level), with rates income as the balancing item. Differences in collection rates Defined as the ratio of commercial rates collected to total rates for collection, the national collection rate in 2018 was 88%. Taking into account the commercial rates accrued, but also arrears, waivers, write-offs and reliefs for vacant properties, collection rates range from a high of 96% in Fingal County Council to a low of 76% in both Donegal and Laois county councils. Many councils with relatively low collection rates established debt collection units to manage and improve collection rates, with varying degrees of success. The increase in unpaid rates bills associated with the economic contraction is likely to result in an increase in debt collection services, used internally or, more controversially, outsourced to third-party private debt collectors. Variation in vacancy rates Using county data, GeoDirectory publishes quarterly estimates of commercial property vacancy rates. In Q2 2019, the national vacancy rate was 13.3% (equivalent to over 28,000 vacant commercial properties), with a high of 18.9% in Sligo and a low of 10.1% in Meath. The highest vacancy rates were all in the west and north west of the country, corresponding with the most rural parts of the economy. Given the economic downturn and the short-term prospects for the business sector, the number of vacant commercial properties is expected to increase, with a knock-on effect for commercial rates and local authority income.  What is needed is a comprehensive and urgent review of commercial rates Aside from these cross-council variations reflecting differences in local preferences, circumstances and choices, what does this tell us? Given current economic conditions and the inevitable competing calls on a new government for business assistance and enterprise supports, what is needed is a comprehensive and urgent review of commercial rates. When abolishing business rates in 2020/21 for small businesses in his March budget, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak also announced a fundamental review of business rates by HM Treasury. A similar review was published in Scotland in 2017. Some of the 30 recommendations of the Barclay Review of Non-Domestic Rates that might be relevant here are a redefinition of the rates base, more regular revaluations and a business growth accelerator that would provide for a one-year holiday on investment in new machinery or business expansion. In the Irish context, similar reviews have taken place in the last 15 years, but arguably in very different circumstances. To name but three, there was the Indecon Review of Local Government Financing in 2005, the Commission on Taxation Report 2009, and the Local Government Audit Service Overview of Commercial Rates in 2018. There was a recommendation in the 2005 and 2009 reports to widen the rates base to include certain properties, including Government buildings, educational and professional institutions with commercial outlets and certain non-State properties exempt from commercial rates. As part of this root and branch review of rates, the Local Property Tax should also be included, so that all local taxes are considered. This time-limited analysis of the property tax should cover the method of valuation, the central and local rates, the 80/20 split, and the thorny matter of revaluations. It should also look at more substantive issues like alternatives to the tax such as, for example, a site value tax as proposed in the Green Party election 2020 manifesto. Likewise, the review of commercial rates should have a broad terms of reference to include the operation of the rating system, its overall burden on businesses and other business tax alternatives of a local nature. Among others, consideration might be given to a local business tax with a base other than property, reassignment of motor vehicle tax (where future revenue is shared between central and local government) or a congestion tax/charge in our main urban centres. Whatever the recommendations of such a review of local taxes, the present crisis presents a new government with an opportunity to rethink commercial rates, with a view to identifying the least harmful local taxes to be levied by councils on taxpayers.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

How workplace bullying costs Ireland €239 million every year

Author: Dr John Cullinan, Economics, and Dr Margaret Hodgins, Health Promotion Research Centre Analysis: new research finds that one in 10 employees in Ireland have experience of being bullied and the problem is unlikely to go away with remote working Workplace bullying is both widespread and damaging. It occurs when there is repeated and systematic aggressive behaviour by one or more persons towards another, and takes place in all types of work environments, from offices to shops to building sites. Sometimes, the bullying within an organisation is visible, but often what is observed only represents thetip of the iceberg. orryingly, researchshows that almost one-in-ten employees in Ireland have recent experience of being bullied. At a macro level, there are significant costs to the economy from bullying in the form of lost productivity, which can occur when those who experience bullying end up taking extra time off work as a result. In a recentstudywe found that a total of 1.7 million work days are lost in Ireland each year because of bullying, at a cost to the economy of almost a quarter of a billion euros per annum. While these numbers clearly highlight the enormity of the problem in Ireland, the most important and serious consequences of bullying are always for the victims. For them, it is an insidious problem with a wide range of negative personal effects. For example, in another recentstudy,we showed that employees who reported being bullied were considerably more likely to be often or always stressed, while other research has found links with post-traumatic stress disorder. There is also evidence that workplace bullying can lead to poor concentration, increased propensity to accidents, lowered commitment and performance, as well as increased alcohol consumption and strain on personal relationships. In fact, bullying at work has been described as a more crippling problem for employees than all other kinds of work-related stress put together. In addition to these personal impacts, there are also numerous financial and other costs, both to individuals and organisations. For example, there can be direct costs to the victim, such as loss of income, medical costs, legal costs, and early retirement. Indirect costs may include reduced well-being and quality of life, poorer job satisfaction, as well as lost opportunities. For the employer or organisation, direct bullying-related costs arise from sickness absences, replacement costs, legal costs, and HR-related costs. There can also be indirect costs to the business such as effects on bystanders or witnesses, reputational damage and lower morale. Given all of this, as well as the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, an important issue to consider is how changes in work practices, including increased demands and remote working, might impact workplace bullying. Will the fact that many of us are now working from home mean that prevalence rates of bullying will fall. Or will new working arrangements exacerbate situations where bullying is more likely to occur? While it is difficult to know for sure, especially given the lack of up-to-date data on the issue, previous research examining the facilitators of workplace bullying, as well as evidence on prevalence rates across sectors and contexts, provide some indications. We know that bullying thrives in stressful work environments and is associated with organisational change, meaning pandemic-related changes to work practices could prove a fertile ground for bullying in some sectors. For example, the prevalence of bullying is generally higher in the health sector. While working from home has been lower here than in other sectors during the pandemic, it has experienced significant changes in other working conditions and practices in very demanding circumstances. As a result, we think it likely that bullying would have remained a serious concern in the health sector during the pandemic.  For other sectors where remote working has been much more common, it is less clear what the implications are. For example, it could mean that there are fewer opportunities for bullying as a result of reduced contact with colleagues. However, survey data we examined from before the pandemic shows similar bullying prevalence rates amongst those working and not working from home. But it is important to note that this was when remote working was a choice rather than enforced so we need to be careful not to over-interpret this finding. It is possible that some respondents may have been working at home because of workplace bullying. Nonetheless, aspects of work that increase stress, such as excessive workload, limited control over work and conflicting demands, are all likely to have increased with remote working and this could enable bullying. A further consideration arises in relation to how we communicate with our colleagues and managers. Enforced home working inevitably entails much higher levels of electronic communication, whether by email or Zoom. While this is not a risk in itself for bullying, if a relationship between two or more workers is already fraught, the victim may suffer insofar as they cannot "escape" psychologically to home. Home space has now become work space for many and the boundaries previously afforded, which may have provided some protection as a coping response, are erased by home working. Overall, the evidence suggests that workplace bullying in Ireland is widespread, costly and unlikely to disappear with remote working. The question then is what to do about it. Workplace bullying is notoriously difficult to deal with in organisations and the evidence base for effective interventions is thin. While anti-bullying policies are important to signal to staff that bullying is unacceptable, they need to be implemented fairly and in a timely fashion. Ideally, organisations should be proactive, identifying how and when bullying occurs, and be prepared to develop specific interventions that are appropriate to context. That context may now be very different as a result of Covid-19, and employers should look carefully at how new work practices may be acting as facilitators to workplace bullying.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

How up to 180,000 tonnes of our plastic ends up in the sea

Author: George Bishop, PhD researcher in the College of Science Analysis: new research finds that 7% of recyled European polyethylene ended up in the ocean in 2017 What happens after you've done your bit for the environment and placed your plastic waste into the correct recycling bin? New research finds that a significant proportion of this plastic may end up in the oceans and quantifies this pathway for the first time. Typically, your disposed recycling is collected and sent to a materials recovery facility, where materials are separated, typically by plastic type. The sorted waste is then transported to a reprocessing facility. In these reprocessing facilities, the plastic is recycled into resins where closed-loop recycling (the recycled material substituting virgin material to create an identical product type) or open-loop recycling (the recycled material mostly substituting other materials) occurs. One of the most common plastic to be recycled is polyethylene, an extremely versatile material and is one of the most common types of plastic in Europe. It is primarily used in packaging and can be found in bottles, trays, films and plastic bags and accounts for about 30% of European plastic. While European countries have developed world-leading waste management infrastructure, the increasing quantities of plastic waste now being recycled is putting pressure on these systems. This pressure has been partially relieved through the exportation of plastics destined for recycling, to countries outside of Europe, which until recently was spearheaded by China. Currently, 46% of European separated plastic waste is exported outside of the country of origin to be recycled. A large share of this plastic is transported thousands of kilometres to countries with poor waste management practices, largely located in southeast Asia. Once in these countries, much of the waste is then rejected from recycling plants into overburdened local waste management systems, which have been found to contribute significantly to ocean littering – a global pollution phenomenon of increasing environmental concern. New research undertaken by the NUI Galway and the University of Limerick quantifies this hitherto unidentified pathway of polyethylene plastic into the ocean in a study published in the scientific journal Environment International. The study estimated that up to 180,558 tonnes, or 7% of exported European polyethylene, ended up in the ocean in 2017. These results indicate an important and previously undocumented pathway of plastic debris entering the oceans, which will have considerable environmental and social impacts on marine ecosystems and coastal communities. Plastics can survive for hundreds of years, polluting the environment. Animals can become entangled within the plastics, such as netting, or ingest larger plastic fragments, such as turtles mistaking plastic bags for food. Larger plastics can also degrade into smaller plastics, known as microplastics. As well as be eaten by smaller animals, microplastics can leach chemicals into the surrounding environment, resulting in toxicity which impacts both humans and animals. The results showed that countries exporting a higher share of plastic outside of Europe, such as UK, Slovenia, and Italy, see a higher share of their recyclable plastic waste end up as ocean debris. This is cause for concern over how the reporting of recycling in undertaken. Given that such a large share of waste destined for recycling is exported, with poor downstream traceability, this study suggests that 'true’ recycling rates may deviate significantly from rates reported by municipalities and countries where the waste originates. In fact, the study found that up to 31% of the exported plastic wasn’t actually recycled at all. To successfully move towards a more circular economy (an economic system aimed at eliminating waste) in line with European policy, the authors conclude on the need for European municipalities and waste management companies to be held accountable for the final fate of "recycled" waste. This may involve extended audit trails, or "on-shoring" of recycling activities. There is considerable work to be done to improve aspects of these plastic recycling chains, to reduce the ‘leakage’ of these systems. Increasing attention on environmental impacts of this plastic in some destination countries is changing the market for plastic waste. Many countries, such as the main importer, China, are implementing new policy, banning the importation of plastic waste. This is likely to have further consequences for the fate of European plastic waste. However, the true extent of this global system change remains unknown. Although, early reports suggest that the plastic waste that would have been exported to these countries are being diverted to countries with a higher risk of ocean littering, thus increasing the problem. READ: What really happens to our recycling? However, the authors caution that these findings should not discourage people to recycle, as it remains one of the best waste management treatments for plastic waste. Every year, more plastic is recycled globally, reducing our dependence for non-renewable fossil resources. Check with your local municipality on how you can improve your recycling habits from home today. The study was part of the Science Foundation Ireland funded Innovative Energy Technologies for Bioenergy, Biofuels and a Sustainable Irish Bioeconomy: IETSBIO3

Monday, 6 July 2020

The Global Governance Challenge of Human Security

Dr John Morrissey (Geography and the Moore Institute) published an article with the Development Studies Association on the global governance challenge of the World Health Organisation and broader United Nations in our COVID-19 world: https://www.dsaireland.org/covid-19-resources/the-global-governance-challenge-of-human-security “The pandemic has reminded us, in the starkest way possible, of the price we pay for weaknesses in health systems, social protections and public services […] Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build more inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change and other global challenges” – UN Secretary General, António Guterres, April 2020 In the history of the world, there has possibly never been a greater realisation of our interconnected global precarity. That precarity is experienced in unequal ways, of course, but there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has elicited a recognition of a connected vulnerability at a global scale that prompts a considered reflection on global governance and how global governance institutions and systems function. The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) failure to oversee coordination of pandemic preparedness plans for COVID-19 has prompted many to reflect on the inadequacies of existing global governance structures, and to argue that there is little evidence of a committed global politics of cooperation or transnational solidarity (Davis 2020). Evident too, however, is a prominent contrapuntal concern for the most precarious in societies across the globe and particularly in the Global South. UN Secretary General, António Guterres, for instance, has repeatedly acknowledged in recent months that COVID-19 has reminded us that we need to “redouble our efforts to build more inclusive and sustainable economies and societies” (Guterres, 2020a). For Guterres, the UN’s roadmap in response remains its 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. He has been particularly vocal too in stressing the importance of protecting the environment for future generations and ensuring human rights (Guterres, 2020b). But such rhetorical pronouncements must be activated in concrete and legally enforceable ways, and this requires strengthening the global governance capacity of UN agencies with effective instruments to oversee states and corporations complying with global conventions and regulations. How can this be meaningfully achieved? Franklyn Lisk and colleagues (2015: 33) have noted how “little attention” has been paid to “accountability for health and human security” in global governance, citing the shortcomings of the WHO in enforcing “rules on member state adoption of pandemic preparedness guidelines”. This critique is acutely relevant in our current moment and begs the question how best to oversee global human security in practice? How can we oversee, for example, what UNEP (2020) set out as the most important global governance challenge we face: addressing the “multiple and often interacting threats to ecosystems and wildlife to prevent zoonoses from emerging, including habitat loss and fragmentation, illegal trade, pollution, invasive species and, increasingly, climate change”. In this, curbing the excesses of ‘Big Farm’ agribusiness and regulating how we produce food is vital (Wallace 2016; Cohen 2020; Einhorn 2020); and attaining a broader sense of human security can only be achieved on global scale, involving cooperative and collective action. For the UN, cooperative and collective action on human security has been championed for a generation (UNDP 1994; Morrissey 2020). It has increasingly underlined the law as the key to its attainment in practice, envisaging ‘human security’ and ‘human rights’ as “mutually reinforcing”: Human security helps identify the rights at stake in a particular situation. And human rights help answer the question: How should human security be promoted? The notion of duties and obligations - (UN Commission for Human Security 2003: 10). As Dorothy Estrada-Tanck (2016: 3, 9) argues, there is considerable scope to build upon “existing legal international obligations” to link the law constitutively with the effective delivery of human security through a “precise normative grounding” of “human rights law”: the interaction between human security and human rights holds promise for more expansive and integrated legal interpretations that result in increased protection for persons and groups in their everyday lives, especially those in conditions of vulnerability (2016: 251). Human security, in other words, can become a focal tool for the state in identifying where it is “compelled to take additional measures regarding concrete human rights as foreseen in normative instruments, standards and indicators” (Estrada-Tanck 2016: 254). Extending this argument more recently in the wake of COVID-19, Estrada-Tanck reflects further on how a human security-human rights synergy can productively “shape national constitutional and legislative debate and to become policy-prescriptive in matters impacting on the rights of all persons” (Estrada-Tanck 2020). A new awareness of interconnected global precarity has elevated the import and usefulness of human security as a concept and strategy in terms of effective global governance. Global human security goals depend on collective, cooperative and coordinated action that requires a robust global governance architecture. That requires a more committed legal activation and administrative resourcing, not just rhetoric.  

Friday, 3 July 2020

How wet wipes and sanitary products are causing marine pollution

Author: Dr Liam Morrison, Earth and Ocean Sciences and Ryan Institute Analysis: personal care products marked 'flushable' are responsible for over 90% of microplastic fibres at some Irish locations The scale of microplastic pollution in our oceans is of increasing concern. The International Union for Conservation of Nature have estimated that 12 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year. Many potentially hazardous contaminants, including pharmaceuticals, metals, viruses, and bacteria, can adhere to the surface of microplastics. In the marine environment, the primary sources of microplastics include micro beads as components of cosmetics, while secondary sources result from the breakdown and fragmentation of larger plastic debris from wave action and ultraviolet light and synthetic clothing fibres released in grey water. Understanding the possible sources of microplastics entering the coastal environment is central to developing effective pollution reduction policies and strategies. It is widely accepted that domestic washing machines can release thousands of synthetic fibres per wash cycle. While most microplastics may be removed by the wastewater treatment process and retained in the sludge, a certain portion bypass the treatment process. Studies have estimated as much as 160,000,000 microplastic particles per day from the release of grey water into coastal waterbodies. As a result of the ubiquity of multiple coloured particles in the aquatic environment globally, clothing fibres and marine ropes are considered the principal source of marine microplastic pollution. To date, microplastic fibres from widely flushed personal care products, such as wet wipes and sanitary towels, have not been clearly identified in aquatic systems to date. European production of non-woven textiles for hygiene products and personal care wipes exceeded over 1m tonnes in 2016 alone. These products form a significant component of global sewerage system blockages resulting in significant technical and financial costs to wastewater utilities. Many personal care products form an increasingly persistent component of global coastal plastic pollution surveys. To date, the role of microplastic fibres in the marine environment, emanating from these products as a significant component of effluent, appears to remain unconsidered and unconstrained. In comparison with clothes fibres that are generally coloured or multi-coloured, fibres from sanitary products are white in colour. In most microplastic studies to date, white fibres are likely underestimated, because of the commonly used filtration procedure to capture microplastic particles, as filters are commonly white, making visual identification of microscopic white fibres against a white background difficult This is important given the global growth of non-woven synthetic fibre products and their ubiquity in wastewater. A new study by researchers from Earth and Ocean Sciences and the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway has assessed the role of sewage-related debris and the contribution of widely flushed (flushable, non-flushable) personal care textile products as a source of white microplastic fibres in the marine environment. The material composition of a variety of white fibres obtained from intertidal sediments and a recurring washed-up deposit of true-to-form sanitary waste, likely associated with a combined sewage overflow on a beach in close proximity to the Mutton Island Wastewater Treatment Plant in Galway City were characterised. The results were compared with a variety of consumer sanitary products to investigate their role as a source of white microplastic fibres in the marine environment. The new study shows that combined sewage overflows associated with periods of heavy rainfall gave rise to the release of sewage waste containing wipes and sanitary towels, which were deposited on the beach near the Claddagh in Galway City, impacting on public health and the environment. Combined sewage overflows occur worldwide and the nearby intertidal zone at Mutton Island is prone to the accumulation of high volumes of washed-up sewage-derived debris on a frequent basis. This is significant in the context of climate change, where we are likely to see increased rainfall events and flooding. Combined sewer overflows and the subsequent shoreline deposition of sanitary waste have not previously been thoroughly investigated as a source of white microplastic fibres in the marine environment. This study found that wet wipes and sanitary towels are a source of unaccounted white microplastic fibres in the marine environment and not all flushable wipes are biodegradable - in fact, 50% of the wipes labelled "flushable" in this study were shown to contain microplastics. An urban rural gradient involving three locations from Galway City (close to Mutton Island and adjacent to a wastewater treatment plant) to counties Clare (Bell Harbour) and Mayo (Bellacragher) were investigated in this study. The total number of fibres found near Mutton Island was 6083 microplastics fibres per kilogram of sediment, while the rural sites had much lower levels (Bell Harbour 1627 and Bellacragher 316). The total number of white fibres was 5536, 788, and 265 per kilogram of sediment for Mutton Island, Bell Harbour and Bellacragher respectively. Incredibly, 91% of microplastic fibres at Mutton Island are likely derived from wet wipes and sanitary towels. Covid-19 may have brought its own challenges for the oceans, including the increased use of disinfectant wipes during the pandemic which potentially may end up as microplastic fibres in the sea. It is widely known that microplastics can act as vectors for contaminants including bacteria and viruses and are potentially harmful for public health and marine life. The lack of regulation for hygiene and sanitary products results in a failure to clearly identify the plastic composition of these materials. This demonstrates the consequences of misleading labelling of non-woven textile personal care products and is a concern given the global distribution and projected growth of the non-woven textile industry, as non-woven textiles form the base material of many sanitary products.  Our study highlights the need for increased regulatory surveillance and improved public awareness of microplastic pollution in the environment. Human behaviour needs to shift away from the inapt disposal of sanitary products down the toilet and instead divert to alternative land-based waste management, while we find alternative solutions to plastics to address these needs.  Funding for this study was based on research grant-aided by the Marine Institute and funded by the Marine Research Programme of the Irish Government under the framework of the JPI Oceans (PLASTOX).(Grant-Aid Agreement No. PBA/ME/15/03).  

Friday, 3 July 2020

Does the FF-FG deal finally mark the end of Civil War politics?

Author: Dr Séan Ó Duibhir, History and the Centre for Adult Learning and Professional Development Opinion: with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the Civil War did not need to happen - and certainly not on the scale with which it did As we move ever closer to the historic return of the original Sinn Féin (Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil) to government, one can only imagine how those old friends – and later, enemies – Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera would view developments. Certainly, we can assume that when Collins issued the order to bombard the anti-Treaty IRA garrison occupying the Four Courts in June 1922, he understood that he was solidifying the split in the independence movement occasioned by the Dáil’s acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. The Treaty had provided for a 26 county Irish Free State, but not the recognised "republic" desired by many. This factor propelled some, such as de Valera, to reject the settlement, and led to threats by the anti-Treaty IRA to militarily oppose the new state. The immediate consequences of Collins’ action would have been clear to him: the violent cleaving of the united independence movement. What he could not have known, of course, is that it would take almost a century to suture (if not yet fully heal) this wound, with the participation of both sides in government together again. Cogadh na gCarad (The Friends’ War) The subsequent Civil War, which ended in victory for the Free State forces in May 1923, was both brutal and brutalising. Although exact estimates of the death toll vary, most historians are agreed that more Irishmen lost their lives in this conflict than were killed during the preceding War of Independence. The economic destruction wrought by the Treaty split was also greater and the Civil War came close to crippling the infant Irish state. Atrocities committed by both sides were executed with a venom typically reserved for a treacherous friend. They left a bitter legacy, dividing not just neighbours, but often families. The conflict claimed the lives of some of the nation’s most energetic and visionary leaders. We can only speculate as to the difference men such as Collins, Séan Hales, Liam Mellows or Rory O'Connor would have made in Irish political life during the 1920s and 1930s. The failure to find a political solution, and the descent into violence was, to quote the title of RTÉ’s insightful documentary on the subject, a form of "Madness from Within". A tragic waste By common consent, the conflict was a tragic waste of life and opportunity. Whilst those from the anti-Treatyite tradition are often loath to admit it, de Valera eventually proved the "stepping stone" theory of Collins to be correct. A decade after losing the war, de Valera became the elected leader of the Free State, and began to democratically and peacefully dismantle the Treaty he had once opposed by violent means. By 1938, he had effectively made Ireland a republic in all but name, and expanded the state's independence to the extent that it could adopt a policy of official neutrality during World War II, much to Winston Churchill’s chagrin. Had Sinn Féin remained united, and worked the Treaty from the beginning, this process might have occurred sooner. With the benefit of hindsight, it is evident that the Civil War did not need to happen, and certainly not on the scale with which it did. Had de Valera’s supporters adopted a little more imaginative thinking, or engaged in a slightly different form of contemporary spin, many of those who opposed the settlement in 1922 might have been convinced to accept it at the time, even if grudgingly. What’s in a name? ‘Free State’ or ‘Republic’ As most are aware, the subject of Northern Ireland was not an important feature of this violent split within Irish nationalism. During the bitter Dáil debates on the Treaty, the "Ulster Question" was rarely discussed. It appears that both sides of the emerging divide understood that some form of partition, already a reality since May 1921, would have to be accepted, at least in the short term. Instead, many of those who rejected the compromise with Britain were primarily concerned with two issues: the failure to secure the status of a republic for the new state and the requirement for Irish parliamentarians to swear an Oath of Allegiance to the British monarch. The question of the Oath was itself the subject of some misinterpretation, as "allegiance" was to be sworn to the Irish Constitution first, followed by a declaration to remain "faithful" to the British king as the titular head of the new Irish polity. For many who supported Sinn Féin in the elections of 1918 and 1921, the term ‘republic’ was likely, in the words of Professor Michael Laffan, to be "no more than a synonym for independence". It mattered not what an Irish state was to be called, but what it could achieve, once independence was obtained. But for others, the word ‘republic’ came to hold an almost religious significance. Moreover, the fact that the First Dáil had openly declared itself in January 1919 to be the sovereign parliament of a living ‘Republic’, gave added weight to this commitment. For some within this cohort, the perceived status of the new state was just as important – perhaps more important – than the practical implementation of independence itself. Forceful anti-Treatyite, Mary MacSwiney, gave voice to this perspective when she declared "they think the [Treaty] they have brought back to us is a good thing. It might have been five years ago if it were brought to any one of us then...but after January 1919 no man having sworn an oath to the Republic can withdraw from it...therefore, if there is to be a split, it is because [those] who stand for expediency have accepted something which we who stand for principle cannot give way." But did MacSwiney and her comrades have to "give way" on their principles? Arguably not, if they had chosen to fully embrace the Sinn Féin policy of the (re-)Gaelicisation of the Irish nation. From December 1922 onwards, the new state was officially known as the Irish Free State or Saorstát Éireann in the Irish language. However, Saorstát Éireann was also the term which Sinn Féin had used to denote the Irish Republic in the Gaelic versions of the Declaration of Independence, the Message to the Free Nations of the World, and the Democratic Programme of 1919. It was also the term utilised in Dáil written materials – and in correspondence with the British Government – between 1919 and 1922. A disastrous Civil War, fought largely, if not entirely, over the absence of an English word, "republic" Anyone who chose to conceive of the new state through the Irish language would have been, linguistically speaking, still referring to it as the Irish Republic. Even after the implementation of the Treaty, its Gaelic title remained the same as before: Saorstát Éireann. With all that said, is it reasonable to argue that much anti-Treaty opposition to the settlement could have been overcome on this basis? Is it reasonable to argue that the disgruntled could have been encouraged to conceive of the new state through the Irish language only, in which Saorstát Éireann could still be regarded as their "Irish Republic" in the Gaelic mind? Probably not. Such a proposal appears abstract, convoluted or even farcical. Farcical, that is, until one considers the crazed reality of what did happen: a disastrous Civil War, fought largely, if not entirely, over the absence of an English word, "republic".  

Friday, 3 July 2020

Why are so many Irish students not reporting sexual assaults?

Author: Dr Charlotte McIvor, Dr Pádraig MacNeela and Lorraine Burke, Active Consent Programme Opinion: the findings of a new survey shows the importance of the conversation around consent in Irish universities after Normal People The TV adaptation of Sally Rooney's Normal People has been the Irish, if not the global, television event of the pandemic. We are obsessed with Normal People, as Maria Tivnan pointed out, with its lengthy sex scenes as a key (but not the only) draw.  A particularly positive outcome of our obsession with Normal People's steamy sequences are the mainstream conversations it has sparked around sexualconsent, specifically the necessity of ongoing active communication between partners. This communication is portrayed most memorably – and with refreshing ease and clarity – in the first sexual encounter between the popular, GAA-playing Connell (Paul Mescal) and the bookish, outspoken Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones). This scene alone delivered a message that our Active* Consent programme team has been expressing for several years now: consent should be clear, ongoing, mutual, and freely-given. And it can be very sexy, just as sexy in fact, as Connell's infamouschain. The show itself modelled exemplary on-set practices regarding negotiation of consent between the performers, with intimacy coordinator, Ita O'Brien, working closelywith the series' directors and stars to choreograph the sex scenes. Of course, as the series progresses, both Marianne and Connell encounter less idyllic consent scenarios. These include Marianne's violent groping by an acquaintance in a nightclub, Connell's experience of an aggressive sexual advance in public from his former schoolteacher and Marianne’s pursuit of violent BDSM-inflected sexual relationships that she consents to but does not visibly enjoy. The most painful of these less-than-ideal scenarios to watch is perhaps when Connell refuses to hit Marianne during sex. a rejection she finds shaming. The clear communication that was delivered so casually in their first encounter is unfortunately lacking here. Had Marianne said how she felt being rejected by her partner, and if Connell had shared how he felt about being asked to do something he’s not comfortable with sexually, this might have led to a better outcome for communication within their relationship (instead of being glossed over in the series by him saving her after a violent encounter with her brother).  But even as the initial hype of the series dies down, Normal People’s impact is unlikely to fade away anytime soon. We suggest that it would be good to capitalise on the conversations around sexual consent that it has sparked quite urgently here in Ireland. This conversation is particularly important for our third level institutions, where the series spends most of its time and where young people are most likely to explore sexual relationships. Today the Active* Consent Programme and the Union of Students in Ireland released results from the first national survey on college students' sexual experiences in eight years, the Sexual Experiences Survey 2020: Sexual Violence and Harassment Experiences in a National Survey of Higher Education Institutions. It is also the first to include questions on race/ethnicity as well as gender, sexual orientation and ability. This provides an unprecedentedly intersectional view of sexual violence and harassment on Irish college campuses and a more diverse view of contemporary Ireland that the TV series also made relatively strong efforts to depict.  But the news is far from as shiningly hopeful as Marianne and Connell's celebrated first encounter, with high incidences of both sexual violence and harassment reported across genders and sexual orientations attending Irish universities today.Of the 6,026 students who completed the survey, 29% of females, 10% of males, and 28% of non-binary students reported non-consensual penetration through force, or threat of force, or while incapacitated and unable to give consent. Many students disclose their experience to another person, with 51% of males, 65% of females, and 75% of non-binary students saying they had disclosed the incident to someone prior to taking part in the survey, most likely a peer. Unfortunately, 54% of females, 37% of males, and 33% of non-binary students who had not talked about it to anyone, said they did so because they thought it wasn't serious enough.  We still have a lot of work to do to ensure that Irish young people who choose to take part in sexual intimacy have experiences that are positive and safe Just over half of first year students reported experiencing sexual harassment in the form of sexual hostility since beginning college. This rose to 62% for second year students, and 66% for undergraduate students in third year or higher. Over half of students with a disability reported an experience of sexual misconduct by any tactic (56%), compared with 42% of other students. In an era of marriage equality, reproductive rights and #MeToo, it might be easy to fall into complacency about being in an unprecedently open-minded, activist and sexually liberal Irish social moment. But these results indicate that we still have a lot of work to do to ensure that those Irish young people who do choose to take part in sexual intimacy have experiences that are positive and safe. And we do know what we need to do: talk about it to achieve a shared understanding of consent not only according toIrish law, but as it operates within our lived experiences.  We also need the third level sector to fully implement the 2019 Consent in Higher Education Institutions Frameworkwhich details the policies, practices, and supports that colleges can engage in to achieve international prominence as leaders in the field. While Normal People gave us some particularly binge-worthy motivation to reignite a national dialogue around sexual consent, our data and this framework gives us the information that we need to act on within the higher-education sector.  

Friday, 3 July 2020

"Old man, take a look at my life, I'm a lot like you"

Author: Dr Margaret O'Neill,  Irish Centre for Social Gerontology and the Huston School of Film & Digital Media, and Dr Áine Ní Léime, Irish Centre for Social Gerontology Analysis: what older Irish men have to say about how they're represented in the media takes on new significance in the light of cocooning In the play The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams, a collection of fragile glass animals comes to represent the isolation of that which might easily be broken by the outside world. This symbol comes to mind when we consider the dominant media images of older people (aged 70 and over) in the current crisis: inside their homes and gazing out through glass windows because they have been told that they must 'cocoon’ in order to remain safe. Cocooning, which involves staying at home and away from other people, was introduced in Ireland on March 27th and relaxed on May 5th. This change may have been in part due to advocacy by Age Action Ireland, ALONE and others. What does cocooning suggest about the capacity and willingness of older people to comply with the guidelines in the same manner as other citizens? Is the implication that older people in Ireland are less likely to comply with the guidelines or that they are unable to understand them? Cocooning may have been intended by the government as a protective measure, but cocooning older people as a concept can have lasting negative consequences. The images we are persistently presented with inform unconscious views about our own and others’ ageing. Depicting older people as frail or dependent may shape public and political attitudes and the formulation of new policies. For instance, the denial of the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) to those over the age of 66 in the workforce who have lost their jobs is symptomatic of our society’s failure to recognise the active lives and past and present contributions of the older population. How governments are responding to the crisis reveals underlying social beliefs. A recent RTE Brainstorm article argues that "requesting all those over 70 years of age to cocoon unwittingly reveals … ageist assumptions". As the authors contend, it is ageist to assume that all older people fall into a homogenous, vulnerable group. Many adults over the age of 70 are fit and healthy and many have caring and work responsibilities. In late 2019, we carried out focus groups with men aged over the age of 65 living in Ireland as part of an international project on TV, film and literary representations of older men entitled MASCAGE. The sessions explored how the images of older men in advertising, TV and film compare to, and whether they influence, the men’s lived experiences of ageing.  Study participants also highlighted the persistence of polarised depictions of older men in visual culture, despite some recent variations These observations take on new significance in the context of the policy of cocooning. In response to an image of an older man who felt confined inside a care home, one participant raised the issue of being "put in a box" in older age. "I suppose that's reality, older people are treated like that and held back and put into a box……. and that's frightening". The participants also discussed the importance of having a positive mental approach to their own ageing and staying active, inquiring and socially engaged. One man noted that older people are "portrayed as being different because they’re older, and they don’t have to be". In response to a positive image of a man in his 80s preparing to fly a plane, one participant noted, "It’s not just that you’ve reached your goal and you’re now in extra time … you’re still looking forward to something." The instruction to cocoon casts doubt on such possibilities and brings about a loss of independence. If older people feel that they are a burden, this can increase their risk of depression.  Study participants also highlighted the persistence of polarised depictions of older men in visual culture despite some recent variations. For example, one man said "they’re [either] in a hospital bed, or they’re 75, a Harrison Ford still out doing Indiana Jones". The direction to all those aged over the age of 70 to cocoon removed the respect which was afforded to everyone else But what power do such images have? When asked whether such images may affect them personally, one participant remarked "when you watch something … to fully engage with it you have to believe [it], and you turn to the outside world … some of that must remain with you". Returning to the image of the fragile older person cocooning behind the glass, representation holds the power to inform our shared social values and assumptions. As we find ways to live with Covid-19, it is important to listen to and engage with multiple experiences of ageing, as opposed to simply making reductive assumptions. Representations of ageing in the current crisis will inform future individual and social attitudes, behaviours and policies. As a community, we are engaging in social distancing by choice, as an expression of our respect and care for others. It is for each of us to consider how vulnerable we are and whether we should cocoon. But the direction to all those aged over the age of 70 to cocoon removed the respect, which was afforded to everyone else, of assuming that they would take responsibility for their own social distancing. Furthermore, it also endorses stereotypes of old age. Respect lies not in making presumptions about what is best for older people, but in providing them with the information to make a considered decision. Beyond cocooning, opening dialogue on older age can allow us to further explore the social and material ways that we can support older individuals through this time of crisis and beyond.  The authors gratefully acknowledge the insights of the focus group participants  

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Game of cones: how the red squirrel is making a big comeback

Author: Dr Colin Lawton, Ryan Institute Analysis: Ireland's native red squirrel is enjoying a reversal of fortunes in the battle with the grey squirrel thanks to the pine marten The mammal fauna found in Ireland has changed frequently over several centuries. New species have been introduced by humans while native animals have occasionally disappeared. At the turn of the 21st century, things did not look good for the native red squirrel. Their numbers had decreased considerably, and a large gap in their distribution had opened up in the midlands of Ireland. The loss of the red squirrel was caused by the invasive grey squirrel, which had been introduced in 1911 and had spread to cover the eastern half of the island. The grey squirrel had outcompeted the red squirrel for their favourite foods and carried a disease, squirrel pox virus, that was fatal to the native species. The demise of the red squirrel in Ireland seemed inevitable, but a series of surveys of the squirrel species has shown an unexpected reversal of fortunes. The grey squirrels had disappeared from certain midland counties in the surveys of 2007 and 2012, showing that the invasive species was not having everything its own way.  Research conducted by NUI Galway linked the regional loss of grey squirrels to another native species, the pine marten. Large relatives of the stoat, pine martens are one of the few predators that, like squirrels, can climb trees. The pine marten has been on the island of Ireland for thousands of years, but had suffered a huge decline themselves through hunting and habitat loss. They were considered very rare and elusive and were mostly confined to small pockets of animals in the west of Ireland. The pine marten has made a recovery since becoming protected by the Wildlife Act of 1976, but it has taken a long time for this slow breeding animal to repopulate previous territory. The return of this native predator has impacted the alien grey squirrel, and indirectly helped the native red. The new study shows a very strong negative correlation between grey squirrels and pine martens. Grey squirrels disappeared from woodlands where pine martens had returned in big numbers across the midlands of Ireland. The red squirrel seemed unaffected by the presence of the pine marten, and had actually returned to some woodlands after being absent for several years. Initially, the reason for this decline in grey squirrel numbers but not red squirrels was not completely clear. Follow-up studies in Scotland and Northern Ireland suggested the grey squirrel shows a "predator naivety" when it comes to the pine marten. There are no similar predators in their native range in America, and feeding trials showed the grey squirrels did not display predator avoidance behaviours in the presence of pine martens. Red squirrels, who have evolved alongside pine martens in Ireland, showed a tendency to avoid the carnivorous animal. Given that changes are still continuing in this on-going saga, a new citizen science survey, the All-Ireland Squirrel and Pine Marten survey, was conducted during 2019, to update the distribution maps and status of the three species in Ireland. The initiative was a collaboration between researchers in NUI Galway with colleagues in Ulster Wildlife and Vincent Wildlife Trust, and funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The survey team used social media to encourage the general public to report their sightings of the three animals using the online databases hosted by National Biodiversity Data Centre and the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording. Citizen science is now an established means of gathering information, by pooling the knowledge of the public on their local wildlife, to reach across the whole country and every potential habitat. The use of mobile phone cameras to verify sightings, along with other tested validation methods, allows the researchers to gain a much broader picture than would be possible within a small team. Updates on the surveys through the social media sites maintained public interest and allowed the researchers to feedback results to the citizen scientists. Even given the reversal of fortunes for squirrels detected in previous surveys, the results of the 2019 survey were amazing. The grey squirrel was recorded in 37.8% fewer 10x10 km squares than in the 2012 survey, and is now absent from an area covering roughly nine counties in the midlands where they had been found back in the 1990s. Since 2012, they have disappeared from Fermanagh, Monaghan and parts of Meath and Kildare. Red squirrel sightings have increased considerably, and they have returned to areas vacated by the grey squirrels. The number of sightings of pine marten was very high, with signs that its core range has expanded from the west and midlands to include parts of Northern Ireland and Co Wicklow. Again, it is in the areas where the pine marten has increased most significantly that the grey squirrel has disappeared. The grey squirrel continues to thrive in some areas, in particular urban regions around Belfast and Dublin. As a result of the return of the red squirrel, their status has been improved from Near Threatened to Least Concern in the latest Ireland Red List for Terrestrial Mammals. This is undoubtedly good news, but we must stay diligent in observing these animals into the future to make sure the tide does not turn once again.  

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Why does Ireland want a seat on 'dysfunctional' UN Security Council?

Author: Professor Ray Murphy, Irish Centre for Human Rights Opinion: the Irish Government will learn tomorrow if the bid for a seat on the UN Security Council has been successful At a critical time for the UN and its Security Council, elections for five non-permanent members of the Council will take place tomorrow (June 17th). The Security Council is the most powerful of the UN organs and it has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. However, it has come to symbolise the dysfunctional nature of the UN in recent years. This year, Ireland, Canada and Norway are contesting two available rotating seats currently held by Belgium and Germany.  Although the criteria for appointment are based on the contributions to the maintenance of international peace and to the other purposes of the UN, equitable geographic distribution has come to play a major role in reality.    When delegates assembled at San Francisco to adopt the UN Charter in 1945, they were confronted with an agreement among the major powers as to the composition of the Security Council. What was wanted at the time was a body large enough to be representative of various interests, yet small enough to be efficient and manageable. In accordance with the Charter, five of the 15 members of the Council are permanent and have an effective power of veto. This has ensured the primacy of the US, Russia, China, France and the UK on the Council, while also limiting its membership. This arrangement merely reflected how the US, the then Soviet Union and the UK dominated the post World War II era. A major challenge today is the changed distribution of global power and the fact that the composition of the Security Council does not reflect this. How can it be justified that India, Brazil, South Africa, Japan or Indonesia do not have permanent membership? There have been numerous reports on UN reform and many efforts to change the composition and working methods of the Council. While there is agreement on the need for reform, that is as far as it goes, apart from a consensus that the Council should remain sufficiently small to be effective and at the same time sufficiently large to be representative and legitimate.   The right of the current five permanent members to veto any proposals for reform reflects the imbalance in the power dynamics on the Council. It is at the very least inconsistent with the requirement for global representation and undermines the legitimacy of the UN as a whole.  Council dynamics in recent years have reflected deteriorating geo-political tensions and divisions. Debates between the US, China and Russia over Venezuela became so fractious that the Council stopped discussing the topic altogether. After a decade of recriminations on Syria, this might have seemed a good idea, but it ignores the responsibility of the Council and its members. Some of the most contentious differences have emerged over the Middle East and North Africa. Division over Iran has been particularly damaging and even threaten relations among European powers. France and the US have clashed over peacekeeping in Africa, especially the Sahel region. These public clashes have undermined the Council and the UN missions on the ground.  For the most part, the poor state of the UN in general today, and the marginalisation of the Security Council in particular, reflects the reality of international relations. While UN reform is important, it will not resolve these issues. It will not address US unilateralism or Russian flouting of UN resolutions in Libya while supporting opponents of the UN backed government there. Ireland is committed to prioritising disarmament and non-proliferation issues if elected. It has a good record of contributing to peacekeeping and human rights, but does not have the economic leverage of a country like Canada, which is a major contributor to the peacekeeping budget. The non-permanent members and regional groupings have sought to circumvent the lack of agreement among the major powers and consequent paralysis of the Council. In this context, Ireland can only aspire to a relatively modest role. The permanent five members still largely set the agenda and retain a tight hold on most major Council processes, drafting resolutions and only occasionally permitting the 10 elected members a substantive role. Nevertheless, Sweden managed to play a pivotal role in Yemen while on the Council.  Ireland, Norway and Canada have much in common. The differences between them for the most part reflect their individual priorities.  All have successfully held non-permanent seats in the past, which makes predicting the outcome of the election difficult, and the pandemic has complicated the process. Ireland has always been an advocate of multilateralism, peacebuilding and the rule of law.  The current campaign for membership has emphasised the themes of empathy, partnership and independence.  Given Ireland's record on UN peacekeeping, it could play a constructive role in promoting an integrated approach to post conflict reconciliation involving peacebuilding, development, human rights and good governance. It has advocated for a greater role for women and girls in peace building and for their protection in situations of armed conflict. In common with the other contenders for a seat, it has also sought more transparency and inclusiveness in the Council’s work.  The UN will only ever be as effective as the member states allow. At present, the outlook for the Security Council remains bleak. Expansion of the membership and other reforms remain deadlocked. The biggest obstacle to an effective Council continues to be the dysfunctional relationship between the major powers and the consequent marginalisation of its role. Ireland has stated that it would seek to draw on its experience of peacemaking to assist the Council in conflict resolution efforts. Ironically, these efforts are most needed today in resolving differences within the Council itself.  

Thursday, 25 June 2020

America's historical problem with racism

Author: Professor Daniel Carey, Moore Institute Opinion: George Floyd's death led to a remarkable wave of protests, but will this moment succeed in transforming America? In August 1797, in the midst of the ongoing Haitian Revolution led by slaves on the island, Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend about the "revolutionary storm" sweeping the globe. He predicted that "the day which begins our combustion must be near at hand; and only a single spark is wanting to make that day to-morrow. If we had begun sooner, we might probably have been allowed a lengthier operation to clear ourselves, but every day’s delay lessens the time we may take for emancipation." The pattern of occasional urgency followed by acquiescence lies deep in American history in its response to racism and racial injustice. The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th has led to a remarkable wave of protests and large-scale demonstrations, creating a new incentive for change. But will this moment succeed in transforming the country? The first step is to acknowledge the depth of the problem and its durability. Jefferson himself offers us some hints. Even as he was acknowledging the grave situation laid bare by events in Haiti, his search for a "peaceable accommodation" at home was troubled by the question: "wither shall the colored emigrants go?" As a slave owner who sired children with an enslaved family maid, Sally Hemings, Jefferson had more than a just a political relationship to the question. Abraham Lincoln, who would issue the Emancipation Proclamation during the American Civil War in 1862, struggled with the same concern of where freed slaves might go. In 1854, he wondered about the feasibility of returning them to Liberia in Africa, in a reversal of the journey made in the Middle Passage, but recognised that whatever the "high hope" for such a plan in the long run, "its sudden execution is impossible". What was the alternative? "Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition?" he asked. The more radical approach would make them "politically and socially our equals", but at this stage in his thinking he allowed: "My own feelings will not admit of this, and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of whites will not." Both Jefferson and Lincoln (at this stage in the latter’s career and in spite of his opposition to slavery) still entertained the idea of a separation of peoples. It was a future imagined for America where whites and blacks were kept apart, perhaps with an ocean between them, assuring that whites would retain complete political and cultural hegemony in the country. Slavery - America’s original sin, as some have called it - was abolished in 1865, but its corollary, racism, has proved intractable. The manner of Floyd’s death has spoken powerfully of this truth: his head pinned to the ground under a white police officer’s knee, the unheeded plea that he could not breathe, combined in a literal and symbolic moment to express the suffocating effect of racism. The refusal to see or accept the reality of such oppression suggests that the work of abolishing systemic racism is unfinished in America. The failed Reconstruction period after the Civil War set the conditions of political compromise and permitted the imposition of formal discrimination under the Jim Crow laws in the South. Major changes brought about by the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s addressed some of these problems, but the vision of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. remains a dream deferred. As an American, I can see how the country makes compromises with itself to keep the pernicious system of racial injustice in place. On the one hand, a select group of African-American figures in the world of sports, entertainment and media is accorded adulation by the great mass of Americans. On the other, whites largely remain attached to the premise that African Americans have a diminished humanity. The result is an often schizophrenic relationship where race is acknowledged and unacknowledged, avowed and disavowed. How many films have we seen where "pretend" race relations of normality are represented, with white pals out for dinner or drinks being joined by an accommodating black friend, who remains present but mysteriously absent of history at the same time? The Lily character in The Devil Wears Prada comes to mind as an example. American museums have sought to tell the story of the black experience and retain it as part of public memory and imagination, most recently with the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, DC. When I visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, I was struck by the way that the museum combined historical information with dioramas of a kind, including a chance to sit on a bus like the one Rosa Parks boarded in 1955, with a sculpture of her in a seat near the front and an audio loop of the white driver telling her to go to the back of the bus. The visit comes round eventually to the actual room in the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King spent his last hours, the remains of a meal conveying presentness of the moment and the bed turned down, before one sees the balcony where he fell to a sniper’s bullet. We have not lacked for moving ways to recount a tragic and enduring legacy. Caught between shifting polarities of bad conscience and bad faith, White America needs to evolve a different understanding which recognises the country as a co-creation of the races. This is true economically, from the institution of slavery onwards, despite many attempts to deny it. But in an even deeper sense, there is no America without the interplay of these forces, no dynamic to the culture, to its self-expression, identity, style, and distinctiveness. Donald Trump's presidency and its racist agenda, together with the realisation of powerful disparities in the impact of Covid-19 on people of colour (in death rates and economic consequences), have sharpened this moment of reckoning and set it apart. A long hot summer awaits. Near the end of Ralph Ellison's great novel of African-American experience, Invisible Man (1952), the unnamed central character says "without the possibility of action, all knowledge comes to one labelled 'file and forget,’ and I can neither file nor forget." As Independence Day approaches on July 4th, we are left to wonder if America will once again ignore its founding ideals ("liberty and justice for all", as the Pledge of Allegiance puts it), and remain content to "file and forget". Or will the country, at last, confront systemic racism and take action to dismantle it?  

Friday, 19 June 2020

How technology can help reduce risky behaviour around the virus

Author: Dr Chris Noone, School of Psychology and and James Green, University of Limerick Analysis: a new online tool allows you to estimate and evaluate your risk of getting and spreading Covid-19 The search for an effective Covid-19 vaccine continues, but it will most likely be 2021 before one is widely available. This means that we need to maintain the behaviours that reduce the spread of the virus as we move through the phases of Ireland's roadmap to reopening society. Developing ways of supporting and motivating people to keep their distance from others, wash their hands correctly and self-isolate where necessary will help to slow the transmission of Covid-19. This is why our team of behavioural scientists from all over the world has developed an online tool called Your Covid-19 Risk that allows you to estimate your risk of contracting and spreading Covid-19. It also gives advice specific to you about reducing your risk. The tool has already been used tens of thousands of times internationally and is now available now available in Ireland. Here's why we think this tool can help you and how findings from behavioural science informed its development. Do we know our own risk? Humans are not good at judging their risk of experiencing things that can damage their health so we tend to overestimate our chances of uncommon health conditions and risks. We also underestimate the likelihood of common health conditions and risks. We are particularly poor at dealing with information about risk communicated through numbers. For example, people tend to overestimate their chance of contracting a disease when told that there is a one in 12 chance of this happening, compared to when they are told that there is a 10 in 120 chance of this happening, even though both risks are exactly the same! We only need to look to the last pandemic that reached Ireland to see how poorly we tend to guess risks – and how underestimating risks can stop people from doing things which can keep them safe. During the swine flu outbreak, research carried out in the UK showed that many people believed that they would not catch it. People who thought that the risk of catching swine flu was exaggerated were much less likely to do recommended protective behaviours . This shows how important it will be for people to be aware of their risk of getting Covid-19 as more and more people spend time in public places. How do we estimate risks? Why do we tend to make mistakes when we work out risks? Psychologists describe three ways that people tend to judge their chance of getting a disease or experiencing other dangers to their health. The first way involves using the information available to us from research, experts, the news or other sources to make an educated guess about our risk. For example, many of us now tune in to the daily briefings from the Department of Health to hear from experts about Covid-19. The second way involves relying primarily on the emotions we experience when considering a threat to our health to inform how at risk we think we are. For example, those who experience more anxiety when thinking about the pandemic are more likely to consider themselves at risk of getting Covid-19. The third way involves relying on our instinctive reaction when we first hear about a health threat. Some people's reaction when Covid-19 first reached Ireland in February may have been "well, that won’t affect me!" while others may have had a gut feeling that they would contract the virus at some point. Clearly, there is a lot of room for error in each of these strategies. Developing ways of ensuring that people make use of correct and objective information about health risks is an important goal for public health. What does Your Covid-19 Risk actually do? To produce a more accurate estimate of your risk, our tool asks you some questions about things including social distancing and hand-washing, as well as background information (eg age, gender, occupation, country). These are combined to produce personal ratings of both your risk of catching Covid-19, and the risk of you passing it on if you catch it. We are lucky that only one in two people that catch Covid-19 will pass it on to another person right now in Ireland. Back in March, each person with Covid-19 passed it on to an average of three other people. If we keep this rate of new infections low, we will be able to continue with the re-opening, and be well placed for a second wave, if this occurs. But accurate information about risks is not enough. We also need to make sure that knowing your risk of Covid-19 motivates you to do things that will be effective in lowering your risk. We know that people differ in how much they stick to the guidelines on social distancing and hand-washing. This makes it important to deliver specific information about protective behaviour to people based on what they are already doing – something psychologists often call "tailoring". For example, some may be more likely to stick to social distancing guidelines if they are reminded of how this will protect others. Others may be more likely to stick to social distancing guidelines if they are reminded of how this will protect themselves. Behavioural science has a key role to play in responding to the pandemic and we hope that we have shown the value of improving how people consider their risk of contracting and spreading the virus. Check out our online tool to assess your own risk and get tailored advice on how to lower it.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Do Swedish women regard nature differently to Irish women?

Author: Dr Alison Herbert, Irish Centre for Social Gerontology Opinion: research found that women in rural Sweden are more appreciative of the role nature plays in enhancing quality of life Against the current backdrop of social distancing, a national plea to take a walk on the wild side throws a timely spotlight on the environment and its effects on our quality of life. But does nature and the environment benefit everyone in the same way? It seems not. Recent research examined the influence of place on ageing and quality of life amongst mid-life women (mid-40s to mid-60s). The findings show similar perspectives between those in the rural regions of Värmland in Sweden and Connemara in Ireland, but also reveal a number of marked differences. Although quite diverse in terms of population size and density, both regions are classified as rural. However, whether a person identifies one's place or oneself as rural or not is linked to personal perceptions on place. How we identify with our place, and how that influences our quality of life, particularly as we age, conflates with our levels of place attachment. This concept is best understood at micro, meso, and macro levels, extending from our house and garden, to our neighbourhood, to our region, and even to our country. Are these women from Sweden more or less attached to their rural place than their counterparts in Connemara? With regard to this study, it is best answered by examining research participants’ narratives around nature and the natural environment. Women from both regions comprised a mix of those indigenous to the area and those who chose to live there, for multiple reasons including the lower cost of housing, and the perception of more intimate community relationships. But while all research participants flagged the natural environment as an enhancement to quality of life, marked nuances in narrative surfaced between the two regions. Those living in the world-renowned beauty spot of Connemara tended to understate the region’s positive characteristics, whilst those of the Swedish study enthused wholeheartedly on the aesthetics of space, pace of life, landscape, and wildlife. Furthermore, all participants of the Swedish study consciously used their rural environment on a daily basis to augment their quality of life. The appeal to Swedish participants of forests, lakes, wild animals, flora and fauna and the ability to forage, cycle, swim and fish proved to be high influencers of quality of life. It also acted as a counter-balance to reports of harsh winters and limited rural socio-economic amenities. In contrast, most participants of the Irish study enjoyed their rural environment in a more passive way, alluding to its fine qualities of fresh air and clean waters, but choosing to engage with nature in a more casual fashion, perhaps with a daily stroll. Attempting to compare the influence on well-being of environmental green (land) and blue (water) space on two such diverse geographical regions as Connemara and Värmland is difficult: as we know, the devil is in the detail. This study is not a popularity contest between Les Lacs du Connemara and My Silver Lining. Connemara's hills, beaches, loughs, and islands, not to mention its many social attractions, are after all, legendary, and were amplified by a number of participants, albeit in a more oblique manner. There are a number of reasons to account for regional divergence, but findings from this particular study suggest a much greater appreciation by Swedish participants of the role that the natural environment plays in enhancing quality of life and ageing. Consequently, place attachment appeared to be stronger amongst participants in the Värmland region. Having an understanding of the value placed on the natural environment can and should help to inform policy decisions that support the well-being of older women in all environments, including rural. By appreciating the connections between place and quality of life, we are better informed on how to plan and manifest environments that add value to life. How rural women engage with nature and what they think of rural living really matters. How they feel the natural environment impacts upon their lives as they grow older can inform discourse around "palettes of place", comprising green and blue space and therapeutic landscapes in both rural and urban areas. After all, what is good for rural ageing and quality of life is likely to be good for ageing in all environments. Research from this rural study strongly suggests that a good life is indeed influenced not just by our natural environment, but by how we perceive and engage with that place. So, for goodness sake, let’s follow Lou Reed for that walk on the wild side

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Can organisations be kept honest during the pandemic?

Author: Professor Kate Kenny, Whitaker Institute, and Dr Lauren Kierans, Maynooth University Opinion: supporting genuine whistleblowers will play a vital role in stopping organisations engaging in fraud and wrongdoing during Covid-19  The massive dislocation due to Covid-19 represents a "perfect storm" for fraud and wrongdoing in Ireland and elsewhere. The only way to deal with this is to ensure accountability. Supporting genuine whistleblowers plays a vital role. Right now, though, they are often left exposed and Ireland is at a critical juncture here. We have a pretty good whistleblower protection law on paper, but the last few years have shown problems with it. Some organisations have not taken the law seriously and some workers have found themselves open to retaliation after raising serious concerns. A new EU directive, passed in 2019, offers the chance for Ireland to make significant improvements in how we protect people who speak out about wrongdoing. Covid-19 brings many changes, including a variety of opportunities for misdemeanours in business and politics. According to The Economist, "cheating is inevitable" in the period ahead. Vast increases in government spending, troubled firms seeking rescue packages, new markets opening for medical equipment including PPE, and suspended parliaments leave us all vulnerable to what The Washington Post terms a potential "pandemic of corruption". Here in Ireland we have been warned of a crisis in transparency and accountability in politics as a side-effect of coronavirus restrictions. Enabling genuine insiders to come forward with information is critical for staying on top of this. After all, 50% of all fraud, corruption and wrongdoing is first disclosed by employees, not by external examiners, or law enforcement. These concerned insiders save money for businesses in the long term, and ensure healthy governments. But typically one in every five whistleblowers describes retaliation. Protection for this group is vital. In 2014, Ireland introduced one of the strongest whistleblower protection legislations in the world. Commended by experts internationally, the Protected Disclosure Act offers stronger protections for Irish whistleblowers than available in other countries. Even so, Ireland’s law leaves some people vulnerable when they use it to protect themselves against retaliation for speaking out, for the following reasons. Burden of Proof If you are retaliated against for speaking out, you have the right to a remedy under Ireland's disclosures law, but it is not straightforward. In cases of reprisal that don’t involve dismissal, the burden of proof is on you, the whistleblower, to demonstrate that the only reason this happened is because you spoke out. This is difficult to prove as an organisation can often find other reasons for behaviour that seems to be retaliatory, at least enough to cast doubt. This "burden of proof" is a significant obstacle. Whistleblowers rarely have the financial resources to compete with corporate legal teams.  It is the reason that many cases taken under the 2014 Act didn’t succeed. The EU Directive reverses this and places the onus on the organisation to prove that retaliation was for a different reason. Adopting this change would be a valuable step forward for Ireland.  Reporting The EU Directive is specific about the kinds of reporting systems organisations must have in place. These systems will make it easier to analyse what happened, when, and by whom during a whistleblowing process. Everything to do with disclosures, including reprisals, will now have to be carefully documented and recorded.  Right now in Ireland, only public sector organisations are required to have speak-up policies in place. The EU directive extends this to most private sector firms. And it extends protections to volunteers, shareholders, and even non-executive members of an organization. Outside disclosures In Ireland, if you cannot disclose within your organisation, you have the option of going outside to a "prescribed person". These include county councils, oversight authorities, and regulators. Prescribed persons should be providing the public with information on how to make a whistleblowing disclosure, but four out of five currently do not.  Prescribed persons are supposed to report the number of protected disclosures they receive each year. But as of 2018, a full four years after the 2014 Act was passed, almost 80% were not reporting at all, or were providing incomplete information. It seems that many prescribed persons either do not understand their obligations, or they ignore them. The EU Directive insists on adherence here: authorities must make full information available online, and provide regular reports. Addressing wrongdoing Under the EU directive, wrongdoing must be investigated. The current laws do not require Irish authorities to act on the information disclosed in whistleblowing cases. But the EU Directive demands that "diligent follow-up" of suspected wrongdoing is carried out. Trade secrets Ireland’s private sector whistleblowers took a blow in 2018. A change in legislation meant that a person could be prosecuted if they disclosed information that the organisation could classify as a trade secret. Whistleblower protection can only be claimed if a "general public interest" test is met to demonstrate why they did it. Such tests are famously difficult to pass in court and many private sector whistleblowers will simply opt not to speak out because of these challenges. The EU Directive demands this restriction be scrapped; trade secrets provisions must not interfere with free speech rights.  A defeated whistleblowing case gives the impression that there was no wrongdoing, even if the case has only been lost because of procedural loopholes Poor whistleblower laws are effectively cardboard shields, encouraging people to step forward and then failing to protect them when they do. The consequences are serious. A defeated whistleblowing case gives the impression that there was no wrongdoing in the first place, even if the case has only been lost because of procedural loopholes. Ireland’s protected disclosures law was a pioneer legislation. It works well on paper. As one of the first of its kind, its introduction was accompanied by political wrangling and compromise. This is normal. But now is our opportunity to move forward towards first-class protections. The EU Directive is not perfect, but it offers better protection for whistleblowers. We have until December 17th 2021 to transpose the Directive. It is vital that Ireland makes these changes sooner rather than later and that they don’t get lost in the noise.  We need them to help ensure accountability: in our government, our businesses and our public sector in the turbulent times ahead.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Why are we so obsessed with Normal People?

Author: Maria Tivnan, O’Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Opinion: forget Connell's chain and those sex scenes, Normal People arrived at the right time for this kind of introspection and analysis Are you watching Normal People? Never mind a novel for our time, this is a question for our time. The numbers speak for themselves: the TV series has surpassed 2.5 million streams on RTE player, 38 million streams on BBC's iPlayer and over 5 million hits on Google. It's the subject of WhatsApp groups, Facebook posts, Twitter threads and print media. Connell's chain even has its own Instagram page and 166,000 followers. So what is this obsession all about? We've all heard about the complaints on RTE Radio One's Liveline, but is Normal People's popularity all really down to the sex? The past three decades have seen Ireland’s attitude towards sex positively transform in many ways. We have come a long way since Glenroe's controversial roll in the hay with Miley and Fidelma and we want to celebrate this journey in our viewing choices. There’s also a collective curiosity as to what "Irish" sex on television may look like and what this might say about us as a society. Those who lodged complaints must have tuned in at some point, and then there’s the ever popular activity of jumping on the bandwagon. We certainly enjoy the craic and banter that comes with all of that.  However, it is in the scenes outside of the sex scenes that the alluring nature of this TV drama lies. In relation to Irish remembrance culture and nostalgia, Emilie Pine has written that "we are not who we thought we were, or we remember ourselves differently now". Globally, we are rapidly experiencing momentous changes due to the Covid-19 health crisis. The world is not what it once was, and Normal People works to weave its way through our memory on multiple levels. We remember our youth, our schools, our first loves, our debs; I know I am not alone in my unearthing of debs photos following that particular episode. Yet it is also reminiscent of a world that has become estranged to us, where people go to school, hang around small town chippers at night, and walk freely in and out beneath the arches of Trinity College. In this sense, it depicts a world that is both familiar and strange. We all knew a Connell and a Marianne, even retrospectively, and perhaps elements of both these characters dwell within many of us. To see the internal worlds of such characters portrayed so eloquently by the cast, particularly Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones, creates an intangible draw for us as viewers. Normal People is undoubtedly more glamorous than your average school experience: the swimming pool parties, the ownership of a coffee press at 19 and the villa in Italy come to mind here. That said, there is a sincerity and fragility created in the spaces between Connell and Marianne. The interplay between their physical proximity and their social distance (actual social distance) is compelling.  Neither one can communicate or, in Connell’s case, complete a full sentence. There are moments when all we want as an audience is for someone to speak; to express what we feel must be on their mind. Does our frustration lie in our wish for this relationship between two fictitious characters to succeed? Or does it lie in our own wishes to do things all over again? To say what we needed to say, to who we needed to say it to? Both directors Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald are masterful at creating this atmosphere of tension, creating a heightened awareness of the character’s positions in relation to both their internal and external landscapes. We absorb the gentle rest of Marianne’s head on Connell’s shoulder at Streedagh Beach in Sligo, and feel her distressed clutch to the kitchen sink as Connell initiates their inconclusive break up. It is through highlighting these tiny intricacies that we gain insight into their intimacy, and we want more. Kitchens, classrooms, nightclubs, beaches, car interiors: these are spaces and places we know, and it is in these spaces we also get to know Connell and Marianne, and understand instance by instance, episode by episode what the philosopher Thoreau may be getting at in his statement that "it’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see". This statement also bears light on conflicting views that the Marianne of the TV series is too pretty. However judgements on her appearance, particularly whilst in secondary school, are based on a construct upheld by her poor self esteem and her classmates’ perception of her. Why do we care? Possibly because Connell cares, and this is indicative of some of the preconceptions and notions around female attractiveness and/or gender roles which prevail in our society.  We love Connell; Mescal’s character has a warmth and a vulnerability that is entirely relatable. The Irish like an underdog and, although both of these characters are deserving of this title, there are issues of class at play here, which perhaps gets a little lost in the complex retelling of this relationship.   Normal People arrives at the right time for this kind of introspection and analysis, yet the series also provides an opportunity for a collective witnessing of sorts, to the state of ourselves and the state of the nation. Joe Exotic will come and go, but the experience of this show may be much slower to fade.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Why Lady Gregory is one of Ireland's greatest cultural figures

Dr Barry Houlihan, James Hardiman Library, and Dr Melissa Sihra of TCD Opinion: from plays to co-founding the Abbey, Lady Gregory had a profound influence on Irish literature and culture Walking up the imposing marble steps of the New York Public Library earlier this year, one was greeted by a large image of Lady Augusta Gregory and her proud declaration "ALL THIS MINE ALONE". The title of a major exhibition, Gregory's statement appears in the manuscript of Kathleen Ni Houlihan, the play which she co-authored with W.B. Yeats, but for which was never acknowledged. On the 88th anniversary of her death on 22 May 22nd 1932, how do we remember one of Ireland’s greatest cultural figures? The author of 42 plays, a book of sonnets, a translator, a folklorist, and co-founder of Ireland’s national theatre, the Abbey, Lady Isabella Augusta Gregory (Persse) was born in 1852 and has had a profound influence on the Irish literary and cultural revival of the early 20th century. She can be regarded as the genesis of the Irish literary theatre. At their core, her plays are about the power of language and the artist to transform everyday life. Gregory invented the unique dialect of Hiberno-English which influenced John Millington Synge and is now synonymous with the Irish dramatic tradition. Synge referred to her original Hiberno-English as his "daily bread". An Irish speaker, she first used this form in her 1902 translation Cuchulain of Muirthemne, which WB Yeats called "the greatest book ever to have come out of Ireland".  In Gregory’s plays, storytelling is the driving force of the action from Kathleen Ni Houlihan and Spreading the News to The Rising of the Moon, influencing Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Brian Friel's Fait Healer and Dancing at Lughnasa, Marina Carr's The Mai and beyond. Beckett was greatly influenced by Gregory’s dramatic pairing of characters in confined or exiled circumstances in The Gaol Gate and The Workhouse Ward. Underlying her plays is a rich source of folklore as an expression of the invisible forces that shape our internal lives. Strong women are central in Gregory’s plays. Grania contains some of her most lyrical language, ending with a woman who crowns herself. In The Golden Apple, a beautiful witch is considered ugly by mortal men and is persecuted for her knowledge. The blind madwoman Cracked Mary in The Full Moon understands the nature of being unlike the dull, myopic local townsfolk.  The New York exhibition coincided with the Irish Repertory Theatre bringing Gregory’s life and works to the stage in a new play Lady G: Plays and Whisperings of Lady Gregory. Directed and created by Ciaran O'Reilly, Irish actor Una Clancy played Lady Gregory along with Terry Donnelly, John Keating and James Russell who superbly performed 23 roles including Yeats, Sean O'Casey and George Bernard Shaw We first meet Lady Gregory at her home in Coole Park where Clancy speaks directly to us: "Lady Gregory is gone now – since 1932 my goodness, almost 90 years so we're just bringing her back this evening for a visit… Through me. (Lady G takes centrestage.) And here I am."  Early in the play Gregory reflects that "my chief memory is that of being ignored." While she is referring to her mother’s lack of interest, this can be understood in a larger sense. Gregory was one of the Abbey’s three original directors with Yeats and Synge. During her lifetime, she was the most produced, most popular and most prolific playwright of the Abbey and her plays saved the theatre from financial ruin many times, yet they have rarely been performed since her death. Confronting her erasure from the repertoire, Gregory tells us "my plays have not been performed much since my departure so one of the conditions of my contract at the Irish Repertory Theatre was that if I was to make an appearance, I would like to see some of them staged." O’Reilly's play integrates the exquisitely crafted The Workhouse Ward and McDonough's Wife as plays-within-the-play introduced by Gregory herself. As McDonough’s Wife ends, Gregory tells us, "I saw my play as "a hymn of praise to the pride of the artist". Shaw called her "the greatest living Irishwoman" and, as Gregory’s life and works shine in New York City in 2020, it is time to unveil their luminescence in Ireland once again. On the death of Gregory in May 1932, playwright Lennox Robinson described Gregory in the Irish Press as "an internationalist . . . the most distinguished woman dramatist in the world today". Robinson also called on the Irish Government to fully recognise and to pay tribute to Gregory’s achievements to which she gave "for Ireland". But that recognition was not forthcoming. The house and gardens Gregory kept at Coole were transferred to State ownership in 1927 and the grand 18th century house was allowed to collapse into ruin in the years following her death. Today, the expansive gardens, forest and woodland, including the famous "Autograph Tree" and a visitor centre, are preserved to enable the public to walk in Gregory’s viewpoints of a century earlier. The records and archives that document Gregory’s presence and great influence in Irish cultural life are part of major collections in libraries around the globe and the minute books of the Abbey Theatre are available online at the Hardiman Library in NUI Galway. These show how Gregory contributed to the administrative, literary and financial management of the theatre, often had fraught exchanges with fellow Board members, and was still chairing board meetings in the months before her death. There is, however, little evidence of any official marking of Gregory’s passing within the theatre’s board minutes. Production histories teach us about what plays are produced and when, but also about what works and figures are excluded from our stages and literary and cultural histories, national or otherwise. Since Gregory died in 1932, only 13 of her plays have been produced in the following 80 or so years (22 plays were produced during her lifetime in the first 30 years the Abbey existed), leaving many still unproduced today. In 1984, Ray Yates directed an experimental production of Kathleen Ni Houlihan that used a darkened stage with four masked heads speaking as if floating in a Beckettian style. In 1990, Olwen Fouéré played Kathleen in a beautifully stylized choreographed performance and a production of Kathleen Ni Houlihan was part of the 1990 International W.B. Yeats Festival. However, that decade saw the sharpest drop off in productions of Gregory's plays. No credit or mention of Gregory was made in the lavish play programme, which was presented by the Abbey Theatre in association with Coca Cola. At the centenary of the Abbey Theatre in 2004, Kathleen Ni Houlihan was againcredited to Yeats alone. By presenting Gregory’s plays or by bringing new performative interpretations, we can today be enriched by her stagecraft and through her contribution to Irish culture. The New York Public Library exhibition, All This Mine Alone: Lady Gregory and the Irish Literary Revival, was curated by novelist Colm Tóibín and Professor James Pethica. It is fitting that the exhibition opened in the city in which Gregory shared many personal relationships and could enjoy the celebrity and fame she was often denied in her home country. The exhibition traces her intricate life weaved between the public and the private, her home life and the stage, and the complexities of her marriage, affairs and the broad network of cultural and political figures with whom she mixed. Coole and Galway are a living presence in the exhibition, The documents portray the boundless energy Gregory drew upon to maintain a vast creative output as well as endure many personal losses, none greater than her son, Robert, an artist and pilot who died in 1918 during the final throes of the First World War. This exhibition and recent productions at the Irish Rep Theatre are urgent reminders of how Gregory has been sorely misremembered as a dramatist of great significance in Ireland. Her plays are formative to the Irish literary tradition, and are clearly influential to succeeding generations of Irish playwrights. At home, the Lady Gregory Autumn Gathering, which has run for 25 years, is an annual celebration, attracting leading scholars, artists and the public to Coole, Gort and Galway. As with others, Gregory’s plays are out of copyright and open to new and radical interpretation. This can succeed in pulling the legacy of Gregory out from the black mourning veil we are accustomed to seeing her behind, and forwards into the live and captivating worlds she created on stage.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

10 things you may not know about the Local Property Tax

Author: Dr Gerard Turley, Economics Analysis: some of the things which may surprise you about the tax on residential properties introduced in 2013 We all know about the Local Property Tax (LPT). Indeed, this time last year, the government yet again deferred the revaluation date for the tax, and by doing so, avoided the inevitable increases in liabilities for owners of residential properties. Aside from this headline, there is much we don’t know about our LPT (and may not want to know but that's for a different day!) This is a list of facts about the LPT that you may not know, but may find interesting or surprising. (1) How local is it anyway? Although it is a local tax in the strict meaning of the definition of a local tax (one where local councils have rate-setting powers and, in this case, the discretion to increase or decrease the base rate by 15%), it is the central or national government that decides everything else, that is, its introduction, tax rate, base and valuation, and collection vis-à-vis Revenue. (2) Where does the money go? Not all of the revenue from the tax stays in the local administrative area from where it is collected. Some of it is used to fund financially weaker local councils (see point 5), other local authorities with smaller economic and revenue bases. This is a sensitive and controversial issue for urban areas and especially the local authorities in Dublin. (3) What's the money spent on? Not all of the LPT revenue pays for recurring current or day-to-day expenditure on local public services and some of it is used to fund capital spending on roads and housing. €77m of the €500m LPT allocation in the 2019 budgets was for the capital budget. (4) Does this mean that councils are coining it in? It's not an additional source of revenue for local councils, as it replaced another source of local government revenue, namely, central government general purpose grants. General purpose grants from central government peaked in 2008, at €1bn. Annual LPT receipts amount to about half that, at just less than €500m. (5) Are all councils equal? 20% of the LPT receipts are used as an equalisation fund, so well-disposed (in terms of the number of properties and their valuations) local councils partly fund poorer local councils, instead of the alternative where this equalisation funding comes directly from central government. Of course, this may be a moot point as in the end it all comes from the taxpayer. (6) How much cash does the tax actually bring in? The Local Property Tax raises a relatively small amount of revenue, at less than one percent of total government tax revenue. This share or percentage will change in 2020 due to falling revenues arising from the coronavirus lockdown.  (7) How does it compare to other local council taxes? In terms of the share of total revenue income for local councils, it is the smallest at 8%, with commercial rates (31%), charges and fees (29%) and central government specific purpose grants (32%) accounting for the remainder (per 2018 figures). (8) So commercial rates are huge then? Commercial rates are a business and property tax and raise almost four times the revenue that LPT raises. Although this will change because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the lockdown and the impact of rates actually paid, tax revenue from residential properties is still much lower than tax revenue from commercial properties.  (9) When will the tax change? Although the owner of the residential property's liability may change from year to year, this depends on whether your local council decides to vary the base rate. Annually, the majority of councils did not use this local power until 2020. Again, this may change given the very different economic circumstances. We will know more by September when councils are required to inform Revenue of their LPT rate for the next financial year. (10) Are Dubliners subsiding the rest of the country? The four Dublin local authorities have cut the LPT rate every year since 2015, amounting to a gain for taxpayers (albeit very small for most owners of residential properties) but a loss to council income, and revenue foregone that was not available to pay for local services. Amounting to almost €150m between 2015 and 2019, this is equivalent to a full year’s spending by all 31 local authorities on street cleaning and litter management. Although some of this detail may change in 2020 for reasons outlined (namely the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic), the essential features will not change. The LPT was designed during the last economic crisis, and allowed the government to widen the tax base and to tax wealth (in the form of property) while at the same time provide a new and stable source of income to local government. While Revenue and the government of the time deserve praise for this (unlike the debacle over water charges) the current crisis provides a new government with an opportunity to reform the LPT, and not just in terms of property revaluations for LPT purposes! Whereas this element of the LPT dominates the media headlines - not surprisingly so given the impact on LPT bills for taxpayers - other features of the LPT are equally important for policymakers and citizens, as our national politicians thrash out a new social contract in advance of a programme for government.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Is it time for a daily arts report on the news just like sports?

Author: Dr Miriam Haughton, O’Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Opinion: daily news exposure won't fix the arts crisis in Ireland, but it will widen the conversation Before the pandemic, many news bulletins on radio and TV ended with a sports round-up. Following the delivery of hard news such as economics, government formation, health and crime, this placement of sports news on a daily basis deems it as of major social relevance. Sport is competitive, skilful, transformational, and of course, political. It evokes community pride, it motivates energies and egos, it jolts memories of past glories, and significantly, it becomes a topic of conversation among every age group, socio-economic background, race, diverse abled-bodies, gender and sexuality. There are competitions to prepare for, infrastructure to develop and community engagement to harness for the benefit of all society. In addition to professional and international, the sports news considers amateur games and local games. The various inequalities embedded throughout society become more visible in sport, and thus, provide an effective platform from which to discuss models of change, best practice and social cohesion. Frontline players and behind-the-scenes managers, coaches, and councils become sources of scrutiny. Games are played live, but also recorded and broadcast, followed by heated commentary. This ritual is so deeply embedded that it operates as part of the fundamental fabric of life in Ireland, and indeed, around the world. Sports, and sportspeople, in short, are respected. Their value has been legitimised and this value is captured by its daily inclusion in "the news". Is the role of sports so different from the arts? In ancient Greek times, major amphitheatres were sites of plays and performances played to thousands. The artistry involved ensured these performances were central to how society became constituted. The writing of the play, the training of the chorus, the fate of the protagonists, the political ideologies that underscore the play's tragic destiny, the unique design of public space, and the sophisticated understanding of audience engagement all played a part. This rich lineage of performance and the arts at the heart of society can be traced through various epochs, inevitably utilised both as a source of political propaganda, as well as challenging political power. The role of artists and the politics of performance in the imagining of Irish autonomy over a hundred years ago is in our cultural DNA, an intrinsic part of our heritage. The talents and passion of poets, players, playwrights and theatre managers  were weaponised to conceive of, and convince, that a utopian future could be achieved in material action. As the Decade of Centenary commemorations progressed, this potent creative activity once more became the central focus of community encounters. It enticed people to contemplate who we are as a society, the different paths we each tread, and to begin imagining a future that can hopefully overcome the inequalities and divisions that challenge us in the present. The role of the arts is a powerful ecosystem at the heart of society, but one which is in grave peril, something which has not gone unnoticed by state agencies and cultural organisations. The Arts Council, Culture Ireland, Creative Ireland, the Irish Research Council and many more propose initiatives to foster this unique resource and address the serious issues that confront an ongoing arts crisis. The recent #PaytheArtist campaign from the Arts Council acknowledges that "the underpaid or unpaid contributions of artists represent a hidden subsidy to the cultural life of Ireland; we recognise that this is unfair and unsustainable". The goals of this campaign include improving the living and working conditions of artists through influencing change, such as guidance on best practice relating to pay. Will this much-needed step forward be shattered by the devastating impact of Covid-19? As we attempt to manage lockdown, each of us are reliant on the arts. We desperately need the escape to our imaginative worlds or exposure to them to provide meaning, community, intellectual and academic sustenance, pleasure, and relief to the upside-down world we now find ourselves in. It might be the page-turning novel, the drama box-set marathons or the online concerts and events. But as we rely more and more on the arts to make the pandemic bearable, the bitter irony is that artists are facing renewed threat of extinction. Their business was the first to fall, and maybe the last to return. Many will not return. The cost has been too high, and recovery as a sector is in doubt. Where do we go from here? I wish I had the answer to that question. I know further research, advocacy, collective consensus, and greater visibility must become part of a multifaceted approach to redefining the value of the arts in much stronger, equitable and more sustainable terms post-pandemic. I also know that the precarity and exploitation embedded in the arts industry must be addressed with the full weight of state support.  However, I do often wonder whether this would be a different conversation if exposure to the activities of the arts and lives of the artists were funnelled into our homes, phones, laptops and newspapers on a daily basis. Daily news exposure won’t fix the arts crisis in Ireland, but it will widen the conversation. It will provide space for debate, signal the nuances involved, situate its national impact both historically as well as in the present day, and most significantly, invite all of society to engage with it. Are we really all in this together?

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Reeling in the years: why 664 AD was a terrible year in Ireland

Author: Professor Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, History Analysis: the plague of 664 AD was one of the transformative events of early Irish history and its devastating effects lingered for several years  The Irish annals for 664 AD have an ominous entry: "the plague reached Ireland on the 1st of August" (Mortalitas in Hiberniam peruenit in Kl. Augusti). The similarity with our current woes does not end there as the 664 AD was a true annus horribilis. The opening entry for that year in the Annals of Ulster and Tigernach recorded "Darkness on the 1st of May" (Tenebrae in Kl. Maii). We know that there was indeed a near-total solar eclipse visible over Ireland and Britain of magnitude .94 on that day (in nona hora, "in the ninth hour" says the annalist, with admirable precision). The effect of such a total eclipse on the populations of the two islands can well be imagined. Was it a portent of disaster? The same annalist closed his entry for the year with the statement that "the plague first raged in the Plain of Ith of the Fothairt" (present-day Carlow-Kildare) and was being described as a mortalitas magna ("the great mortality") by the beginning of the following year. In fact, we know more about the effects of that plague than we do about most other such catastrophes in the Early Middle Ages such as the so-called Plague of Justinian of the mid-sixth century, which was a real pandemic. Our principal source of information is the famous English historian, the Venerable Bede, whose Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People) was published in 731 AD. Bede’s History is more than just a narrow account of English ecclesiastical affairs and is an invaluable source for the political developments that took place in these islands during the years that have been described as "The First Century of Anglo-Irish Relations". Bede was very well informed about the entire chapter of Irish history that spans the period from the exile of St Colm Cille from Ireland in 563 AD and his foundation of the famous island monastery of Iona, off the western coast of Scotland, down to the decades of his own lifetime (Bede died in 735 AD). In fact, Bede is our principal (almost our only) source for the second phase of "The Expansion of Irish Christianity" (Colm Cille’s career being the first) that saw Irish missionary monks from Iona take up residence in the island monastery of Lindisfarne, off the north-eastern coast of England, in 634 AD, spreading the gospel there and throughout England in the years and decades that followed. So profound was the monks' influence that one modern English scholar has stated that the Church in the north of England was, in effect, a branch office of the Irish Church for the generation between 634 AD and 664 AD. Students of English history remember the year 664 AD as the year of the famous Synod of Whitby, at which (so Bede tells us) the "native" Anglo-Saxon membership of the Church in northern England decided to part company with their Irish teachers and mentors and "go solo". In addition to everything else, the Annals of Ulster record an earthquake in Britain in 664 AD (terremotus in Brittania) and the effects of the decision at Whitby could almost be described in those terms. One consequence that we know of is that the Irish members of the Lindisfarne community (as well as 30 of the English monks who were also in the monastery, according to Bede) decided to leave England and return to Ireland. After a short period spent on Iona (for de-briefing, no doubt!) they continued back to Ireland, where the leader of the group, Bishop Colmán of Lindisfarne, established the island monastery of Inisbofin, off the coast of Co. Mayo, for them. Unhappy with the conditions that they faced there (per Bede again), the Englishmen in the Inisbofin community demanded a site of their own so Colman established them in the monastery of Mayo Abbey (present-day Baal), which subsequently became famous as "Mayo of the Saxons" (Maigh Eo na Sacsan). Bede knew enough about Mayo to be able to recount the story of its foundation and explain the meaning of its Irish name (Mag Eó, "the plain of yew trees"). However, he has much more to say (and appears to have been much better informed) about another community of exiled Anglo-Saxons in the Ireland of that time that occupies a central place in his narrative. That place is Rath Melsigi, which is now Clonmelsh (townland Nurney, Co. Carlow, near that "Plain of Ith of the Fothairt") and it's where the annals identified as the first place where the plague appeared in 664 AD.  The principal figure in the history of that place, Ecgberct, has been described by some English historians as the "hero" of Bede’s History. His career was indeed a remarkable one, and the story of Rath Melsigi is one that took on an European-wide significance and importance. The story of Ecgberct and his community takes us back to that fateful year of 664 AD. Bede has a remarkable story about how Ecgberct and his English companions in Rath Melsigi (some of whom he identifies by name) were laid low by the great plague and several were lost to the effects of the virus. While stretched on his death-bed, Ecgberct made a vow (vovit etiam votum) that he would impose a permanent exile on himself and never return to his native island should he be spared the ultimate end. He would instead devote the rest of his days to spreading the gospel amongst his fellow Saxons on the continent. Ecgberct was spared, as was another of his companions, who subsequently became a bishop in the north of England, and from whom Bede most likely heard the story. Ecgberct’s subsequent career, until his death in 729 AD (aged 90!), are the subject of several other chapters in Bede’s History and he also figures in native Irish sources. The turning-point in his life clearly was his miraculous survival in the plague year of 664 AD. The plague of 664 AD was undoubtedly one of the transformative events of Irish history in the Early Middle Ages and its devastating effects lingered for several years. Sadly, it was not to be the only such cataclysm that struck here in the seventh century (otherwise regarded as a high-point in the cultural and literary history of the island). The Annals of Ulster in 683 AD report "the beginning of the mortality of young people" (mortalitas puerorum), which it narrowed down to the month of October. By the beginning of the next year, it had become a plague on children (mortalitas parvulorum). In 700 AD, the annals report an outbreak of famine and pestilence (fama et pestilentia) in Ireland which lasted for three years, "so that man ate man" (ut homo comederet hominem). This was in addition to something akin to foot-and-mouth disease (bovina mortalitas). Hopefully, the efforts of our governments and health authorities, as well as the famous saint of Gartan and Iona, will be a protection to us from any recurrence of such gruesome times.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

How the lockdown is affecting new music

Author: Emer McHugh, O’Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Analysis: artists are already changing both how they make music and how they get it to fans during the pandemic The ongoing pandemic has had a devastating impact on the music industry. As well as the postponement and cancellation of several concert tours and festivals, many upcoming and eagerly awaited albums have been put back. These include Lady Gaga’s "Chromatica", The 1975’s "Notes on a Conditional Form", Alicia Keys' "Alicia" and the Dixie Chicks’ "Gaslighter". In thinking about the reasons why for postponing, Elias Leight broke down the process of releasing new music in Rolling Stone. "Videos need to be shot months in advance, TV appearances need to be wrangled, streaming service curators courted, press opportunities locked down, tour dates and radio station visits and record store appearances lined up. Without these components, artists risk releasing music to an uninterested, unaware, or simply overwhelmed public." With the ban on mass gatherings, it is hard to envision when we might attend a music concert again – and indeed, concerts are where many artists get most of their revenue. Some artists rely more on physical releases rather than digital, and access to producing vinyl and CD copies varies, depending on the artist and record label. Postponing is often simply for personal reasons. Talking to Zane Lowe, Alana Haim explained the rescheduling of Haim's album "Women In Music Part III" to late June. "Things were changing so quickly that when we were supposed to put out our record, it just didn’t feel like an appropriate time to do so. And now that it feels like we’ve settled into this weird quarantine new normal life, we really just want to put it out." So what about the artists who have chosen to push forward their releases instead of postponing - or those who have reconfigured how they share and make music? Fiona Apple's fifth album "Fetch the Bolt Cutters" was released in mid-April, following Apple’s decision to bring the release forward and her refusal to participate in a traditional release cycle later in the year. On the new album, Apple builds on the dynamic, exhilarating use of beat and percussion that first surfaces on 2012’s "The Idler Wheel". She exhorts "blast the music! Bang it! Bite it! Bruise it!" on "I Want You To Love Me", perhaps a manifesto for how she finds new ways of using and creating percussion and rhythm on this album. Here, Apple uses found objects (and unlikely backing singers) alongside more conventional instruments. Dogs bark on the title track and on "Newspaper", "Bolt Cutters" features a metal butterfly and a chair is used on "Drumset"; Apple even tapped on a box containing her dog Janet’s bones. Many critics have commented on how Apple’s house becomesan instrument here, something which Apple is cognisant of (she’s known for rarely leaving her home, after all). "I moved into this house in 2000, and I’ve always felt like [it] doesn’t want me to go anywhere", Apple recently told Rachael Handler in an interview. "So I’m like, "All right, I’m going to give you what you want, house. I know you deserve to be the record. I’m going to make you the record."’ It is fitting, then, that this album, very much of Apple’s home, is released as many of us have become more acquainted with remaining at home for the foreseeable. Other artists have also chosen to get their music out to its listeners in either a shorter or altered timeframe. As with Apple and Haim, there’s a desire to not sit on new music for too long. Laura Marling’s "Song For Our Daughter" was released in April with five days’ notice, having been initially planned for a late August release. In a message to her fans, Marling commented that she "saw no reason to hold back on something that, at the very least, might entertain, and at its best, provide some sense of union."  Hayley Williams chose to reconfigure the release of her debut album "Petals For Armor" In light of the new circumstances, releasing new singles such as "Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris" and "Why We Ever" one by one. Speaking to Billboard about the release of her single "Over Yet", Williams said that it "helped me tremendously, because it gives me something to focus energy into. Each song is a catalyst for more conversation and connection, which we're all desperate for right now." Both Marling and Williams particularly emphasise wanting to connect with listeners throughout the crisis. Elsewhere, other acts have used new music as a way to contribute directly towards coronavirus relief. Funds raised from Beyoncé’s remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s "Savage" go to the Houston non-profit Bread of Life, whereas the Bon Iver single "PDLIF" was released in aid of Direct Relief. Other artists are using time in lockdown to create new music. Charli XCX has announced the release of her fourth album "How I'm Feeling Now", having been working on it throughout the lockdown: "it’ll be very DIY — I’ll make it live from scratch, very indicative of the times we’re in." Charli saw "How I’m Feeling Now"as a way to process her new circumstances, telling fans that "it’s important to do this for me now to make something that feels really authentic, and real and representative of what I’m going through". On the other hand, The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle saw making and releasing a new album as a way to support his band and collaborators. In an interview with NPR, Darnielle explained that "everyone in the Mountain Goats has a side hustle, but our touring is our gig — that's how we make rent - and I feel a profound responsibility to my band." Darnielle recorded new album "Songs for Pierre Chuvin"on a Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox (which he had used for the Goats’ earliest recordings) over 10 days. "For the first time in a long time", Richard O'Brien writes, "Darnielle is alone with his tape recorder, doing what he can without outside assistance." Many of these new songs, even though the writers could not have predicted so, resonate in unexpected ways. On "I Know Alone", Danielle Haim sings "days get slow like counting cell towers on the road / I know alone and I don't wanna talk about it." From "On I Go" from Apple, there is "up until now in a rush to prove / But now I only move to move."  It would be trite to end this essay with "we still need music". Of course we do, but we do not know for certain what the industry will look like after this pandemic. Yet already, artists are changing the way they make music, and changing the way they make it available to listeners.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Why 'good enough' parenting is good enough during the lockdown

Author: Dr Malie Coyne, School Of Psychology Opinion: calm acceptance of 'good enough' as opposed to perfection can increase parenting confidence and reduce fears Have you had enough of articles with suggestions on "how best to parent during the coronavirus crisis"? Me too. Although well intentioned and often providing sound guidance, I feel overwhelmed by the amount of information coming in through my inbox over the past weeks. It's as if I'm drowning in a sea of advice. As if it wasn't enough to be holding onto worries about our families, health, livelihoods and the state of the world, without our usual supports, over-exposure to advice can reduce our confidence and increase our fear. For parents who feel a lack of control, our tendency might be to cling onto a sense of control in every aspect of our lives, including how we parent. This may lead onto perfectionist tendencies, where we try to control everything and take on roles beyond parenting. From the home schooling with endless lists of work and the challenges in "parenting from work", to feeling like you have to tackle "projects" (because social media says so) to managing your own and your children's big emotions, it hasn't been easy. Unfortunately this is counter-productive and it can lead us to feel like we don't measure up to ourselves or to others' expectations. Fortunately, there is a remedy. The calm acceptance of 'good enough' as opposed to perfection.  Introduced by British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in his book Playing and Reality, the 'good enough' parent provides support to what he called "the sound instincts of parents". As I previously wrote, "if your children had one wish for you, it would be your acceptance that being a 'good enough' parent to them is just that... enough". This stemmed from my experience of seeing parents holding high expectations of themselves, often pre-empting their children's every need, driven by echoes of their own childhood wounds, guilt and comparing themselves with others.  So what can help to take that pressure off yourself just that little bit? Learn to trust your gut instinct Each of us have an internal navigation system which guides how we parent. Our intuition has been carefully honed by our lived experience as parents, our natural instinct in attuning to our children's needs, and the incredible power of our attachment relationship in helping them be human, compassionate and resilient. Resilience means learning to cope with manageable threats, while having the ability to rebound in the face of difficulties. The single most important factor that nurtures resilience in children is having a stable and committed relationship with a trusted adult, to whom the child can turn to in times of challenge or need. By being emotionally available for your child through these highs and lows, you are nurturing their resilience. You are enough. When in doubt, drop into the present moment, listen to what your gut is telling you and trust yourself to do the next 'good enough' thing. Let go of the fallacy of perfection For many families, living through "lock down" conditions has presented many challenges, including a rise in conflict. The belief that 'perfect families' exists promotes feelings of inadequacy, loneliness and blame. Relationship ruptures arise naturally in every family. It's how we repair these that matter, which provides a valuable opportunity to strengthen our relationships with our children and models for them how healthy relationships work. When something goes wrong with our kids, rather than blame ourselves or them, try to see the need behind their behaviour, which is them needing you to organise their feelings. Taking your child's distress seriously and acknowledging their experience as valid for them gives them an experience of being safe as they learn about feelings. Get to know yourself as parent and prioritise self-care To be a calm, loving and empathic parent, you need to take good care of yourself. Parental self-care is about recognising our feelings and taking the time to restore balance. If we're feeling overwhelmed, we're less able to contain our children's big emotions. If we nurture our self-care, however, we're far better able to compassionately respond to them. A few times a day, find ways to rest and allow space to open up to yourself. I know this is harder when children are at home, but using moments to soothe yourself rather than activate fear may really help. What do you find nourishing? Going for a walk? Dancing like no one's watching? Having special family time? Chatting to a friend? Spirituality? Creativity? Playing music? Volunteering your time safely? Having a good laugh? Keeping up your routines? Whatever it is, find your potion and give yourself the gift of soothing and love. If there's anything this virus has taught us, it's that there's only one way to get past this. We'll have to go through it. The same goes for our pain and difficult feelings. There is light at the end of the tunnel. And perhaps this quieter time may be a valuable opportunity to make peace with being the 'good enough' parent you already are. If this feels too difficult for you, please talk to someone you trust or seek professional support. If you or your children feel unsafe in your home, you can access help by contacting Stillhere.ie. I've put together a collection of Covid-19 mental health, parenting and child resources and host a COVID-19 Special Broadcast for Parents every Wednesday at 9pm, in association with the A Lust for Life charity.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

The woman who could have been Ireland's first female President

Author: Dr Séan Ó Duibhir,  Department of History and the Centre for Adult Learning and Professional Development Analysis: A combination of civil War politics and poor political choreography scuppered Rita Childers in 1974 This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the passing of Rita Childers, the wife of Ireland’s fourth President, Erskine Childers. Although her life was far from uneventful, circumstance denied her the opportunity to make an indelible mark on the Irish psyche. But for a bout of poor political choreography, it is likely that she would have been Ireland’s first female President. Born Margaret Mary Dudley in Dublin in 1915, Rita, as she was known, was one of eight children. Her father’s early death obliged her to move directly into the workforce at 17, foregoing the university education she had desired. Following a number of secretarial positions, she was appointed assistant press attaché at the British Representative Office in Dublin in 1942. The then British Representative to Éire, Sir John Maffey, mentored her and recommended her for a position at the Irish desk in the Ministry of Information in London in 1943. From here, she moved for a time to the Foreign Office, before returning to Dublin in 1946 to once more take up the role of assistant press attaché at the Representative Office (later the Embassy). Her time in London broadened her perspective and contributed to the formation of the distinctive diction for which she was later known. Her work at the Foreign Office gave her access to unredacted accounts and images depicting the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, an experience that cemented her aversion to violence. Though supportive of the British war effort, she was no critic of Irish neutrality. Recognising the undeclared means by which Ireland aided the Allies, she also understood the domestic difficulties that public support for Britain would create for the Irish government at this time.  In 1952, she met the then Fianna Fáil Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, Erskine Childers. Romance quickly blossomed and they determined to marry that year. There were early obstacles, however. Discussions with Taoiseach Éamon de Valera highlighted the political difficulties inherent in a minister, particularly a Fianna Fáil minister, marrying an employee of the British Embassy and she would have to sacrifice her career for marriage. More difficult still, was the reaction of Dublin’s Archbishop, John Charles McQuaid, who refused to allow her (a Roman Catholic) and Childers (a Protestant) to marry in the capital. His love for her was such that Childers briefly considered converting to Roman Catholicism. In the event, no conversion was necessary, as the couple opted to marry in Paris in September 1952. Though her family had Fine Gael leanings, and she never joined Fianna Fáil, her public relations experience proved useful to her husband throughout his political career. Often, when he spoke at public events, Rita mingled with the crowd and gauged reactions to him. When violence erupted in Northern Ireland in 1969, Childers valued her opinions greatly, particularly with respect to the views of the British establishment. Her abilities also proved useful when he agreed to be Fianna Fáil’s candidate for the Presidency in 1973. The closing weeks of de Valera’s second term as President in mid-1973 finally signalled the end of the Long Fellow’s presence in Irish political life. To some, however, it also heralded the potential for a total break with a past dominated by Fianna Fáil. A Presidential victory for the recently elected Fine Gael-Labour coalition government would further demoralise a Fianna Fáil organisation already shocked by its fall from power. Success for the Coalition was a distinct possibility, given that their candidate, Thomas O'Higgins (later Chief Justice), had come tantalisingly close to ousting de Valera in the previous presidential contest in 1966. Fianna Fáil's selection of Childers for the Áras race proved inspired. He took to the campaign trail with gusto; traversing the state in an augmented campaign bus (dubbed the "Wanderly Wagon" by opponents), he promised to make the Office of the President more relevant to the citizenry. Rita was by his side throughout, and the media fascination with her elegance and dress sense contributed to his success. However, this masked her true contribution to the campaign. For instance, she rather than Fianna Fáil Headquarters organised the press conference announcing his candidacy. Despite early speculation that he was likely to lose, his somewhat exotic appeal (Protestant, with a distinct English accent) clearly resonated with an electorate eager for a different type of presidency and his victory was emphatic. As promised, his brief tenure as Ireland’s first citizen proved a departure from the past. He travelled extensively throughout the state, attending functions, offering perspectives on society’s challenges, and patronising charitable causes. Rita actively encouraged him, and exerted significant influence upon this new direction. It was thus fitting, that following his tragic death from heart failure in November 1974, Rita Childers was considered as an "agreed candidate" for the Presidency. Unfortunately, Civil War politics and poor political choreography scuttled her chance to make history. Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave was eager to avoid an election and supported her candidacy. However, the Fianna Fáil leader, Jack Lynch, proved less enthusiastic. Having won the contest the previous year, his party saw it as their presidency. Although Childers was held in high esteem, she was perceived to have a "Fine Gaelish background". Thus, to soothe the egos of the party faithful, it was informally agreed by Cosgrave and Lynch that her nomination would be declared by Fianna Fáil, with the Fine Gael-led Government signalling its support in response. But the plan came a cropper when a reporter queried the Minister for the Gaeltacht, Tom O'Donnell, on the matter before Lynch made his announcement. Reputedly hard of hearing, O'Donnell misinterpreted the reporter’s question, mistakenly assumed the agreement was now public knowledge and confirmed the rumour. Though Childers had yet to be formally approached, she made public her willingness to accept the nomination once the story broke, promising to build on her late husband’s legacy as a servant of the people. It was not to be. Perhaps suspecting a Fine Gael double-cross, Fianna Fáil withdrew support for her in response to the scoop. The candidacy was later offered to the distinguished jurist Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, a presidency that was itself ill-fated, as Ó Dálaigh would later resign amidst controversy. Though Childers wished the new President well, she was angered at how events had unfolded, and became intensely distrustful of "party politics" thereafter. She believed the disorganised manner of the succession had impugned the Office of the President, and that she had been a victim of patriarchal political intrigue: "I saw how, once again, a woman in Ireland can be regarded as mere baggage." Later, following Ó Dálaigh's resignation in 1976, she argued for a brief suspension of the Presidency, lest the Office fall further into disrepute. A missed opportunity Despite her understandable disappointment, Childers did not shrink into the background and she continued to play an active role in Irish public life. An energetic proponent of women’s rights, she also contributed frequently to debates relating to youth education and training, the development of marginalised communities, the preservation of heritage (she was an early supporter of the Save Wood Quay Campaign), the fostering of North/South relations, and the ravages of alcoholism on society. Had she received party support in 1974, Childers would likely have expanded upon her late husband’s reforming role, utilising her public relations experience to highlight many of the issues she later came to advocate. As it transpired, Ireland would have to wait a further 16 years before another activist woman had the opportunity to dramatically change our perceptions of the Presidency.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Is it possible to have a socially distant trial by jury?

Author: Dr Rónán Kennedy and Dr Conor Hanly, School of Law Opinion: here are some suggestions to ensure constitutionally mandated jury trials can take place in a safe environment for all participants Trial by jury for serious offences is a fundamental element of Ireland's criminal justice system, guaranteed by our Constitution. It is a safeguard: for all its power, the State cannot punish a person on trial without the consent of the jury. For this reason, the jury has been called the palladium of liberty, and the lamp that shows that freedom lives. In a statement on March 16th, the senior Irish judiciary announced the effective suspension of jury trials for the duration of the emergency brought about by the coronavirus. The suspension is temporary, and the criminal justice system will have to resume at some point regardless of the virus situation. Crime has not stopped, and there are many indictments that require resolution. Victims and accused are entitled to closure. But there is a real issue in running jury trials when the lockdown is relaxed, as courthouses are not designed for social distancing. According to a statement from the Irish judiciary on March 31st, the Courts Service is putting "remote court hearings" in place. On April 20th, it piloted virtual hearings for civil cases. Perhaps jurors in a criminal trial could perform their duties remotely? Jurors could also engage in virtual deliberations, thus removing the need for any physical interaction. As a Scottish Government discussion paper makes clear, there are serious logistical and security issues involved in this approach. Jurors would need to be accommodated somewhere, and be provided with safe and secure computer equipment. Physical security would need to be provided for each juror to ensure against external influences. A study by British non-governmental organisation Transform Justice recommended against "trial-by-Skype", finding that technology threatens defendants’ rights and undermines trust in the criminal justice system. Both judges and litigants in civil cases have already expressed unease about the loss of the human and emotional dimension in remote hearings. This would be even more likely and more damaging in criminal cases, which often turn on an assessment of credibility. Anyone called for jury service in pandemic conditions will reasonably fear an increased possibility of infection. The Courts Service is already trying to spread jurors around the courtroom instead of confining them to the jurybox, and has allowed them to deliberate in an empty courtroom instead of in the much smaller juryroom. We applaud these efforts because the core of jury trial – a randomly selected body of citizens brought together to hear evidence, to deliberate in secret, and to announce a verdict with the voice of the community - must be preserved. What else could be done to protect this key institution? Lawyers tend to resist changes to their hallowed institutions, but we should never allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good We might temporarily reduce the size of the jury, which would assist in social distancing efforts in the courtroom. This has been done in other jurisdictions in wartime, and the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1970 that such a reduction was acceptable providing the jury was large enough to include differing perspectives. Six was the minimum number of jurors that the Court was willing to accept, though we would be nervous about anything less than eight jurors. Research indicates that larger juries typically conduct qualitatively better deliberations that include more perspectives and recall greater amounts of evidence. We can also reduce the number of potential jurors called for jury service in the first place. Using the electoral rolls, the Courts Service creates a representative panel of jurors, which is a constitutional requirement. Many of those will demonstrate a statutory exemption and be removed from the panel. Nevertheless, a large number of eligible persons will be crammed into the courtroom in which the random selection takes place. This is to allow for challenges – each party may peremptorily challenge (i.e., not give any reason) up to seven jurors, and an unlimited number if cause is shown. Experience also suggests that 10 to 30% will ignore their summonses, which must be taken into account. We could recommend a pre-selection selection to reduce the number of people called to physically attend for jury selection. The initial panel would be reduced by random ballot, in the presence of the lawyers, to a much smaller panel required to attend court, where the final selection would take place. This would be required to allow all sides to exercise their challenges. We might also abolish the peremptory challenge entirely, reducing further the number needed in the final selection. England and Wales abolished peremptory challenges decades ago with no apparent ill effect. Without peremptory challenges, a final panel of 20 persons to fill an eight-person jury should be enough. This would also allow the selection of alternates, in case jurors become infected during the trial. If more than one jury is being selected, 20 for each could be called to the courthouse at staggered intervals. Anyone chosen for final selection should be contacted by post, and again by telephone the day before,  informed of the social distancing measures being put in place for their safety, and be reminded that jury service is a legal requirement enforced by prosecution if necessary. Lawyers tend to resist changes to their hallowed institutions, but we should never allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Our suggestions, along with the measures already being implemented by the Courts Service, will allow constitutionally mandated jury trials to resume without affecting the core elements of trial by jury.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Moving palliative care from hospitals to the home

Author: Michelle Tierney and Tim Jones, Translational Medical Device Lab Opinion: healthcare services are recognising that palliative care planning must become more integrated into mainstream services A common perception amongst the general public is that someone receiving palliative care is very close to dying, but this is not always the case. Although people who receive palliative care usually have an advanced incurable illness, such as cancer, dementia or motor neurone disease, many continue to live for several months or years. Palliative care focuses on providing care that increases a person's comfort and quality of life by managing distressing symptoms, such as pain, and sometimes it can prolong life. Palliative care should be holistic in that it should treat not just the physical aspects of a person’s condition but also support their mental and social well-being. Who needs palliative care? Three in every four people in the high-income countries who die could benefit from palliative care. As our healthcare services continue to improve, more and more of us will be living for longer with chronic diseases and cancer, and so will require palliative care to manage the symptoms associated with those conditions. Research has shown that the requirement for palliative care in over 85 year olds could double by 2040. Given the option, approximately 70% of those with palliative care needs would prefer to die at home, rather than in a hospital or a hospice. Home-based palliative care increases the quality of life of patients and their families. Generally, people with life-limiting conditions prioritise being in familiar surroundings with their families and doing their usual activities. They are not as focused on receiving treatment that will prolong their life as that would likely result in painful procedures and longer hospital stays. Home-based palliative care can also significantly save healthcare costs, and it’s been suggested that it is possible to care for three people in their home for the same cost as caring for one person in a long-term care facility. Despite people’s preference to die at home, many still die in hospital because of a lack of suitable home-based resources to support patients’ needs. Increasingly, healthcare services globally are recognising that palliative care planning must become more integrated into mainstream services and not left in the periphery as an afterthought. As a result, efforts are being focused on maximising value from current healthcare resources to improve palliative care and to enable more people to remain at home whilst receiving their care. This will require the establishment of multidisciplinary care teams to offer tailored treatment plans focused on improving quality of life. Advanced care planning is the proactive approach to help ensure people receive medical care that is consistent with their values, goals, and preferences regardless of their health stage, and can avoid unnecessary hospitalisation or unwanted care Has technology a role to play in palliative care? In addition to changes in how the professionals collaborate, the role of innovative technologies and devices can also be an important aspect to increasing the practicalities of implementing home-based palliative care. Firstly, technology can allow the patient or their caregiver to manage symptoms independently at home without a healthcare professional and, secondly, technology can provide a way for clinicians to remotely monitor patients' symptoms and arrange a face-to-face appointment only if an intervention is needed. This, therefore, can help cut down on the number of unnecessary journeys patients need to make into clinics and hospitals. Our research team in NUI Galway are developing an innovative medical device to help people with advanced cancers to manage the symptom of fluid build-up in the chest. One to two people in every ten that get cancer (usually lung and breast cancers) will get fluid building up in their chest, which is called a pleural effusion. The fluid can build up to 1-2 litres and people often get chest pain and feel very short of breath. Currently, the fluid can be drained with a drainage tube that in put in the chest, and this is usually drained multiple times a week. But less than 10% of patients can drain themselves unassisted and, so depend on the assistance of a public health nurse or home carer to help them drain. The drainage tube can be in place for up 12 months in many patients, and as a result the tubes can become blocked, infected, or dislodged, and the patient must then visit the hospital to solve these issues. Our research team are developing a patient-centric drainage technology that will allow patients to drain fully independently, and also limit the number of potential visits to the hospital. This will give patients a greater sense of empowerment as they will have a sense of autonomy over their symptom management and it will provide them with the flexibility to drain when it suits their schedule. This technology will potentially lower the risk of complications, such as infection and blockages, due to an "active" mechanism that will prevent the fluid from reaccumulating and allow the device to be removed in a matter of weeks. Future versions of the technology may also allow for remote monitoring of the patient’s condition through a connected patient app. Our team’s goal is to develop a technology that will allow people with advanced cancer to continue to live active and dynamic lives at home until death.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

'The strictest in Europe': how Spain dealt with the lockdown

Author: Dr José Brownrigg-Gleeson from the Moore Institute Opinion: in the midst of severe coronavirus restrictions, Spain has seen 'unthinkable' transformations and changes in living patterns What should have been a short research trip to Spanish archives at the beginning of March has turned into the longest period I have spent in my home country in years. After six weeks of confinement in the Basque city of Bilbao, during which more than 23,000 Covid-related deaths have occurred across the country, I find it hard not feel somewhat sombre about the future, but some reactions to the crisis offer a glimmer of prudent hope. It only took a few Zoom calls with friends in Ireland, Switzerland, the UK and France to realise that the conditions of the Spanish lockdown were (and continue to be) among the strictest in Europe. Save for essential workers, most people spent seven weeks in home confinement, only allowed to venture out individually for basic necessities such as food and medicine. Walking dogs was permitted, but only if the outings were kept short and to a minimum. The greatest contrast with neighbouring countries was that all outdoor exercise, including walks, were banned from week one. Children under the age of 14 were only allowed out for the first time at the end of April and under strict supervision, with just one adult at a time. Last weekend, teenagers and adults were able to return to the streets for up to an hour a day within a 1km radius of their homes. It will be at least another week before the next phase in "deconfinement" is reached. Gloves and face masks are now part of our everyday landscapes.  Being stuck indoors can be challenging in the best of circumstances, but it has its own challanges in Spain.  Eurostat data shows that over two thirds of the population in 2017 lived in flats generally without access to a patio or garden. In Ireland, by contrast, over 90% of the population resided in detached or semi-detached houses. Even more poignant in the present circumstances is that flats already tend to be smaller in larger cities. Many residents have no windows overlooking the street and can only look out onto internal courtyards (it is estimated that as many as 20% of homes are in Madrid in this category). In a country synonymous abroad with sun and warmth, having a balcony and direct sunlight has rapidly become a prized privilege. However, it is important to recognise that these restrictions are affecting the population unevenly, highlighting complex pre-existing realities.Figures show that over two million over-65s live alone, and that more than half of young adults aged between 25 and 29 (a demographic marked by the austerity measures of the past decade) still share a home with their parents. How are they coping with confinement? And what about those already at risk of aggravated poverty and social exclusion, such as the unemployed or the undocumented migrants for whom self-isolation would in most cases be impossible? The silence of the streets, at first confusing and now rather mollifying, ought not to deafen the mourning, the hardship and the anxiety simmering behind closed doors. Yes, the near future looks bleak, and fears about the economic fallout of the lockdown are more than justified. The country, which was only slowly starting to show signs of recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, has plenty of structural problems. These were highlighted in a devastating reportpublished in February by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. But many transformations that were unthinkable have only weeks ago have become a reality almost overnight. Within days of declaring the state of emergency, the government put all private health providers at the disposition of the national healthcare system for free (the cost of the takeover of private hospitals for the Irish state has been estimated at €115 million a month). A new minimum income scheme for households with low or no earnings, set to complement other regional social protection programmes, is due to be rolled out in May. The change in living patterns has also had other positive effects. The amount of electricity generated in Spain from renewableshas grown over 6% since March to make up for more than half of all electricity generated in the country in the past six weeks. The use of bicycles is being encouraged amongst those who up to now relied on the generally efficient and affordable network of public transport. In other cases, the results of bold past decisions are now appearing. A sustained investment in fibre-based connectivity which began in 2005 has delivered high speed broadband to over 85% of the population in spite of the size of the country and the low density of rural areas. This has enabled a largely seamless transition to remote working, at least from a technological perspective. Perhaps the most important transformation of all has to do with a renewed spirit of defence of public services. This is particularly evident with the national health system. It was built upon the principles of universality and free and equal access, and is a rare source of shared pride amongst Spaniards, especially amongst those who have been exposed to the cost of health services in other countries. On the back of years of austerity programmes and spending cuts, the current crisis has tragically illustrated just how over-worked and under-paid our frontline carers are. Likewise, prolonged home schooling has increased respect for teachers and may well reinvigorate the "Marea Verde" (Green Tide) movement in defence of high-quality public education for all.  The challenges that lie ahead call for creative responses. Night after night, we see on the news how business owners are frantically scrambling to provide solutions for social distancing in the tourism sector. Reimagining public spaces, the heart of everyday life in Spain, is going to require much of the commendable patience, solidarity and adaptability that the majority of the people have already exhibited. We are asked to prepare for a new normality, but the more sinister meanings of "new normal" after the global crash of 2008 are still fresh in everyone's minds. What remains to be seen now is whether this new opportunity to implement reforms for the benefit of the people will be seized, or if it will go to waste amid bureaucratic hurdles and fears of change.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

When plagues and pandemics were common in ancient Ireland

Author: Dr Pádraic Moran, Classics Analysis: records show that epidemics and infectious diseases were commonplace in ancient and medieval Ireland, but societies recovered   The Covid-19 crisis is a unique event in all of our lives, but it is by no means unique in human history. We have lived through very many mass outbreaks of infectious diseases. It may be some small comfort in the present circumstances to know that we have not just survived epidemics far worse, but in some cases emerged from them with renewed cultural and intellectual vigour. We often refer to outbreaks of infectious diseases in the past not as epidemics or pandemics, but as plagues or pestilences. The Plague refers specifically to the disease caused by the bacterium Yersina pestis that is spread by rat fleas, which manifests in three forms: bubonic (swollen lymph nodes), septicaemic (blood infection) and pneumonic (infection of the lungs). The outbreak that occurred in Europe and Western Asia in the mid-fourteenth century is known as the Black Death,killing perhaps between 30% to 60% of the population. The Plague did not go away, however, and further outbreaks were endemic in Europe until the early 18th century. More loosely, we use the term "plague" to refer to innumerable epidemics of infectious diseases that were commonplace in ancient and medieval life. In the realm of the imagination, the visitation of a terrible destruction on an entire population, sparing neither rich nor poor, sometimes provided the material for literary exploration. From RTÉ Radio 1's Arena, Dave Lordan reviews Simon Critchley's book "Tragedy, the Greeks and Us" Probably the earliest work of Western literature, Homer's Iliad,is set into motion by the arrival of a plague, or more precisely by the ethical issues that arose from it. Apollo was the Greek god of healing, but also of plague. He is referred to by his epithet Smintheus, god of mice, near the beginning of the Iliad, when his priest Chryses prays for Apollo to inflict a plague on the Greeks to avenge the capture of his daughter Chryseis. This event is caused by the stubborn pride of the Greek king Agamemnon, after he initially refused to return her. When Agamemnon is eventually made to concede, he takes for compensation the slave girl Briseis, held captive by own hero Achilles. The resulting enmity between the arrogant leader and the front-line soldier continues as the central theme of the entire epic. The first detailed description of plague in Europe comes from the Greek historian Thucydides from around 400 BC. He describes the terrible epidemic which broke out in Athens in 430 BC, at a time when the city was under siege by the Spartans and the entire rural population had to take shelter within its walls. Thucydides records the details very meticulously and he mentions, almost in passing, that he himself caught the plague and was one of the lucky survivors. He describes very minutely the early symptoms (fever, inflammation), the progression of the disease (violent cough, retching), the final condition of the dying, as well as the experience of those who survived. He notes that it seems to have spread from the south, perhaps originating in Ethiopia. Thucydides had a particular interest in the plague’s psychological and social impacts. He records the general sense of shock and despair, particularly at the sight of the dead and dying, when people realised that neither medicine nor religion could offer protection. He notes the high mortality rate particularly among doctors and carers, as well as the abandonment of normal social and religious conventions by some who felt that their time was short. Thucydides also commented on the personal bravery of doctors, as well as the kindness of people who had recovered and were therefore immune. These, he said, showed the greatest pity on others. The impact of plague in Ireland provoked a rise in religious fervour  Thucydides was the earliest European writer to recognise the effects of contagion, and his use of Greek technical terms indicates that there was already a scientific literature on the plague at the time of his writing. Moreover, his interest in the effects of plague and other extreme events on society inspired him to write a more deeply analytic history than any that came before. Plague was no stranger to early Ireland.A European epidemic that reached Ireland in the mid-6th century may well have had a profound cultural effect. While we know little enough about Ireland at this time for lack of contemporary records, we know from later sources that very many new monasteries were founded within a relatively short period. One plausible explanation for this is that the impact of plague provoked a rise in religious fervour and a new movement of asceticism. In the longer term, these monasteries become instrumental in the preservation and transmission of knowledge. We have more information about the seventh-century epidemic known as the "yellow plague" (buide conaill) that broke out on August 1st 664 and lasted until 668, before returning again in 683 to 684. On its second iteration, it was referred to as a mortalitas puerorum ("mortality of youths"), presumably because children lacked the immunity that much of the surviving adult population would have already acquired. Epidemics and pandemics have caused unimaginable destruction in the past, but societies have recovered  The Irish annals for this period record the deaths of kings and a large number of prominent churchmen. As a result, the plague later became a familiar event in saints’ lives and related literature. Despite this, the late seventh century was a time of unprecedented scholarly activity in Ireland, and the archaeological record points to economic boom as well. Despite the number of deaths, it seems the long term impact of this plague was limited. Words like "plague" and "pestilence" have a decidedly biblical ring to modern ears, with connotations of divine wrath. Undoubtedly medieval minds would easily have made the same connections. However, substituting modern terms like "epidemic" or "pandemic" may allow us to recognise more easily the common threads of human experience. Epidemics and pandemics have caused unimaginable destruction in the past. But societies have recovered and sometimes entered periods of new growth and creativity. As Thucydides noted, sometimes extreme events can bring out the best in people.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Why we need more than just scientists to document the pandemic

   Author: Professor Daniel Carey, Moore Institute Opinion: we need to recognise that this crisis is as much about society and politics as it is about virology, immunology and economics Remarkable efforts have been made by a host of researchers in Ireland to address the Covid-19 crisis. These range from studies in immunology to symptom-tracking technology, development of reagents for testing and a number of engineering solutions to address the need for ventilators and other essential equipment. The urgency and importance of this work is unquestionable and the immediate requirement of reducing the death toll and the demands on hospitals remain of utmost importance. All of us will benefit from breakthroughs and successes as research continues. But if we are to rise to the challenge presented by coronavirus, we must recognise that science and healthcare represent only one part of the equation. The rest of the story is essentially social, political and economic. In this trio of concerns, economic issues will dominate discussion as we attempt to navigate through a huge contraction of the economy, attended by massive job losses, business closures, and a remarkable strain on fiscal resources during a severe global downturn. Fortunately, institutions like the Central Bank and government departments have the resources of the ESRI to draw on for academic expertise. The risk is that in the midst of these demands and discussions we neglect the urgent responsibility to understand the social and political conditions underpinning the unfolding crisis. Only by coming to terms with these questions can we hope to avoid future calamities on this scale. The search for a vaccine constitutes a crucial remedy, but it will not in itself identify strengths and weaknesses in how governments have responded and how societies mobilise to confront a pandemic. From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, a look at how the search to find a coronavirus vaccine is progressing with Fionnuala Keane (Health Research Board) and Dr Philip Cruz (Glaxo Smith Kline) To date, major funding calls in Ireland have emerged from the Health Research Board in partnership with the Irish Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland. Some welcome scope existed in the former's call for "social and policy countermeasures", but we clearly need a much more wide-open approach that invites investigation of a series of complex, interrelated phenomena. Here is a list to be getting on with. We have rich comparative information to harvest in comparing how different political systems have confronted the crisis. Techniques adopted in China to fight the virus, where it broke out, relied on an authoritarian government, even as that very system and lack of open reporting encouraged local officials not to indicate the gravity of the threat to public health. The lack of openness in Iran also deepened the disaster there. South Korea, Taiwan and Germany have had success in mitigating the outbreak with different models. In Europe, the Netherlands and Sweden have taken very different approaches by thus far refusing major lockdowns. We will need to examine and understand the strength and weakness of their methods and how their social expectations and compliance have been managed. From RTÉ News, a report on mass burials in New York City amid record Covid-19 death rate The staggering example of political dysfunction is the United States, now the world leader in terms of confirmed cases and the number of deaths. The Trump administration's undermining of agencies and departments, the lack of co-ordination between the states and the federal government, and opposition to healthcare reform have all played a part. Understanding these problems is vital because the country’s capacity to recover will determine the economic fate of many parts of the world. In Ireland, the acute consequences of having two jurisdictions on the island have presented new challenges to co-operation and consistency. We have much to consider in how we coordinate our activities going forward since the virus is no respecter of Brexit and the border. Public understanding of the Covid-19 crisis requires news media and reliable outlets for information. But this is the first pandemic in the era of social media, a wellspring of misinformation, rumour and supposed cures. The decisive role of trust and expertise demands renewed attention, even as crippling political attacks and polarisation have occurred, notably in the US. At the same time, the harvesting of data and systems of surveillance calls for much greater ethical reflection and assessment. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Della Kilroy reports on how domestic abuse shelters are coping with social distancing restrictions Social issues that come into play include not only the logistics of achieving isolation, but also the uneven effects of the lockdown. This is seen in differences in physical space, resources (such as internet access and computer equipment) family structures (divorce and separation, people living alone etc), provisions for care, and the organisation of domestic space, not least to facilitate home schooling. Social attitudes to ageing have taken on new significance as well as views about those occupying the frontline, not just in hospitals but in stores and delivery services - many of them in low paid positions. The arts have taken a backseat, by and large, but how have people accessed culture in the time of crisis and, perhaps more importantly, why do they continue to do so? More generally, what is the experience of virtualisation and its impact on work and social life? How can we write the history of the current response and how does it compare to past pandemics? As the health crisis unfolds around the world, hard truths once again surface about the realities of our relationship with what is termed the Global South. When the disease escalates in Africa, what will be the response? Donald Trump's politically motivated halt on funding the WHO will have serious repercussions in this context. From RTÉ News, a report on the global condemnation of US president Donald Trump's decision to stop funding the WHO Some attention has been given to the fate of those living in crowded migrant camps, and in direct provision centres in Ireland, but we have a new opportunity to study the effects of inequality, migration, and resources. We are simply lucky that Covid-19 is not as virulent as Ebola (which has an average rate of fatality of 50%). If coronavirus claimed lives at that rate, the losses inflicted by it would be extraordinary. Arguably, we failed to act to set proper systems in place because Ebola was largely confined to Africa. New lessons in racism abound at this time. We all hope that a vaccine will be devised as soon as possible. Immunology, virology, and epidemiology are at the forefront of efforts. But if we don't get on top of the political and social challenges, we will be right back where we started the next time a crisis of this kind happens. Funding research is the first step in what needs to become a coordinated effort across all the disciplines. Ireland can take the lead and show just how much this shared effort matters.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Are your online credit card transactions really safe?

Author: Dr Michael McGettrick, School of Mathematics, Statistics and Applied Mathematics Opinion: advances in quantum computing will mean secure transaction sites will have to up their game to stay clear of quantum hackers You've just purchased your groceries online or transferred €700 from your current account to pay an outstanding bill. You probably did this by credit card, using a "secure" site. At least, the site seemed secure - well, it's run by a bank, or a reputable company, so it must be OK, right? The unsettling fact - and one probably unknown by the general public - is that there are tens of thousands of people who know how to "hack" in to your secure transaction, and basically do whatever they want (benign or malicious) once they have that info. These people are not some shady cybercriminals, merely any mathematician worth their salt in any university in the world. But - and here's the big but - knowing how to do something, and being able to do it quickly or efficiently are two different things. If one was to know how to do something (i.e. have an algorithm or step by step procedure for it), but could only do it very slowly, you might say at some point that the procedure is useless in practice because it takes so long. From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, Liam Geraghty reports on the history of the credit card This is exactly the case in point with online payments through secure transaction sites. They rely on a simple mathematical idea that mathematicians all believe, but none have proven to be correct: Factoring large numbers is hard! Suppose I ask you to break 24 into its multiplicative parts. Well, the answer is (2)(2)(2)(3). How long did that take you? Now I ask you to break 3016 into its parts. The answer it turns out is (2)(2)(2)(13)(29). If you were able to do it, how long did that take you? There are lots of (clever) algorithms for factoring large numbers (a credit card number with 16 digits is large, right?), known by lots of clever mathematicians, but none of them are efficient. In fact, the best are so inefficient that it would take years for the result to come out even on a supercomputer. There's not much point hacking someone's secure transaction if it takes years to get in. Enter quantum computers. In a quantum computer, we work with both the two classical bits, 0 and 1, and the infinite number of numbers that are in between these. These correspond to the states of the smalled objects in the Universe, or fundamental particles. Manipulating a particle, which can be in a superposition of two different states, and sets of interacting particles, that can be in a state which is called entangled - more than the sum of the parts, is what gives quantum computers their power. From RTÉ lyric fm's Classic Dive, Aisling Kelliher on the uncertain new horizons of quantum computing But - and it’s a big but - we cannot necessarily use this power unless we are clever about the measurement of the output. In quantum mechanics, we can never measure the full state (or wave function) or even a particle, never mind a collection of particles. There are nonetheless measurements we can make on global properties of the (wave) function which harvest this power. A celebrated result in quantum computer science is the Shor Factoring algorithm, named after the MIT mathematician Peter Shor. This factorizes any large integer exponentially faster than any known classical algorithm on a classical supercomputer. "Exponentially faster" here means that what used to take years can now be done in minutes. So, does that mean the quantum hackers can break all these supposedly secure sites in minutes? Yes and no. In principle, they can, but in practice they can't (yet) because the physical quantum computers that are around are still very primitive and just have a few quantum bits. Right now, they could factorise efficiently say 21 to get (3)(7), and not much more. But every few months, the research teams of physicists and engineers  successfully control another quantum bit, each time making the quantum computer much more powerful. For the moment, no one is worried. There’s only a handful of quantum computers in the world, and the banks and credit card companies know where they are (a couple of universities and a few companies). But once the quantum computers come of age, the "secure transaction" sites will have to fundamentally change the basis for their security to stay clear of the quantum hackers.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Who's going to speak up for Irish healthcare staff?

Author: Professor Kate Kenny, Whitaker Institute Opinion: frontline staff are doing incredible work right now, but is our health service capable of listening to whistleblowers when serious concerns are raised? Dr Ming Lin was getting ready for his shift in the emergency room at PeaceHealth St Joseph Medical Center in Washington State when he got a message to say he had been fired. Since the arrival of Covid-19, Dr Lin had become well-known for speaking out about the lack of protective measures at the hospital. He had talked to journalists and posted on social media, pleading on behalf of colleagues and patients. And then, he was sacked. As the crisis develops, we continue to hear about healthcare staff being silenced for voicing concerns about safety. Doctors in China, India, the US and the UK are among those who have been punished for speaking out.  This silencing leaves hospitals vulnerable to the dreaded surge that threatens ICU units as the virus spreads. But what about Ireland? Healthcare staff are doing incredible work on behalf of us all, but is our health service capable of listening when employees and managers raise serious concerns? Every sector has distinct features that enable or constrain speaking out. As research shows, healthcare is not always a welcoming place for whistleblowers. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Kate Kenny discusses the reasons why people blow the whistle in the workplace The authority gradient Enabling staff to raise informal concerns is the core of a healthy organisation. But as in many large bureaucracies, a steep "authority gradient" between lower-level healthcare staff and their line managers can cause difficulty. In clinical practice for example, nurses feel unable to criticise doctors' decisions, even those that are potentially dangerous. Skillful managers work hard to overcome this hierarchical distance. They demonstrate openness to listening and spend time with staff to signal approachability. But workload pressures related to Covid-19 can make this impossible, and close down avenues for informally raising concerns. Threat of retaliation In Ireland, retaliation for speaking out about wrongdoing is not the norm. Four out of every five people who say they have reported concerns encountered no problems. Even so, this leaves one in five people experiencing retaliation for disclosing and healthcare appears particularly problematic. Health workers are among the largest group of callers to Transparency International Ireland's Speak Up helpline with over a third of all whistleblowing complaints from this sector.  What are they phoning about? In almost half the cases, it is whistleblower retaliation. The reported treatment of HSE whistleblowers in the "Grace" abuse case - including threats and attempts to discredit them - has received scathing criticism. Recent accounts of staff in HSE-funded services being ignored or belittled for speaking out left their colleagues "feeling fearful of bringing up concerns" to their bosses. Whistleblower retaliation may not be the norm, but it discourages others from coming forward when it does occur. From RTÉ Radio 1's News At One in 2017, Aoife Hegarty of RTÉ's investigations unit explains the story of Grace Cover-ups and whistleblowers International research tells us that healthcare organisations have a poor record when it comes to listening to and supporting whistleblowers. When a potential scandal emerges, pressure from the media and politicians can be intense. Health is emotive; we all know someone who needs the services of the system and the general public is intolerant of mistakes in this sector.  This intolerance is often unfair: health is incredibly complex and errors are a fact of life. This constant demand for good news stories, or for a person to blame when something goes wrong, puts managers in an impossible position. Fearful of admitting mistakes, the temptation to cover them up is strong. With this comes a silencing of any whistleblowers involved. Healthcare crises exacerbate this problem. Job security and speaking out When asked about barriers to raising concerns, almost half of Irish employees list fears of losing their job or damaging future career prospects. Staff in the HSE and related services who are on short-term contracts are therefore in a particularly weak position when it comes to speaking out. Agency workers, student nurses and junior doctors are loath to jeopardise their reputation and find themselves excluded from future work. Covid-19 has increased the numbers of such people on the front line. People in precarious employment are, for example, among the most vulnerable staff in care homes. How likely is it that this group will disclose the ways they and their charges are being left behind? From RTÉ News' Pandemic podcast, Colm Ó Mongáin and RTÉ Health Correspondent Fergal Bowers discuss the situation in nursing homes  The legal position So if healthcare workers persist in raising a serious issue despite all of us, they are protected by law, right? Technically, yes. Ireland's whistleblower law, the Protected Disclosures Act, is well-known and covers most healthcare workers since 2014. But the situation is confusing for employees in practise, with HSE guidance also referring to older legislation setting a much higher bar for legal protection if someone speaks out. This includes a requirement to show a "good faith" motivation. Famously difficult to prove and often used to discredit genuine whistleblowers in court, good faith motivations were omitted from the Protected Disclosures  Act. Overall a confusion about policies leads to a lack of confidence in the law, and a reluctance to speak out in healthcare. We need whistleblowers now more than ever These issues are not unique to Ireland and healthcare is one of the most difficult sectors worldwide in which to voice serious concerns.  But Covid-19 did not encounter an Irish healthcare service in good shape. Successive crises in waiting lists and hospital overcrowding point to a pressurised system. Against this backdrop, we now see rapid redeployment of staff and resources to deal with the virus and dramatic changes in an already-struggling sector. Robust oversight has never been more critical. According to the OECD and European Commission, whistleblower support is vital for accountability. Transparency International Ireland have introduced welcome guidelines on raising concerns related to Covid-19, both for employers and workers, but more is needed. Senior healthcare managers, politicians, and union representatives must act as voices of frontline staff who witness serious wrongdoing. Irish healthcare workers and managers need support when raising genuine concerns to protect themselves, their patients and the rest of the country. We owe it to them for all they are doing on our behalf.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

How healthy Kerry sand dunes are worth €9 million a year

Author: Dr Eugene Farrell, Dr Liam Carr, Eoin Ó Fátharta (Geography) and Mary Bourke, TCD  Analysis: despite the value of the Irish coastal ecosystem, there is no coherent national investment policy for communities along the Wild Atlantic Way Faced with reductions in local government operating expenditure and growing demands for environmental and climate-related actions, local authorities and the Office of Public Works are faced with difficult decisions about how to allocate funds to protect, conserve and restore our natural and built environments.  These planning decisions are typically justified made using cost-benefit analysis that relies on quantified market-based parameters. Usually property and infrastructure values for homes, farm buildings, agricultural land, roads and telecommunications are compared to test likely scenarios that may arise from funding decisions (e.g., economic benefits resulting from flood and erosion prevention schemes). Cost-benefit analysis models, however, do not effectively cater for "natural capital values". In the language of resource economics these values are known as ecosystem goods and services. These goods and systems have many benefits. They provide direct benefits through recreation, social connection and well-being and through the prevention of damages that can inflict substantial costs on society. They also are the foundation for essential Irish economic activities such as coastal fisheries, soils and water. "This study not only highlights the substantial economic contribution of rural coastal areas, but should be a compelling argument why we need to protect coastal communities like the Maharees" A recent EPA technical study found that parts of the Irish coastal, marine and estuarine ecosystems are likely to have an economic value that will, perhaps significantly, exceed €3.58 billion per annum. This includes fisheries, aquaculture, genetic materials, water services, coastal defence, habitats, pest and disease control, climate regulation, recreational services, scientific and educational services, marine heritage and aesthetic services. Rural coastal landscapes have unique physical attributes embedded within cultural landscapes with rich heritage and recreation value. A cost-benefit analysis misses this salient point in its predilection for market-based values in decision making. We have to recognise how predominant market-based accountancy systems have rigged the game of planning in favour of urban centres and Ireland's rural area simply cannot compete. RTÉ Brainstorm video on the history and value of sand It is time to accommodate ecosystem goods and services valuations in the current approach to planning. International efforts have produced protocols that characterise ecosystems as natural capital and appraise their ecosystem services. For example, research done in the UK’s coastal margins estimated that these systems were worth at least £48 billion (€52.6 billion) per annum (3.46% of UK global national income) to the economy. Applying a similar valuation method and proportional contribution to Ireland produces an estimate of €2.57 billion per annum. This figure can serve as an indicator of the potential value for Ireland’s coastal margin ecosystem, but also highlights a knowledge gap that exists in Ireland for equivalent research. A 2010 publication in Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems presented a substantial inventory of the ecosystem goods and services provided by coastal sand dunes in the UK and their findings are equally relevant to Irish dunes (see table below). In Ireland, dunes are particularly important for controlling coastal erosion and protecting low lying coastal areas from flooding. In addition, coastal ecosystems provide the platform for endless outdoor recreation opportunities.  Example of ecosystem goods and services provided by coastal dunes Although access to most of our coastal and rural landscapes is free for visitors, the fact that they must travel to and from these areas in order to use them means that a price is actually paid. This "travel cost method" is commonly used by economists as a proxy for market value. Researchers in NUI Galway applied this method to the Maharees peninsula in west Kerry in 2019 and determined that daily visitors (average 580 visits per day) contribute over €9 million to the local economy during the summer season.  This study not only highlights the substantial economic contribution of rural coastal areas, but should be a compelling argument why we need to protect coastal communities like the Maharees. Unlike cities, these rural areas have few economic alternatives should their ecosystem become impacted by flooding and coastal erosion. Currently, the most widely consulted guide used to assess the potential benefits of investment in coastal and fluvial risk management projects is based on a UK publication known as the Multi-Coloured Manual. This manual provides guidance on how to include social and environmental intangibles into economic justifications. It may seem admiral to state that multi-criteria assessments are used by citing procedures in the Manual, but it is difficult not to consider this to be tokenism given how incomplete the manual is on identifying and valuing ecosystem goods and services. The manual tagline to users is the ability to carry out economic appraisals with the "minimum of effort" may be attractive for desktop studies, but does not give due diligence to the rural communities who rely on these ecosystem goods and services. Again, this highlights a knowledge gap that exists in planning in Ireland. The Irish economy is strongly reliant on tourism and Fáilte Ireland has executed successful marketing campaigns to rebrand the west coast under the mantle of the Wild Atlantic Way in 2014 with investment of €110m. However, the economic benefit is not being reaped in the areas that are visited. Tour operators offer one day trips from Dublin city to primary tourist attractions such as the Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, Galway and Giants Causeway. They then shuttle tourists back to Dublin for dinner and overnight stays, which means that rural community restaurants, B&Bs, and hotels near the Wild Atlantic Way ail to maximize their economic potential.  There is significant traffic congestion and concentrations of visitors, giving rise to concerns of safety access and the overall quality of the user experience the impact traffic congestion. Clare County Council have been one of the few organisations to proactively combat this by renegotiating with tour operators accessing the Cliffs of Moher visitor centre to visit other tourist attractions, overnight in the countyand stagger arrival times. Furthermore, there is no coherent national investment policy to concurrently build capacity within the coastal communities along the Wild Atlantic Way. Degradation and loss of coastal ecosystems are being exacerbated by increasing visitor numbers and are set to further deteriorate if predicted population increases occur (over a million extra people by 2040 according to Ireland 2040 – Our Plan"). We recommend that the loss and degradation of our ecosystems needs to be framed within the new climate policy as an integral element of local and regional natural heritage that is of considerable economic, scientific, conservation and recreational value. We have to recognise that the decision to exclude non-market commodities in cost-benefit analysis models rigs the game in favour of urban centres. Rural and peripheral coastal communities are paying a heavy price for living on the edge.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

RTÉ Brainstorm: Ageing and ageism in the age of coronavirus and cocooning

Author: Dr Michaela Schrage-Frueh (School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures) and Dr Tony Tracy (Houston School of Film and Digital Media) Opinion: requesting all those over 70 years of age to cocoon unwittingly reveals a number of ageist assumptions It is almost a century since WB Yeats lamented that Ireland "was no country for old men." Yeats was just 60 years old when he bemoaned that "an aged man is but a paltry thing", feeling past it as he looked around at the young in one another’s arms. Many men and women of a comparative age today would classify themselves as still "young" and few would identify as "old". As a recent New Yorker article testifies, the post-war Boomer generation have been criticised – mostly by their adult children – for not initially taking the current coronavirus threat seriously enough because they do not see themselves as vulnerable. In the midst of a pandemic in which age and ageing are to the fore, this dissonance of definitions alerts us to the ways in which concepts of age differ and change.  In daily news and discussion of the Covid-19 crisis, ageing and the so-called elderly have been central themes in both policy and commentary, prompting not only medical responses but an array of social ones also. While the former have developed from empirical if continually evolving evidence, the latter can be seen as expressing "underlying conditions" around our attitudes to ageing. Revealing these attitudes and acknowledging that ageing has social as well as biological meanings has resulted in the emerging field of cultural gerontology, which looks at often monolithic constructions of older people. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Olivia O'Leary on how she is not settling too comfortably into her cocoon In relation to the coronavirus crisis, we can see a familiar overlapping of biological and social constructions. From the outset, the language of Irish governmental response to the emerging crisis was admirably clear and inclusive, seeking to both learn from the Italian tragedy while offering reassurance and a sense of collective purpose. This last term, first used by Leo Varadkar in his extraordinary St Patrick’s Day speech, revealed an enlightened attitude to ageing, seeing it as a shared social rather than merely personal responsibility. This language contrasted notably with the UK where, as early as March 15th, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the British government will eventually be asking everyone over the age of 70 to self-isolate to stem the spread of coronavirus. This was notable in its underlying attitude of "parking" the aged, seeing them as separate to the everyday business and daily life of British society which, it was anticipated at that stage, would continue without them. While this was presented in terms of self-protection, it also contained an allusion, as Boris Johnson’s pronouncements have tended to do, to Second World War era self-sacrifice. That such ideas were primarily aimed at the elderly was particularly disingenuous and displayed an everyday ageism, dressed up as Second World War romance and nostalgia. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Celine Clarke, Head of Advocacy and Communications with Age Action, on the obstacles facing older people in accessing advice on the coronavirus Such attitudes developed a sharper edge earlier in March when Jeremy Warner, assistant editor of the Daily Telegraph, penned a now infamous opinion piece: "not to put too fine a point on it, from an entirely disinterested economic perspective, the Covid-19 might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents." Despite the ensuing backlash, such ideas were amplified in Toby Young’s recent article where he downplayed the death of potentially thousands as "acceptable collateral damage" and provided a cost-benefit analysis regarding the value of the survivors’ remaining years. In stark contrast to this, Professor Sam McConkey from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland cogently explained cocooning as "helping others who are in isolation to get the groceries and to maybe get some food and to help them with the practical realities of daily life . . . So cocooning is when others help the more vulnerable." While this seems a sensible response based on scientific evidence, requesting all 70+ year-olds to cocoon unwittingly reveals a number of ageist assumptions. It suggests that this population are a homogenous group that can be lumped together as the "elderly", a patronising term often associated with frailty and dependency. However, ageing in itself is not a disease, and there are many 70+-year-olds who boast more robust health and more energetic dispositions than some people in their 40s or 50s. Additionally, some 70+ adults have families – parents, children, grandchildren or spouses – to care for, some are still an active part of the workforce or may be retired health workers. While flattening the curve is the highest priority at this time, it should not be ignored that the coronavirus crisis brings subconsciously ageist assumptions to the fore With this in mind, the British Society of Gerontology released a statement calling on their government "to reject the formulation and implementation of policy based on the simple application of chronological age." As they argue, "not all people over the age of 70 are vulnerable, nor all those under 70 resilient." Helping and protecting the vulnerable in our society is the right thing to do; but indiscriminately classifying the 70+, as a homogenous age group might have unforeseen consequences for how we view ageing at exactly the moment when we are rapidly ageing as a society. Cultural gerontologists have challenged ageist generalisations by suggesting the term "the third age" for the demographic of the "young old", typically ranging from 65 to 80 years of age. These are in turn juxtaposed with the demographic of the "fourth age" or "frail old", those older adults in need of care. It is obvious that this categorisation bears its own inherent problems. This is where we need to attend to Margaret Morganroth Gullette’s observation that we are also very much "aged by culture".  One of the central stereotypes in need of debunking is the "master narrative of decline" by which the leading cultural gerontologist refers to the conflation of older age with the loss of cognitive and physical abilities, and with ensuing dependency, frailty and lack of agency. While flattening the curve is the highest priority at this time, it should not be ignored that the coronavirus crisis brings subconsciously ageist assumptions to the fore. This insight leads us back to our starting point and Yeats’s poem about the woes and alleged "paltriness" of old age. To understand ageing we need to attend to its construction in literature, film, the media and other forms of cultural production.  

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

RTÉ Brainstorm: Lessons in isolation and confinement from the diary of Anne Frank

 Author: Dr Róisín Healy, History Opinion: Anne Frank and her family faced many challenges in isolation and her diary offers some useful ways of thinking about confinement Most of us are experiencing prolonged confinement for the first time. Only a minority – the physically incapacitated, prison inmates, members of enclosed religious orders – can draw on prior experience of such conditions. Yet the widely available diary of Anne Frank may offer some useful ways of thinking about the challenges of confinement.  The context for her confinement was of course very different from ours. It arose from a political, not a medical, emergency. It was also some time in the making. The coming of the Nazis to power in 1933 had prompted Anne's family to leave their native Germany for the Netherlands. The German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940 brought a renewed threat to the family. On July 6th 1942, after two years of mounting restrictions on Jews, the family went into hiding. For all the warning signs, Anne's introduction to confinement was, like ours, sudden. While her parents had been preparing for the move into hiding for some time, news that her sister had received a call-up notice from the local authorities brought forward the planned move by ten days. Anne seems to have been kept in the dark, however, until the day before the move. From Anne Frank House, what was the daily routine of the people hiding in the Secret Annex, how did they fight boredom, and what were the dangers they faced? The everyday challenges of life in the Annexe were quite similar to ours. Food had to be stockpiled and then sourced by intermediaries. Schoolwork had to be supervised by parents. Hair had to be cut by amateurs. Medical complaints had to be managed carefully for fear they lead to hospitalisation. Tempers were often frayed. But on top of these challenges, the occupants of the Annexe were burdened with a fear unknown to us. On September 28th 1942, Anne wrote "not being able to go outside upsets me more than I can say, and I'm terrified our hiding place will be discovered and that we'll be shot." She was aware of fellow-Jews being sent to the transit camp at Westerbork and of gassings further east. She understood that the mere act of coughing or peeping out the window in daylight hours could be fatal for the whole household. Although we do not know what prompted the police raid that led to their discovery, Anne’s fear of the consequences proved well-grounded. While spared the gas chambers after arriving in Auschwitz, she died of typhus in another camp, Bergen-Belsen, early in 1945. All the other occupants, except her father, perished in Nazi camps. From RTE Radio 1's Ryan Tubridy Show, an interview with Anne Frank's step-sister Eva Schloss about surviving Auschwitz. However difficult we may find the confinement caused by the current coronavirus pandemic, we are living under a Government which sees the protection of all its citizens as its duty. The virus is a natural threat, not a man-made one. Many leaders are calling this a war, but the enemy is a common one. It is a global crisis, but the virus itself does not discriminate on grounds of ethnicity. Families will suffer losses of individuals, but they will not face extinction. It is worth noting too that, for all the challenges they confronted, Anne and the seven others (her parents, sister, another family and a bachelor) managed to live in the Annexe for over two years without completely succumbing to despair. Anne appears to have fared better than some of the others. Although she suffered from bouts of depression, the very fact of writing a diary helped her to cope. The prospect of entering a competition launched by the Dutch government-in-exile for eyewitness accounts of wartime suffering gave her a sense of purpose. She also frequently expressed gratitude, a practice recommended by psychologists for mental well-being. She acknowledged that her family had enough money to buy food and had not been deported like so many others. And she was deeply appreciative of the efforts of the team of friends who brought them food and words of encouragement.  From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Brian Lally reports on Dublin City Libraries' Anne Frank Exhibition in 2013 The diary also reveals practices that helped the wider community of the Annexe manage to get through their days. Times were laid down for meals, rest, and baths. There were daily calisthenics and long hours of reading. Humour also played its part. A poem written by Anne’s father’s to mark her fourteenth birthday included a parody of her complaints about having nothing to wear: "I’ve got no more knickers, my clothes are too tight, My vest is a loincloth, I’m really a sight!"  For parents, the diary is a useful reminder that world disasters do not displace the anxieties of teenage years and may indeed amplify them. Anne struggled with family relationships, especially that with her mother. She was highly attuned to injustice in the division of household duties. She worried about her friendships surviving confinement. And she yearned to be loved. As she wrote on January 22nd 1944, "the whole time I’ve been here I’ve longed unconsciously – and at times consciously – for trust, love, and physical affection." That is not to say that Anne Frank was a typical teenager. She was exceptionally bright and highly motivated. Had the Nazis not ended her life at 15 years of age, she could well have fulfilled her goal of being a successful writer and might even be alive today. Her father, Otto, lived to be 91 years of age. I like to imagine her as a sprightly 90 year old, again confined, but this time by a government concerned for her welfare. Knowing the stakes, she would, I suspect, abide by the rules.   

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

RTÉ Brainstorm: Why have Irish courts been slow to move online during the crisis?

Author: Ronan Kennedy, School of Law Opinion: a lack of infrastructure, inexperience with online tools and compliance with the Constitution have meant a delay in online sittings As Ireland adjusts to the challenge of life with the coronavirus, there is one essential aspect of the administration of the country that requires attention. How can the courts continue to fulfil their vital role while respecting the boundaries set down by the Constitution? As anyone who has been in a busy courtroom will know, these are ideal locations for the virus to spread. Courts in other jurisdictions have begun to defer any non-urgent business and to move hearings online, but approaches have not been uniform. The Society for Computers and Law has established a website collating experiences. For example, Northern Ireland has condensed its sittings to a small number of courthouses and is dealing with matters by video where possible. England and Wales is responding in a similar fashion, with some trials being held entirely virtually. Scotland has also limited its sittings, but does not seem to have moved online. The response of the Irish courts does not seem to have been as rapid, and an initial shutdown plan from mid-March on met with criticism from practitioners as insufficient. The Chief Justice and the Presidents of each of the Courts have now issued a further statement, saying that they hope to pilot remote hearings around the beginning of the new legal term on April 20th, and at least one High Court judge has expressed an intention to "sit" online. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Christina Finn from TheJournal.ie on the annual report for the Courts Service for 2017 Why have the Irish courts not been as able to move online as quickly as elsewhere? Without infrastructure and experience with online tools, such a change is slow and difficult, as teachers and pupils across the country have been discovering in recent weeks. The Courts Service have suffered from a lack of investment during years of austerity, with technical systems particularly under-funded. In 2015, its Chief Executive told the Oireachtas Justice Committee that this was his greatest concern. Ironically, in January of this year, the Courts Service announced plans to invest €100m and develop a "digital first" strategy, including the possibility of online and remote hearings. As with so many other initiatives, this has now been overtaken by events. It is not clear exactly what form these remote hearings will take. Although the recent statement from the judiciary mentions that they will "comply with the constitutional obligation that justice be administered in public", this requires some careful consideration. It has been suggested that this could involve journalists sitting in a courtroom and watching proceedings on a screen, but this would be somewhat inadequate. Short-term measures taken in response to an emergency should not lead to long-term arrangements that are not optimal or do not fully comply with the Constitution. Article 34.1 requires that "save in such special and limited cases as may be prescribed by law, [justice] shall be administered in public." The courts must therefore remain open to all to view. Although it might be welcomed by those running out of conventional entertainment to watch, the Irish courts have been very slow to allow televising of proceedings Online hearings could take three forms: closed to all except the parties (similar to existing "in camera" arrangements), closed to all except journalists, or open to all to access at will. The first two are relatively easy to manage, although defining who is a "journalist" may be difficult in the context of online bloggers. As media organisations struggle in the economic wake of the shutdown, coverage is likely to be patchy and limited. However, they would not meet the constitutional requirement that the administration of justice be conducted in public, and would therefore require some legal justification. The third option would comply with the Constitution but would create much more demands in terms of infrastructure and bandwidth, and raise significant security issues. It would also essentially amount to the creation of an Irish court television channel. From RTE Six One News, report on how the Supreme Court proceedings were broadcast for first time in October 2017 Although that might be welcomed by those who are running out of more conventional entertainment to watch, the Irish courts have been very slow to allow televising of their proceedings. A very limited number of Supreme Court judgments have been broadcast, but never full hearings. Concerns raised include the need to protect the right to a fair trial (commentary on trials by social media is already problematic without video clips to spice it up further), concern that some lawyers would "show-boat" for the cameras and an intensification of pressure on all involved. While some US state courts allow cameras in their courtrooms, experience with high-profile trials such as Louise Woodward and O.J. Simpson have made other jurisdictions very reluctant to go down that route. Taking this step as an stopgap solution to a crisis without debate would not be wise. On the other hand, if the courts are going to restrict access to parties and perhaps journalists, they need to put forward a good legal basis for doing so, particularly as it seems unlikely that any enabling legislation will be forthcoming in the near future (and certainly not before the new legal term). While the courts have an inherent jurisdiction to regulate their own proceedings, this has been described as very limited and moving hearings online (even with access by journalists) would be unprecedented. We should nonetheless remember that the Supreme Court has said that the administration of justice in public is "a fundamental principle … in a democratic state" In a public health emergency, the right to life can justify significant changes to existing arrangements, but we should nonetheless remember that the Supreme Court has said that the administration of justice in public is "a fundamental principle … in a democratic state ... The actual presence of the public is never necessary, but the administration of justice in public does require that the doors of the courts must be open so that members of the general public may come and see for themselves that justice is done" .     

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

RTÉ Brainstorm: How TikTok became the world's favourite new social media app

Author: Mary McGill, Hardiman PhD researcher at the Centre for Global Women's Studies Opinion: thanks to a craving for distraction and novelty during the lockdown, TikTok videos are now popping up on all of our timelines  A few short days before coronavirus upended life in Ireland and beyond, RTÉ News ran a report on a novel new initiative by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. Using the combined efforts of 20 of Ireland's leading TikTok-ers, the #100Consent campaign aims to raise young people’s awareness of the importance of consent. With tens of thousands of Irish young people using the app everyday, TikTok presents an effective, accessible way to get this important message across to a key demographic. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, a report on the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre's new campaign with some of Ireland's leading TikTokers to raise awareness around sexual consent While Ireland’s young people are well-versed in TikTok, the same could not be said for many of us over the age of 25 until quite recently. Although hugely popular globally, the platform is most commonly associated with teenagers. But in the midst of a lockdown that has people craving distractions, TikTok videos are now popping up in many people’s social media timelines, irrespective of their age. These videos are often notable for the light relief they provide, from wholesome family dance montages, to reality tv style skits about coronavirus, to ingenius usage of the BBC Breaking News theme. For those unfamiliar with the platform or its quirky sensibilities, its massive popularity may seem baffling. It is important to point out that TikTok has many characteristics familiar to most social media platforms. Like Facebook and Instagram, the platform emphasises interpersonal connection. Users make and share videos, and respond to the videos of others. In essence, as with all social media, on TikTok it is a case of showing oneself to others and observing as they do the same. Participation involves another social media standard: making our friendship networks and various aspects of our lives visible in ways they are not in the offline world. Depending on their identity and interests, users may also engage with particular communities and trends popular on the site at any given time. Like all social media, TikTok also has characteristics that are distinctive to it. Chief among these is the way the app enables users to incorporate music and sophisticated forms of editing to produce videos that can be highly engaging and narratively driven. TikTok represents the latest phase in a cultural and technological revolution that has been ongoing since the mid-noughties, when early social networking sites like Friendster and MySpace first emerged. This shift changed the very nature of the internet itself, as the world of chat rooms and freewheeling forums gave way to corporatised models of usership that dominate to this day. Of the ten most popular websites world-wide only one, Wikipedia, is run on a not-for-profit model. The rest, like Google and Facebook, make millions from the data users generate when engaging with their platforms. From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Sean O'Rourke, Irish Times' technology journalist Ciara O'Brien and Naimh McElhatton from Grafton Recruitment discuss TikTok Like its counterparts, TikTok is "free" to use. In reality, users are indirectly paying both through the data they create and the other ways that the platform relies on for its success. Human labour, creativity and attention are integral to the economic model TikTok and all social media companies rely on for profitability. Without the input of real human beings, no social media platform can hope to succeed. As the popularity of TikTok has soared over the past year or so, greater attention has been paid to the downsides of the app. A December 2019 report by Check Point Research, an organisation that monitors cyber threats, questioned the security of the app after uncovering a number of vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities would have enabled hackers to, for example, make users’ private videos public and to access users’ personal information stored on the site. TikTok addressed these vulnerabilities in light of Check Point’s findings but questions still remain about the site’s security and ethics. A recently published investigation by news organisation The Intercept reported that TikTok moderators had been advised to suppress videos of users deemed unattractive and/or poor in order to maintain the aspirational aesthetic management regarded as critical to the app’s phenomenal growth. In response, TikTok claimed that such vetting - which it says no longer takes place - was designed to preempt bullying of vulnerable users. Still, questions persist about the app’s transparency (or lack thereof) and how it treats and even censors content, not least because it remains in the ownership of the Chinese firm, ByteDance. How long TikTok’s popularity will last remains to be seen. While platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter endure, many social media sites have fallen by the wayside over the years. In the fast moving world of digital technology, there is always a new kid on the block waiting to snap the crown off older contenders. Just ask Bebo or Vine. When using TikTok, we should also be mindful of issues like security and who gets to be seen - or not - on the platform. Like all social media, we can enjoy it while thinking critically about it too.  

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Socially stranded teens, mental health and the pandemic

Author: Professor Gary Donohoe, School of Psychology Opinion: recognising the need for social contact will be key to helping young people cope in the coming weeks and months. Our house is home to three teenagers. Last week, when social distancing first came into practice and teenagers were being criticised for not complying, our eldest became indignant. "Adults are giving out that we're not respecting the science about social distancing" she said, "while they’ve been ignoring the science on global warming for years". Since Greta Thunberg's rise to prominence, global warming has come to be associated with young people. Social distancing since the coronavirus outbreak, not so much. A so-called "Corona challenge" has been described in the mainstream media in recent days. It's unclear how widespread these incidents are (our teens hadn’t come across this at all on social media), but reports have associated it with young people. Minister for Health Simon Harris recently mentioned an incident when someone thought it would be funny to run up to him and cough in his face. In that case, the perpetrators turned out not to be teens, but an older couple.  RTÉ Brainstorm podcast on how to mind your mental health during the lockdown Whether these distinctions in behaviour are well founded or not (it wasn't only teens out for walks together), it's made me think about how young people are affected by the coronavirus and whether this differs from older adults. How do pandemics affect the general population? Here, the research has suggested what will probably seem obvious to most. Firstly, information is really important to assess risk and take relevant precautions and, secondly, communication about steps being taken is key to managing uncertainty, a key factor in anxiety. A recent review of quarantine studies was published in The Lancet by Samantha Brooks and colleagues. They observed that a key determinant of people’s ability to cope psychologically was having an understanding of why quarantine was important and exactly how long they would be in lock-down. But this review also suggest that those between 16 and 24 years of age might be particularly at risk of poorer psychological coping. As a developmental stage, young adulthood is a particularly sensitive period in psychological development. We know that 75% of all mental health problems first occur during this period. Good data for Ireland on this group comes from MYWORLD_2, a landmark national survey of over 8,000 young adults published recently. Approximately half of this representative sample showed high levels of anxiety in 18-25 year olds even before the pandemic. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Della Kilroy reports on new research about teen mental health This was not just worrying: anxiety here related to experiencing what psychologists consider to be clinically significant symptoms. Neither was this "business as usual" for this age group as these scores were significantly higher that was reported for a similar age group less that 10 years previously. The top stressors reported by young adults were college, the future and finances. The real reasons for this massive surge in mental health difficulties are often debated. Social media is often blamed, but high self-expectations and long term consequences of recession related financial instability may be just as important. How are these individuals, who are already showing significant difficulties, likely to cope now? With some difficulty, is the answer. Social isolation (including the inability to gather in peer groups, no sporting outlets etc.), boredom and a lack of routine are likely to compound the mental health difficulties already being experienced.  From RTÉ Radio 1's Ray D'Arcy Show, interview with Tim Lomas, author of The Positive Power of Negative Emotions which shows the necessity of sadness, anxiety, envy and boredom Of course, this is unlikely happen immediately. Unlikely physical illness, the psychological fallout from emergencies such as the present one may not be felt right away. If anything, young people may respond positively initially to college closures and the suspension of usual routines as the prospect of one big long break may initially bolster all moods. But even beyond young people, the delayed effects arising following being caught up in an emergency are well known. The graph below from the HSE's Psychosocial & Mental Health Needs Following Major Emergencies guidance document illustrates that it’s often only when physical/medical needs start to resolve that emotional needs are felt. What this graph also suggests is that while immediate (acute) needs may resolve quickly, psychological needs can take longer to resolve. But how can sitting at home as a young person be considered as any sort of emergency? In truth, we don’t know for sure because our current situation is unprecedented. But clues about the likely answer can be found in a number of places. For one thing, we know that the effects of social isolation and loneliness are damaging. A review based on data from more than 70 studies found that chronic loneliness and isolation was associated with significantly increased mortality. Relating these chronic effects to the current situation, the author Julianne Holt-Lunstad suggested there was a risk that people would start to habituate to being isolated and find the habit hard to break even when restrictions were lifted. Sound alarmist? Not according to scientists who study post traumatic stress disorder, a type of mental health disorder affecting some individuals who experience a traumatic event. Compared to the present pandemic, they argue that the effects of major disasters like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami at least had finite endings. We’re stuck in something where we don’t know when it will end and many of our normal needs and coping strategies have been disrupted in the meantime. The opportunity to get dressed up, go out, and meet up is sorely missed by this group and they're already starting to talk about big post-coronavirus parties Among these needs, the need to connect socially is paramount. Aristotle defined humans as essentially social animals and modern neuroscience still holds this to be true. The "social brain" hypothesis suggests that our brains have evolved to allow us to connect with others on a large scale so as to solve problems and gain acess to physical and emotional support. In her book Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain, Sarah Jane Blakemore argues that developing this ‘social’ brain takes time and effort, and most of all experience. One way of thinking about the brain is like a tree that is pruned by learning experience. Unlike other animals who reach maturity relatively quickly, humans are slow to mature because they need time to gather the experiences to map out their social worlds and know how to respond adequately. Sarah-Jayne Blackmore's TED talk on the mysterious workings of the adolescent brain But weren’t young people getting that primarily from TikTok and Snapchat anyway, modes of interaction that are alive and well if the number of memes floating around are anything to go by? Well, yes: certainly taking a phone from a teenager is like akin to taking a gazelle’s thigh bone from a tiger. However, that’s all well and good as a supplement to other social activities, including schools and colleges, hanging out in each others houses, going on night’s out and so on. We all understand the limitations of social media such as the lack of depth, and the frequent misunderstandings. Video clips and memes do allow us to connect at a certain level - we share, we laugh together, we are entertained, we can feel connected and we feel we know what’s going on. One interesting example has been the increased use of Houseparty, an app where young people video chat in groups in a virtual house. Just as in a real house party, you can choose to join or leave conversations. Just as friends of friends might join in at a regular party, same here. Humans are slow to mature because they need time to gather the experiences to map out their social worlds and know how to respond adequately Of course, this virtual contact can't meet all social needs. The opportunity to get dressed up, go out, and meet up is sorely missed by this group and they’re already starting to talk about big post-coronavirus parties. But in the meantime, this is what they have. Our current situation is unlikely to help parents who were afraid of the effect of too much screen time and social media. So what message should you be giving to the young people in your house? Well, according to the evidence, the poet Hesiod is probably still right: moderation is best in all things. Based on the MYWORLD_2 survey, spending more than three hours per day on social media was associated with poorer coping and greater difficult with mood and anxiety. Now that young people have to sit at home all day, could that be a rule of thumb? Whether it is or not, understanding the need for social contact, both for mental health and for developing brains, will be key to helping young people cope in the coming weeks.  

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

RTÉ Brainstorm: Why are audiences seeking out live collective events online?

Author: Dr Ciara L Murphy, O’Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Opinion: these events show that it is reassuring during a period of coronavirus isolation to be together even if we are home alone The way that audiences participate in theatre and live events has always been influenced by the social moment. It wouldn't have been at all strange to throw rotten fruit at actors in Shakespeare’s Globe, yet doing so at the Gate Theatre would almost certainly see you ejected from the performance. Audience participation is informed by social values, the structure of the event, and the conditions and contexts of that event. This can range from a move towards community-based events during the Troubles (where travel to the city centres of Belfast and Derry was seen as unsafe) to the rise in digital and interactive performance in recent times.  What unites most cultural output that is intended for the public sphere is the live audience. A visit to the cinema, a music gig or a theatre production relies on the presence of the live audience for both its financial and creative success. The live event also has the power to transform audiences through the collective experience. There is pleasure in sharing the common experience as  anthropologist Edith Turner notes. Similarly, according to academic Jill Dolan, there is a ritualistic, almost spiritual cohesion that becomes present during the collective, live event. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Irish pianist Dearbhla Collins on the "Live in the living room" performances from the Royal Irish Academy of Music But what happens when the live event is no longer possible? The coronavirus pandemic has changed the social moment and is ensuring that we remain at home. We simply do not know when we will next have the opportunity to sit, side-by-side, in a venue, participating in a moment of live culture. In this time of crisis, many of us are turning to culture for entertainment, solace, and inspiration. In the absence of the physical collective, audiences and artists are creating it digitally.  Irish comedian Alison Spittle's nightly #CovideoParty demonstrates the fluidity of audience response in a time of crisis and illustrates the importance of liveness and togetherness. Every evening, an audience gathers online to simultaneously stream a Netflix film. The film, chosen daily via a poll on Spittle’s Twitter page, is coupled with the opportunity to converse with fellow viewers via the #CovideoParty hashtag.  Spittle’s intervention is far from an isolated event. Limerick theatre company Bottom Dog Theatre have recreated the live theatre experience by streaming previously staged productions online. Under the event title #TheatreFromHome, the company have re-performed A Wilde Fan and Bachelor of Kilkish to an online audience. These performances contain many of the structures of a theatre production, such as an interval. The audience may not be physically in the theatre but, in the nature of the collective, the live event remains present.  Musicians are also recreating the live event. Irish musician Emma Langford has been hosting live sing-alongs on her Instagram feed and The Charlatans’ frontman Tim Burgess is hosting nightly listening parties on Twitter using #timstwitterlisteningparty. Like the #CovideoParty, audiences of theatre and music can participate live and simultaneously with a digital audience that could be spread across the globe, but that are united by the cultural event.  Social media has long been considered as a space of performance. Patrick Lonergan emphasises the collaborative nature of social media as a performance space, acknowledging that it allows audiences to take on the roles of the playwright, the actor, or the director. In this current moment, social media and digital technology become one of the only ways that we can stay connected to each other, and to culture.  Many museums, theatre companies and other cultural organisations are making their cultural content available for streaming online. This is a worthy and necessary contribution to the current moment. However, the emergence of #CovideoParty, #TheatreFromHome, and #timstwitterlisteningparty signals that one of the pleasures of cultural engagement is participation in the collective, live moment. There is a clear mirroring of the inherent structures of these cultural industries. Museums do not necessarily depend on the collective, but when we go to the theatre, we go together.  From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, journalist Toner Quinn and folk singer Daoiri Farrell on the growing number of online concerts and the changing landscape of music performance Perhaps it is reassuring, during a period of isolation, to be together even if we are alone. Culture has always responded to the social moment, often anticipating change before it happens, subverting ingrained power structures, challenging dominant and oppressive hierarchies, and suggesting, in many cases, a route forward.  By gathering together, we are communally re-reading cultural material within the frame of this current moment of social crisis and change. We are collectively witnessing and engaging with the many new resonances that these moments provide. Together, we are sharing the common experience and maybe we will find a way forward.   

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Censorship and propaganda: what happened to Irish media during the War of Independence?

Author: Ian Kenneally, Historian and PhD Researcher The War of Independence was a dangerous time for Irish newspapers. The years 1919-1921 proved to be a dangerous time for Irish newspapers. During the War of Independence, the press was controlled through means ranging from legislation to violent intimidation. In 1919, the Irish Administration in Dublin Castle required newspapers to work under the press clauses of the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA), legislation that had been introduced during the First World War. At the centre of this system was the Censor who acted as the filter through which newspaper reports flowed. It was his job to cleanse the news of material that Dublin Castle found objectionable, primarily items related to Irish republicanism.  Dublin Castle, the seat of British administrative powers - including censorship The severe constraints imposed by DORA were resented by the press but editors had few options other than to work within its boundaries. The Censor at least offered newspapers a measure of protection by preventing them from publishing items which contravened DORA. For this reason, the press protested the Irish Administration's decision to abolish the post of Censor in August 1919. Newspaper editors complained that removing the Censor, while keeping the censorship regulations intact, did nothing to restore press freedom. Not having a Censor to guide the press, they argued, made it inevitable that individual newspapers would publish material unacceptable to Dublin Castle.  Within weeks, those predictions became reality when Dublin Castle ordered the suppression of newspapers across Ireland after they published advertisements for the Dáil Éireann loan fund. The most widely publicised suppression was that of the Cork Examiner. (pictured here in 1977) On 17 September 1919, British soldiers entered the Examiner's offices amid what the paper's editor, George Crosbie, later described as 'the pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war'. The soldiers dismantled the printing equipment, closing the paper for five days. However, those events marked the zenith of the censorship regime that had existed under DORA. The suppressions were condemned internationally, causing the British government to end the policy by December 1919. Officially, Irish newspapers were to remain free of suppression for the remainder of the conflict. Indeed, in 1921, the Attorney-General for Ireland, Denis Henry, told the House of Commons that no Irish newspapers had been suppressed since 1919. Extreme violence Henry's statement was strictly true and yet utterly false. While there were no official suppressions between January 1920 and July 1921, there were over forty separate attempts by various sections of the Crown forces to disrupt the work of newspapers through extreme violence, the arrest and incarceration of editors, or the dismantling of printing equipment.  The upper levels of the Administration in Dublin Castle, the British army, and the police all considered the majority of Irish newspapers to be active enemies of British rule in Ireland. Both the Freeman's Journal and the Irish Independent, due to their national circulations, were seen as prime examples of that antagonistic press. The Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in Ireland, General Nevil Macready, was obsessed with the Freeman's Journal and the paper's reportage was closely monitored within Dublin Castle, with the result that its owners and editor were jailed in December 1920. General Nevil Macready in a drawing by Joseph Simpson from The Illustrated London News July 31, 1920 Macready's hostility towards Irish newspapers was replicated elsewhere in the Crown forces. In August 1920, a Galway-based RIC Inspector claimed that it was the Irish Independent 'which creates, fosters and foments hatred of the English Government from day to day, from week to week, from year to year'. That same month, a RIC report from Westmeath complained that it was futile to try and curtail the spread of republican literature since 'the daily papers from Dublin were doing more to promote sedition than anything else'.  What was in those papers which so antagonised Dublin Castle and the Crown forces? The Freeman's Journal and the Irish Independent opposed the IRA's use of violence. Nor did they demand an Irish Republic, instead calling for Dominion Home Rule. Yet they denounced partition and were unremittingly critical of British rule in Ireland. For example, during the republican hunger strikes of April 1920, both papers were supportive of the prisoners and they each described the British army as the 'army of occupation'. The two papers, especially the Freeman's Journal, also gave extensive coverage to the campaign of reprisals carried out by the police and military. That editorial policy, which should have been the entitlement of a free press, caused the Crown forces to make numerous raids on the Freeman's offices, including the use of incendiary bombs on at least two occasions. Elsewhere, many papers took a similar editorial policy to the Freeman, leading to attacks by the Crown forces against the Galway Express, the Kerryman, Kerry News, the Leitrim Observer, the Newcastle West Weekly Observer, and the Westmeath Independent, among many others.  Republican censorship Republicans likewise sought to silence sections of the press. The offices of the Irish Independent were attacked by the IRA in December 1919, as were those of the Cork Examiner in December 1920. On each occasion printing equipment was damaged, although both papers were able to quickly resume publication. There were smaller raids against other newspapers but the number of IRA actions against the press during 1920 and 1921 was far lower than the number undertaken by the Crown forces in the same period. The sword of reprisals By July 1921, the pen of the Censor had long been replaced by the sword of reprisals. The smoking ruins of newspaper offices such as those of the Westmeath Independent, so badly damaged that it remained closed from November 1920 until February 1922, were a ruthless warning to journalists that unfriendly eyes were watching each edition. In response, self-censorship became part of the daily routine for Irish journalists. The Irish Independent, to use one example, regularly stated that it had more knowledge of events than it could print without fear of retaliation. So, the campaign of censorship through violence partially succeeded, although Irish journalists continued to report the news as best they could.  Desmond Fitzgerald cartoon by Ernest Forbes  Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland The Irish Bulletin Apart from censorship, journalists also encountered the publicity and propaganda efforts of the opposing forces. For instance, in November 1919 Dáil Éireann began publishing a daily newspaper named the Irish Bulletin. Desmond Fitzgerald, the head of the Dáil's Department of Propaganda (later renamed the Department of Publicity), was the driving force behind this new paper, deeming it necessary to take full advantage of the increasing international interest in Ireland. Fitzgerald edited the paper until his arrest in February 1921, after which he was replaced by Erskine Childers. Although the Bulletin was an official publication of Dáil Éireann, it was not intended for popular consumption in Ireland but was aimed primarily at an international audience. The paper, produced on a tiny budget, was sent to journalists and public figures around the world. By using the Bulletin as a source, these journalists and public figures gave the paper a range and influence that extended far beyond its limited circulation.  In this war of words, the resources available to Dáil Éireann were only a fraction of those available to Dublin Castle. In July 1920, the Castle opened the Public Information Department, with the aim of controlling the flow of news in, and from, Ireland. British journalist Basil Clarke, seen here circa 1920, became Dublin Castle's master of propaganda. Enter "The Black and Tan Publicity Man" The new department was managed by an experienced English journalist named Basil Clarke, who would later become a pioneer in the British public relations industry. In a memo to his new colleagues, Clarke advocated a system called 'propaganda by news', arguing that: 'It is upon news that press opinion is formed'. Dublin Castle, he advised, should provide journalists with official reports and statements that were compatible with 'verisimilitude' – that is to say that they should give the appearance of truth. To underline his point, Clarke warned: As soon as propaganda becomes evident or its existence is suspected, it is bad propaganda … The service must look true and it must look complete and candid. To this end, Clarke advised that Castle press statements should occasionally include facts that were unfavourable to the Crown forces. By giving the appearance of candour and accuracy, journalists would be won over – or so Clarke believed. However, the press was generally suspicious of Dublin Castle's new initiative. An array of English newspapers, including London's The Times and the Manchester Guardian, criticised the work of the department, while Dublin-based journalists referred to Clarke as the 'Black and Tan Publicity Man'.  The Irish Independent responds to British propaganda, exposing the 'Battle of Tralee' as fake. Fake news Not only did Clarke encounter resistance from journalists but his work was undermined by a series of misjudged propaganda schemes conducted by a section of the RIC. These schemes, many of which involved the actual creation of fake news, included a report on the so-called 'Battle of Tralee' in which the Crown forces had, apparently, fought off an IRA ambush. The Irish Independent uncovered the truth within hours of the report's appearance: the so-called battle had actually been a photo shoot staged in Dalkey. In 1921, some of the figures behind those fake stories produced a counterfeit version of the Irish Bulletin.  This scheme, quickly exposed by the Dáil's Department of Publicity, caused a sensation and was widely denounced by Irish and British newspapers.  Ultimately, we can see that the combination of legislation, intimidation and propaganda had a profound impact on the Irish media during these years. In some cases, newspapers were completely shut down, meaning that many voices were abruptly silenced and potentially vital sources for the period were lost. We can also see how propaganda was used as a means to influence or distort the news. During conflicts, controlling the flow and content of information becomes a primary goal for combatants. Ireland during the War of Independence was not an exception to this rule. 

Thursday, 9 April 2020

How Irish youth are showing empathy for others during the crisis

Authors: By Pat Dolan, NUI Galway; Mark Brennan, Penn State University and Dana Winters, Saint Vincent College Opinion: history shows that young people demonstrate active empathy in a crisis and the current situation is no different Recent reports of some youth purposely coughing into the faces of others is upsetting and disturbing, but certainly does not represent young people as a whole and should not cloud our judgement of them in relation to COVID-19. Just like adults who are deeply worried about what lies ahead, youth are anxious and concerned for their grandparents, aunts, uncles, elderly close neighbours, as well as friends with underlying health conditions, which makes them more vulnerable. Just as the virus knows no border, being concerned about it has no age range. History shows that young people demonstrate active empathy in a crisis. For example, research by these authors and others including Prof Jean Rhodes  found that young people helped survivors and were first responders in many cases during Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 and the Pakistan floods in 2010. In Ireland, youth attending the Foroige Neighbourhood Youth Project in Carrick-on-Suir Co. Tipperary led by Aishling Duffy saved older local people from devastating floods. For their heroism, they were later locally known as "angels in wellies". How do we know young people in Ireland care and have empathy? Research funded by the Irish Research Council and completed at the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway in 2019, with the support of the centre's patron, actor Cillian Murphy, established that Irish youth are strongly empathetic towards others and have robust social values. A key issue for them in relation to the coronavirus may be their not being sure of how to demonstrate their empathy.  From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Sean O'Rourke show, Pat Dolan from NUI Galway and actor Cillian Murphy discuss the importance of empathy for young people Empathy is vital to our co-existence. This is not a new message and is something that the late great humanitarian Fred Rogers instilled as key to childhood education through his long running TV programme Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood. The show is featured in A Beautiful Day In the Neighbourhood, a recent movie with Tom Hanks, who is currently a victim of the virus, as Rogers. Activating our empathy to one another is particularly relevant in the context of the current crisis as all of us struggle with wanting to help others, but the only way we know how do so is by staying away from others.   For young people, responding to something as surreal as COVID-19 may still seem somewhat unreal. Furthermore, it is easier to ask young people to do something for others by actively caring through visible acts of kindness (to known others) than to ask them not to do certain things as invisible kindness (for the unknown).   While there are literally hundreds of examples and projects of activated empathy by youth throughout Ireland, these two stalwart organisations in Irish society, the GAA and Foroige, are leading the way in relation to a collective COVID-19 youth response even as we write. Within the GAA, the most common response has been for club members, including many young leaders, to make themselves available to the most vulnerable in their communities. This has included simple but essential daily tasks, of doing shopping, making visits to chemists, carrying out free repair work on homes, the provision of transport to primary care centres and the feeding of farm animals.   From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Cian McCormack meets some young people engaging in acts of kindness as part of the Foróige project to make communities better places for citizens Across the four provinces, from the Melvin Gaels GAA club in Leitrim, to Dunderry GAA in Meath, from the Buncrana club in Donegal, to Miltown St. Joseph's GAA in Clare, community and youth empathy has come to the fore in these challenging times. At present, there are hundreds of such examples on social media, with young members helping to drive this solidarity and decrease the fear and isolation we all feel. It is also worth noting that senior players are also playing their part. For example Dublin five-in-a-row winner Jack McCaffrey also stepped up the plate in a professional capacity with a message asking that everyone to observe the HSE’s guidelines and protocols to minimise the impact of COVID-19. Likewise in Foroige, many youth club members and participants on projects and programmes are volunteering in similar ways in their local communities by checking in on older neighbours (from a safe distance) or getting shopping in for those who are isolating themselves. Importantly, Foroige youth are keen to support peers who are isolating at home and may be vulnerable with mental health challenges. Using social media as a friendship and kindness tool, they are co-supporting and mentoring others. They themselves have come up with unique online examples of enlisting support. The Foroige Home Challenge encourages youth working from their within own home to write 10 things they are grateful for, a simple but really innovative initiative. Similarly, they are posting educational supports for primary and secondary schools students which make fun learning and coat it in a request to keep in touch through virtual camaraderie that includes virtual waving to one another on line. Foroige youth are also writing letters to older people in nursing homes, which staff can read to them as messages of comfort and solidarity.  And it's not just the GAA and Foroige: many other sporting organisations, community groups, and youth work groups are similarly demonstrating social good. Let's not judge the positive and caring actions of many young people, let us by the stupidity and misbehaviour of the few. We must always remember and exhibit Fred Rogers’ "three ways of ultimate success" in any endeavour: "the first is to be kind, the second is to be kind, and the third is to be kind."

Friday, 3 April 2020

Combatting exclusions and ageism for older people during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Author: Professor Kieran Walsh, Director of the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at NUI Galway The COVID-19 pandemic poses extraordinary risks to the health of older adults and, upon contraction, has immediate consequences for individual well-being and connectivity and, potentially, for mortality outcomes. However, aside from the detrimental health impacts of the disease itself, older people can experience other damaging outcomes as a result of strategies and discourses related to controlling and treating the virus. This is both in terms of material and symbolic disadvantages. In response to these concerning circumstances, we offer four critical messages for policy and response formulation during the COVID-19 crisis: State and community responses to COVID-19 must be cognizant of direct exclusions that impact older people as a result of policies and strategies implemented to combat the virus, and where possible account for these negative circumstances through supports and action. These exclusions include a lack of credible and up-to-date information due to difficulties in accessing on-line communication channels used by public health and other key agencies. They also include the increased risk of social isolation, and heightened levels of loneliness, due to the disruption of social and support networks because of the need for restricted interpersonal contact and ‘cocooning’. We must continue to ensure that treatment for COVID-19, and other forms of resource allocation associated with the crisis, are based on need, and not a simple age threshold. Worryingly, in some countries, a shortage of intensive care unit beds, respirators and other supports has led to what are fundamentally ‘ageist’ calls for the prioritisation of younger, healthier patients with a higher chance of recovery. Anecdotal evidence suggests health professionals in some of these nations are under considerable moral strain to engage in decision making practices that prioritise those who are likely to have more positive outcomes from treatment, or, more generally, those who have longer life expectancies and a greater potential for ‘life years saved’. In implementing polices and strategies to protect older people during COVID-19, we must not ignore the heterogeneity of the older population and frame older individuals as highly vulnerable, passive agents, ignoring their contribution during the pandemic. While policies such as cocooning are needed and are clear in their sentiment of concern and protection, they may inadvertently contribute to a homogenisation of the over 70s population. This can as such undermine the considerable practices engaged in by older people that are emerging in support of family and neighbours, and more formal community and national efforts to address the outbreak. Policy and strategies combating COVID-19 must not be based on a problematisation of ageing and older people in the context of the crisis, or function to destabilise the considerable solidarity currently being witnessed across the generations. There is evidence that older people have been framed in some sections of our public and political spheres as mass consumers of valuable and limited resources, blocking the access of younger, healthier individuals, who are deemed to be more ’productive’, to treatment services. Such discourses function to devalue not only the status of older people as equal citizens, but the value that we place on their contributions, and their lives, in our society.

Monday, 23 March 2020

The problem with Shannon airport's contentious US visitors

Author: Dr Shane Darcy, Irish Centre for Human Rights Opinion: the continuing use of the airport by US military may create legal issues for Ireland with the International Criminal Court The visit in January of United States Vice-President Mike Pence to Shannon airport, where he met with United States troops travelling to Iraq, has again highlighted the ongoing use of the airport by the world's most militarily powerful state. The long-standing arrangement allowing United States personnel to travel through the airport has proven to be both politically and legally contentious. While successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments have continued to support the policy of putting the airport at the disposal of the United States in this way, there has been steady opposition from other political parties and civil society groups. Sinn Féin, who received the highest share of first preference votes in the general election, have called for an end to the use of Shannon as a stopping point for United States forces. Outgoing Labour leader Brendan Howlin made a similar call following the visit of  Pence. Protests have regularly been held at the airport since 2001. From RTÉ Archives, RTÉ News report on the visit of Russian premier Boris Yeltsin to Shannon airport in 1994 when he failed to leave the plane From a legal perspective, the use of Shannon airport by the United States military has given rise to serious concerns regarding Ireland’s neutrality, as well as its adherence to international human rights law in the context of the "extraordinary rendition" of detainees to Guantanamo in Cuba. Events in Iraq, including the highly provocative killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in January, also raise the question of the potential complicity of the state and Irish political leaders in unlawful uses of military force amounting to aggression. The Charter of the United Nations obliges states to settle disputes by peaceful means and to "refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state". Force may only be used in self-defence or pursuant to the authority of the United Nations Security Council. The killing of Soleimani was not carried out with Security Council authorisation, and the United States claim to self-defence is deeply unconvincing. The retaliatory missile strikes by Iran on military bases in Iraq hosting United States troops were claimed as self-defence, but are more accurately characterised as an unlawful reprisal. Ireland issued a statement expressing its serious concerns with these events in Iraq and joined with the European Union in calling for all parties to de-escalate. The statement’s strongest language was aimed at Iran, with Ireland "condemning the missile attacks overnight which targeted those involved in the fight against ISIS", without any reference to the killing of Soleimani by the United States. Ireland did reiterate its regret that the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement and emphasised the key role of "dialogue and multilateral agreements".  From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Dr Masoud Eslami, Iran's ambassador to Ireland, on his country's anger at the killing of Major General Qassem Soleimani The unlawful use of force in international relations, such as recently occurring in the Middle East, may amount to aggression. This United Nations General Assembly described aggression as "the most serious and dangerous form of the illegal use of force". Aggression not only gives rise to international responsibility on the part of the offending State under international law, but also the potential criminal liability of political and military leaders who plan, prepare or wage such aggression.  After the Second World War, high-ranking German and Japanese military and political leaders were prosecuted and convicted at Nuremberg and Tokyo for what were then termed crimes against peace. "To initiate a war of aggression", the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg famously held, is "not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole". Efforts in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War to create a permanent international criminal court with jurisdiction over crimes such as aggression took many decades to be realised. The International Criminal Court which sits in the Hague came into being in 2002 after a sufficient number of States had ratified the Rome Statute, Ireland amongst them. This treaty gives the Court jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression. Jurisdiction over aggression would not be activated until 2018, when states finally agreed on a definition of the crime and on how the court could exercise its jurisdiction. According to the revised Rome Statute, this unique crime involves "an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations". From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Sean O'Rourke, an interview with Fatou Bensouda, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Ireland accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over the crime of aggression in September 2018. Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney expressed Ireland’s "unwavering support for the international court" at this time. The International Criminal Court Act 2006 will need to be revised to reflect the court’s new jurisdiction. In addition, the continued use of Shannon airport by United States forces will need to be reconsidered in light of this acceptance by Ireland of the Court’s jurisdiction over aggression. Following the killing of Soleimani, there have been prominent calls, including from the Iraqi parliament, for the United States to withdraw its troops from Iraq. If the United States were to refuse a demand from Iraq to withdraw its troops from Iraqi territory, this would amount to an act of aggression under the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court. Other United States military actions, including in Syria and elsewhere, are also of doubtful legality under international law governing the use of force. In this context, allowing United States troops to travel to Iraq through Shannon could amount to Ireland "allowing its territory which it has placed at the disposal of another State, to be used by that other State for perpetrating an act of aggression". This is one of the acts of aggression included in the definition of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Including such assistance as an act of aggression demonstrates that international law addresses not only States and individual leaders who directly commit aggression, but also those facilitating it. No cases concerning aggression have been prosecuted at the International Criminal Court yet, with its jurisdiction having only just come into effect. The Rome Statute gives the International Criminal Court jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression While Ireland and over 120 other countries have accepted the general jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, neither the United States nor Iraq are currently parties to the Rome Statute. The International Criminal Court cannot prosecute United States' nationals for the crime of aggression, except in the inconceivable case of the Security Council requesting it. But if Iraq were to become a party and to accept the aggression amendments, which is also unlikely but not impossible given the severe deterioration in relations between Iraq and the United States, the risk of criminal liability for Irish political leaders for allowing the continued use of Shannon airport by United States troops would become less hypothetical. The International Criminal Court has had a mixed record to date in prosecuting war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is an institution under pressure on various fronts. The refusal by a panel of judges to authorise an investigation into alleged crimes in Afghanistan came after a sustained campaign against the Court and its officials by the United States. While prosecution of aggression at the Court may remain remote, given that less than forty States have agreed to this specific jurisdiction, activation of the crime of aggression carries both legal and symbolic weight. Had the crime of aggression been fully incorporated in the Rome Statute in 2002, it is highly doubtful that the United Kingdom, which was then a party, would have joined the United States-led coalition that invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003 without Security Council authorisation. Even the potential of arrest warrants being issued by the International Criminal Court, however distant prosecution may actually be, provokes serious concern for high-ranking officials. The International Criminal Court’s revised jurisdiction over aggression places those who facilitate its perpetration by other States on notice of the risks of complicity in the "supreme international crime". With Ireland’s new political landscape likely to bring the use of Shannon airport by the United States under further scrutiny, as predicted in Foreign Policy, those engaged in political negotiations regarding government formation, and with it the assumption of positions of leadership, would be well-advised to bear in mind the new legal dimensions of this enduringly controversial issue.

Monday, 23 March 2020

How a Galway weather station keeps track of climate change

Authors: Dr Clare Noone and Dr Damien Martin, Centre for Climate and Air Pollution Studies Analysis: long-term measurements of pollutants is important because they allow us to see the impact of climate policies By Clare Noone and Damien Martin, NUI Galway Mace Head Atmospheric Research Station is located on the rugged west coast of Ireland. The research from the station is used in EU policy making and contributes to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. The remote location overlooking the clean Atlantic Ocean monitors global northern hemispheric background levels of pollutants and effectively measures how dirty the cleanest air in Europe is. The station also monitors northern hemispheric background levels, European outflow events and in some case intercontinental transport events. Mace Head has been measuring greenhouse gases since 1978 under the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE). AGAGE is part of the powerful global observing system that is measuring greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere.  The original stations (Mace Head, Trinidad Head, Ragged Point, Cape Matalula and Cape Grim) occupy coastal sites around the world chosen to provide accurate measurements of trace gases whose lifetimes are long compared to global atmospheric circulation times. Two stations in Europe (Zeppelin, Jungfraujoch) and two in East Asia (Shangdianzi and Gosan) have joined the AGAGE network in recent years by using the same instrument and calibration scales. AGAGE also collaborates with stations at Hateruma operated by the Japanese National Institute for Environmental Studies and Monte Cimone managed by the University of Urbino in Italy. Long term measurements of pollutants are important because they allow us to look at the impact of climate policies. For example, we have been able to effectively monitor intervention such as the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which saw the banning of ozone depleting substances, known as CFCs. We can see clearly how CFCs kept on rising until the effect of the protocol came into effect, resulting in their eventual decline. This was a huge win for climate scientists and the ozone hole has nearly fully recovered.  How the number of CFCs in the atmosphere have been reduced The story unfortunately is not as promising for other greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide (CO₂). Concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) have increased from ~277 ppm at the beginning of the industrial era (~1750), to a global monthly average concentration of over 409 ppm. This increase has been attributed to anthropogenic activities, in 2015, the majority of global emissions were due to fossil fuel combustion: coal (41%), oil (34%), gas (19%), and cement production (6%). The IPCC has stated that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and that the "human influence is clear", with the 2015 Paris Agreement establishing a global policy response to climate change. A key objective of the Paris agreement is that global GHG emissions are balanced with removals during the second half of this century. In Ireland, the national policy position is to reduce emissions of CO2 by 80% relative to 1990 emissions and to achieve neutrality for the agriculture and land use sector by 2050. Achievement of both will require strong policies as well as an increased understanding of emissions and removals. Like in the case of the CFCs, CO₂, intervention is needed if we are to limit the effects of climate change. We can see that CO₂ levels have continued to rise over the past 20 years due to continuous fossil fuel consumption. From our measurements at Mace Head, we have seen insufficient policy intervention in terms of CO₂ and the levels have continued to rise year on year since measurements began in Ireland. Long term CO₂ measurements in Hawaii and Connemara Unfortunately, that's not the whole story. In truth, the amount of greenhouse gas in our atmosphere is higher still if we factor in other greenhouse gases besides CO₂. Atmospheric scientists use CO₂-equivalent as a way to aggregate the effect of all these long-lived powerful greenhouse gases.  Although CO₂ is the most abundant greenhouse gas, other gases like methane (CH₄) and nitrous oxide (N₂O) influence how much the planet is warming, many of them are more powerful greenhouse gases than CO₂, and some linger for longer in the atmosphere. For example, methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere and is 32 times more efficient at trapping heat than CO₂, on a per-molecule basis over a 100-year time span.  So, if we look at "CO₂-equivalent", or CO₂-e, then the world has already surpassed a worrying milestone. In July 2018, the "cleanest air in the world" at Cape Grim Baseline Atmospheric Pollution Station (Tasmania) surpassed 500ppm CO₂-e. To put this figure into perspective, the Paris climate agreement is aimed at limiting global warming to less than 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change. The best estimate of long-term global warming expected from 500ppm CO₂-e is about 2.5℃. The fact that the cleanest air in the world has surpassed 500ppm CO₂-e should be ringing alarm bells

Monday, 23 March 2020

5 ways to increase your personal creativity

Author: Audrey Fayne, Research Associate Analysis: creativity is now one of the top skills required for employment so here's how to do things better and differently Weird. Arty. Out there. Different. That's what many of us think about creative people. Bestowed with a mysterious and powerful gift from birth, imbued with a sort of divine inspiration owned by a select and fortunate few, creatives walk amongst us but are not of us. They break boundaries, think differently and produce art and literature which enhances our world and helps us better understand it. And it's not just art - scientists are in there too. Some great scientific breakthroughs appear to have come from a moment of creative genius. Alexander Fleming's observations of mould (eventually) gave us penicillin, while Archimedes' musings in the bathtub gave us a way to measure buoyant force (and a handy way to calculate the gold in your crown, should you be needing a solution). The rest of us non-creative humans have been doing just fine without creativity - until now. It suddenly feels like creativity is everyone’s business. Creativity was announced as one of the top skills required for employment in 2020, LinkedIn claims that how to think more creatively will benefit you the rest of your career  and Forbes declared it to be the skill of the future. It is not just the big guys and small companies need it too. Small and medium enterprises, which make up 99% of businesses in Europe, require skills to enable creativity. In Ireland, the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 states that we should place more emphasis on creativity and entrepreneurship in undergraduate curriculum (as a generic skill). Design leader Catherine Courage talks about using creativity to change corporate culture at TEDxKyoto 2012 All of that means companies are recognising that ideas are their most precious commodity and employees who produce them are in demand. Good news if you were born creative, but what about the rest of us? A new NUI Galway project is currently working to debunk some of the myths around creativity and helping small business owners realise that creativity is actually a skill. Like any skill, it can be learned and improved. Creativity is the process of generating new ideas from original thinking. These ideas are the inspiration which, with some effort, can lead to innovation. The two concepts are different but linked. Creativity is the first step, where you identify problems and generate ideas to solve them, while innovation is the second step, where you select, develop and implement creative ideas. In other words, it is the practical application of a creative idea. Creativity and innovation address ways of doing things better and differently. There are different theories around creativity but people who are creative generally share some characteristics such as flexibility, openness to experience, willingness to accept risks and being good at finding problems worth solving. With a little effort, you can develop these characteristics too. Why not try the following? (1) Accept your creativity It may have been educated out of you or you may simply have lost confidence, but the first simple step is to start questioning your assumptions and remind yourself that your brain is amazingly creative. Think about all the activities you already do which involve solving problems. This resourcefulness is a form of creativity. Ask yourself if you are an innovator who is good at doing things better, or an adapter who thinks differently and give yourself a pat on the back for your skills. (2) Forget group standards Challenge what you think you know. Challenge rules. Ask why they are there and what would happen if they were not. Challenge preconceived notions and any kind of automatic thinking with the potential to cloud innovation opportunities. Challenge what you see and hear. This will help you push past initial observations and get to the crux of the problem. (3) Take more risks Take risks frequently and be prepared for whatever outcome you get. The results may not meet your expectations. Fail forward, and learn from your mistakes along the way. (4) Challenge everything Become hyper-aware of your environment and try to notice the common and every day with new eyes. Capture fresh ideas and don't be afraid to use them later. (5) Take some downtime Creative thinking uses both sides of our brain but we often favour one type of thinking over another and lose our ability to play and be creative as we get older. Don't overlook opportunities to let your right brain make its mark. Schedule some time for daydreaming to give these slower mental processes a chance to be effective.

Monday, 23 March 2020

How can more women be recruited and retained in the military?

Author: Sally Anne Corcoran, PhD candidate at the Irish Centre for Human Rights Opinion: less than 7% of the Irish Defence Forces are women despite leadership commitments to gender equality The Irish Defence Forces were exclusively a male only organisation until 1980, when women were given the opportunity to join. Since the lifting of the non-combatant policy in 1992, they have also been free to engage in all roles, yet as of April 2018, they represent only about 6.9% of Defence Force staff (596 of 8,847). 50% of women serving are mothers. Women also represent only 4.2% of total military personnel in UN peacekeeping missions, to which the Forces contribute. As of 2019, just 33 women have joined and remained over the past four years. These numbers persist, in spite of leadership that professes commitment to gender equality and policies designed to enable it. Numerical, adjustment (an increase in women) redresses gender imbalance and can affect institutional character in long run. Rosabeth Kanter's critical mass theory postulates that minority percentages past 35% can equal institutional and societal change, so change occurs solely with numerical increase. But greater numerical parity will not necessarily challenge women's inequality in a traditionally masculine dominated institution. What is required is fundamental, structural change, affording women the opportunities of genuine influence, achieved by equal power sharing. This entails equal access to decision-making and the resources to implement decisions. As well as asking if women are present and in what proportions, we need to know the amount of power they hold. Given "equal opportunity", will women show up in equal numbers if structures treat them equally? From RTÉ Archives, RTÉ News report on the 38 women who marched into history in 1981 as the first female recruits to the Irish Defence Forces Women have had equal opportunities since 1992, but a focus on equal opportunities alone ignores the fact that personal choices are influenced by social context and gender stereotypes. As Siobhan Mullally pointed out in Gender, Culture and Human Rights (Hart Publishing, 2006), "individuals cannot be understood outside their economic and social contexts which constrains life choices" and choices are influenced by the unequal distribution of power in society. A supportive work environment, flexible working practices, supportive supervisors, an active women’s network, breastfeeding facilities and physical instructors who are trained to accommodate female staff post maternity are all areas in the organisational culture requiring attention. Informal networking or meetings during non-family friendly hours also disadvantage women, who remain disproportionately responsible for domestic labour/childcare. Retention of working mothers is linked to family-friendly organisational cultures. Post motherhood, women no longer act like "conceptual men" and organisational culture must respond. If women feel valued, this will effect their recruitment, commitment and retention. "Policies must reflect the fact that career paths of women differ from their male counterparts. Until this is the case, the Forces ‘will experience unacceptable rates of female turnover." Equivalent treatment considers existing realities of disadvantage to enable the possibility of real equality.  From RTÉ Radio 1's Doc On One, Keeping the Peace - Her Story looks at Sharon Duggan, one of the first women recruits to the Irish Defence Forces who embarked on a lifelong ambition to serve in Lebanon as part of the UN peacekeeping forces The "value-added" women bring to military scenarios makes their participation essential. Mark Mellett, Forces Chief said "we need more women in our Defence Forces not just for peacekeeping but for everything else. It is a capability issue and an essential enabler to maximise our capabilities. Better gender balance in key leader decision-making gives better outcomes." These comments are indicative of cultural change. It's an acknowledgement that gender inequity is a moral issue but equally impedes capability, as it does not maximize the potential of all. The UN Secretary-General similarly stated "more women in uniform have been shown to increase the protection reach of our missions", and he spoke of the value of  ‘different thinking’. The value that women have been able to bring to military contexts is widely recognised and studies concur that an increased percentage of women is beneficial to operational effectiveness. Some argue recognisance activities force "token" women into traditional, roles, by compelling female staff to serve in liaison rather than combat positions. This may reinforce inequality, via reliance on gender stereotypes. Female troops have referred to "secondary negative effects", whereby they are pigeonholed into civil-military positions instead of combat, in line with gender requirements. Advocating gender without addressing the political project of gender equality risks "selling gender while selling it out". To contribute equally, women must be empowered to do so How can more women be recruited and retained in the military? To contribute equally, women must be empowered to do so. A move towards genuine equality requires a change to entrenched norms in the structures, management and internal hierarchy that cause disadvantage, and the implementation of special policy measures to ensure equivalent treatment. This is not only the correct thing to do, equity-wise, but also the most efficient thing to do as well, in terms of achieving policy and military objectives.   

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: How Uganda has dealt with human trafficking

Author: Favour Offia, Irish Centre for Human Rights Opinion: while Uganda has come a long way in tackling human trafficking, there is still much more to do  According toUNHCR data, Uganda is Africa's largest refugee receiving country. However, the country also battles with the scourge of human trafficking and is a source, transit and destination country. As a source country, Ugandan nationals are trafficked mainly toUAE, Oman, Jordan and Saudi Arabia primarily for labour and sexual exploitation. Uganda is also a significant transit route for East African victims of trafficking, withIndian and Bangladeshi nationals being trafficked to South Africa. As a destination country, nationals from East African states are trafficked to Uganda for different forms of exploitation, especially sexual and labour exploitation. The phenomenon of human trafficking in Uganda is both transnational and internal. Men, women, and children (boys and girls) are trafficked from rural communities in Uganda to larger cities like Kampala for labour and sexual exploitation. Children are mostly trafficked from theNorthern Karamoja region to other larger cities for exploitation in street begging, hawking, and prostitution. Why is trafficking so prevalent in Uganda? Uganda has a population of about 45 millionpeople with an average age of15.9 years, making Uganda's population one of the youngest globally. However, the absence of adequate employment opportunities, quality education and social welfare structures to effectively cater for a young population leaves Ugandans, especially those living in rural and underserved areas, vulnerable to exploitation.  From Big Think, how Ugandan Agnes Igoye is fighting human trafficking in Uganda Seeking better opportunities, Ugandan youths migrate to Gulf States to workas labourers, security officers, receptionist, domestic staff, construction workers and nannies among others. This puts Ugandan labour migrants at the risk of exploitation by human trafficking syndicates. To protect its citizens, the Ugandan government introduced theLabour Externalisation Programme as a means to help Ugandans access safe, formal and regular pathways to employment abroad. Despite this, there have been several reports of Ugandans being forced to work in slavery-like and exploitative conditionson arrival at their destination which sometimesleads to death.These reports have not stopped labour externalisation, as a Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies report states that there are over 150,000 Ugandans working in the Middle East generating over $500 million annually in diaspora remittances. Asides from the push and pull factors, the movement and forced displacement of large numbers of people in situations of extreme poverty, creates conditions of increased vulnerability where exploitation thrives. Trafficking networks do not only target Ugandan nationals,as refugees living in camps in Northern Uganda and in settlements in and around Kampalaare particularly vulnerable to targeting by trafficking networks.  Efforts to tackle trafficking Although the problem of human trafficking in Uganda pales significantly in comparison to other countries in the East and Horn of Africa region, the Ugandan government has nonetheless, taken several steps to combat trafficking. Counter-trafficking in Uganda is multifaceted and attracts different stakeholders from both the public sector and civil society.  BBC News' report on human trafficking in Africa In 2009, the Ugandan government implemented the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act (PTIP Act), which deals with the prosecution of offenders, as well as the protection of the rights of victims and survivors of trafficking. According to the US State Department TIP Report, the prosecution of offenders has markedly increasedsince the adoption of the Act from three prosecutions with just one conviction in 2009 to a record high of50 prosecutions and 24 convictions in 2017. The government has also embarked on an intensive prevention campaign through activities such as,public sensitisation, licensing and registration of labour recruitment agencies, capacity building and training of government officials in the criminal justice system and enactment of bilateral labour agreements with destination states. These counter-trafficking efforts have been disproportionately focused on a criminal justice approach (ie the prosecution of offenders), with limited attention paid to protection of the rights of victims and survivors or addressing root causes. A rights and protection-based approach to counter-trafficking focuses on protecting the victims by providing psycho-social care, shelter, educational support, financial and household empowerment, and legal aid. To harmonise these different approaches, section 21 of the PTIP Act creates theCoordination Office for Prevention of Trafficking in Persons (COPTIP) to co-ordinate counter-trafficking efforts between the government and civil society organisations. Since the creation of this office, the Ugandan government has made considerable progress in counter-trafficking such as the development and implementation of aNational Action Plan for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons. From RTÉ Radio 1's News At One, Edward Keegan, Anti-trafficking Coordinator with the Immigrant Council of Ireland, discusses US State Department's report on human trafficking But despite the advances made in the development of counter-trafficking frameworks, the implementation is limited and risks of exposure to exploitation by trafficking syndicates still remain. A considerable number of public officials are still unaware of the PTIP Act, Ugandans still travel abroad daily for work in the Middle East and children are still trafficked to work on the streets. While Uganda has come a long way in countering human trafficking, there is still more to do to eradicate trafficking in the country.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Why were women absent from Irish juries for 50 years?

Author: Dr Conor Hanly, School of Law Analysis: it took Irish courts and legislators until the 1970s to restore women's equal rights to serve on juries For most of its 800 year history, the jury has been an almost exclusively male domain. Until the early 20th century, a woman could serve as a juror only on a jury of matrons, usually empanelled to determine whether a condemned woman was pregnant.  The 1916 Proclamation promised to cherish all the children of the nation equally, but it was a statute enacted in 1919 by parliament in London which allowed women to serve on juries. From then on, women who met the eligibility criteria (based on property ownership) were to be included in the lists of jurors prepared annually in each county (known as Jurors' Books). In 1921, women began serving on Irish juries. In that year, women made up 12% of the eligible jurors in Co Limerick and 15% of those in Co Tipperary in 1923. In the same year in parts of Dublin, women accounted for more than one-third of eligible jurors.  However, this was a bad time to introduce changes to the jury system: Ireland was in the midst of the War of Independence. Republicans expected litigants to make use of the non-jury republican courts established by Dáil Éireann, and the IRA "encouraged" people to ignore official jury summonses. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Dara Robinson, Criminal Law Specialist with Sheehan & Partners, discusses jury duty and why jurors are selected and rejected Upon the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, Ireland was free to design a new judicial system that retained or dispensed with any aspect of the pre-Independence system. Nationalists had long complained of the operation of the jury system, and the Dáil courts had operated successfully without recourse to juries. It is perhaps surprising then that a constitutional committee formed in 1922 endorsed, apparently without much discussion, the principle of jury trial in criminal cases. This endorsement found its expression in Article 72 of the Free State Constitution and the pre-Independence jury laws, including the 1919 statute that allowed women to serve on juries, continued in force in the Free State. From an early stage, though, it became apparent that the presence of women on Irish juries was under threat. Minister for Justice Kevin O'Higgins viewed the 1919 Act as a foreign instrument that had never been popular in Ireland. In 1924, he introduced the Juries (Amendment) Act which allowed eligible women to seek an exemption from jury service. Virtually all applications were granted and the effect was dramatic. Within one month of the act being signed into law, the number of women who remained on the Jurors’ Books around the country had fallen by 80%. From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Sean O'Rourke, historian Diarmaid Ferriter on the assassination of minister for justice Kevin O'Higgins By 1927, O’Higgins claimed that the exemption rate for eligible women had reached 90%. But the minister was not finished and he introduced a new Juries Act in February of that year, which automatically exempted all women from jury service. An otherwise eligible woman could, however, seek inclusion in the Jurors’ Books if she so wished. The effect of this statute is apparent from the Limerick and Tipperary Jurors’ Books for 1927, which list some 8,600 eligible persons, only one of whom was a woman. To justify the 1927 legislation, O’Higgins pointed to the expense of including women in the Jurors’ Books when only about 50 served annually. This fact, combined with the experience of the 1924 Act, demonstrated that women simply did not want to serve on juries. Thus, O’Higgins claimed, with some justification, that his position accurately reflected the wishes of Irishwomen. O’Higgins and his supporters also drew on a particular view of women’s proper function in society and their duties in the home. From this view, it followed that women should not be exposed to the horrors of the criminal courts. Opposition parties and a variety of women’s groups actively opposed O’Higgins’ efforts on basic equality grounds. They pointed out that men had no wish to sit on juries, but they were not given a choice. In 1925, the Irish Women's Association of Citizenship argued that "women had no right to evade any duties and responsibilities involved in citizenship". Women were already being exposed to the horrors of the criminal courts as lawyers, witnesses and defendants. The Dublin Christian Citizenship Council pointed to the unfairness of denying women a chance to sit on juries while they were liable to stand either in the dock or the witness stand.  The Court declared the gender provision of the Act to be unconstitutional and that juries were required be drawn from panels broadly representative of society Efforts to block the 1927 Act failed, and it remained in force until 1975 when the Supreme Court considered the Act’s constitutionality. Evidence brought before the Court showed that only nine of the 700,000 persons who had been eligible for jury service in the 10 years prior to the case had been women. Five of these women had been summoned and only two had served.  The Court declared the gender provision of the 1927 Act to be unconstitutional, holding that the model of jury trial contemplated by the present Constitution required that juries be drawn from panels that were broadly representative of society. The Oireachtas responded with a new Juries Act in 1976 – still in force – under which men and women have an equal liability to serve on juries. When it comes to jury service, it took independent Ireland 50 years to put women back in the position they had occupied in 1919, notwithstanding the fine words of the 1916 Proclamation.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Why it's time to reform the family law system

Author: Dr Connie Healy, School of Law Opinion: the court system should provide the scaffolding required to give families a chance for a new beginning The beginning of the year is a busy time for family law solicitors based on the number of queries they receive about separation and divorce. The launch of the #courtingdisaster campaign in December highlights the frustration evident amongst many family law practitioners and NGOs about the lack of services for separating parties who find themselves before the family court system in Ireland. The #courtingdisaster campaign focuses on facilities (or lack thereof), lack of privacy and the indignity of having to wait around in hallways amongst other things. Arguably, there are few more poignant times in one's life and when one feels more vulnerable than having to approach the courts to resolve an issue that has arisen within a family. Society has a tendency to take a blinkered approach, perhaps due to the view that it will never happen to us, or a fear that it could be any of us. While ending up before a judge may resolve the immediate issues, it may do nothing to assist with the wider impact of a family falling apart. From RTÉ Radio 1's Today with Sean O'Rourke, the Children's Rights Alliance's Tania Ward and family law barrister Rachel Baldwin discuss the #CourtingDisaster campaign While aiming to resolve all of the financial and societal issues that may contribute to family difficulties is unrealistic, an understanding of the issues is crucial. Lessons from other jurisdictions highlight the importance of an interdisciplinary approach. This is one that addresses the underlying issues, if any, through referral to appropriate support services, effective case management and a graduated response to dispute resolution. The latter can begin with less adversarial approaches though mediation, judicial conferences and ultimately a court hearing for those who cannot resolve within those processes. It is time to move away from the mindset of pitting courts’ processes against alternative methods of resolution, of viewing "alternative approaches", counselling and mental health services with suspicion and to take a guided, systematic approach that aims to resolve rather than to settle conflict. Rather than use lack of resources as an excuse for inaction, it is necessary to maximise the resources we have and to use them creatively. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Noeline Blackwell from the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre on the launch of a campaign advocating for a dedicated family law court Assistance and support could be garnered from a portion of lawyers' continuing professional development requirements being directed towards pro-bono work providing services for unrepresented clients. Law student and trainee mediator engagement can benefit both students and litigants. There is also an argument for engagement from universities in judicial training, research and reviews of standards. More support could come from the streamlining of processes, effective case management and maximising the use of court buildings outside of court times to provide centres for supervised access. As in other jurisdictions, courts can lead the way in developing schemes where alliances with local business help those who assert that they have no money to pay maintenance to re-engage with the workforce rather than imprison them for default. It is time for those who have lead this campaign to be heard and to be involved in reform. Structuring the proposed Family Court requires strong judicial leadership and an engaged stakeholder approach. Reform in a piecemeal way is inefficient. A client cannot design the model because they haven't been here before and they aren’t emotionally placed to be able to deal with it Is this a paternalistic attitude? Arguably yes, but as noted by a family lawyer interviewed for research undertaken by the author, "a client cannot design the model because they haven’t been here before and they aren’t emotionally placed to be able to deal with it". Empowering litigants to walk away from the system better able to resolve issues should be the aim. The legal system should provide the scaffolding required to at least give families a chance for a new beginning.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Why words matter when it comes to human rights and housing

Author: Dr Padraic Kenna, School of Law Opinion: from "restructured mortgage" to "non-performing loans", the increasing use of technical terms makes the real lives of people invisible One of the casualties of the financial crisis has been the way familiar words have taken on a new meaning. Words relating to human values are now taken by banks to describe themselves, and not just for advertising. It is important to reclaim these words. We must also ensure that human rights are used to benefit people and not corporations. One such word is proportionality, which was quietly introduced into Irish legislation on mortgage cases last year. The legacy Echoes of the financial crisis and reckless lending are still heard across Ireland, whispered in court corridors and quiet conversation. Over 20,000 home loans are more than two years in arrears, accounting for 90% of arrears. Most are in a legal process which may lead to "repossession", often described as the "tsunami" of potential evictions. Another slowly moving wave involves 100,000 "restructured" mortgages. While 85% of these are "performing", even the Central Bank admits that "meeting the terms of the arrangement is not a measure of sustainability." Many require payments over 45% of net income, and most involve deferring repayments on the capital sum. Partisan media commentators suggest that borrowers are not "engaging" and that they would be treated fairly if they did so, but the evidence for this is not convincing. Nobody wants to risk losing their home. From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, is there still a huge gulf between banking regulators and those they regulate? Indeed, many households have lost their homes, including households with tracker mortgages, and an untold number of tenants where buy-to-let properties were seized. The Central Bank of Ireland celebrates that two-thirds of homes were repossessed by lenders after a "voluntary surrender" or abandonment (outside the court supervised eviction process). But it undertakes no research on what happened to these people, how much they still owe, or indeed, how many children lost their homes. "Resilience" was certainly forced on them. Of course, the word "eviction" never appears in Central Bank reports. The words A decade ago, Irish politicians and commentators worried about the stability of Irish society, its communities and families. There were fears over the emerging risks to employment, business confidence, cuts in income and public services. The vulnerability of households to these risks was widely discussed, with promises to protect basic incomes and essential services. But ensuring the stability of the financial system and "pillar" banks quickly became the priority and households became the "shock absorbers" of the crisis. We also discovered that banks were "vulnerable" to "risks," and needed to be helped (with public money) and powerful protective regulators to become "resilient". Today, we have rules which officially, make all Irish households "resilient" by giving mortgages only to people with very high incomes. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, David Hall, CEO Irish Mortgages Association and Chair of the Inner City Helping Homeless Board, criticises banks selling off some loans to investment funds Other new words such as "non-performing loans" can silence even the most determined human rights minded judge or politician. They're more powerful words than "access to justice". They condemn distressed home loan and small business borrowers to a shameful and socially ostracised status, even though the definition itself is contested across Europe. To the disbelief of many, our regulators hold Ireland up as a model for "resolving" non-performing loans. The way these technical terms make the real lives of people invisible can be frightening, especially when used alongside terms such "cleaning" mortgage loan books and finding "solutions" for distressed borrowers. These words are used to create an ideological firewall against meaningful public debate on how the financial system could be organised to promote socially and environmentally sustainable development of people, households and society. Today, we must defiantly insist that human ‘vulnerability" is a human rights issue. Resilience of banks cannot be equated with resilience of people, children or households. Public institutions exist to protect citizens from the risks which are detrimental to their lives. "Proportionality" is now part of Irish legislation In August 2019, legislation was quietly introduced which obliges Irish courts to carry out a "proportionality" assessment in all mortgage possession cases. Courts must examine six factors in granting possession orders, as part of this legislation: (i) Whether the making of the order would be proportionate in all the circumstances; (ii) The circumstances of the borrower and their dependents (children etc); (iii) Whether the mortgagee has made a statement to the borrower on the terms in which the borrower and their dependents could remain in the home and settle the matter; From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, John Cooke talks to tenants protesting against an investment fund which has threatened them with eviction. (iv) Any proposal made by the borrowers to enable them and their dependents to remain in the home and settle the matter, including a proposal for mortgage to rent or alternative accommodation; (v) The conduct of both parties in their attempts to find a solution to dealing with arrears; (vi) Such "additional matters as the court considers appropriate". Building on existing measures such as European consumer law and personal insolvency, this legislation provides distressed borrowers with better protection from being made homeless by Irish courts. Mortgage related evictions must be proportionate; that is, the least form of interference necessary with the right to respect for home. Irish courts can now insist on the use of other means of resolving the situation, such as mortgage-to-rent, or insolvency arrangements nd consider whether there is a pressing social need for the eviction. Significantly, the position of children and other dependants of the debtor must now be properly considered. Human rights matter. The "proportionality" test offers a practical application of human rights into the impersonal world of corporate finance. It is about people’s stability, risk, vulnerability and resilience. After a decade of financial troubles, maybe its time to use our laws to give distressed borrowers a "fresh start."

Thursday, 27 February 2020

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: The maths of public transport in Galway

Author: Dr Michael Mc Gettrick, School of Mathematics, Statistics and Applied Mathematics Opinion: here's what geometry has to say about where to build the most efficient tram and light rail lines in Irish cities One of the solutions to climate change is to have fewer people driving cars, and one way to do that is to provide an efficient public transport system. In Irish cities, this is done by Dublin Bus, LUAS, DART and smaller city services in Cork, Limerick and Galway. But is this public transport system efficient? Is it effective? "No" I hear commuters cry. So how do we make it better? Higher speed, more stops (these last two may be contradictory aims to many), more frequency, more coverage, cheaper,....the list goes on. However, what if some cities lend themselves to a more efficient and better designed public tram network because of their shape? This is where mathematics - geometry to be exact - has something to say. Cities have unique shapes, often because of natural features such as the sea, mountains or a lake. While most cities are probably in some sense circular, many are not. You may live in a city that resembles more a square, or a triangle. Then, there's rectangles, pentagons, parallelograms, hexagons, trapezoids... If you look at the shape of Dublin, it looks like a pizza with a substantial slice taken out of it for Dublin Bay. By contrast, Galway looks like a long rectangle. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, TCD economist Ronan Lyons on how Dublin renters are paying 15% more to live by Luas or DART lines Limerick and Galway cities have similar populations though their shapes are very different (Limerick is pretty circular). If you start building a tram in Limerick in the shape of a straight line through the centre, the city proper stops about 5km out of the centre so you would build one 10km line, and start on a second line through the centre. If you build such a line in Galway, one line running through the centre of the rectangular city can extend 8km (or maybe further if you include Oranmore and Bearna) before reaching "countryside". Here, there are some obvious advantages because of the shape. More people will live closer to such a line in a rectangular city, and travelling on a single line to get from A to B increases efficiency, as opposed to having to change trams once or twice, with associated delays. A single tram line fits the rectangular shape of Galway city with one or two small twists and turns and serves about 48,000 people living within 0.5km of the line. Red corresponds to the highest population area, then yellow, green, grey and blue, which has the lowest population. In cities of equal size in terms of population and size, it's easier to build an efficient tram network where there is a longer perimeter, whether that be a squashed parallelogram or triangle, or a narrow rectangle or elipse. On the other hand, it's hardest to build an efficient system in a circular city, which has a minimum perimeter for its area. Researchers at NUI Galway have shown that the efficiency for a single line tram through the centre of a square city can be as high as 67%. Here, the efficiency is calculated as the percentage of all trips between any two points for which it is feasible to (possibly) use the tram. For example, in the map above, it would not be feasible to go in Galway from G6 to E6, or to H8 by tram, but it would be feasible to go from G6 to F14 by tram.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Why do some animals live longer than others?

Author: Dr Kevin Healy, Zoology Analysis: humans have much to learn from whales, rats and bats about longevity  When Jeanne Calment was asked about the secrets of her longevity, she responded "always keep your smile. That's how I explain my long life." Jeanne would famously keep her smile right up to the age of 122, becoming the longest living person in recorded history.  Such a lifespan is quite an achievement for humans: your chance of becoming a supercentenarian, the term used for people who live past 110 years, is about 6 in a million. Indeed, not only are your chances of reaching your 110th birthday very slim, your chances of reaching older ages and becoming a modern day Methuselah are practically zero.  However, while these lifespans are improbable for humans, many of our animal cousins beat the odds of ageing with ease and may offer us clues as to how to live longer. Like us, animals age and die, but they do so at vastly different rates. The turquoise killifish, a small fish that lives in seasonal mud hole pools in east Africa, can complete its entire life cycle of in just 14 days. In the frigid waters of the Arctic, Greenland sharks are estimated to live for over 500 years. From RTÉ News, scientists claim Greenland sharks are the longest-living vertebrates known on earth So why do some animals live longer than others? One way to find out is to look at what makes long lived animals different. In 1905, when Jeanne Calment was already 30, the German physiologist Max Rubner noticed something about some common domestic animals. Cows lived longer then chickens and chickens lived longer than Guinea pigs. With this simple observation he proposed the first rule of living longer: be big. But why? One reason is that being large offers protection from predators. Such resilience to attack in large animals was demonstrated in 2007 when a harpoon tip dating from the 1800s was found to be still lodged in a Bowhead whale a century later. The lifespan achieved by this whale was not only due to the protection conferred by its size, but also due to its resistance to age related diseases such as cancer. With age comes the increased problem of diseases such as cancer. Every time a cell in your body replaces itself, there is a small chance of DNA errors arising during replication. These DNA errors can cause various problems, such as runaway cell growth developing into tumours. The longer you live, the more times your cells need to replace themselves and run the risk of such errors. From National Geographic, photographer Paul Nicklen's talks about his efforts to photo a 200 year old, 50-foot bowhead whale To combat this, animals, including humans, have a suite of genes which halt such runaway cell growth and other potential problems. However, if these genes become damaged, such as during replication, their protective function can be lost. Many large animals, such as Bowhead whales and elephants, have multiple copies of these protective genes to beat this. If one copy is damaged. the other copies of the gene still can continue to function and reduce the emergence of age related diseases for the animal. But such evolutionary tricks are not only confined to large animals. Many smaller, perhaps more unexpected species, are demonstrating various ways to live longer. At just 35 grams, the naked-mole rat is the Methuselah of the rodent world. While house mice only live up to four years, the naked-mole rat can live for over 31 years. This is particularly impressive as smaller animals have to deal with the increased chance of becoming someone's next meal and the physiological stresses of having a high metabolic rate. Compared to larger animals, the cells inside a small animal are burning energy at a much higher rate. This high metabolic rate can cause biological wear and tear which, in turn, results in shorter lifespans. From National Geographic Wild, are naked-mole rats the world's weirdest animal? So how do naked-mole rats live so long? One reason may be due to their unusual subterranean and social habits as they live in underground colonies with a single reproductive queen and many sterile helpers in a system more akin to ants than to mammals. This unusual lifestyle insulates individuals from the dangers of the world above ground which, like large animals, has allowed the evolution of resistance against ageing related problems such as cancer. However, they have also evolved the ability to manage the wear and tear of high metabolic rates, possible due to their ability to tolerate the low oxygen level of their environment. While the naked-mole rat may be supercentenarian of the rodent world, some more familiar animals can also achieve incredible ages for their sizes. Animals which can fly, such as birds and bats, live far longer than expected for their size. For example, Brandt's bat, which weighs in at only 4 to 6 grams, can live for over 41 years. This species, along with most other flying animals, seems to have beaten both the ageing odds associated with being small and the high metabolic rate required for flight. In the case of bats, various mechanisms related to DNA repair, cancer resistance and other aspects of physiology have been proposed as reasons for their impressive longevity. However, the various mechanisms these animals use to slow ageing are variable and complex, as ageing itself is an immensely complex disease.  From RTÉ News, a report on how Irish bat research could help slow human ageing As researchers look to the diverse species that have evolved tricks to live longer, it is becoming clear that there is no silver bullet that will make us live longer. But while the elixir of life may not be found in one place, we may slowly see an increase in our chances to become supercentenarians by piecing together the various evolution solutions found in the animal kingdom - as long as we keep our smile, of course.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

How science is dealing with the outbreak of coronavirus

Author: Professor Lokesh Joshi, Vice-President for Research Analysis: the severity of disease-causing viruses like this varies depending on the health or immune status of infected people The current coronavirus crisis started in December 2019. A number of people with viral pneumonia were found to be infected with a new coronavirus and the source of infection was traced to a seafood market in Wuhan, a Chinese city with a population of 11 million people. This new type of coronavirus has not been previously know and has been given the name 2019-nCoV (Wuhan coronavirus). Coronaviruses are common in nature and are a broad family of viruses that exist mainly in animal populations with only six coronaviruses are known to ever have infected humans. The most well-known outbreak of Coronavirus was recorded in November 2002 and was called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). It originated in China's Guangdong province and affected over 8,000 people in 17 countries, with the outbreak peaking in April and May 2003. From RTÉ Radio 1's Today with Sean O'Rourke, Fidelma Fitzpatrick from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland discusses the coronavirus outbreak Epidemiologists soon found out that a large proportion of these SARS cases occurred in hospitals (21% involved healthcare workers) and that air travel was a major component in spreading the disease. Appropriate infection control measures, including use of personal protective equipment, personal hygiene, travel warnings, airport screening, area isolation and personal quarantines were introduced globally. SARS was declared over after a period of 18 months and caused 774 deaths. While the SARS outbreak was quite dramatic and there was concern that mortality rates would be much higher, the reality is that in our everyday lives we are exposed to many kinds of bacteria and viruses, but most do not result in any disease. The severity of disease causing viruses varies depending on the type of virus and the health or immune status of infected people. One of the most dangerous and unpredictable class of viruses are called zoonotics, which are those that can pass from animals to humans by mutating and gaining ability to change within the host. SARS and the Wuhan coronavirus are both zoonotic viruses that usually reside in animals and have mutated to allow them to infect other species including humans. These viruses can potentially result in a high rate of mortality and are therefore a cause for serious concern. From RTÉ Radio 1's News At One, Kildare native Ben Kavanagh talks about life in Wuhan at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak Science these days reacts fast to new health crises. The gene sequence of Wuhan coronavirus 2019-nCoV was discovered and published within four weeks of its first detection as a new disease. The genome sequence of the Wuhan coronavirus shows that it is closely related to SARS-CoV. In both cases, a change in its surface glycoprotein (carbohydrates attached to surface proteins) allows the mutated form to jump from animal to human host. This change in glycoprotein is the key to the attachment and entry to the human cells to initiate the infection process. This change in viral surface glycoprotein could also be the key to curbing transmission of this virus. So far, there have been nearly 6,000 confirmed cases with Wuhan coronavirus with 132 fatalities. The epicentre of this viral infection is in Hubei province and in neighbouring areas where 15 cities with approximately 60 million people have been in full or partial lockdown in an attempt to reduce the disease spread. The initial symptoms of the Wuhan coronavirus is similar to cold or flu viruses, such as cough, fever and shortness of the breath. In many cases, these are mild symptoms and many people recover without the need for hospitalisation. But in some cases, Wuhan coronavirus 2019-nCoV can lead to viral pneumonia and organ failure which requires professional care in a hospital setting and in some cases is fatal. It seems that older people with poor immune systems or those with other underlying health conditions are amongst the more severe cases. Although there have been some younger fatalities, the virus does not seem to cause severe cases of viral pneumonia among young and otherwise healthy people.   From RTÉ 1's Six One News, a report on how China is "confident" of defeating coronavirus Wuhan coronavirus appears to be capable of transferring from human-to-human and the recent news reports suggest that it can be transmitted even before the symptoms of the infection appear in infected individuals. If this is the case, the carriers of this virus may not realise that they are infected before they pass it on to others, which could turn this virus into a serious killer. It is advised that people who are in the areas where there is Wuhan coronavirus infection should use hand-sanitation, wipes and masks to protect themselves from infection and others from getting infected. However, it is important to recognise that since air flows in and around the masks, most masks only do a little to reduce infection rates (although they do reduce the number of times people touch their faces). Most of the masks worn by people as seen on TV and in online news are not effective except that they give a sense of safety. They do not prevent most of the viruses going in and out of mouth and nose and they do not protect eyes. Frequent handwashing is likely to be among the most important way to reduce infection. Although this new coronavirus has the potential to spread widely and cause fatalities, a sense of perspective is useful. SARS epidemic caused global panic in 2002-2003 and resulted in 10% fatalities. In contrast, the Western African Ebola virus epidemic (2013–2016) killed 11,323 people and caused 40% fatalities. So far, the number of fatalities with Wuhan coronavirus have been relatively low and hopefully will remain so. From RTÉ Radio 1's Today with Sean O'Rourke show, John Cuddihy, Director of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, on the coronavirus Aquila Bioscience at NUI Galway has developed a cellulose based material for wipes and masks that is specifically designed to capture microbes (viruses, bacteria and fungi) and trap them inside the material so to reduce transmission of the pathogen, in this case Wuhan coronavirus. This emerging Irish innovation can be used as prophylaxis and has the potential to help combat the coronavirus crisis by reducing the rate of infection. It is too early yet to predict the full impact of the new coronoavisus epidemic on human populations in China and globally. The local agencies in China, global agencies such as WHO and health authorities around the world are collaborating in their attempt to halt the spread of the virus to protect people and to keep the number of fatalities as low as possible.  

Thursday, 6 February 2020

3 questions to ask your would-be TD about housing

Author: Dr Padraic Kenna, School of Law Opinion: how to assess your general election candidate's seriousness about housing and homelessness Housing is a key issue in this election as the cost of housing to rent or buy and the terrible situation for homeless families are huge political matters in Ireland. It is important to recognise that those who put themselves forward for public office do so to improve the lives of their fellow citizens, yet all candidates are expected to have simple solutions for housing problems. How realistic is this, and what questions should we ask them? The housing 'crisis' Rents in Ireland are the highest in the EU, relative to house prices and are beginning to match the exclusive districts of New York and London. Private tenants in Ireland have the highest house costs overburden of all groups, showing the flavour of our housing policies.Those on low incomes, especially families with children, are being squeezed out of the private rental market altogether. This, at a time, when State subsidies to the rental market have reached record levels. Even Eoghan Murphy, the Minister for Housing since 2017, accepts that competing for a home today in the private rental market is becoming intolerable. Low cost public or social housing is not widely available as an alternative. The numbers of homeless households with children remains at record levels and many others risk losing their homes through rent and mortgage arrears, although this issue has not figured much. Emerging defects in apartments are causing great concern. From RTÉ 1's Six Ones, a report on what the party manifestos have to say about policies in housing, public spending and agriculture A whole generation of people who want to form a household, and perhaps, buy a home, are finding that buying a home is out of reach (9 times average annual earnings in Dublin). The simple fact is that housing is too expensive in Ireland. Remarkably, public views on this are clear. A Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission survey in 2018 found that 82% saw housing as a human right, and 63% wanted to put it into the Constitution. Ireland presents itself internationally as a human rights superpower, adopting human rights instruments but not actually putting them into Irish law. This is particularly important for those groups which the market will never house, such as those on low incomes, and those with particular housing needs. The Irish housing conundrum In Ireland, we have one of the lowest average housing costs in Europe. One third of our almost 2 million homes are owned outright without any mortgage. Indeed, housing assets of €537bn. make up the greatest part of Irish households personal wealth – and of course mortgages on high priced homes make up a large part of the assets of our ECB supervised and State protected banks. In Ireland, we have the lowest levels of overcrowding in Europe, meaning that we have lots of space in our homes. All these facts are known to politicians. But, of course, these averages hide a great many small and expensive places where people live. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Lorcan Sirr from TU Dublin and Orla Hegarty from UCD on how housing is being dealt with during the general election campaign Do you really want to reduce house prices to make them more affordable? So how realistic are our would-be legislators in their proposals on housing. How would they deal with the Irish housing conundrum - housing as property or housing as homes?  One question which goes to the heart of the issue might be: do you really want to reduce house prices to make them more affordable? Of course, there is the question as to how legislators could reduce house prices (assuming they wish to), beyond the somewhat simplistic answer of "increased supply in the market". The reality is many other policy goals are advanced through housing policy – expanded property ownership (which boosts certain political values), urbanisation and sustainable development, fairness in society, consumer markets, and bank lending. Indeed, the State is just one player among many (not even the most powerful). We can really only speak of a housing policy environment - policies and interventions which motivate, enable or constrain action in housing. Housing systems, which include both market and non-market elements, involve property rights, finance, infrastructure, regulation and State direct or subsidised provision for those excluded from the market. Increasingly, EU standards are being developed and adopted, in such areas as construction materials, fire safety, tendering and mortgage lending, as well as the levels and types of State supports to those in need. From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Sean O'Rourke, an Election 2020 housing and homelessness debate with Fine Gael's Eoghan Murphy, Sinn Fein's Eoin O'Broin, Fianna Fail's Darragh O'Brien and People Before Profit's Richard Boyd Barrett The approach of Irish political parties is to enable markets to work, with regulation to ensure optimum outcomes, namely an opportunity for everyone to have adequate and affordable housing. When this does not work though, we have a problem. Blind faith in markets is not enough. Talk of broken or dysfunctional markets reveals a shallow understanding of the issues, many of which are common across all globalised cities. But it leads to a default question: will it require more tax breaks or should the Irish State become a bit more courageous? How would you make rents more affordable? The response to this one might also be the simplistic one about supply and demand, but here it gets more personal and political. A high proportion of our 173,000 landlords are individuals, but the candidate on your doorstep might know some of our 540,000 private or 250,000 social tenants, or at least have read about them. Big political ideas from Germany like five year rent freezes, and national tenants organisations in Sweden and Belgium might make for some interesting conservations. Unless, of course, the Constitution comes up,and the rights of Irishmen and Irishwomen to own property. Of course, balancing property with the common good has been legislated many times. But what’s that I hear about giving private tenants a right to buy the property they rent from foreign landlords, as happened in Ireland 100 years ago, with land? From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Juliette Gash reports on how Finland has reduced long term homelessness by 38% . Both the Kenny Report (1974) and the All Party Oireachtas Report on Private Property (2004) still gather dust. While focussed on the transition of agricultural to development land, both accepted that the State, in pursuing the common good, must operate in a complex and dynamic property market and can still bring down land costs. The principles of those reports can be applied to the internationalised land ownership of today. Pretending that the laws on development land are the same as those applying to people's gardens helps no-one. When will quality, affordable and secure housing be available for all to rent or buy? The homelessness problem now features in every Irish town and city. Significantly, Irish politicians accept responsibility to address this. Thus, one question might be: how will you prevent and reverse the problem of homelessness in Ireland and ensure that no child is homeless in Ireland in 2021? Clearly, the answer will illustrate the commitment of the candidate, and how realistic they are. Of course, they might rightly refer to the complexity of housing system. But, the expected political outcomes in Ireland involve preventing homelessness, advancing rights of children to a decent childhood, and ensuring access to affordable housing for all. Not easy. A good one to round off the conversation – assuming it is still going on - might be: when will good quality, affordable and secure housing, to rent or buy, be affordable for all? 2020, 2030 or 2040? Now there’s a question.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: 7 myths about domestic violence

Author: Christie Tetreault, PhD candidate in the School of Psychology Myth: Only married couples experience domestic violence  Reality: Compared to couples who are dating or living together, married couples experience the least amount of domestic violence. This is partly due to the maturation process; as people age, they become less aggressive, and married couples tend to be older. The term domestic violence leads to a perception that couples who don't live together cannot experience toxicity/abuse, and that is untrue. Younger, dating or cohabitating, couples experience the highest rates of intimate partner abuse. This is why researchers and health organizations now use the term intimate partner violence because the violence is based on the intimacy of the relationship not the domesticity, meaning a couple can experience "domestic violence" even if they don’t live together. From RTÉ Radio 1's This Week, Justin McCarthy reports on research showing the links between homelessness and domestic violence Myth: Men can sometimes be victims, but most abuse is suffered by women in heterosexual relationships Reality: The heterosexual pattern for perpetration is 50% bidirectional, 35% female unidirectional, and 15% male unidirectional. The most common pattern of violence is bidirectional perpetration, meaning both men and women perpetrate equally in both frequency and severity of the violence. Unidirectional then means one partner perpetrates more often and with more severe violence. The numbers show women abuse their male partners more (this applies to western countries, as non-Western countries have very different patterns).  Intimate partner violence is the only area of violence that sees women being more violent than men, but this doesn't mean women aren’t victims: they are. Same-sex couples experience similar rates of violence, but lesbians experience more partner violence than women in heterosexual relationships. Along with the bidirectional rates, this shows that the gender paradigm—men perpetrate violence to retain patriarchy and women only hit in self-defence—is simply not evidence-based. Myth: Women only hit in self-defence Reality: With data from 52 countries, researchers found as gender empowerment (how politically and economically equal women are) increased, women’s unidirectional IPV perpetration also increased. Ultimately, the more equal women are in their society, the more they perpetrate. Ireland is ranked third for high gender empowerment. Other researchers found women initiate and retaliate more with physical violence than their male partners, and men don’t hit back because they were raised not to hit girls. From RTÉ Radio 1's Ray D'Arcy Show, a discussion about the same-sex domestic abuse storyline in Fair City Myth: Women aren’t as strong as men, so men don’t get injured Reality: During the course of one 24 hour period, researchers asked heterosexual men who were admitted to hospital if they had been abused by their female partners. The researchers found 13% of 866 male patients were victims of intimate partner violence; 60% had been slapped, grabbed or shoved; 49% had been choked, kicked, bit or punched and 37% attacked with a weapon. Only 19% reported their abuse to police, and 14% required medical attention for their injuries. This was in one A&E, in one city, in one country. While females are more likely to receive serious injuries from bidirectional violence, male victims also get seriously injured. Myth: Police and shelter reports give us the full picture of partner abuse Reality: Police and frontline workers witness horrific crimes against women. However, police and shelter reports are biased towards only seeing female victims. Women report more to police, and bidirectional partner violence is perceived as male perpetrated when police are involved. Even when women were the aggressors, officers responded consistently with stereotypes and only arrested the man. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, a October 2019 report on how gardaí have yet to receive training on new Domestic Violence Act In terms of shelters, there is only one organisation in Ireland that helps male victims. The rest highlight how only men are the abusers, ignoring over 40 years of data on the bidirectionality of intimate partner violence. Male victims are not recorded in shelter data because no one is even looking for male victims. If men aren't seen as potential victims, how can they be counted? This is why researchers prefer to use scales like the Conflict Tactics Scale2. This is up to 16 times more sensitive than police reports in detecting all forms of partner violence. This is partly because it frames the questions as how partners resolve arguments, not if the actions are viewed as criminal. The scale also asks both partners to report both perpetration and victimisation, increasing reporting and accuracy. Myth: you’re not really experiencing abuse unless you're hit Reality: In previous year data, 13 to 20% of relationships havesome form of violence, with 4 to 6% reporting severe intimate partner violence. The Conflict Tactics Scale2 assesses emotional/cognitive, psychological, physical and sexual (coercion) aggression (minor or severe) to get a more holistic understanding of violence. "Accused my partner of being a lousy lover" or "called my partner fat or ugly" are two examples that assess verbal and psychological abuse, the two most common types of violence people experience. While these may not be criminal or severe, they are abusive and harmful. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Tracy Porteous, Executive Director of the Ending Violence Association in Canada, on how so many men stay silent around violence against women  Myth: Relationships with violence are the norm Reality: All couples argue, but it is a question of how couples argue and resolve differences. While 50 to 60% of us will experience some form of intimate partner violence in our lifetimes, it is not part of a healthy relationship. It leads to chronic diseases and mental health illnesses with psychological abuse being more strongly associated with poorer health outcomes for men and women. This is why it is crucial to look at the whole spectrum of abuse and not only physical violence. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, there are services that can help: AnyMan and Women's Aid offer support services for male and female victims, respectively.  

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: How your bilingual baby's brain handles two language

Author: Dr Mary-Pat O'Malley, Discipline of Speech & Language Therapy Analysis: babies are wired to acquire more than one language and tend to do so without too much bother More than half of the world's population speaks two or more languages and Ireland has three official languages (Irish, English, and Irish Sign Language). The 2016 census revealed that there are about 180 languages spoken in Ireland now. Despite all this, there’s still a tendency to think that learning more than one language is hard or confusing for babies and young children. It really isn’t - and it turns out that babies are wired to acquire more than one language and, given the right support, generally tend to do so without too much bother.  There are different definitions of what it means to be bilingual. It doesn’t have to mean total fluency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Basically, if you need two or more languages to fully participate in all aspects of your life, then you’re bilingual. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Lisa McGeough talks to people living bilingual lives in Dublin Babies start to hear while they’re on the inside at about 26 weeks of the pregnancy. While they’re still in there, they start to separate languages. What they're hearing is a bit muffled because it’s being filtered through skin, muscle and amniotic fluid, but they’re hearing enough to work out the different patterns of the languages. Things like rhythm and intonation, the ups and downs of different languages, the patterns associated with questions versus statements. Newly born babies in the early days after birth show preferences for the languages they’ve heard while they were on the inside over languages they hadn’t heard before. This ability is robust at birth. New babies prefer to listen to stories that were read to them before they were born over stories heard only after birth. Babies show preferences for speech over non-speech sounds like footsteps or doorbells showing that they’re wired to acquire languages from the get go. Not just one language, but more than one language.  We’re all born with the ability to hear the differences between all of the sounds of all of the world’s languages. When we’re born, we also have the ability to produce all of those sounds too (that’s about 600 consonants and 200 vowels). "A baby's job is to recognise the different patterns in the two (or more) languages" It’s a kind of a use-it-or-lose-it thing though: from about 6 months of age, babies gradually narrow their focus to the languages that they’re hearing around them. Don’t panic, this doesn’t mean you have to introduce a second language early if you want your child to be bilingual. There isn’t a time limit on this. If you speak languages other than English at home, like Irish or Polish or French, it’s best to focus on these as much as possible. English is everywhere and not in any danger of being lost or not well-developed. But home languages need intensive support because they're in danger of loss or incomplete development, especially when your child begins to develop friendships with English-speaking children and going to pre-school and school in English. A baby’s job is to recognise the different patterns in the two (or more) languages. This means things like working out what sounds are unique to each language and which sounds are common. Figuring out that there’s "sh" in both Irish (scéal) and English (shoe), but there's only the sound in the middle of buachaill in Irish. They also have to work out what sounds are allowed to go together in the different languages: you can have "mn" together as in mná in Irish, but English doesn’t allow that. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, is bilingualism damaging native Irish speakers? From about 9 months, babies show a preference for these kinds of sound combinations that are allowed in their languages. That means, they’re working out the rules of each of their languages, all on their own. Canadian research shows that bilingual babies who are learning English and French can tell an English /d/ from a French one at 10 months of age! This is all going on before they even say their first word. When babies start to babble (between 7 and 10 months of age), they tend to produce similar sounds no matter what languages they’re being exposed to or where in the world they are. By about 10 months, their babble starts to sound like the languages they’re hearing around them so their babble will sound different depending on their different languages. Speaking two or more languages doesn’t slow down speech and language development and it doesn’t cause any speech or language problems. First words tend to emerge between 8 and 15 months of age. Bilingual toddlers also tend to work out very early on who can speak which language and will match their language to the person they are speaking with. More Canadian research with bilingual children aged 22 to 26 months of age confirms this. The researchers found that the children tended to use more French with the French-speaking parent and more English with the English-speaking parent. When they met people they were unfamiliar with, most of the babies were able to match the language they used to the language of the adult.  Bilingual toddlers tend to work out very early on who can speak which language and will match their language to the person they are speaking with While babies are wired to acquire two or more languages, they can’t do it all on their own. Talking with your baby a lot in your languages gives them the opportunities they need to work out the patterns of the languages. It’s like their brain is scanning all the speech that they’re hearing and working out the rules of the languages. It’s not just about what they’re hearing either. They’re also paying close attention to your face while you’re talking with them and their brains are integrating what they’re hearing and what they’re seeing. Reading and singing together are two natural and fun ways to build your baby’s languages from early on - even from before they’re born if you like.  

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: The significant human rights issues around evictions in Ireland

Author: Dr Padraic Kenna, School of Law Opinion: media reports of high profile evictions mask what is a lengthy and traumatic social and legal process Evictions in Ireland are an emotive issue and the removal of people from their homes by force generates strong feelings. Eviction is not one of life's ups and downs; it is a mark of punishment inflicted by society through State institutions and the legal system. The issue is topical with reports of bank and vulture fund mortgage possessions and family homelessness caused by eviction from private rented housing. Of course, the eviction of Travellers from "unauthorised" sites has long been a feature of Irish society.  Stages of evictions Media reports of high profile evictions mask what is really a lengthy social and legal process. People almost always avoid the trauma of a physical eviction. As the Central Bank of Ireland describes it, they "surrender" their homes and leave. Thus, forcible removal may not be necessary for an eviction to occur. EU research identified three phases to evictions starting with a legally recognised formal instruction to leave (not always written). The first, or pre-court stage, involves exchanges of letters, procedures (codes of conduct) and meetings. Most people leave their homes at this stage, but none of these removals are recorded officially as evictions. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, John Cooke meets people who are facing eviction from their homes in the Dublin 8 area The second or court phase can involve lengthy proceedings, adjournments, strike outs, settlements, suspensions or court orders. The third phase is between the court order for possession and the actual physical eviction or execution of the order (if it actually takes place). Thus, most actual evictions do not involve court appearances, or physical removals, but are "involuntary" or forced "surrenders" of rights of occupation, to avoid the ordeal of the eviction process. For private tenants, where the majority of evictions take place, the pre-court phase takes place through the Residential Tenancies Board, which monitors the numbers of cases, including those of illegal eviction. However, private tenants do not get a opportunity to have the proportionality of their eviction assessed by a court. Local authority tenants have such a procedure established in law and, although the numbers of proceedings are high, the number of actual evictions are low. Human rights There are no comparable official statistics on the length of these stages across Europe. Banking industry claims of slow Irish proceedings are purely speculative; they usually compare only parts of the UK and ignore the more elaborate systems of  France and Italy. Indeed, the levels of State intervention, support and mediation services at the early stages are what make the difference, rather than purely legal approaches, although significant human rights issues arise.  From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Mike Allen from Focus Ireland discusses new changes due to be introduced to strengthen tenants rights in renting property Bunreacht na hEireannstates that the dwelling of every citizen is inviolable and "shall not be forcibly entered save in accordance with law." Human rights law regards evictions as most extreme forms of interference with the right to respect for the home. Any person at risk of such interference should have the proportionality of this interference examined by a court. Evictions should not result in homelessness, and alternative accommodation must be secured. Indeed, the new Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Amendment) Act 2019 sets out the factors which Irish courts should consider in relation to the proportionality of this interference with rights to home. Judges in Poland have held that "evictions to nowhere" were unconstitutional, and did not respect and protect the inherent and inalienable dignity of the person. Not so, in Ireland, though. Causes The causes of evictions largely relate to income loss, illness, over-indebtedness or personal difficulties, leading to rent, mortgage or utility arrears. The availability of support from family, community and State agencies is a major factor in whether an eviction proceeds or not. Legal aid may also be a factor, although not a decisive one. A Central Bank study of 21,000 households in mortgage arrears showed those most at risk of eviction had lower income and higher mortgage costs. Most were unemployed or divorced and were more vulnerable family types, such as single borrowers with multiple children. From RTÉ News, tenants in Cork avoid eviction after the local council and housing agency Clúid acquires the apartment complex "An Irish solution?" Polar opposite views on evictions prevent any sensible public debate. "Spokespersons" complain about how difficult it is to "throw out" people who don't or cannot pay their mortgage or rent. But Ireland has some human rights protections in the Constitution and recent legislation, although almost all evictions take place from the rented sector. Yet the idea that eviction constitutes an interference with the right to respect for home is not accepted by many Irish lawyers and judges. Of course, modern European states like Ireland do not operate on these extremes only. While the State protects property and contract rights, it also has extensive support for those at risk of eviction with means-tested social housing support, direct provision, or rent support for those renting privately. States mediate and act to defer actual evictions until alternative accommodation is available, particularly where children are involved. There will always be those who seek to "punish" those who are poor, as a warning to others. But is there any excuse for Irish State agencies to use terms like "surrender’ to describe evictions from homes, especially where no court has approved it, or considered the evicted persons rights. An Irish solution?   

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: What's the real deal with Stormont's Irish language proposals?

Author: Dr John Walsh, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures Opinion: while the proposals undoubtedly represent progress, questions remain around implementation and commitment The Stormont proposals for legal protection for the Irish language in Northern Ireland are significant because they amount to the first piece of domestic legislation recognising the language north of the border. Irish is mentioned in general terms in the Good Friday Agreement and is also protected under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, but campaigners have long fought for more specific and robust legal provisions at local level. While recognising the historic advance represented by the agreement, campaign groups such as An Dream Dearg and Conradh na Gaeilge are nonetheless disappointed that the deal covers broader linguistic and identity issues and does not amount to a standalone Irish language act. This stands in contrast with legislation for Irish in the Republic, as well as acts covering Welsh and Scottish Gaelic. However, the legacy of conflict in Northern Ireland meant a similar approach was unlikely to work.  That said, key demands of the campaigners have been met, at least in part. The proposals mention the granting of official status to Irish in Northern Ireland, the establishment of the post of Language Commissioner, the introduction of "language standards", the ending of the prohibition on Irish in the courts and the establishment of a central translation unit in government. Ó RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta's Adhmhaidin, an sásaíonn socrú nua Stormont na héilimh atá ag an Dream Dearg agus ag lucht tacaíochta na Gaeilge? Almost a century of experience in the Republic shows that official status often rings hollow and may be more symbolic than practical. But symbols matter, particularly in Northern Ireland, and even the existence of official status for Irish is a powerful statement after decades in the wilderness. At a meeting of Belfast City Council in 1987, former Northern Finance Minister and Sinn Féin MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir was attacked by Sammy Wilson of the DUP for speaking a "leprechaun language" and thrown out of the chamber. Last week, Ó Muilleoir told Tuairisc that the Stormont proposals, while flawed, meant that Irish would no longer be a "leprechaun" or "non-language" in the North.  The decision to appoint an Irish Language Commissioner seems significant and was no doubt sold as such by Sinn Féin to its supporters, but there are plenty of pitfalls ahead. The powers of the Commissioners in the Republic of Ireland and Wales are circumscribed by the legislation under which they were established so it follows that the powers of the new Commissioner will be weaker still. One example of this is in the references to the development of "language standards". The system of standards has been borrowed from Wales where a sliding scale approach to public bodies is adopted based on their level of contact with Welsh speakers. Standards allow flexibility in the approaches of public bodies to serving the minority language community. Given the sensitivities over language in Northern Ireland, it is obvious why this system was chosen. The types of service that could be provided under this system include information and forms, websites and replying in Irish to correspondence in Irish. However while the Commissioner is to prepare the standards, they are to be approved by the Office of the First and Deputy-First Ministers, raising concerns that they could end up seriously watered down.   From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, RTÉ Northern Editor Tommie Gorman discusses the deal offered to end the three year long Stormont stalemate Unlike language legislation in the other jurisdictions, there are no direct obligations in relation to Irish anywhere in the Stormont agreement. For instance, although the Commissioner’s functions will include monitoring implementation of standards and investigating complaints if they are not complied with, there is no obvious mechanism for these to be achieved. The agreement is silent on the power of the Commissioner to ensure that language standards are implemented at all or even accepted by public bodies. Even in the case of the weak Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, public bodies are obliged to prepare a Gaelic Language Plan if requested to do so by the Gaelic language agency set up under the act. There is no doubting that Wales is the leader when it comes to minority language legislation in Ireland and Britain as a whole. The system of standards there is very complex and detailed and backed by robust legislation and a Commissioner with significant powers of enforcement. There is also legislative protection for Welsh in the courts since the 1940s and more comprehensive acts since the 1960s. While the blueprint is undeniably a sign of progress for Irish in the North, it remains to be seen how it is to be implemented Political commitment is critical. While each law to an extent reflects the situation on the ground, the promotion of minority languages should involve setting ambitious, but achievable targets backed by political, administrative and legal support. The Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2019, which has fallen with the dissolution of the 32nd Dáil, was itself weak without the excuse of DUP opposition, so the political ideology of government is a crucial factor.   The Northern Executive has returned on the back of political compromises, including the Irish language. The price of re-convening the Assembly has been a watered down list of provisions on Irish rather than a standalone, rights-based act. While the blueprint is undeniably a sign of progress for Irish in the North, it remains to be seen how it is to be implemented and if it can make a real difference for the Irish-speaking community there.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: How can we deal with rising sea levels and increased flood risk?

Author: Dr Tom McDermott, J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics Opinion: delivering timely local adaptation to climate risk will help to minimise the costs of future flooding in Ireland and elsewhere Climate change has often been characterised as the central public policy issue of our time. It is now regularly framed, both by activists and governments, in terms of a crisis or emergency. But global policy action in tackling this crisis appears faltering at best, as evidenced by the apparent lack of progress at the recent UN Climate summit in Madrid. A prerequisite for more concerted efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions is a better understanding of the economic and social consequences of a changing climate. Better information on future risks and expected costs is also required to implement efficient local adaptation policies. Without this, current patterns and forms of economic development risk locking in greater future vulnerability to a changing climate. One of the expected effects of climate change is an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, such as flooding, with potentially important social and economic consequences. Rising sea levels and the potential for more intense rainfall events are expected to increase flood risk in many locations. Increased flood risk has also been identified as one of the main threats to Ireland from climate change.  From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Philip Boucher Hayes discusses climate change and flooding with Alison McArdle, owner of Cupán Tae cafe in Galway, and climatologist Peter Thorne Globally, populations and economic activity are heavily concentrated in flood prone areas; on or near coasts and ocean-navigable rivers. Coasts and rivers have lots of advantages, both in terms of productivity and amenity values. But living on the coast also entails risks in the form of flooding. In forthcoming research, my co-authors and I have found evidence that low elevation parts of cities globally, are about three to four times more likely to be hit by large floods than other urban areas, and yet these vulnerable locations concentrate a higher density of economic activity. Floods are already costly. Globally, tens of millions of people are displaced from their homes every year as a result of flooding. Here in Ireland, insured losses from recent flood events are in the order of €1 billion (based on information from Insurance Ireland). Moreover, the Irish government has committed to spending large sums on flood relief schemes, with €1 billion of planned public expenditure over the next 10 years. Recent research has also suggested that Ireland could be facing storm surges in future that will cause €1 billion in insured losses, based on a three-metre surge hitting our current housing stock. While a changing climate is likely to increase the hazard associated with flooding, projections of the costs of future flooding depend heavily on assumptions about future changes in exposure to that hazard. For example, according to one estimate, worldwide costs of flooding could rise from $6 billion per year in 2005 to $52 billion by 2050, based on projected socio-economic changes alone. The scale of the projected increase in losses associated with increasing exposure underlines the importance of the extent to which flood risk is taken into account in private decisions and public planning strategies. From RTÉ Archives, RTÉ News report by Jennie O'Sullivan about the after-effects of flooding in Cork in 2009 With perfect housing markets, exposure to flood risk and the costs associated with flooding should reflect the productivity and amenity benefits of living in flood prone areas, such as coasts and river-side locations. However there is good reason to believe that this is not the case, given pervasive failures in housing markets related to information (in the form of outdated flood risk maps), and incentives. The latter arises when the risk of living in flood prone areas is borne in part by those living elsewhere, in the form of flood defences and recovery assistance paid from general taxation. In short, where market signals are weak, there may be a tendency towards over-exposure to flood risk. My recent research on the impacts of very large flood events and recovery of cities worldwide found evidence that relocation away from high risk areas is relatively weak, even in the aftermath of these very large and devastating events. Ongoing work in progress with Tom Gillespie and Ronan Lyons studies the extent to which flood risk affects housing prices in Ireland. Information matters: house prices appear to respond to the release of new flood risk information, with the emergence of a significant price discount for properties located within a 1-in-100 year risk zone. This discount is not observed in areas that have been defended by flood relief schemes, suggesting that the public perception of these schemes is that they have been effective in reducing (or eliminating) the risk of flooding for protected areas. However, flood defences are expensive and, at times, controversial infrastructure projects. They also come with the risk that, by providing protection, development of flood prone areas intensifies. For example, flood defences built after major flooding in the Netherlands in 1953 resulted in faster long-run population growth in protected areas. This has the potential to create larger future costs, where defences require upgrading or fail, as witnessed by the sad history of flooding in New Orleans. These concerns underline the need to factor in future risks in planning decisions being made today. Choices about where we build the 300,000-plus new houses that will be needed over the next decade will have a large bearing on future costs of flooding.  From RTÉ Six One News, report on how thousands of Dublin city buildings at risk of flooding While better information on flood risk is a good start, local decision about flood risk management will also require normative decisions in defining objectives and determining what exactly is meant by a "cautious approach" and how "acceptable" risk levels are defined, and by whom. Competing political pressures also pose challenges to decision makers. For example, where urban areas are expanding, the pressure on city planners is "to do it yesterday", but that needs to be balanced against the requirement for good planning. These challenges are exacerbated by uncertainties around future risk. While uncertainty in climate projections adds a layer of complexity to local decision making, it need not become a barrier to action. A case study of flood risk management in Cork city highlights the importance of stakeholder engagement and the creation of a shared understanding of risk at a local level as a means of overcoming these challenges. Ultimately, delivering timely local adaptation to climate risk will help to minimise the costs of future flooding.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: A new weapon against global pandemics and biothreat agents

Author: Professor Lokesh Joshi, Vice President for Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Director of the Glycoscience Research Group Opinion: meet the wipe that effectively removes bacteria, viruses, fungi and biological toxins from surfaces Approximately 50,000 men, women and children globally die every day from infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoans. According to a WHO report, at least 30 new diseases have emerged in the last 20 years and together threaten the health of hundreds of millions of people. For many of these diseases, there is no treatment, no cure and no vaccine. Some of the prominent examples of major infectious disease outbreaks in public memory include the black death, Spanish flu, HIV, SARS, swine fever and Ebola. In addition, millions die with tuberculosis, cholera and respiratory and diarrheal diseases.  The impact of infectious diseases is greatly increased by the rise of antimicrobial resistant strains, our hyper-connected world, the ever-increasing proximity and cohabitation of humans and animals, and the emergence of deadly pathogens due to climate change and deforestation. These changes are creating a paradise for infectious microbes and a potential health catastrophe for humans and animals. Currently, there are multiple natural disease outbreaks across the globe (such as Ebola, swine fever, cholera and bubonic plague) as well as the possibility of intentional terrorist release of some of the infectious agents (for example, Bacillus anthracis that causes anthrax, Francisella tularensis that causes tularemia and Clostridium botulinum that releases botulinum toxin) can lead to massive health and security crises and cause enormous societal and economic damage, especially when there is a lack of reliable or effective detection methods.  Biological threat agents (natural and man-made) are invisible, hard to detect and initially have no visible or immediate sign of infection In his seminal speech during Munich Security Conference in 2017, Bill Gates reminded the audience that a catastrophic epidemic or intentional release of deadly species is one of the few disasters that could derail world development. Some highly infectious agents could be easily modified through natural mutations or synthetic biology and spread very quickly, killing millions of people in less than a year. World Bank Data shows that we live in increasingly connected societies and there are huge numbers of people crossing borders, using communication hubs and transport vehicles, resulting in a much higher chance that an infectious agent will spread. An example is the spread of SARS virus in 2002-2003 that started in a farm in China and killed over 8,000 people across 37 nations. Recently, the most severe outbreak of Ebola in recorded history caused major loss of life (11,323 deaths), socioeconomic disruption in the West Africa region and transported cases led to secondary infections in Spain, UK, Italy and US.  Biological threat agents (natural and man-made) are invisible, hard to detect and initially have no visible or immediate sign of infection. It can take several hours to days and weeks of an incubation period before symptoms appear. However, once the infection occurs and spreads, it often has a debilitating impact on individuals and societies. Therefore, it is critically important to protect the first responders and affected civilians from these potentially deadly biothreat agents. This will reduce the rate of infection and spread of infection and will buy time during crisis management actions for proper characterization and identification of the biothreat agent and mobilisation of medical care.  From RTÉ Radio 1's New At One, how the August 2019 ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen a death toll of over 2,000 people Currently all of the available decontamination strategies include artificial chemicals (for example bleach, calcium hypochlorite and hydrogen peroxide), extreme pH and radiation-based procedures. These strategies remove or kill biological agents, but are toxic, harmful to human beings and not safe for use on human surfaces (i.e skin). In addition, the use of conventional decontamination solutions can lead to secondary contamination and can interfere with forensic evidence due to their destructive nature.  Nature has been experimenting for millions of years to find solutions against infectious diseases. We are all aware of the two major discoveries, vaccination and antibiotics, that have saved hundreds of millions of lives.  There is another ingenious manner by which nature protects us from infections. All living cells are coated with proteins and complex carbohydrates and every cell-to-cell relationship is mediated by carbohydrate-protein interactions (imagine a living Velcro whereby two surfaces covered in carbohydrates and proteins stick together). This also applies to all infectious microbes and most biological toxins which have carbohydrates and proteins on their surfaces. In nature, humans and animals produce, milk, urine and saliva/mucus full of specific proteins and carbohydrates that bind to the pathogens cells to protect us from most of the pathogens we encounter on a daily basis.  Inspired by this ingenious natural mechanism that protects us from being infected with pathogens, Aquila Bioscience, a start-up company based at NUI Galway, has developed a technology that effectively removes bacteria, viruses, fungi and biological toxins from surfaces. This technology in the form of a wipe removes the pathogens and toxins from surfaces and also captures them so they cannot "run away" and spread the disease. The advantage of this in forensics and diagnostics is that pathogens can be identified without being destroyed. The development of this technology was funded by the European Defence Agency and was conducted in collaboration with the Defence Forces and the Czech University of Defence.  How Aquila Bioscience's ABwipe technology works This technology can deliver safe and effective decontamination methods that can be safely used on sensitive areas like skin, nose, eyes and mucosa, where other decontamination methods are either not safe or cause skin reactions. It is also totally non-toxic and composed of biodegradable materials compared to the damaging environmental impact of chemically based solutions and the major problems caused by non-recyclable wipes in the environment.  Aquila Bioscience continues to collaborate with the Defence Forces, with their needs to be prepared against biothreat agents. This collaboration has also brought the technology to the attention of other national and international security and humanitarian agencies who have expressed strong interest in using the technology to protect first-responders and affected people. It's an effective, safe and environmentally safe method to protect us from the potentially deadly pathogens we might encounter.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: What James Joyce's bones and house tell us about Irish culture

Author: Dr Barry Houlihan, James Hardiman Library The Brainstorm Long Read: cultural heritage in Ireland is often only equated with income from tourism, hotel bed nights and profit The Oscar-winning film-director John Huston once wrote that "no one has ever captured the Irish better than James Joyce". That may be the case, but recent events indicate that there remains the risk of Ireland losing its grasp on Joyce himself. Much has been said around proposals from Dublin City Council officials and property developers that has addressed various issues relating to Ireland's arguably best known literary figure. Dublin councillors Dermot Lacey and Paddy McCartan put forward a motion to repatriate the remains of Joyce and his wife Nora Barnacle to Dublin from Zurich, the city in which the writer died in 1941. While well-intentioned, the cost and logistics of such a repatriation project drew criticism for being blind to the stark economic realities facing living artists and writers in Dublin today (and in Ireland, generally).  From RTÉ Radio 1's News At One, Emer Nolan from Maynooth University discusses the Dublin City Council motion to return the remains of James Joyce and Nora Barnacle to Dublin A secondary argument reflects the ongoing decline in accessible social and cultural spaces for working artists in the capital and the wider public nationwide. Proposals by the owners of 15 Usher's Island, (the setting for Joyce's "The Dead" and home to Joyce’s great-aunts for a time), to turn the property into a 56-bed hostel, is a further symptom of the lack of empathy towards our tangible cultural heritage, as well as the persistent monetisation of spaces central to Irish culture. Ireland has long maximised the cultural capital and brand of Dublin, and especially the reputations of its male writers. To cross the Liffey, you have a number of literary-themed bridges to choose from, from the Sean O'Casey Bridge to the Samuel Beckett Bridge. Our naval services operate with distinction in challenging conditions on humanitarian missions aboard the LÉ James Joyce, the LÉ George Bernard Shaw, the LÉ William Butler Yeats and LÉ Samuel Beckett. It seems Irish women are commemorated with first names only, with the LÉ Niamh, LÉ Róisín, LÉ Eithne, LÉ Orla and LÉ Ciara. Important architectural and cultural heritage sites of our literary greats are obviously not confined to Dublin. Sites such as Coole Park, seat of Lady Gregory in Co. Galway, Elizabeth Bowen's Bowen's Court in Co. Cork and George Moore's Moore Hall in Co Mayo, are some of the historic but important literary homes of Ireland’s great writers that are no more for varying and complex historic reasons. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, author Colm Tóibín on calls to save James Joyce's house at 15 Usher's Island With "The Dead" house, we have a chance to intervene and protect a property before it is irrevocably altered, or worse. Thoor Ballylee, for instance, is an example of what can be achieved. Located close to Coole Park in Co. Galway, the Norman tower-house and one-time home of W.B. Yeats and his family is, like many preserved heritage sites around the country, run on meagre budgets and dependent on the huge efforts of voluntary community groups to maintain it. As with the visitor centre at nearby Coole Park, literary and cultural events and workshops take place here throughout the year. 15 Usher’s Island could be a living and vibrant space for artists, locals and tourists in Dublin to encounter Joyce’s works and Irish art and culture in general. The 2015 debate about the authenticity of the bones in the grave of Yeats at Drumcliff cemetery should also offer lessons for those looking to relocate the bones of Joyce to Dublin. Such relics of our literary dead are important and should be respected - but so should our living writers and the wider reading public. A report on statistics form the Irish public Libraries system, compiled by Local Government Management Agency revealed the most borrowed book in the Irish public library system in 2018 was the multi-award winning Solar Bones by Mike McCormack. An extraordinary work, the experimental novel is beautiful and devastating in its telling the story of Marcus Conway, a deceased engineer who journeys through past memory and experience of life in a fractured society. From RTÉ Radio 1's Arena, Mike McCormack reads an extract from his International Dublin Literary Award-winning novel Solar Bones The book is typically Joycean in its ambition and also reflects the literary appetites of those who use our public library systems, seeking out works of serious literature as much as much as any other form. Investments in our public library services would achieve far more for public literacy levels that would a tourist site hosting Joyce’s bones. In 1987, Donal McCann, the actor who so masterfully portrayed the character Gabriel in Huston's film adaptation of The Dead, presented the director with a cartoon. It featured a caricature of Joyce, a sketch of the Ha'penny Bridge in the background and a colour drawing of Disney's Mickey Mouse, with a shamrock at the end of his tail. It is a fitting analogy on the current reflection of how cultural heritage is often only equated with levels of tourism income, hotel bed nights and capital finance. If we spurn our literary heritage, we risk losing the significance of not just Joyce but our remarkable body of contemporary Irish writers and writing to the detriment of future generations. All that would remain is a Disneyland of writers' bones. If we spurn our literary heritage, all that would remain would be a Disneyland of writers' bones The arguments (which are fundamentally about finance rather than culture) as to what should be done with Joyce's bones and to the premises at 15 Usher’s Island are still unfolding. That said, the loss to Dublin and Ireland if 15 Usher’s Island is turned into a soulless tourist hostel will be a further symptom of our neglect of heritage. So what could be done? Protect and invest in 15 Usher’s Island While on the protected structures list, the privately-owned building provides a unique opportunity to create an interpretive centre and cultural meeting space at the site of one of world literature’s most important settings. It would be a short-sighted venture for the State to trade this unique location and heritage for any short-term benefit of cheap tourism-orientated accommodation. Support other literary spaces The newly-opened Museum of Literature Ireland is a beautiful and important addition to the cultural sector in Ireland which blurs the distinctions between museum, library, and digital hub. It actively encourages you to touch and pick up books and sit and read them, with works on display from Joyce to present-day writers, while also displaying Joyce’s manuscripts from the National Library. The Dublin Writers Museum should not be forgotten and increased support to enhance its displays and create online resources would be an important development. It is important also that venues such as this and its neighbours - the Hugh Lane Gallery, the James Joyce Centre, the Gate Theatre and Poetry Ireland House - maintain a cultural presence within the northside of the city. READ: Finding the most authentic Joyce pub for Bloomsday A major new public library for Parnell Square Though plans for a major development and a Parnell Square Cultural Quarter were curtailed by Dublin City Council earlier in 2019, plans for a new state-of-the-art public library need to be completed. Countries such as Finland pride themselves on their public libraries with higher than average literacy rates and a commitment to public learning and well-being through libraries. In 2016, the UN ranked Finland as the world’s most literate nation, with close to 70 million books being borrowed annually in the nation’s libraries. There could be no more fitting tribute to Joyce than for his native city to honour him by following such a lead to invest in the public library system. Honour Lucia Joyce From RTÉ Lyric FM, Dancing with Lucia Deirdre Mulrooney's Dancing with Lucia documentary reminded us of the significance of Lucia, as a modernist and pioneering choreographer. The paucity of documentary and manuscript evidence pertaining directly to and from Joyce's daughter frustrates modern audiences who want to connect and learn about her talent and potential. Incorporating a space and bursary for a dancer in her name with which to work and rehearse in would offer a tribute to a long silenced figure.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: US policy change on Israeli settlements makes peace more remote

Author: Professor Ray Murphy, Irish Centre for Human Rights Opinion: the current US administration has turned decades of US policy on Israel and Palestine on its head The change in US policy on the legal status of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land occupied by Israel since 1967 makes the likelihood of peace in the region even more remote. It also further undermines the prospect of establishing an independent state of Palestine, the so called two-state solution.  It does, however, offer a short term gift to interim Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and friend of US president Donald Trump, in his efforts to form a new Israeli government. In terms of domestic US politics, it also panders to the evangelical right, a group critical to Trump's support base and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's ambitions for a senate seat in Kentucky.  While the US declaration may also facilitate the planned annexation of even more Palestinian land by Israel, especially large tracts in the Jordan valley, it does not make Israel more secure. This area is part of Area C under Israeli control and it has long been targeted for annexation. The over-arching policy of the Israeli Civil Administration in Palestine is that the greater part of Area C is to be designated for the expansion of settlements and the expulsion of Palestinians who are deemed to be in the way. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, RTÉ Washington correspondent Brian O'Donovan reports on the Trump administration's latest policy shift on Israel In the long run, this and other changes in US policy inadvertently renders the creation of a single state, incorporating Israel and Palestine, as the only long term solution to the conflict. The problem with the so called one-state solution is that unless it recognises the equal rights of Palestinians in accordance with Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence, which promised equality for all Israel’s inhabitants regardless of their religion, race or gender, this will in effect create an apartheid system. To avoid such a scenario, it would be necessary to repeal measures such as the 2018 controversial nation state law which states that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people. It also contained a provision to the effect that the state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Ze'ev Boker, discusses the decision by the Knesset to pass the Nation State law So far Trump has done nothing to bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict and the US has long lost its claim to honest broker status in the context of Middle East politics. Despite lofty claims to the peace deal of the century, the current US administration has made matters worse and turned decades of US policy on its head. In essence, the Trump administration has sought to resolve core issues at the heart of the conflict by making unilateral declarations of what it deems to be the solution. Recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and denying the legitimacy of Palestinian refugees, while undermining the UN agency charged with their protection and welfare, have made the US and Israel increasingly isolated.  Jimmy Carter was the first US president to declare the settlements illegal, following the conclusion of the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. Later, Ronald Reagan changed this policy decision and stated that the settlements were not illegal. Nonetheless, the Reagan administration recognised the settlements as major obstacles to peace and, like Barack Obama's administration decades later, did not veto a UN Security Resolution criticising Israeli settlement policy. All the current major Democratic Party contenders for president have openly challenged Trump’s declaration indicating that US policy may change again in the future. In the meantime, the relentless growth in the Israeli population in settlements on Palestinian land continues and the sense of hopelessness among Palestinians increases.  A US declaration does not change international law: settlements continue to be illegal and a war crime under international humanitarian law Israeli settlement policy has led to numerous practices being adopted that are detrimental to the Palestinian population and inherently discriminatory in nature. These include house demolitions, land seizures, restrictions on freedom of movement, access to water, electricity, medical services and education. Violence by settlers against local Palestinians is also a major problem.  US policy goes against a number of UN resolutions and reports, as well as the opinion of the International Court of Justice, the EU and a range of other international organisations. No state is, or should be allowed to be, above the law. A US declaration does not change international law: settlements continue to be illegal and a war crime under international humanitarian law.  They are also most likely to be amongst the crimes investigated by the International Criminal Court, a matter of grave concern to Israel. Adherence to the principles of international humanitarian law and human rights law must form the foundation of all political efforts at achieving a just and sustainable resolution of the conflict.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: What are the connections between stress and migraine?

Author: Iain Mays, Trainee Clinical Psychologist at the Centre for Pain Research Opinion: learning more about stress, historical or otherwise, can help people to manage their migraines Migraine is one the earliest recorded health problems, with descriptions of the condition and its treatment featured in Egyptian papyrus circa 1200 BC and in the writings of Hippocrates circa 400 BC. Impacting roughly one billion people, migraine is the second most common headache disorder in the world after tension-type headache. While not the most common, it is the most burdensome with recent estimates indicating that migraine causes 29-62.8 million years lived with disability globally, which is significantly greater than tension-type headache (4.6-10.5 million). Despite this impact, migraine has historically been underestimated like all headache disorder, given that they are transient, non-fatal and non-contagious. Admittedly, the complexity of this condition hinders progress in awareness and treatment, despite the improvements in classifying migraine. The latest edition of the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD-3) does include changes in interpreting and distinguishing migraine. An important change is the introduction of a clearer and more readily available distinction between episodic and chronic migraine. For instance, chronic migraine is now classified as occurring on 15 or more days per month for more than three months, which has the features of migraine headache on at least eight days per month. From RTÉ 2fm's Jennifer Zamparelli show, Dr Dominic Rowley AKA Dr Dom discusses migraines These improvements aside, there remains differing theories on the underlying neurological cause of migraine as highlighted on Brainstorm recently. Similarly, different subtypes, symptoms and reported triggers of migraine highlight the individual differences people can have with the condition. Take, for example, the most common migraine subtype known as Migraine without Aura. Even within this group there are varying symptoms (such as nausea, sensitivity to light) and triggers (alcohol, smells, weather etc). These individual differences underline the benefit of migraineurs using a headache diary to capture and monitor their own experiences of migraine. Recording headache features can be challenging as it can require people to address difficult symptoms that they do not want or otherwise wish to ignore. Consequently, psychological factors, such as a person's history and how they think, feel and manage stress plays a role in how they react to, manage and seek support for a migraine. Research into comorbid mental health problems in migraine indicate higher rates of depression and anxiety in chronic migraine groups compared with episodic migraine groups and the general population. These mental health problems have been argued to impact on quality of life, complicate migraine management and increase the risk of progressing from episodic to chronic migraine, which merits psychological intervention. Psychological input can also extend to how a person manages stress in relation to their migraine. This is especially the case given that stress has recently been considered the most commonly reported trigger for all primary headache disorders ahead of other triggers like sleep, emotions, weather, food or hormones. However, research in this area has generally focused on day to day stress as an acute trigger rather than stress that is remote and historical. From RTÉ Radio 1's Today with Sean O'Rourke show, a discussion on migraines with Dr Stewart Tepper from the Dartmouth Medical School and migraine sufferer Angela McCormick Recent research into stressful childhood events or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), has documented the detrimental impact child maltreatment can have on future health outcomes in adulthood. Thus far, research has focused more on psychosocial outcomes such as smoking, alcohol use and risky sexual behaviour than medical or laboratory outcomes such as pain, headache, respiratory disease, inflammatory markers and blood pressure. Despite this tendency, studies on ACEs and headaches have documented how physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect co-occur in headache samples, how the likelihood of headache is increased when correlated with multiple types of abuse and how this research can help in investigating thebiological causes of this condition. Regarding migraine specifically, one study highlighted how a history of emotional abuse was more common in persons with migraine (22.5%) than tension-type headaches (16.7%), while another studyidentified childhood abuse as being more strongly associated in chronic migraine than episodic migraine. However, these findings certainly do not apply to all migraineurs given that adverse childhood experiences are only found in a subset of study participants. Furthermore, these studies are retrospective in design, meaning they ask adult participants to recall their childhood and are therefore subject to bias.  Historical stress and migraine can also be researched using attachment theory, which can investigate parent-child relationships in adults. The core tenet of attachment theory is that children with a secure attachment to parents are more likely to have ahealthy development and ability to self-regulate and manage stressful events. Conversely, insecure attachment causesdysregulated responses to stress, and greater susceptibility of and difficulty managing chronic illness. Nine studies have researched attachment and headache in children and adults with mixed results, though there is some evidence to suggest insecurely attached headache participants had increased chronicity and mental health problems.  READ: All you need to know about headaches and migraines Given that migraines have a significant hereditary component, stress is not the sole cause of developing migraine. However, learning more about stress, historical or otherwise, can help people to manage their migraines and in doing so help them work towards improving their lives. At the Centre For Pain Research at NUI Galway we are researching historical stressors such as ACE and attachment among other psychological concepts in 5000 participants with chronic and episodic migraine. Further information and access to our online survey is available here.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Are banks and bankers capable of changing their tune?

Author: Professor Kate Kenny, Management Opinion: as recent comments by KBC boss Johan Thijs show, banks are still displaying the gung-ho attitudes thought to be relics of the past I am standing in a lecture hall and talking with students about business ethics. We are discussing how ethical judgements can be weakened when business leaders are busy chasing tough financial targets. We talk about recent scandals such as Boeing's 737 Max crashes and the Wells Fargo loans debacle. "And of course", I say, "we all remember the financial crisis!"  I look at their faces. They don’t. They were eight years of age when that happened. Memory of the crisis is fading. The new generation of bank staff were children when it occured so it is up to senior executives, who remember its effects, to keep its lessons alive in their banks. It is especially up to the most influential and powerful senior executive: the CEO. This is why KBC’s Group CEO Johan Thijs’s comments last week were so disturbing. He spoke flippantly about feeling annoyed at the inquiry into the tracker mortgage controversy, an inquiry that seeks justice for ordinary people. The financial crisis taught us that when banks ignore the rules, customers and society suffer. But if its memory does not live on in CEOs like Thijs, we are doomed to repeat. From RTÉ 1's Nine News, KBC CEO calls on the Central Bank to move on from "annoying" tracker probe Since the financial crisis, banking regulation has increased in certain areas, but ethics remains a big issue in finance. Research shows one in five financial services personnel in the UK and US either witness or know first-hand about wrongdoing in their workplace. Even worse, one in four report that they would commit a crime (insider trading) if they believed they would not be detected. According to Transparency International Ireland in 2017, the Irish banking sector appeared in the top three most complained-about sectors for the first time ever. For my book on financial services whistleblowing, I interviewed HBOS/ Halifax's senior Group Regulatory Risk executive Paul Moore. He described the intense pressure his staff were under to sell loans, pre-crisis. The Halifax was expanding rapidly in the retail banking market and Moore described "a huge focus on targets and a culture of fear if you didn’t [meet them]… Put these together and you have a very heady mix. The entire organization was focused on selling, selling, selling. But not on risk management." This target-driven culture encouraged people in bank branches to bypass ethics. Crucially, these targets were coming from the top, from a CEO focused on the singular goal of growing his bank. From CNN Business, the rise and fall of Angelo Mozilo and Countrywide Financial At Countrywide - later Bank of America - a similar targets-driven culture was in place. Mortgages were being sold en masse to people who could not afford to repay. Again, the imperative was coming from the top, from another CEO with an obsession for growth. Angelo Mozilo wanted to gain almost a third of the entire US home loan market by 2008. It was an ostentatious aim and his growth strategy was well-known across the organisation. One employee changed his license plates to reflect it; they read "Fund 'Em". Mozilo’s motto sent a clear message to any staff that might be wavering over a lending decision. Just like at the Halifax, Countrywide’s pay and bonuses were linked to meeting outlandish targets. Just like at the Halifax, the bank ended up costing taxpayers dearly when these loans began to fail. But surely the lessons of the crisis have stayed with us? We laugh at the excesses of CEOs like Mozilo, and Ireland’s Michael Fingleton. Their gung-ho attitudes are assumed to be relics of the past. We now have well-regulated banks. We are safe. Or are we?  Yes and no, according to the Group of 30. Comprised of senior leaders and central bankers worldwide, the group advises on pressing issues in the finance sector. We have seen extensive post-crisis regulatory reform, they note. But the extreme damage caused by the last crisis is being forgotten. And this is a problem. From RTÉ News, David Murphy talks to former Nationwide boss Michael Fingleton at Dublin Airport Senior leaders could help stop this. Employees look up to CEOs. They expect them to speak out about important issues. CEOs have power to influence the culture across the organisation through what they say but also, crucially through what they do. When Thijs did apologise for his remarks, he talked about KBC’s full co-operation with the tracker inquiry investigations, but this co-operation has, in fact, been lacking. Richard Bowen remembers this kind of thing well. He was a business chief underwriter at Citigroup in the run-up to the 2008 crisis. He recalls how Citi responded to successive scandals with exciting new ethics initiative each time. But expensive ethics programmes and lengthy documents - one at Citigroup was 60 pages long - will not work by themselves. Leaders need to embody the new approach. According to Bowen, "we can 'talk' culture all day long, mandate it, instill fear about firing, but if leadership is not an example and role model for ethical behavior… well it’s not going to happen!" After discovering billions of dollars of defective mortgages being sold to securitization investors, Bowen tried to speak up to his bosses and to the authorities. He was ignored. He later gave evidence to the US government’s FCIC financial inquiry.  The students I teach this semester will hopefully be getting full-time jobs next year. They will join accounting firms, public sector organisations, NGOs and banks. Wherever they end up, they will naturally take cues from senior figures, including CEOs, about how to judge ethical dilemmas and then how to behave. I hope they will learn to see their organisation’s responsibility to the public as a value, rather than an annoyance.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: What's behind the massive protests in Chile?

Author: Dr Anita Ferrara, School of Law Opinion: the current Chilean crisis can only be resolved by political means that require political ability and competency For nearly a month, thousands of people have been protesting in Chile. They have filled the streets of Santiago and many other cities to show their outright rejection of a socio-economic model that is showing its unsustainability there and elsewhere in Latin America and worldwide. Chile is where the neoliberal model was first adopted in 1973, when Augusto Pinochet's CIA-supported violent coup d'état overthrew the democratically elected Salvador Allende government. That dictatorship faithfully implemented an economic model that imposed privatisation of all public services and goods, including health and education. Harsh repression and mass human rights violations were carried out during the next 17 years. While Chilean protests are raising hopes for those believing in a more equal and fairer world, Sebastián Piñera's government is responding to the protests with an exceptional use of force. They are also invoking draconian measures and strategies reminiscent of the past dictatorship to contain the demonstrations that have attracted millions of Chileans. Introducing a state of emergency and curfews, and the excessive use of force by security forces, is a totally unacceptable reaction from a country that claims to be one of the most democratic in the region. From RTÉ Radio 1's News At One, Aislinn Laing, Reuters' senior correspondent in Chile, on the continuing clashes between police and protestors "We are facing serious violations of human rights," the director of the independent National Institute of Human Rights (INDH), Sergio Micco, recently said. According to the Institute, which constantly monitors hospitals, police stations and demonstrations across the nation, 23 people have been killed and over 5,600 people are currently detained. There have also been reports of torture and sexual violence against women, men and adolescents. More than 2,000 people have been wounded during the protests. The most terrifying act of violence has been the targeting of protesters' eyes in a systematic way: there have been nearly 200 cases of reported eye losses from the beginning of the social demonstrations. The Chilean Medical Association has protested about this, as the reported number of ocular rubber bullet injuries is unprecedented compared to other public demonstrations worldwide.  Chile has been regarded as one of the most successful economic models in Latin America. However, behind the macroeconomic data, the country is one of the most unequal and unfair socio-economic system in the region. Since the return of democracy in 1990, the political elites have been unable and unwilling to reform the economic system imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship. From AP Archive, a report on an anti-Pinochet rally in London  The excessive use of force and the violence the government is using against its own people can never be the answer to people’s demands for social justice and more equity. Chile is obliged to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights obligations it has uphold. The Chilean crisis can only be resolved by political means that require political ability and competency. However, the measures the government has taken and the even stricter measures the Congress intends to approve to halt the demonstrations only shows the inadequacy of the current political class. The state has an obligation to respect people’s right to protest and to isolate those who resort to violence, so that everyone in the country can enjoy their rights. After many days of violence and clashes between protesters and the security forces, President Piñera has proposed new social reforms, including a rise in the minimum wage, an increase of the state pension and other related measures. However they are considered to be too little too late. Chilean people are demanding a Constitutional Assembly that would finally re-write the Constitution, which was adopted under the dictatorship and that lacks any social legitimacy. Chileans are also demanding major structural reforms of the socio-economic system. It is the legitimate right of the Chilean people to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. The international community, democratic countries and world's democrats should all stand in solidarity with Chile and strongly support its people At the moment, the government seems not to have captured either the frustration or the demands of its own people, whose protests have been peaceful in the majority of the cases. Although sparked by different and localised reasons, protests around the world in Ecuador, Lebanon, Iraq and Bolivia share the same underpinning distrust in their ruling elites and utter rejection of the social inequalities and unfair systems that exist in their countries. The international community, democratic countries and world’s democrats should all stand in solidarity with Chile and strongly support its people because Chileans are fighting a world’s fight and not just a Chilean one.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: s it time to reset property taxes and commercial rates?

Author: Dr Gerard Turley, Economics Opinion: as local authorities prepare their 2020 budgets, it may be time to examine if the local property tax and commercial rates system is fit for purpose Local authorities around the country are currently discussing and adopting council budgets for 2020 at their annual budget meetings. Councils have already decided their 2020 Local Property Tax (LPT) rate and whether to adjust the basic rate up or down by 15%, resulting in higher or lower property tax bills for owners of residential properties. As for the other local tax, commercial rates, the Annual Rate on Valuation (ARV) will be agreed as part of the adopted budget process.  Both taxes have many features in common. They are both recurrent taxes on immovable property and are important sources of local government funding, with service charges and central government grants as the other revenue sources. Revaluations are not common, but are often controversial when they take place. They are also local taxes in the true sense, as Irish local councils have rate-setting powers in both cases. In England, for example, the tax on business rates is set centrally by national government and local councils there do not retain the full business rates income collected in their local authority area. In Ireland, control over the rate of tax makes local councils accountable to residents and taxpayers.  From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, a discussion on a new bill that would grant councils the power to impose penalties on businesses that have failed to pay their commercial rates In other respects, the LPT and commercial rates are very different. The property tax is a relatively new tax whereas commercial rates date back to the 19th century. Commercial rates account for over 30% of revenue income, but the LPT accounts for less than 10%. While commercial rates are a tax on business as the base is commercial and industrial properties, the LPT is a tax on ownership of residential properties. Collection rates differ, with, on average, collection rates lower for commercial rates (86% nationwide in 2017, ranging from a low of 74% in Donegal County Council to a high of 96% in Fingal County Council) than for the LPT where the national average was 97%. The LPT has a relatively high profile and attracts more media attention than commercial rates. While this may be understandable given the newness and the salient nature of LPT and the rise in residential property prices since the first valuations for LPT purposes, it is both disappointing and unwise. As businesses and commercial activity do not have a vote in elections, weak or short-sighted local governments often see this as a reason to levy excessive taxes on the business sector, knowing they can avoid any potential backlash from other undertaxed local taxpayers and voters. There is a strong economic argument that the tax burden should be imposed on those that benefit from the public services that are financed by the tax payments. One such beneficiary is the owner of a residential property as the property owner avails of the local services provided by the council, such as road maintenance and street cleaning, libraries and cultural programmes, fire service, parks and playgrounds etc. Whereas this would suggest a tax take more from LPT and less from commercial rates, the inverse is true. As alluded to above, income from commercial rates, totalling €1.5bn, far outweighs the LPT yield of about €500m (over €100m of which is for self-funding and over €75m of that is for capital spending and, thus, not for discretionary day-to-day spending).  From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland in April 2019, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe on how changes to the Local Property Tax are to be deferred for another year As an independent observer of local government funding and with no vested interest in one revenue source over another, I believe more research, evidence and debate is needed on the respective merits of commercial rates and the LPT, and on the optimal balance between these two local government revenue sources. There are many interesting public policy questions about commercial rates that do not get the attention they deserve. For example, aside from historical levels and the requirement to balance the budget, how can the wide variation in ARVs nationwide be explained? For example, Kerry County Council charge a rate of 79.25 as against a rate of 56.77 imposed by Tipperary County Council. How much are above-average ARVs harming local business activity – existing and latent - and regional economic growth? Could greater commercial activity be incentivised by lowering the ARV on businesses, and particularly on the indigenous SME sector, while at the same time, maintaining, by means of tapping other income sources (service charges and/or the LPT, for example), sufficient revenue income for local councils to deliver local public services and ensure local fiscal discipline?  From RTÉ Radio 1's News At One, Martin McSorley from the Irish Petrol Retailers Association on difficulties facing roadside service retailers, as they deal with rising commercial rates Contrary to popular opinion, a call for an increase in revenue income from the LPT in order to increase non-business property tax revenue more in line with the norm in other countries (the LPT in Ireland accounts for less than one percent of total tax revenue, and is dwindling as a share of the total tax take) could allow some fiscal space for a reduction in commercial rates. This would keep total local taxation constant i.e. a revenue-neutral change, in the absence of any change in expenditure functions assigned to local authorities in a local government sector that is highly centralised. Despite the political sensitivities involved, the best way to introduce this would be to allow residential property revaluations to proceed, and to be done on a regular and timely basis, to avoid similar political difficulties in the future. In turn, councils should be allowed to keep the extra revenue from the higher LPT yield. They would then face policy choices: do they use the extra revenue from the LPT to reduce commercial rates and/or the service charges that are closely linked to economic activity? Or do they increase the quality of local public services. For councils in deficit, do they run overall surpluses to reduce the accumulated revenue balances, or do they use the funds in the future to finance public investment, such as large-scale infrastructural projects? A policy debate on changes to the LPT is also necessary. For example, we need to re-examine the funding, size and methodology of the fiscal equalisation grant currently from LPT receipts. This Robin Hood-type equalisation programme sees council income from urban and especially Dublin-based councils with large property bases redistributed to those councils with smaller tax bases, many of which are rural with relatively low levels of economic activity. From RTÉ Radio 1's This Week, Fianna Fáil councillor Deirdre Heney and Green Party councillor Neasa Hourigan discuss if Dublin homeowners be paying more in local property taxes Rather than the current formula and distribution model, where the baseline is essentially based on the 2014 general purpose grant amounts, a more transparent and formula-based objective model is required in the medium term. This would preferably use estimates of fiscal capacity and expenditure needs as is common in many other countries. Whereas the focus of local councils in the next month will be, and rightly so, on services and funding for 2020, the hope is that central government and especially the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government will consider some of the issues raised here. By doing so, they would contribute to a revamped funding system for local government that is more conducive to a growing business and commercial sector. At the same time, they could ensure adequate income for all local authorities (whether big or small, rural or urban, in surplus or deficit) and provide high-quality public services to local residents.  

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Can greenhouse gases and carbon monoxide be turned into biofuels?

Author: Yaxue He, PhD student in Microbiology Opinion: while there are challenges to overcome, the production of ethanol and butanol at a large scale seems promising The ever-increasing emissions worldwide in greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide has caused global warming and climate change. The Energy-related CO2 Emissions in Ireland 2005-2016 report showed that CO2 emission was 40 metric tons (Mt) in Ireland in 2016, with transport and residential housing accounting for 62% of these emissions.  In the last three years alone, the national total emissions increased by 6.4%, with the number of vehicles on our roads reaching 2.6 million in 2015, an increase of 181% in comparison to 1985. This massive rise in vehicles and the spread of industry has lead to both an increase in carbon emissions and the emission of other toxic gases such as carbon monoxide. Produced from steel manufacture and oil refining industries, vehicle exhausts and residential homes with fossil fuel heating, carbon monoxide intensifies air pollution in winter. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Dr Eimear Cotter from the EPA on the agency's October 2019 report that Ireland had exceeded its annual EU emissions target by 5m tonnes The increasing demand for fuels and their gradual depletion requires the development of new technologies for fuel production, such as biofuels. Biofuels are fuels such as alcohols produced by microorganisms directly or indirectly from organic material. Alcohols such as ethanol and butanol are fossil fuel alternatives. For example, a mixture of 10% ethanol and above 90% butanol could be a substitute for petrol. Bioethanol is currently the most produced biofuel, corresponding to 117.7 million m³ in 2016. The traditional production of ethanol and butanol is from corn or sugar, which may result in food-fuel competition. Biofuel production from carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide has recently gained more attention as it helps to reduce air pollution and also simultaneously generates valuable chemicals. From RTÉ Radio 1's Countrywide, Billy Costello from the Costello Group explains how anaerobic digesters work on their farms Anaerobic sludge is a solid waste from wastewater treatment plants. Some wastewater treatment methods can lead to environmental issues due to the large numbers of bacteria involved in the process, which can potentially be harmful and cause illness. At the same time, the production of biofuels rely greatly on the work of these micro-organisms. Some microorganisms such as Clostridium species may use carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide to produce biofuels, while some of them produce methane and hydrogen. Clostridium species can often resist extreme conditions, such as high temperatures of over 80°C so pre-treatment methods, like heating to 90°C, are used to select Clostridium species The production of ethanol and butanol from carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide by selected microorganisms has been applied at laboratory scale. The predominant functional bacteria are called Clostridium species which play the main role in the conversion of waste gas to biofuel as they are equipped with a special enzyme called carbon monoxide dehydrogenase, which makes Clostridium overcome the toxicity of carbon monoxide. They convert carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide via the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway, which is the most effective, non-photosynthetic carbon fixation pathway in the biofuel production process.  From RTÉ Prime Time Explained, Fran McNulty and Aisling Moloney look at Ireland's agricultural emissions There are still many challenges to overcome in biofuel production research. However, by combining recent research with genetic tools obtained from commercialized Clostridium strains, the production of ethanol and butanol at a large scale seems promising. The first industrial trial has successfully applied on waste gases from a steel mill where by a mixture of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen were used to produce the biofuel, butanol. Other potentially functional bacteria which are separated from waste solids like sludge, animal manure, such as pig, cow and chicken manure, are also currently being researched. Biofuels produced from carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide will undoubtedly become a contributing factor in future solutions for relieving greenhouse gas emission and energy shortages in the future.   

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: What is distant reading?

Author: Dr Justin Tonra, English Opinion: by combining computer science with critical analysis, we can gain a more complete picture of literary history You're probably familiar with the concept of close reading, the sustained and detailed analysis of a short passage of text such as a poem or a short piece of prose or drama. A forensic activity, close reading emphasises close attention to words, grammar, and syntax as a means of exploring and articulating the meaning the reader gleans from the text. On the other hand, distant reading is a method of literary criticism that uses computational and data-analysis techniques to identify meaningful patterns within large collections of texts. Unlike close reading, the object of analysis is often a collection of hundreds or thousands of texts that no individual could read within the span of a lifetime. But in using a computer in this task, new vistas of research materialise. For example, we can analyse literature with the evidence of a fuller record of literary history, instead of using a small collection of established texts—the canon—to stand in for the whole of literature. If a computer is used to identify patterns within a collection of several thousand literary texts, can this really be considered reading? The term is usually attributed to the Italian literary critic Franco Moretti, though other scholars have identified similar methods being practiced decades before. Moretti argued that distant reading would allow scholars to gain a more complete picture of literary history by reading the masses of published literature previously ignored by readers and by academic study, which he called "the great unread" and "the slaughterhouse of literature." Part of the logic of reading beyond the canon is to gain perspectives on works that have been lost to history, but testify to a greater significance in the period of their publication. Moreover, a history of the European novel that is told from the sole perspective of its apparent highlights such as Ulysses, Madame Bovary, War and Peace, must be partial at best. However, if a computer is used to identify patterns within a collection of several thousand literary texts, can this really be considered reading? The reading in distant reading arises from the close collaboration between the scholar and the computer. The former approaches the collection with a hypothesis in mind, selecting or designing appropriate algorithms to enable pattern recognition, and then analysing, often with conventional literary methods such as close reading, the resulting patterns. The process is such that neither the researcher nor the computer could complete it alone. The methods we use—combining the sciences and the humanities—are new, and will yield fresh perspectives on these important questions Since distant reading is conducted at a large scale and results are also often wide-ranging, telling stories about the progress of literature over the course of a century or longer. Some topics that have been addressed include: how the language of novels becomes less abstract as the 19th century progresses; why the titles of novels are shorter in the 19th century than in the 18th and who (and what) is behind the Elena Ferrante pseudonym. Nor is the method restricted to literary texts: Moretti and Dominique Pestre have examined why the language of World Bank Reports becomes more abstract towards the turn of the millennium. The objective of the Distant Reading for European Literary History project is to develop the resources necessary to change the way European literary history is written by combining perspectives from computing and literary studies. It involves a multilingual collection of European novels from 1850 to 1920 (around 2,500 novels across at least 10 different European languages) and the development of new computational tools to analyse and compare literary texts in different languages. This truly European project brings together scholars from 29 countries to study the European novel, creating a broader, more inclusive, and better-grounded account of European literary history and cultural identity. With much distant reading scholarship focused on English-language literature, the multilingual dimension represents a significant advance for the field. The project's innovative contribution to literary studies is an ability to compare different features, styles, and patterns of development of the novel across the European continent in this period. Science Week may not be an occasion when you expect to hear about advances in the study of literature, but this project uniting computer science with more traditional methods of literary analysis promises to do just that. The ultimate literary questions we address are similar to those that scholars have long pondered: how and why does the novel change and develop in different places and in different times? The methods we use—combining the sciences and the humanities—are new, and will yield fresh perspectives on these important questions.  

Thursday, 14 November 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: What is driving protests against new direct provision centres?

Author: Evgeny Shtorn, guest lecturer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights Opinion: the alleged "inexistence" of a far right movement here does not mean the lack of far right thoughts  As a newcomer who has arrived to Ireland from a much harsher reality, and who has spent almost two years in direct provision actively campaigning against it, people often told me that Ireland at least has had no far right movement. These have been the kind of people who would agree with my view that direct provision is an unsustainable mess deliberately created by the Irish government to benefit private catering companies. Since the far right movement was not there, I was not exposed to it. But the recent situation in Oughterard shows that the "inexistence" of a far right movement here does not mean the lack of far right thoughts and institutions.This idea that the absence of the far right racist and anti-migrant movement is something good for a country where the system of direct provision operates does not really convince me. The very existence of direct provision – a system in which private companies are allocated public money to cater for vulnerable and traumatised adults and children – points to the grounds of my doubts.  From RTE One's Claire Byrne Live, a discussion on direct provision protests Great achievements by the Irish feminist and LGBTI activists with the referendums for marriage equality and to repeal the Eighth Amendment teach us at least two lessons. The first is that you need a persistent and consistent community-based work and protest-based struggle for self-representation, voice and agency to achieve real change. The second is a bit less optimistic. Voting results show that there is an average of one third of voters who still consider LGBTI people as second-class citizens and women as machines for production of new workers. It seems to me then that far right thought is here. Although it's not in the form of a movement, it's still substantial in numbers. What really happened in Oughterard was that the far right showed itself for the first time as a well organised and solid force who showed up in very familiar forms. They did something they learnt from the left social movements of the 20th century. They did something that we may have missed when we confuse human rights with the rights of those who are close to us, our friends and people we like. We have to remind ourselves that human rights is an ideological frame to speak about the fundamental needs of all people regardless of differences, preferences and sympathies. From RTÉ Prime Time Explained, Brian O'Connell and Ciara Ní Bhroin explain the direct provision system in Ireland Oughterard is a reminder for those who do not want to see Ireland homogeneous, closed and poor society ruled by ecclesiastical norms and nepotism. How could people organise a demonstration against asylum seekers and were never able to do the same in favour of the people seeking protection? There has been enough time, more than 20 years, to shut down the oppressive regime of institutionalised misery and re-enactment of trauma. So what drives the forces in Oughterard? What makes them so well organised and effective? In my opinion, it is not they who succeeded, but it is more likely us who have failed. We have become a comfortable majority and relied more and more on opinions of people like us. This democratic political mechanism will fail if there is no constant grassroots push towards respect for marginalised communities and towards accountability of politicians and civil servants. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, John Cooke speaks to locals in Oughterard about the withdrawal of plans for direct provision centre in their town So what about those who are on the other side of the barricades? People who feel solidarity with protestors in Oughterard remind me of those who are proud when a football player of the rival team kicks the ball into his own net. There is absolutely nothing to be proud of as it is a rival player who did all the work. There is nothing there about them and their victories. The protestors in Oughterard are doing precisely this: they are scoring own goals. Most countries that genuinely want to grow and develop are now competing for human resources, minds and talents. It may sound quite capitalistic, but this is the world we live in, and I am not that naïve to pretend that our reality is different. Do these people who protested in Oughterard think that multinational – and let me highlight this word for them, multinational – corporations will be happy to import talented tech specialists from all over the world to a country where xenophobes are able to organise and convince the Government to retreat? Instead of dealing with the rising far right sentiments, the State acts against the most vulnerable asylum seekers by delaying the process of international protection even more and increasing deportations. Far right actions in Oughterard demonstrated that the protestors were severely defending their right to kick the ball into their own net.  From RTÉ One's Nine News, a report on protests over a proposed direct provision centre in Rooskey It is still quiet on the streets of the Irish towns and cities. People are not massively attacked for the colour of their skin or their accents. But the history of Weimar Republic or of 1990s Russia makes me think that everything can change very quickly. Nothing is forever, especially when we live in the comfortable confidence that there are no fascists in our country. Bertolt Brecht said that fascism is nothing more than a frightened bourgeoisie and this far right movement is nothing other than simple fascism. Unfortunately, they were well able to organise themselves. They are now in Oughterard, Lisdoonvarna, Rooskey, Moville, Moate and Dublin. Exactly the same places where you and me are, here and now. They are ready to attack so are we ready to fight back?  

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Travellers' culture is 'ignored, rejected and marginalised'

Author: Dr Niloufar Omidi, Irish Centre for Human Rights Opinion: Ireland's Travellers' culture is part of the country's intangible cultural heritage, but is ignored, rejected and marginalised Earlier this month, Seanad Eireann passed the draft legislation which would amend the Education Act 1988 to include Traveller culture and history as an obligatory part of the curriculum at primary and secondary school. According to Senator Collette Kelleher, this is the first significant legislative inclusion following the recognition of Travellers' ethnic minority status in 2017. Although this recognition has been a crucial step towards the protection of the inherent rights of Travellers in Ireland, the present situation shows that there are still serious deficiencies in the protection of this community's rights, especially the absence of their long and proud history in the education system. While this gap has exerted negative effects on the self-concept of young Travellers, the rest of society has lost the opportunity to learn about the diversity and wider context of Traveller culture and history. This absence has contributed to ongoing prejudice and racism against Travellers that has led them to a cultural identity crisis. From RTÉ Radio 1's This Week, Carole Coleman reports on the quality of life for Travellers, two years after the state officially recognised the community as a separate ethnic group As a result, this culture may be endangered, as its followers either have been isolated or have had to hide their identity or values to gain acceptance in society. But Travellers are carriers of the intangible cultural heritage of Ireland, which includes practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and know-how transmitted from generation to generation within this community, depending on their interaction with nature and history. This culture provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, transmitted through imitation, and does not necessarily require a specific place or material objects. The importance of the right to culture has been enshrined by international legal instruments. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits". The 2001 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity notes that "all persons have the right to express themselves and to create and disseminate their work in the language of their choice, and particularly in their mother tongue; all persons are entitled to quality education and training that fully respect their cultural identity; and all persons have the right to participate in the cultural life of their choice and conduct their own cultural practices, subject to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms". Policymakers should consider that no country can develop while it dismisses a part of its past One of the aims of the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage is "to ensure respect for the intangible cultural heritage of the communities, groups and individuals concerned." Accordingly, "each State Party shall endeavour to ensure the widest possible participation of communities, groups and, where appropriate, individuals that create, maintain and transmit such heritage, and to involve them actively in its management". The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 asserts that "the education of the child shall be directed to […] the development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own". Therefore it is expected that Travellers’ culture, which is part of Ireland's intangible cultural heritage after all, be respected and protected. But in practice, the importance of this culture is ignored and this minority struggles to survive under the pressure of long-term marginalisation and rejection through different levels of life, education and employment. Due to this widespread discrimination and exclusion, many leave school or die by suicide as a way out of the current situation. From RTÉ Radio 1's Ray D'Arcy Show, a discussion on the mental health of the Traveller community Cultural marginalisation makes some of them abandon their own cultural values, either by themselves or by not passing it on to the next generation. This can be seen in the association between this culture and negative social stigmas, such as poverty and illiteracy. This approach has gradually forced Travellers to consciously or unconsciously abandon their customs and traditions to achieve higher social admissibility. This leads to an identity crisis and deprives other people in society from Travellers’ knowledge, skills and traditions, which can enhance the general culture. For example, Travellers’ knowledge of animals, insects, agricultural techniques and weather patterns has improved from interaction with nature, often gained over ages and passed down through generations. These traditions promote living in harmony with nature rather than conquering it. This cultural marginalisation represents a mutual loss for both the country and this ethnic minority. The denial of the cultural rights of ethnic groups leads to antisocial behaviours and social disobedience and leads to cultural loss with devastating impacts for the history of society and even the economy and political system. Policymakers should consider that no country can develop while it dismisses a part of its past and every state requires cultural legitimacy to govern effectively. This requires the recognition, implementation and enforcement of cultural rights of different minorities from various ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds who reside in a country. From RTÉ Radio 1's Music Passport, Kathryn Thomas looks at the importance of music within the travelling community from Johnny Doran, Margaret Barry and Pecker Dunne to Shayne Ward and Kelly Mongan The realisation of cultural rights should not be regarded as a gift to be granted to this ethnic group, but rather a constitutional imperative for the government. Otherwise, the state should expect consequences in response to the denial of cultural recognition and loss of cultural legitimacy, which is a core element of a state’s general legitimacy. A strong political will is required to guarantee that no part of society is left behind. The Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018 is a critical step towards integrity between groups in a culturally diverse context, and also for combatting racism and discrimination in Ireland. Indeed, the new act can serve as an effective remedy to save this cultural heritage from imminent extinction.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: How Ireland's asylum system commits violence against women

Author: Carol Ballantune, PhD researcher at the Centre for Global Women’s Studies Opinion: the Irish state has accepted its responsibilities to eliminate violence against women, but it is enabling further violence in its treatment of migrants  Migration is rarely out of the news, and refugee and asylum seeker stories tend to garner most attention, both positive and negative. Often it is necessary to remind people of the many types of violence that play a part in forcing people to migrate from their home countries. At the recent European Conference on Domestic Violence (ECDV) in Oslo, the focus fell on a different kind of harm: the violence perpetrated by European states against asylum seeking and refugee women. Trends that have been documented in other European countries are clearly present in Ireland, where asylum seekers are offered "direct provision" of accommodation with few basic rights, and the average length of stay in direct provision in two years (though stays of up to 12 years have been recorded). These conditions are themselves responsible for increasing women’s structural vulnerability to sexual harassment and assault, and especially to intimate partner violence. This year, Ireland introduced legislation against the offence of coercive control. This legislation breaks new ground in recognising how violence is often exercised in the homeplace and in intimate relationships. It often involves no physical force, but a pattern of dominance, power and control that eliminates individual freedom. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Della Kilroy speaks to a woman about her experience of coercive control in a relationship, and Mary Wilson talks to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan about the new Domestic Violence Act At the ECDV, Jenny Phillimore, principal investigator of a research project on gender based violence in the refugee crisis, described the irony of governments legislating against coercive control in the home, while exercising a comparable and connected control over the lives of refugee and asylum-seeking women. She highlighted the fact that our systems of "international protection" themselves constrain women’s space for action and do harm to the very people they claim to protect.  I am not suggesting that all migrant women are victims nor all migrant men violent perpetrators - far from it. Rather, I am highlighting the structures in Irish society that empower violent and controlling men and disempower migrant women. Migrant women often travel as part of a family, financially and sometimes linguistically and socially dependent on husbands or family members. Their dependency can extend to legal status, if their visa or leave to remain is dependent on their spouse. It is internationally recognized that this situation is easily exploited by violent and controlling men. Leaving a violent home can put migrant women alone in the asylum system if they want to be allowed to stay in the country. Under the Istanbul Convention, it is recognised that the state bears a duty to protect everybody – including migrant and refugee women – from gender based violence. Yet time spent in Ireland’s lengthy asylum process undermines resilience and increases vulnerability – this is equally true for men, women and children. Department of Justice policy is to disperse asylum seekers away from urban centres, housing them in remote locations. While awaiting a decision of the international protection tribunal, residents of direct provision centres and, increasingly, emergency accommodation, are unable to access a driving licence, leaving them dependent on Ireland’s limited public transport system. Such isolation is always problematic but, in the context of an abusive relationship, it is catastrophic. As Phillimore argues, the state finds itself in collusion with abusive men to keep women dependent on them.  From RTÉ 1 News, the Government ratifies the Istanbul Convention to mark International Women's Day Aside from isolation, asylum seekers are also held in conditions of forced poverty, allocated €38.80 per week for all non-food or housing related costs. Following a European court ruling, last year the government extended the right to work to asylum seekers according to certain criteria, but the law is so limited and the barriers to working so many, that relatively few individuals are able to access work in practice. Although the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recently asserted that nobody is obliged to live in direct provision and that all residents are "free to go", this is an empty freedom. The state controls the lives of international protection applicants. Contrary to the stereotype of the "welfare scrounger", the African women I interviewed for my PhD research would do anything to avoid the humiliations of the social welfare system – but dependency was all that was on offer to them.  Experiences of the asylum system are all too often experiences of violence perpetrated anew. It is internationally recognised that refugee status can be conferred on the grounds of gender-related claims; and yet making such claims is often difficult. The international protection process has been described by the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) as "adversarial at its core". A national network of migrant women living in Ireland, AkiDwA, have also documented women’s experiences of international protection hearings. Incidents included being invasively questioned about traumatic histories; being rushed and harassed through the hearing and not having access to translation services for their hearings or, worse, being represented by hostile translators. In one case, a woman seeking refuge from persecution in Iran was represented by a translator from the Iranian embassy.  Controlling relationships are underpinned by coercion and threat, and so too is Ireland’s migration system, like all such systems in Europe. People awaiting asylum decisions live in a state of perpetual uncertainty, characterised by the constant threat of deportation on the one hand or destitution on the other. The power of the state over the life chances of asylum seekers is absolute and indefinite. We need to recognise this for what it is: symbolic and structural violence, enabling violence at the interpersonal level.  From RTÉ's Explained by Prime Time, Della Kilroy and Fran McNulty outline changes to Ireland's domestic abuse laws  The Irish government has been slow to respond to the realities of violence against women. But with the ratification of the Istanbul Convention this year, the announcement of a new national survey on sexual violence and the introduction of new domestic violence legislation, it is becoming harder to avoid addressing the problem. Yet the state continues to empower violent men and increase the vulnerability of migrant women. This contradiction can only be resolved by granting asylum seekers basic rights.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: What I learned about Irish banking culture from whistleblowers

Author: Professor Kate Kenny, J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics and Whitaker Institute Opinion: a wide network of forces works against encouraging disclosures about unethical practices in the sector Ten years on from the financial crisis, the Irish Banking Culture Board has emerged. It aims to address "an unprecedented loss of public trust" in Ireland’s banks and will do so by fostering a sustainable, professional and ethical banking culture. Will this work? Or do the problems in finance simply go too deep? From researching whistleblowing in this sector, I am not optimistic. An ethical organisational culture encourages disclosures of problems from within, and then ensures they are acted upon. I interviewed people who spoke up in a variety of banks in the UK, US and Ireland prior to the 2008 crisis. I spoke with regulators, trade unionists, lawyers and support groups. Whistleblowers had disclosed mortgage fraud, money-laundering and unethical lending practices. They had mainly been ignored.  Together, their accounts paint a picture of financial services as a chilly environment that discouraged speaking out about wrongdoing. The problem is that this doesn’t seem to have changed much today. The basic features of financial services, its central position in our society, and its lack of transparency, remain in place. The upshot is the same in 2019 as it was in 2007: people prefer to stay silent. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Mary Regan reports in how the Oireachtas Finance Committee were told of serious problems in Irish banking culture Earlier this year, the Central Bank of Ireland expressed concerns that banks’ in-house whistleblowing systems are not being used. Research indicates one out of every two financial sector managers in Ireland will not speak up about wrongdoing, citing fears for their career prospects and reputation. A second reason for silence is a sense of futility—they believe nothing will be done, even if they do disclose. Why do people feel this way? If someone wants to speak out about problematic practices they encounter at work, they typically begin within the firm. They report to a line manager or some other senior figure, but that person needs to be ready to listen. Prior to 2008, financial sector managers were incentivised to ignore dissent. They were paid generously to meet strict and outlandish targets. Paul Moore at HBOS recalls a loan manager confiding in him, the group’s risk manager, that "it is impossible to sell ethically and hit our sales targets." Targets were driven by pursuit of excessive growth.  We are told this is different now, that performance is assessed using softer metrics relating to ethical behaviour. But these are difficult to measure and less rewarding for shareholders in the short term. And it appears these changes are not taking hold. It is not easy for a target-focused manager, working under pressure, to take disclosures seriously. Meanwhile excessive growth remains a feature of financial services, according to the Financial Times. So long as financial services are expected to continue to yield excessive profits, even if this jeopardises the long-term health of the industry and its organisations, this will not change. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Peter Oakes, former director of enforcement at the Central Bank, on how David Drumm's trial will change banking culture So, the manager won’t listen. What next for a would-be whistleblower who witnesses something seriously amiss? Financial services regulators in the US, UK and Ireland now actively encourage disclosures. Regulator websites detail how to go about this. But making the leap of faith to disclose is a big decision for an employee. A potential whistleblower has questions; can the regulator be trusted to act on the information? Will it keep the whistleblower’s identity confidential? Here, there is little for the whistleblower to go on besides stories that circulate in the industry and the media. And these tend to paint a grim picture. Although some years have passed, people recall Ireland’s regulator failing to protect the identities of some whistleblowers and ignoring others. This contributes to a persistent lack of trust. It is not easy for regulators to alleviate this.  In many cases financial sector regulators have a dual responsibility to economic stability as well as customer protection. Many people, including a former Irish governor, argue this naturally leads to an unwillingness to upset the status quo. Regulators can be genuinely limited in the resources they have to deal with disclosures, and in their ability to tell a whistleblower about ongoing investigations, for legal reasons. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Kate Kenny on why people blow the whistle on wrongdoing within an organisation and the impact of the 2014 Protected Disclosures Act. The overall result is that there is no public awareness of a regulatory system that investigates disclosures and protects whistleblowers - and this creates a chilling effect. The same is true in other countries, including the UK. Ireland’s Central Bank has improved much since the 2008 crisis and is one of the few Irish public bodies making whistleblower information available. But it has significant obstacles to overcome before it can convince potential whistleblowers that things have really changed.  In extreme cases, feeling ignored first by the organisation and then the regulator, a whistleblower with vital information about wrongdoing might turn to a journalist as a last resort. Here again lie difficulties. Whistleblowers are an important source for investigative journalists in many sectors, but the financial sector is a little trickier. This is a sector rife with opaque and difficult algorithms and formulae, new technical-sounding products and intricate chains of connection. Many journalists struggle to understand the sector, and those that do often struggle to craft a compelling, human interest story for their readers. Opacity and complexity works against public disclosures through the media. Again therefore, a chilling effect. Reports tell us that problems persist in Ireland’s banks even today, but financial services remain an unwelcoming sector in which to speak up. People tend not to want to, despite the changes that have been made. Perhaps they are correct.  Problems persist in Ireland's banks even today, but financial services remain an unwelcoming sector in which to speak up Significant obstacles remain in the financial system, namely its targets and compensation structures. These come from the elevated position finance still holds in an economic system that demands continual growth from the sector. They also stem from the perception that our economy depends fundamentally on the health and stability of the banks, and ambivalence about the trustworthiness of regulators.  Ultimately, a wide network of forces works against encouraging disclosures and these things seem unlikely to change. As long as they remain, the Irish Banking Culture Board will struggle to encourage a culture of critique within organisations. It will struggle to realise the ethical and sustainable future it envisions for the sector.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Why does Ireland have so many prisoners serving life sentences?

Author: Dr Diarmuid Griffin, School of Law Opinion: one in every nine prisoners in Ireland is serving a life sentence and the number of lifers increased by 158% between 2001 and 2017 There has been a significant increase in the use of life imprisonment around the world. A global study found that the population increased from 261,000 in 2000 to an estimated 479,000 in 2014. Life imprisonment was adopted as the alternative to the death penalty and has become the most severe punishment available in most countries. But while the death penalty was used very selectively, its alternative has been employed more frequently and to a wider range of offences and offenders. But Ireland's use of the life sentence exceeds that of many of our neighbours. For example, Ireland places fifth (after the United States, United Kingdom, Greece and Turkey) when analysing life sentence prisoner populations per 100,000 of national populations across Europe and the United States. One in every nine sentenced prisoner in Ireland is serving a life sentence and the life sentence prisoner population here increased by 158% between 2001 and 2017. So why is it that Ireland has such a high life sentence prisoner population? Is it that Ireland has more people committing serious crimes that need to be punished with the most severe penalty available? Are we harsher than other countries when sentencing offenders? Or is the high number of life sentence prisoners a product of the way in which the system works? From RTÉ 1's Nine News, a report on a campaign group wants tougher life sentences for murderers There has been an increase in the overall homicide rate from the 1950s to the 2000s. While the number of homicides has decreased somewhat in the 2010s, it can certainly be said that there is more lethal violence today than there was in the 1950s.  Naturally, this societal increase in lethal violence also has an impact on the number of those convicted of murder. All persons convicted of murder are sentenced to life imprisonment and this sentence is mandatory. This means that a trial judge has no discretion when sentencing a person convicted of murder – a life sentence must be imposed. The mandatory life sentence has had a big impact on our growing life sentence prisoner population, with 95% of lifers serving their sentence for murder. The remainder are serving life sentences for sexual offences, manslaughter and attempted murder. Mandatory life sentences for all murders is not the norm in Europe. While Ireland along with England and Wales, Cyprus and Germany have a mandatory life sentence, many other countries provide judges with varying levels of discretion when determining whether a life sentence should be imposed for murder. The result is that a life sentence is imposed less frequently in those countries. From RTÉ 1's Claire Byrne Live, Catherine Carolan describes life after the loss of her son, Leo, who was murdered by Charles Cleary in October 2016. Cleary received a life sentence in January 2018 for the crime Another important factor relates to the definition of murder and, in some instances, the various different forms of murder and the different penalties they attract. It might seem obvious that the definition of murder would be the same across all countries, but this is not actually the case. Some countries define murder more broadly than others.  There may be differences in terms of the levels of seriousness within the murder offence category (aggravated murder, first degree murder etc). The more narrow the definition, the less people that will be convicted of the offence. These individuals may be convicted of a lesser form of homicide where the life sentence is not available as a mandatory punishment or is less likely to be imposed. In Ireland, as well as having a mandatory life sentence for murder, we also have a broad definition for the offence. A person may be convicted of murder where the "person intended to kill, or cause serious injury". In other countries, a person who intended to kill would be convicted of a more serious offence than a person that intended to cause serious injury and would, as a result, be sentenced to a more severe penalty. Similarly, some countries require premeditation as a component of the most serious form of homicide, but premeditation is not required in Ireland to convict a person of murder.   From RTÉ 1's Nine News, a CSO report shows that one in every two prisoners commits offence after release Is a person who premeditated and intended to kill more culpable than a person who, in the heat of the moment, intended to cause serious injury but did not intend to kill? Should a person motivated by anger or revenge be distinguished from a mercy killing, where the person intended to kill but for reasons to do with the victim's ill-health? Legally, a judge cannot draw these types of distinctions when sentencing a person convicted of murder. Uncomfortable as it might be for us as a society, the reality of homicide is that while the harm caused from the unlawful killing is the same - the death of a person - there are different states of mind that may make an individual more or less blameworthy. A broad definition means that more offenders that unlawfully kill will be convicted of murder than in other countries and the automatic outcome of this is a life sentence. While Germany also has a mandatory life sentence for murder, it requires an intention to kill as well as at least one aggravating factor (including killing for pleasure, sexual gratification, greed etc) in order to convict a person. This difference in definition means that convictions for the offence that carries a mandatory life sentence are rare and results in Germany having a lower life sentence prisoner population. From RTÉ 1's Six News, families of homicide victims demand reforms of parole system Life sentence prisoners may be released from prison and, due to the mandatory nature of the sentence, the Parole Board are often put in the position of trying to assess the seriousness of the offence in terms of time served prior to being released back into the community. This type of judgement is usually arrived at by a trial judge when sentencing the offender when imposing a determinate sentence. The parole system is currently undergoing a process of change but the issue of the mandatory life sentence remains. Because of their indeterminate nature, life sentences present a specific set of challenges for the Irish Prison Service in terms of sentence management. The lack of certainty about release can cause a lot of difficulties in terms of resources and planning. Uncertainty regarding release also causes great anxiety for victims’ family members. Is there an appropriate alternative to the mandatory life sentence for murder? It is highly likely that if the life sentence was discretionary rather than mandatory it would be imposed far less frequently. This would not necessarily mean that there would be a reduction in time served in prison. Providing trial judges with discretion in sentencing would not necessarily mean that a person serves less time in prison A recent decision of the Supreme Court produced guidelines for sentencing in homicide cases. The court noted that in some cases a person may be convicted of manslaughter but their culpability may be indistinguishable from murder. In such cases, the court stated a sentence of between 15 to 20 years would be appropriate. Indeed, there have been cases where a person has been sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. Interestingly, the average time served by a life sentence prisoner prior to release from 2008 to 2017 was 19 years. READ: how can we address Ireland's recidivism rate? Given these guidelines, providing trial judges with discretion in sentencing would not necessarily mean that a person serves less time in prison. But it would mean that the trial judge could make an assessment of the appropriate length of time that the offender should serve based on all the information available. A life sentence could still be imposed in exceptional cases. Reforming the mandatory life sentence could bring greater certainty to sentencing in homicide cases without compromising on the issue of time served for those that commit the most serious offences.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: How a 19th century Irish mathematician helped NASA into space

Author: Professor Michel Destrade, School of Mathematics, Statistics, Applied Maths, NUI Galway, with Colm Mulcahy, Spelman College and Anne van Weerden, Utrecht University Analysis: William Rowan Hamilton's discovery of quaternions in Cabra played a revolutionary role in many of NASA's space missions When Dublin mathematician William Rowan Hamilton conjured up the algebraic equations for his famous quaternions while walking along the Royal Canal on October 16th 1843, little did he know what he was unleashing on the world. Today, 176 years later, Hamilton is viewed as Ireland’s greatest mathematical scientist ever, and it’s important to note that he’s famous for many accomplishments in addition to quaternions. He’s been feted three times on postage stamps in Ireland, and Broom Bridge in Cabra is now an international science heritage destination that attracts Fields Medalists and Nobel laureates alike, especially on the quaternion discovery anniversary, which occurs today. Quaternions were a revolution in algebra, because they were the first system in which it made a difference whether one multiplied x by y or y by x. They were invented 15 years ahead of matrix multiplication, which shares this "non-commutative" property. Hamilton and his followers readily applied quaternions to mechanics and optics, fields which were hugely popular in Victorian times.   Daniel Doyle's sand sculpture of William Rowan Hamilton (watched by his wife) scratching the formula for his quaternions onto Broom Bridge in Cabra But the biggest legacy of quaternions is arguably their role in facilitating the speedy computing of actual geometric revolutions, especially in modern industries where turning and veering play a central role. Key application areas include flight, robotics and in computer graphics and video games. NASA, in particular, has been making extensive use of quaternions for space travel for decades. Rotations are key to flight planning and tracking. While traditional matrix methods can be used to accomplish rotations, they generate huge problems of numerical stability and efficiency. If a spacecraft starts to spin, it is very difficult to return it to a stable position so various thrusters have to be fired with great precision. The Apollos carried a device to measure attitude, a three-gimbaled platform, which was prone to a technical glitch called "gimbal lock". This mechanical problem could make the spaceship computer lose its orientation in space. If two of the gimbals become aligned with each other, it’s impossible to determine the attitude, which could result in the astronauts literally getting lost in space.  In fact, the gimbal lock problem and the danger of not being able to navigate safely back to Earth almost occurred during the 1969 Apollo 10 mission, but disaster was narrowly avoided thanks to the astronauts’ rapid reaction. Nowadays, extensive systems are used which do not suffer from gimbal lock anymore, and the rotation matrices of those early years have been replaced by quaternions, which turn out to be a smarter way to effect rotations, as well as using a lot less computer power. Almost-accidents like those of the Apollo era are unthinkable now, thanks to these powerful systems. Vintage Science on the "gimbal lock" problem While quaternions were suggested for flight simulations as early as 1958, NASA first used them in the Guidance, Navigation and Control systems for a manned mission with the 1981 launch of the Space Shuttle. By the time the Magellan mission to map Venus took off in 1989, quaternions had become the industry standard. Quaternions are now fundamental in modern versions of NASA’s navigation software for spacecraft attitude determination and control, and also for flight and flight simulations. These (and other) applications of quaternions were only explored in relatively recent decades, thus breathing new life into this esoteric Cabra creation and showing its enduring power of application, far beyond mathematics. Chuck Acton is supervisor of the Navigation and Ancillary Information Group at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and he has worked on planetary missions since 1968. "My group's use of quaternions probably began in the mid 1980s", he recalls. "I'm sure this must be long after other engineering activities used quaternions in support of space missions. But we are very happy to be using them, and will continue to do so as long as we remain funded by NASA!" Belfast astronomer Carl Murray, at Queen Mary University of London, points out that "quaternions are incorporated in NASA’s NAIF SPICE software, written by Chuck Acton. We use SPICE all the time for our Cassini image work and it’s perhaps the best software ever to come out of JPL, and it’s free! Chuck deserves a medal for his work on it. Quaternions were previously used in JPL’s VICAR software which we used to process Voyager images. I have been using quaternions for decades to work on Voyager and Cassini images." NASA footage of the 1989 Atlantis-Magellan mission Hamilton was a polyglot who made a point of spending his career in Ireland when he could have plied his trade anywhere in the educated world of his day and he truly launched a revolution with his key discovery. Nobody could have guessed that quaternions would eventually (literally) make "out of this world" travel more manageable. There may be a moral there for those who think that potential for immediate application trumps basic research. Here's a fun travel-around-Ireland challenge for all ages based on another of Hamilton's inventions, along with extensive information about the mathematician's associations with many key Irish locations.  

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Tip not included: how some restaurants exploit their staff

Author: Dr Deirdre Curran, Management Opinion: many in the sector would do well to extend the hospitality they claim to offer customers to their own employees You may have seen coverage in the media recently of a new bill proposing to make it illegal for employer to withhold tips from staff. You may indeed question the need for such a bill. Surely tips offered by customers as a gesture of appreciation for services rendered go to their intended recipient? It seems not I have spent over 20 years teaching employment relations to thousands of students at NUI Galway. We study the nature of the relationship between workers and employers, a relationship which many of my charges are familiar with from experience. We explore problems and challenges that arise in the relationship and how they can be addressed. A starting premise of my teaching is that the employment relationship is an imbalanced power relationship. While that is a fact and not necessarily a problem, there are times when workers need to protect themselves from abuses of such power. From RTÉ Radio 1, Leanne McDowell discusses her case in 2013 My interest in working conditions in the hospitality sector was sparked by hearing a radio interview with Leanne McDowell, a chef who had been fired after taking her second ever sick day during years of apparently loyal service to her employer. She pursued justice through the Employment Appeals Tribunal and was awarded €50,000 in compensation in 2011, but had not received a single euro of that award by the time of the interview in 2013. I was shocked and fascinated by the story and have shared the podcast with my students ever since as valuable and valued learning material.  Fast forward to 2017 when two young women, working in the hospitality sector in Galway, came forward to talk about abuses they had experienced or witnessed at work. Driving them was the belief that something must be done. They reached out to a local senator, who reached out to others, including myself. Before long, a grassroots campaign was underway with hospitality workers, student leaders, migrant worker representatives and trade unions. Our vision was (and is) to promote a change of culture in the hospitality sector that ensures all workers are treated with dignity and respect. Our intention was (and is) to design an award for establishments who treat their workers well, to be displayed in parallel with awards for clean kitchens and top class food. From RTÉ One's Prime Time, Fran McNulty reports on issues around tipping in Irish restaurants In 2018, we joined forces with One Galway, a collective of trade unions and community groups united over common interests. The hospitality industry plays a huge role in our economy and provides employment opportunities for the diverse community that is Galway and Ireland, including many of the city's 27,000 student population. It is in all our interests to work collectively to promote fair treatment in the sector. When Sinn Fein senator Paul Gavan proposed the Protections of Employees (Tips) Bill in 2017, it was an obvious fit for our campaign as we had enough evidence to indicate that this issue needed to be regulated. Many of my students had shared their experiences of having tips withheld. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) had also conducted a survey of their members and reported that tips were taken by some employers in part or whole and used to cover walk-outs, till shortages and breakages. The reaction of our ruling party to this Bill has been disappointing. Despite broad-based multi-party support for the bill, Fine Gael senators and TDs abstained or voted against it at every stage. The Minister for Employment Affairs & Social Protection Regina Doherty proposed an alternative Bill, one that would make it illegal for employers to use tips to supplement wages. But according to existing evidence, this issue is relatively rare and one that would be covered by the Gavan Bill in any case.  From RTÉ Radio 1's Today with Sean O'Rourke show, Minister for Employment Affairs & Social Protection Regina Doherty and Sunn Fein senator Paul Gavan discuss legislation to stop restaurant owners taking tips As an academic, I believe that action should be based on evidence and I am currently working on a project that provides solid independent empirical data on the treatment of employees in the sector. Along with a comprehensive survey (257 respondents), I am conducting interviews with hospitality workers allowing them to share their experience of what it is like to work in the industry. The emerging findings from this research are, at times, disturbing. Apart from extensive neglect of basic employment rights, many of the workers I am speaking to are experiencing unacceptable ill-treatment and their testimonies (some below) are compelling and unsettling. 43% - No written statement of terms of employment 70% - No additional allowance for Sunday working. 52% - No entitlement to rest breaks. 76% - Suffered verbal abuse sometimes/often "I'm treated like a horse. It is so hard to work in a place that expects you to do everything" 64% - Suffered psychological abuse sometimes/often 63% - Witnessed or experienced bullying 55% - Witnessed or experienced harassment "I myself was very badly bullied in my workplace….I was ignored, not given rest breaks, but worst of all his wife would come in with little notes of things she had seen or heard happening, accuse us of them, and make us sign off on the answers we gave……All this from a guy who would not allow me to go home the day my partner had a miscarriage as 'he had nobody to cover me'." 47% - No supportive feedback from manager 23% - No tips or owner/manager keeps a portion of them 47% - Tips distributed through an unfair system "All tips are given to a Children's Hospital according to managers, but I've never seen any proof of this and it is widely believed to be a lie" Where ill-treatment was experienced it was usually by someone in a position of power such as the owner, chef or supervisor. Most employees did not report incidents to anyone and the most common reasons were fear, or a belief that nothing would change. 48% felt they have no opportunities for voice at work and very few are members of a trade union. My intention is to shine a light on current practices and to provide data that will help to make a stronger argument for inside-out hospitality. It struck me that the research participants had a range of wonderfully simple suggestions for how the work environment of the sector could be improved for the benefit of all.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Brexit, Orwell's 1984 and living in liquid modernity

Author: Ronan Doyle, Whitaker Institute Opinion: in times of change it is common for people to look to the past for a sense of security and a sense of solidity - but be careful what you wish for Sunderland was once considered the largest shipbuilding town in the world. When the harbour was expanded in 1885 the concrete foundation stone had to be manoeuvred into place by a giant, gas-powered crane dubbed 'Goliath'. It was an era of modernity that Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman termed ‘solid’.  And in solid modernity, size mattered.  Sunderland’s shipbuilding and coal-mining industries were triumphs of engineering and technology, of humanity’s capacity to strategically dominate and ultimately control its environment. In the US, 1885 also saw completion of the world's first skyscraper, whose revolutionary steel frame reached all of ten stories into the Chicagoan sky. Inch by inch and space by space, modernity would shape the world to a human blueprint.  From RTÉ Radio 1 Morning Ireland, Brexit: 'Leave capital of Britain' could suffer big job losses if Nissan pulls out Although technology has always been one of modernity’s key drivers, new technologies have always brought with them "new" fears. Swiss scientist Conrad Gessner, for instance, worried that the effects of information overload would be "confusing and harmful" to the mind. Gessner, who was speculating about the repercussions of mass printing, died in 1565.  Concerns with solid modernity often centred around issues of individual freedom, the fear that most of us were being restrained and controlled by a distant elite of business and political figures lodged within those big solid buildings and institutions. In George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian classic Nineteen Eighty-Four citizens exist under Big Brother’s constant surveillance. This is the Panopticon: the few watching the many. A world of doublethink, Newspeak and memory holes, where for two minutes every day citizens gather to solidify communal bonds and vent existential distress by publicly denouncing official film depicting enemies of the state. It is a ritual called the ‘Two Minutes Hate’.  WATCH: Apple's 1984 commercial for the first Macintosh  Forward to the year 1984. Apple are preparing to launch the original Macintosh. In their flagship, one-off TV ad columns of pallid, drone-like Orwellian workers march into an industrial auditorium. A menacing, authoritarian figure lectures from a single electronic screen. A young female athlete moves through the crowd. She hurls a sledgehammer through the screen. Big Business, Big Government, Big Brother has been defeated! We can all have our own computer! And although solid modernity is well and truly over, the last shipyard in Sunderland won’t close until 1988; the last coal mine in 1994. Bauman examined the transition from solid modernity to our era (now), which he called ‘liquid modernity’. The conditions of liquid modern life are defined in contrast to solidity: mobility, instability, disposability and unceasing change are the new orders of the day. Lack of control is dessert. Our blueprints are no longer any use in a liquid, modern world where solid foundations and deep roots more likely hinder than enable success.  WATCH: Steve Jobs presents the very first Macintosh computer in 1984 And while many of the individual freedoms that we cherished have been won, we might ask at what cost? We are more connected than ever before but mental health reports suggest that we have never been more lonely; there is an app to manage everything but we’ve never felt like we’ve had less time; the conveniences of the internet are tempered by frustrations that even the slightest delay of service can provoke; information overload is ubiquitous; through social media we share everything and nothing in the same moment and the online world occasionally seems little more than a nasty ‘Two Minutes Hate’ forum.  It’s no longer one screen watching everyone but everyone watching their own screen. The Panopticon becomes the Synopticon: the many watching the few. Apple becomes Big Brother. Big Brother becomes disposable celebrity. And the central emotional condition of liquid modernity becomes uncertainty, followed by all of uncertainty’s anxieties. These are the great paradoxes of liquid modernity, where gains must frequently be remeasured by losses.  In times of change it is common for people to look to the past for a sense of security, a sense of solidity. More and more people want to revive the feeling that at least everything could be in order or could be under control and that somebody, anybody – just not me! – is actually steering the ship.  Professional football is a quintessentially liquid modern arena Right now the structural and cultural infrastructures of a bygone solid age are being reinvigorated. Borders are being re-erected. Enemies are being identified. Efforts to control are being exerted. At an August 2018 rally in Ohio Donald Trump declared: "We're doing things you don’t even know about!" The audience whooped and cheered in response.  Maybe Big Brother wasn’t so bad after all? More and more people are turning to chameleons who, in fluidly being both establishment and anti-establishment, appear to embody the kind of solidity these people seek. Thus Trump is favoured by bookmakers to be re-elected. Brexit is carried. The far right continues its resurgence across Europe. Clownish BoJo – educated in the solid institutions of Eton and Oxford – finds himself in 10 Downing Street. Dominic Cummings sends a big red bus around Britain and finds himself loitering in the shadows of power.  When Winston Smith, the protagonist of Nineteen Eighty-four, is taken to Room 101, a cage containing his greatest fear – rats – is secured to his face. Liquid modernity invites us to reflect upon society’s Room 101 and to think ethically about where we are, where we have been and where we might be headed.  From RTÉ Radio 1 Arena, Darryl Jones looks at the profound influence of '1984' by George Orwell, first published in 1949 On the site of Sunderland’s last coal mine, the Stadium of Light was built. It seems appropriate because professional football is a quintessentially liquid modern arena of international transfer and dubious loyalties, where contracts mean little and people habitually unite, in a fashion, to vent their distresses.  How can values – their strengths or otherwise – be measured in these new liquid modern arenas? In the aftermath of Sunderland’s 61% Leave vote a local man offered the common refrain that he wanted Britain to have "the ability to make [its] own laws, which is what we used to do." In liquid modernity, however, we must be careful what we wish for. Nissan, the region’s newest largest employer, last February reversed their decision to produce a new vehicle at their Sunderland plant. Production of two further models was cancelled in March. In July they announced 12,500 job cuts. And while not yet announcing where the axe will fall, we might reasonably assume that Nissan’s Sunderland staff are experiencing heightened levels of uncertainty. The slogan on Dominic Cummings’ big red bus? ‘Take Back Control’.  But Bauman cautions that there can be no going back: what has been liquified will not be re-solidified.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Songs for the end of the world: pop music and climate change

Author: Dr Emer McHugh, Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Analysis: from Lana Del Rey and Weyes Blood to the 1975 and Matmos, pop stars are showing it's a wild time to be alive to observe the end of the world Popular music has, and always will be, informed by the political and social contexts from which it emerges. The struggles of the American civil rights movement, white supremacy, and institutional racism reflected in the likes of Marvin Gaye’s "What’s Going On", Public Enemy’s "Fear of a Black Planet", Sly and the Family Stone’s "There’s a Riot Goin’ On" and Beyoncé's "Lemonade". Bands like Dixie Chicks, The Clash, Rage Against the Machine and Sleater-Kinney have railed against misogyny, war and conservative politics in their work. Joni Mitchell famously sang about how "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot". Pixies warned that "and if the ground’s not cold/Everything is gonna burn/We'll all take turns/I'll get mine too". Pixies "Monkey Gone To Heaven" Very late into her latest album "Titanic Rising", Natalie Mering AKA Weyes Blood sings "don’t cry, it’s a wild time to be alive" and I am not sure if I have found any other lyric this year that encapsulates so perfectly what it is to live in 2019. We are halfway through the Trump administration, and global right-wing politics continues to be on the rise with the election of Boris Johnson. Brexit is looming, with no clear plan as of writing. More pertinently for what I am writing today, we are in the middle of a climate emergency. Greta Thunberg has become the face of a worldwide movement to save the planet before it is too late. Jair Bolsonaro’s fascist regime has refused funding to save the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. The United States withdrew from the Paris Agreement two years ago (and remember the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the CEO of ExxonMobil). Online and in real life, people are talking about how to reduce their carbon footprint, and how to put pressure on corporations to do the same. The fear that the earth might not be what it is now in 12 years’ time is all too real. To paraphrase a more-than-30-year-old song, it could be the end of the world as we know it. Do we feel fine? Probably not. R.E.M. "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" Mering has made it clear that "Titanic Rising" as a title references the oncoming impact of climate change and the cover of the album depicts her in a bedroom submerged under water. Speaking to Stereogum, she argued that "the waters have risen over this bedroom which to me is symbolic of kind of a subconscious altar that all young people in western culture create for themselves. I’m not drowning in it. I’m alive."  However, the uncanny sight of Mering nonchalantly floating around her bedroom arguably shows adjusting to irreversible change. In the same interview, Mering asserted that "at the expense of the third class, we’d been kind of fucking with people, and industrialisation hasn’t really conquered nature in any real way. Nature is about to conquer our ass, and industrialisation is not gonna be able to keep up with that."  As such, songs such as "Wild Time" conjure up images of industrialisation and nature juxtaposed with one another. Mering sings of the planet as "beauty, a machine that's broken/Running on a million people trying", she swaps "trying" for the more troubling image of "a million people burning" in the second verse. Time is running out, or, to borrow the title of the song that opens the album, "A Lot’s Gonna Change". "Falling trees, get off your knees/No one can keep you down", Mering sings, "if your friends and your family/Sadly don’t stick around/It's by time you'll learn to get by". Other releases this year have also addressed similar concerns. The electronic group Matmos, who experiment with creating music with raw materials, created "Plastic Anniversary"using solely plastic objects. The band highlighted "the world’s relationship to plastic – a material whose durability, portability and longevity, while heralded by its makers, are the very qualities that make it a force of environmental devastation." This summer, The 1975 released a self-titled single featuring a speech by Thunberg, as she intoned "everything needs to change. And it has to start today. So, everyone out there, it is now time for civil disobedience. It is time to rebel." Conversely, Grimes announced the upcoming concept album "Miss Anthropocene", which will personify climate change as a supervillain, stating that "climate change sucks and no one wants to read about it because the only time you hear about it is when you’re getting guilted. I wanted to make climate change fun." This all-too-contemporary apocalyptic anxiety crystallises in Lana Del Rey’s "The Greatest" in comparison to Mering, Del Rey seems resigned to things continuing as they are towards destruction. The refrain of "the culture is lit, and if this is it, I had a ball" is characteristically deadpan, but "lit" functions with an obvious double purpose here too. Towards its muted conclusion, Del Rey softly sings a coda that seems like a news report from the end of the world: "Hawaii just missed a fireball/L.A. is in flames, it's getting hot/Kanye West is blond and gone/‘Life on Mars’ ain’t just a song/Oh, the livestream’s almost on". As Jenn Pelly remarked in a recent Pitchfork review, call her Doris Doomsday. It is a wild time to be alive, and contemporary music knows it. Expect more of the same in the next six to twelve months.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Can we trust Facebook to behave responsibly with our privacy?

Author: Sheila Donovan, PhD student Opinion: it is worth remembering that we have an universal, fundamental and legal right to privacy In 2010, Facebook boss and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg began the year by announcing that privacy was no longer the "social norm". The interpretation was that privacy was dead so get over it. The protection of privacy and personal data has been treated as an afterthought in the development of social media. It has been low on the priority list of tech whizz kids and internet entrepreneurs. But privacy goes beyond a "social norm". It is an universal, fundamental and legal right. It is laid down firmly in national and international law, in international and European instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. Although social norms may change, human rights remain in force. We can’t rid ourselves of a human right in order to create space for modern technology From RTÉ Radio 1's Marian Finucane Show, a discussion on the privacy practices of multinational tech firms  The right to privacy was first laid down in the 1890s by American Supreme Court judge, Justice Louis Brandeis, in response to the advent of photography. It was further acknowledged with the advent of the telephone. New technologies offer new opportunities, but also new challenges, forcing us to find new solutions. The alternative is to sacrifice privacy on the altar of technology in a manner similar to its sacrifice on the altar of industrialisation and totalitarianism in George Orwell's Ninety Eighty-Four novel. Fundamental rights are inalienable. Civil rights and freedoms are not negotiable. Rights are universal, temporary or for a select group of people. The internet age does not make fundamental rights redundant, we merely have to find new ways of applying them in practice. The right to privacy and protection of personal data is central to the exercise of other fundamental rights. The law doesn't protect data, it protects people. Interestingly, Zuckerberg is now announcing the need for privacy to take centre stage and is assuming a veneer of accountability without any substance. He is placing the ball firmly in the hands of governments and his main message during his visit to Dublin earlier this year was that governments need to be proactive in privacy matters. From RTÉ News, RTÉ Business editor Will Goodbody interviews Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg So why is the Facebook CEO so intent on putting the genie back into the bottle? Has he come to the realisation that his creation is out of control and untamed - or is the newly found privacy concern a smokescreen for something else? There can be little doubt that Facebook’s monopoly over millions of people’s personal data and the flow of online news and information poses a threat to democracy. Facebook’s management has repeatedly shown that it cannot be trusted to behave responsibly. Despite promises to the contrary (on the acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram), Facebook has amalgamated these products with Facebook. Appearing before the European Parliament in May, Zuckerberg was asked if he had lost control of his company, a question he has refused to answer. Despite his appearances before both the US Congress and the European Parliament to face questions about Facebook’s business practices, questions remain unanswered. There is a lack of clarity as to the extent of Facebook’s knowledge in matters pertaining to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the extent to which foreign interference (via Facebook) contributed to the election of Donald Trump in the US and to the outcome of the Brexit referendum. From RTÉ One's Six One News, Mark Zuckerberg apologises to EU Parliament members over Facebook data leak Facebook is expected to settle a $5 billion dollar fine arising from its user-privacy practices in Cambridge Analytica. This fine is expected to be accompanied by an obligation to create an internal privacy team for vetting major new products. This comes in the wake of very recent revelations that a technical error recently allowed children on a Facebook messaging app to interact with users who weren’t approved by their parents. Facebook Messenger Kids was launched in late 2017 as a stand-alone app that allows children between the ages of six and 12 to send messages and videos to contact their parents. However, Facebook’s design flaw allows thousands of children to join chats with unauthorised users. It's just the latest blip in a long list of the company's poor track record on privacy and security. This is happening in an era where significant fines are being imposed on social platforms such as YouTube over violations of children's privacy protections and TikTok over allegations that the social-media app illegally collected personal information from children. Protecting privacy means protecting democracy While technology brings new opportunities and knowledge, it completely overturns existing power structures. The tech revolution empowers and weakens people, but such revolutionary developments need to be accompanied by revolutionary solutions. A debate about the ethical dimension and implications of new technologies and the way to respond to the threats and negative side effects (without curtailing innovation) is urgently needed. Protection of privacy and personal data should be part and parcel of that ethical debate. These are fundamental elements of a free and democratic society. Protecting privacy means protecting democracy. Privacy means freedom of speech, conscience, assembly, security and safety. Privacy includes the right to experiment, to trial and error. And Zuckerberg needs to address the issue of privacy publicly, not behind closed doors.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Why are Ireland's Army Ranger Wing going to Mali?

Author: Professor Ray Murphy, Irish Centre for Human Rights Analysis: rhile members of the Irish special forces are more than able for any role they may be assigned, the conflict in Mali is volatile and unstable The Government has approved sending around 14 soldiers primarily from the special forces unit, the Army Ranger Wing (ARW), to participate in the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA. While the Defence Forces already contribute to an EU training mission there, this is not a combat role. In Mali, a protracted conflict remains ongoing, aggravated by the intervention of various armed groups and a power vacuum in the north and the centre of the country. With over 200 fatalities to date, this is considered one of the UN's most dangerous missions.   Ireland’s EU partners, especially France, have prioritised the mission in order to help limit large movements of people and terrorist activities in the region. As UN forces in Mali are considered a party to the conflict, this raises the question whether counter terrorism is something the Defence Forces should engage in under the guise of peacekeeping.  From RTÉ's Your Politics podcast, should Ireland send troops to Mali on the "most dangerous mission going"? Since 2012, Mali has faced a volatile crisis as armed groups, jihadists and transnational criminal networks, fight for control of trafficking routes in the north. The 2015 peace agreement remains fragile. At the same time, jihadist violence against security forces, including UN peacekeepers, is increasing and ethnic groups have exploited the terrorist threat to pursue local rivalries. The instability in Mali spills over into the whole Sahel region giving credence to the claim by Mali's prime minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga that it is "acting as a dam against the terrorist threat". To deal with the threat, the UN Security Council has approved MINUSMA to take robust and active steps to counter asymmetric attacks and carry out its mandate. Although not explicitly stated, this amounts to a de facto counter terrorism role, something a UN high level report on peacekeeping recommended the UN should not do.  From RTÉ Radio 1's This Week, Bamako-based journalist Katarina Höije on the security situation in Mali after militants attacked a UN base in 2015 Recent mandates adopted in respect of the peacekeeping missions in Mali and elsewhere constitute a doctrinal shift from traditional consent based peacekeeping towards stabilisation and peace-enforcement missions. The concept has not been without its critics. The problems often begins at the adoption of mandate stage. The strategic thinking behind this change is not clear - nor indeed are the implications for all UN peacekeeping operations and how they are perceived. The term stabilisation entered the lexicon of peace operations with the establishment of the NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia in 1995. Unlike peacekeeping, which assumes a peace to keep, stabilisation implies military operations to stabilise a situation. The UN adopted the term in Haiti and today considers stabilisation as part of the broader remit of UN multi-dimensional peacekeeping operations.   Moving away from traditional peacekeeping principles and methods threatens the core concept of UN peacekeeping A recent feature of peace operations is the intervention by multinational forces in pre-existing internal conflicts which usually involves the provision of support to national or government forces. MINUSMA in Mali is an example of what the 2015 High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations described as conflict management operations. These are intended to deter escalation and contain conflict while also protecting civilians and attempting to start a peace process. The reorientation of UN peacekeeping forces away from their traditional role towards conflict management has met with some resistance. According to the UN Secretary-General, a peacekeeping operation is not an army - nor is it a counter-terrorist force or a humanitarian agency. It is a tool to create the space for a nationally owned political solution. While many Security Council members share this view, the challenges of conflict management in practice are remoulding fundamental elements of contemporary UN peacekeeping. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, former Head of the Medical School at the Defence Forces and Deputy Commander of the Army Ranger Wing Cathal Berry claims members of the military are being treated with "contempt" MINUSMA's role in addressing terrorism in Mali has proved divisive. While the mission has endured attacks on its bases and numerous roadside bombs, the Security Council has not given it an explicit counterterrorism mandate. This reflects the lack of consensus in respect of the mission. However, the issue on the ground is more nuanced, as MINUSMA is clearly aligned to other forces conducting anti-terror operations. When the mandate is translated into operations on the ground, the de facto task is to limit terrorist action. In addition to the UN force, there is also a separate ongoing anti-insurgent operation which was established by the so called G5 Sahel leaders. This cross-border joint force is intended to fight terrorism, cross-border organised crime and human trafficking in the region. It involves five former French colonies that span the Sahel, including Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The relationship between the Joint Force and MINUSMA is governed by a Security Council resolution, under which the UN force provides operational and logistical support. A large French force is also deployed as part of Operation Barkhane and works alongside the separate G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force. The Irish Defence Forces already contribute to an EU training mission in Mali The Irish ARW are highly trained and more than able for any role they may be assigned. For example, they could make a significant contribution to force protection with the German contingent or intelligence gathering. However, any intelligence role is potentially problematic. Intelligence gathered will be shared and there will be no control over how it will be used. It may end up being part of an assessment before deciding whether to launch a drone or similar attack by other forces operating in Mali. French forces already have drones in the region and US intelligence is also operating there.  The recent communal violence in Mali is not isolated and it demonstrated that involving non-state ethnic groups in counter-insurgency is a flawed strategy. The circulation of weapons to non-state actors under the pretext of fighting the jihadists facilitated ethnically-based violence on an unprecedented scale in the region. READ: What's the outlook for Irish soldiers in the Golan Heights? Moving away from traditional peacekeeping principles and methods threatens the core concept of UN peacekeeping. It is something the US and France would like to see the UN do more of. It also potentially undermines efforts to promote and protect human rights. Limited mandates with realistic aims are preferable to counter terrorism operations under the guise of conflict management. Large scale open-ended deployments with full or quasi combat roles should not be allowed to become the norm and this form of conflict management by UN peacekeepers is not sustainable In the long term.  

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: What a pesticide like glyphosate is doing to your health

Author: Dr Alison Connolly, School of Physics Opinion: we need a more robust risk assessment for this chemical, especially in a country with a large agricultural sector like Ireland Glyphosate is the pesticidal ingredient in over 750 products, one of the most widely used herbicides in the world and recognised publicly due to the 'Roundup®' products. Glyphosate is used in agriculture, on genetically modified crops and as a pre-harvest drying treatment on certain food crops. It is also widely sprayed in parks, public spaces and commonly used in horticulture to control the growth of weeds and invasive species of plants, such as the Japanese Knotweed, a plant that poses a threat to the countryside and farms due to its rapid growth. The general public can be exposed to glyphosate through their diet from pesticide residues remaining on fruit, vegetables and grains. People can also be exposed to glyphosate by living with pesticide users or living in areas near farms and agricultural land. Ireland uses 4.5 million hectares for agriculture and a further 730,000 hectares for forestry, as well as the agricultural industry accounting for 8% of total employment. Furthermore, this is a common product that is used to protect against weed growth in home gardening. From RTÉ One News, California couple awarded more than $2bn in Roundup settlement Glyphosate, which has been on the market since the 1970s, has received much international attention since the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) classed glyphosate as a "Group 2A – probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015 and recently, due to a number of court settlements in relation to glyphosate. Many international agencies and government bodies differ in their classifications to that of IARC, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Health Canada, European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and others, which concluded that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization have stated that "glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet". Nevertheless, many countries have placed restrictions or bans on glyphosate use. Banning its use could result in an economic loss for the agricultural industry Irrespective of the previously mentioned bans, glyphosate is widely used in agriculture to replace mechanical weed control and reduce the need for intensive tillage, which can prevent soil erosion and nutrient leaching as well as saving energy, potentially reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Banning its use could result in an economic loss for the agricultural industry internationally and require more land to be cleared and additional water resources to meet the same level of production. Furthermore, the replacement for glyphosate could be another chemical, or it may be replaced with multiple chemicals to perform the same task, which could result in a 'cocktail' of chemical exposures. Governing agencies responsible for chemicals and pesticides have concluded that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans, especially at the low-level exposures expected of the general public. With this divergence of opinion, it is crucial to obtain human exposure data for glyphosate which can assist with a more robust risk assessment for this chemical, especially in a country with high agricultural practices such as Ireland. From RTÉ Prime Time, critics say glyphosate causes cancer, what could that mean for Irish farmers and gardeners? Despite widespread glyphosate use and that it has been on the market since the 1970s, there is limited human exposure data available for this chemical. Researchers in the School of Physics, NUI Galway (including the author), have been investigating glyphosate exposures in Ireland since 2014. The first study (2014 – 2018) investigated glyphosate exposures among professional gardeners and amenity workers using human biomonitoring, collecting and analysing urine samples for glyphosate and low-level glyphosate exposures were found. Internationally, this was the first human biomonitoring study of glyphosate exposures among amenity horticulturists.   Read: Why agriculture should clean up its act  Read: Bayer facing 18,400 US cases over glyphosate This research team also conducted a human biomonitoring study among Irish adults to estimate environmental glyphosate exposure levels. Of the 50 samples analysed, 10 (20%) of the participant's urine samples had detectable trace levels of glyphosate. The median concentration of the detectable data (10 samples) was 0.87 µg L-1, which is less than 1% of the EFSA Acceptable Daily Intake reference values. As there were a low number of samples analysed in this study, further research is required to ascertain glyphosate exposure levels in Ireland fully. A postdoctoral research fellowship has been awarded to Dr Alison Connolly (author) to conduct the IMAGE project: 'Ireland's bioMonitoring Assessment of Glyphosate Exposure’ collaboration with NUI Galway and the Institute for Prevention and Occupational Medicine (IPA) Bochum, Germany.  This follow-on study will evaluate glyphosate exposures among non-farm and farm families in Ireland. Each family will be asked to provide one urine sample from each parent and one child (between 6 – 17 years of age), which will be analysed for glyphosate and its main break-down product Aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA). From RTÉ Radio 1 News At One, Japanese knotweed is spreading rapidly in Ireland - affecting land price, planning permission, even mortgages. But do farmers even know?  This information and data produced from the IMAGE project would assist with conducting regulatory risk assessments by providing the required exposure data. Also, the study will highlight and promote the safe use of pesticides and the information collected can be used to identify potential sources and pathways of exposure. Foremost, this will be the first study to evaluate families’ exposure to glyphosate in Europe, which is extremely important as different family members, especially younger children, can have different exposure levels. The IMAGE project will not study the health effects of glyphosate but will be necessary for assessing the glyphosate exposure levels among the Irish public, information that can be used to support other research studies, policy-making and for regulatory risk assessments. 

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: The story of Irish mathematician George Gabriel Stokes

Author: Professor Michel Destrade, School of Mathematics, Statistics and Applied Mathematics, and Alastair Woods, DCU Analysis: it's 200 years this month since the acclaimed Irish mathematician was born in Co Sligo One of the greatest 19th-century mathematical physicists, George Gabriel Stokes was born in Skreen Rectory on the wild and remote Sligo coast on August 13th 1819. He went onto become a distinguished academic and public servant, spent a record 53 years in the most famous mathematical chair in the UK, was president of the Royal Society and was knighted by Queen Victoria. Yet up to now, few in Ireland have heard of him, despite the plethora of theorems, laws, principles and conjectures that are named after him in the physical sciences. While Belfast had Kelvin, Cork had Boole and Dublin had Hamilton to celebrate, there was no city or major university in Co Sligo to keep his memory alive. It is also true that all of his working life was spent in Britain though, like many emigrants, he returned every summer to visit his many relatives and even married an Irishwoman, Mary Robinson, daughter of the astronomer in Armagh Observatory. The youngest son of the Rector of Skreen, Stokes was educated first there and then in Dublin and Bristol. Apart from his elder brother, all the Stokes had attended Trinity College to become academics, physicians and clergymen in Ireland. Advised of his outstanding ability, his widowed mother found enough money from relatives to send him abroad. Stokes' main contributions were in continuum mechanics (particularly fluids) and optics He entered Pembroke College at Cambridge as an 18 year old and later graduated as "Senior Wrangler", the best mathematics student in the whole university. Eight years later, he became the 13th holder of the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics, one of the world's most prestigious academic positions and held by such luminaries as Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking. Besides his personal research, he made a major contribution to scientific administration in Britain during his 31 years as secretary of the Royal Society, deciding on the publication of papers and allocation of grants. Stokes became a towering figure of the Cambridge school of mathematical physics in the 19th century and carried out an extensive correspondence with major European scientists. He worked tirelessly in pure as well as applied mathematics and physics. His main contributions were in continuum mechanics (particularly fluids) and optics. He had an enquiring mind and made insightful forays in other fields. In fact, two of his most important discoveries were in physics, where he established the true origin of fluorescence (a term he coined),  and in medicine, where he showed that haemoglobin transported oxygen in the blood.  He kept professional links with Ireland, visiting regularly as a consultant to Howard Grubb, a  lensmaker in Rathmines. He also advised the Earl of Rosse on the optics of his great telescope, The Leviathan at Birr Castle, as well as his father-in-law Dr Robinson at Armagh Observatory.  He was also interested in railway bridge design, serving on the Commission of Inquiry into the collapse of the Tay Bridge in 1879, when a train and its 75 passengers fell to their deaths in the Scottish estuary. The Campbell Stokes recorder, a kind of sunshine recorder, invented by John Francis Campbell and later modified by George Gabriel Stokes. Image: Getty Images Stokes was a deeply religious person, highly interested in the links between science and faith, and very much involved in the Creation versus Evolution controversy which followed the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. Although his portraits show him as an austere figure, he was apparently highly generous with his time and advice, always happy to help others with their career and progress. He sometimes broke into poetical sentences in the middle of dense computations, remarking for example on "the surf which breaks upon the western coasts as the result of storms out in the Atlantic" in his paper "On the theory of oscillatory waves", undoubtedly a nod his childhood in Sligo. The legacy of his work is immense, especially in the mathematical formulation of the equations describing the motion of fluids. Famously, he realised that viscosity had to play a significant role in the motion of objects through fluids, or else they would not experience lift, so that birds (or now planes) would not be able to fly. He modified the so-called Euler equations of fluid motion to what is now called the Navier-Stokes equation (Claude Navier was a French civil engineer also working on this problem around the same time). This equation is very useful to compute for example the forces at play in tubes and pipes, but becomes extremely complicated to solve in general. In fact, so little is known about its possible solutions that the Clay Mathematics Institute listed it as one of its seven "Millenium Prize Problems" in 2000. The $1,000,000 prize for a solution is still on offer. 

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: The story of Ireland's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Author: Dr Gerard Madden, School of Humanities Analysis: the story of Irish CND shows the Cold War's impact on a peripheral non-nuclear country like Ireland In examining the impact of the Cold War on Irish society, the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is a striking example of how Irish activists responded to the conflict. Founded a year after the emergence of its British counterpart in 1957, CND was a small but visible presence in Irish society, organising protests outside the American, British and French embassies in Dublin and well as marches in Dublin, Belfast, Derry, Limerick and other urban centres. While the group's views chimed with a majority in Irish society, most Irish people abhorring the emergence and use of nuclear weapons, it fell victim to Cold War suspicions. In common with peace activists in Britain, the United States and other countries, it was accused by conservatives in Irish society of having communist and pro-Soviet sympathies. From RTÉ Archives, a 1979 epsiode of The Late Late Show Special devoted entirely to a debate about Ireland and nuclear power Formed in London in November 1957 with Canon John Collins as chairman, Bertrand Russell as president and Peggy Duff as organising secretary, CND had a major impact on the international peace movement. Its annual march from London to Britain's Atomic Research Information Department at Aldermaston, Berkshire, first held in 1958, was pivotal in transforming it into an internationally-known, popular campaign. CND soon attracted the attention of Irish peace activists. A group from Ireland was present at the first Aldermaston march, and an Irish CND organisation was set up shortly after. It attracted supporters of previous Irish peace groups and Ciarán MacAnally of the Irish Pacifist Movement was a founding member. Its other founders included prominent Dublin Quakers such as Lucy Kingston, also a well-known member of the Irish Pacifist Movement, as well as leftists such as the maritime historian and activist John De Courcy Ireland, the veteran republican socialist Peadar O'Donnell and the communist Roy Johnson. The involvement of prominent leftists in Irish CND brought the group to the attention of the Gardaí, and also attracted adverse comment in journals such as the Catholic magazine Christus Rex, which accused CND of having communist sympathies. Irish CND president John De Courcy Ireland Visiting CND delegations from Ireland joined Irish people in Britain in participating in the Irish contingent at Aldermaston annually. It also held protests in Ireland itself. Soon after the group's founding, Irish CND members protested outside the British and United States embassies in Merrion Square, Dublin, on 29 August 1958, demanding an immediate cessation of nuclear tests. In 1961, a Gael Linn newsreel captured a 200-strong group of Irish CND activists, predominantly students, marching to Dublin's American, British and French embassies. In 1962, a smaller CND demonstration gained national attention when Garda dogs were used at a march of around 60 people to the American embassy. A photograph of Noël Browne, a CND supporter, being accosted by a Garda dog occasioned considerable controversy when it appeared on the front page of the Irish Times. The American Ambassador Matthew McCloskey informed Washington that the 'scuffle received wide publicity and thus achieved presumed purpose organisers'. From RTÉ Archives, an episode of Newsbeat from 1966 looks at plans to build a bunker in Galway with room for 55 people in the event of a nuclear attack - but who should the chosen ones be? Irish CND attracted police attention on both sides of the border. An August 1958 Garda report on the organisation noted that 'practically all the members of the committee had come under notice previously for their efforts in the Irish Pacifist League, and some of them are also active members of the Irish Workers' League'. In Northern Ireland, the Royal Ulster Constabulary kept a close watch on the group. Like their counterparts in Dublin, they were attentive to the presence within CND of known communists such as Seán Murray, a veteran member of the Communist Party in Belfast. The Irish CND appealed for support from both Catholic and Protestant clerics. At first glance, its views chimed with those of the Irish Catholic Church, as leading clergymen such as Bishop Michael Browne of Galway and prominent clerical periodicals such as the Irish Ecclesiastical Record were critical of the emergence of nuclear weapons internationally. From RTÉ Archives, a RTÉ News report on an anti-nuclear march In Dublin, October 1983  However, many within the Church, including John Charles McQuaid, the influential Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, were suspicious of peace and nuclear disarmament groups as they felt they were controlled by communists. Accordingly, McQuaid rejected an offer to meet with a delegation of CND members, stating he was already familiar with the organisation and its aims. He also successfully dissuaded fellow members of the hierarchy, such as Cardinal D'Alton of Armagh and Bishop Lucey of Cork, from meeting with peace activists. Protestant clergymen, meanwhile, expressed disparate attitudes towards the Irish CND. Ireland's Quakers were naturally supportive, given that The Reverend Alex Watson of Lambeg and Seymour Hill Presbyterian Church in Belfast was an early and outspoken supporter of the group, and became chair of CND in Northern Ireland. Other Protestant clergymen expressed anti-communist suspicions of CND paralleling those held by McQuaid. The Reverend Albert McElroy, a non-subscribing Presbyterian based in Belfast, claimed during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis that CND was a 'tool for communists'. Irish CND fell into abeyance later in the 1960s, and was revived again in the early 1980s as the threat of nuclear war between the two Cold War blocs reasserted itself again. Figures such as Peadar O’Donnell and John De Courcy Ireland were involved in the new group, providing continuity with the original incarnation of CND. The group remains a fascinating example of the Cold War’s impact on Ireland, and shows how social movements focusing on peace and nuclear disarmament exhibited themselves even in a peripheral non-nuclear country.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Boris Johnson, Winston Churchill and the United States of Europe

Author: Professor Daniel Carey, Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Opinion: it's instructive to look at the various speeches and articles by Johnson's hero Churchill on Britain's place in Europe Much has been made of Boris Johnson's Churchillian self-conception. His rotundity, irreverence and maverick qualities ostensibly qualify him for the comparison. Now that he has ascended to the premiership, the connection is more immediate, even if the compatibility remains debatable. Johnson’s great political gambit has been his support for Brexit and his leadership (along with Michael Gove) of the campaign to leave the European Union. But it is here that his supposed ties with Churchill are at their most contentious. As Johnson himself has admitted, Churchill was hardly an enemy of European integration. Johnson confronted the issue in his 2014 book The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History. It's an often puerile and certainly self-serving volume, which includes, for example, the line "these days it is probably fair to say that thrusting young Tories—and especially males—will regard Winston Churchill as a sort of divinity." Where the book gets interesting is the chapter on Churchill the European where Johnson reviews the often challenging evidence of a pro-unification stance taken by his hero. As early as 1930, Churchill supported the concept of a European federation, after touring the United States and seeing how open borders might work. In 1944, in the midst of the war, he proposed a United States of Europe and reaffirmed the ideal in a famous speech in Zurich in 1946. He endorsed the formation of the Council of Europe in 1949 as a first step in this process (the Council still celebrates him as an inspirational figure). Boris Johnson explains how to speak like Winston Churchill Johnson concludes: "So much for the case that Churchill was a visionary founder of the movement for a united Europe. It contains a very large dollop of truth. It is also true that he believed Britain should play a leading role in this process of unification." But he also maintains that this conclusion only holds "If you close one eye, and you listen with only half an ear". The mitigating factors in the portrait of Churchill as European integrationist are instructive as they speak to a double-mindedness in British conservative thinking on the question. As Johnson puts it, Churchill "had an idea of Britain that transcended Europe". This line of interpretation has validity, though we are better off turning to a less partisan source to appreciate it. The late journalist Hugo Young (no friend of the Tories) came to a similar conclusion about Churchill in his incisive book This Blessed Plot: Britain and Europe from Churchill to Blair (1998). He notes that the mythology of the "sceptered isle" (Shakespeare’s line in Henry IV), bit deep with figures like Churchill. The key point is that Churchill did not see Britain as joining the unified Europe that he projected and would instead exist outside the structures of co-operation that he deemed so beneficial to the war-torn nations of the Continent. As Churchill wrote in 1938 in a News of the World article entitled "Why Not 'The United States of Europe'", "we are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not compromised. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed." Winston Churchill's United States of Europe speech in Zurich in September 1946 As leader of the opposition following his removal from office in the general election that followed the war, Churchill took a pro-European stance. But when he became prime minister again in 1951 he wrote a minute stating that "our first object is the unity and consolidation of the British Commonwealth…Our second, the ‘fraternal association’ of the English-speaking world’ and third, United Europe, to which we are a separate, closely- and specially-related friend and ally". What was Britain’s separate identity and destiny? Young maintains that Churchill nurtured the idea that Britain would remain a world power after the war, on a par with the United States and the Soviet Union, an illusion that must soon have withered. But it was more than that. Another pull was in the direction of the empire, and another still derived from his strong conception of the English-speaking peoples as politically conjoined. An axis would unite Britain, the commonwealth, and above all America through ties of language and value. In the moment of Brexit, the same illusions are being harboured of a global Britain: resuming frictionless ties with the commonwealth, making trade deals with the US at will, charting a path for itself that gives it renewed stature uncompromised by its current subordinate position in the EU. The US may be out of reach in terms of equal pegging, as perhaps is Russia for different reasons, but the UK could at least, so the thinking goes, assert its position relative to the EU itself. From RTÉ Radio 1's History Show, historian Conor Mulvagh on Éamon de Valera's reaction to Winston Churchill's victory speech after the Second World War in which he excoriated de Valera for his conduct during the war Where Ireland fits into this picture is of course one of the unanswered questions. Bland reassurances from Johnson are hardly likely to do the job when he is in political survival mode. As for Churchill, he was a supporter of Home Rule. He wrote in 1911 that the goal of British statesmanship must be "to federate the Empire, but to draw nearer in bonds of friendship and association to the United States. The road to the unity of the English-speaking races is no doubt a long one…But it is an open road, and an Irish parliament, loyal to the Crown, and free to make the best of the Emerald Isle, is assuredly the first milestone upon it". In his History of the English Speaking Peoples (1956–58), Churchill quotes Wellington’s stern warning of the threat of civil war in Ireland and the need to avoid it. Churchill had a greater sense of the Irish situation and a more urgent view of the need for European peace. The Churchillian greatness that Johnson craves is likely to end up as so much posturing at home and abasement abroad before Trump, whose capacity to sense weakness is unlikely to fail him in any negotiations with the UK. Johnson may end up looking less like the bronze bust of Churchill sported in the Oval Office and more like Marina Hyde’s description of him as a flytipped sofa, cast aside by history.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Who wants to be a citizen scientist?

Author: Ann O'Brien, Declan Devane and Elaine Finucane Report: a new online project gives people the chance to be a scientist from the comfort of their own home Have you ever wondered if eating cheese really does give you nightmares? Does wearing your coat inside the house reduce its ability to keep you warm outside? Does taking a walk at lunchtime make us more productive in the afternoon? Or perhaps you have a question of your own If so, your time has come because you too can become a scientist this summer. The People's Trial is an online project that gives you the chance to be a scientist and together with researchers create a fun, online randomised trial from the comfort of your own home. This initiative will facilitate the creation of a randomised trial, created for the public by the public.  So what is a randomised trial and why is it important? Randomised trials have been set out in a very structured and planned way to make fair comparisons between treatments, to find out which is best. It is a type of research study that compares groups of people receiving different interventions and looks at which of these improves health outcomes the most. An intervention is anything that aims to make a change to someone’s health. Providing a counselling service, giving a drug, or giving people information and training are all described as interventions. It could also be eating cheese, wearing your coat or taking a walk at lunchtime. The decision about which group a person joins in a randomised trial is random, which means that a person is put into one of the intervention groups by chance. While "facts" about health are everywhere and the "Dr Google" approach can produce any kind of information, most of us need help to figure out which information is reliable. The internet has opened a new world of possibilities; it helps us learn new things and can offer the opportunity to do nice stuff.  The People’s Trial is funded by the Health Research Board through the Health Research Board-Trials Methodology Research Network HRB-TMRN and aims to enhance public understanding of randomised trials by facilitating the involvement of the public in the trial research process. This means you can be involved in all steps of the trial process from question prioritisation through intervention and outcome selection to randomisation and data collection to dissemination.  We have gathered together an exciting line up of research experts from all over the world who are eager to engage with the public in trials. People who participate in the People’s Trial can be confident that their opinions and experience of The People’s Trial will influence how future trials engage with the public. People are at the centre of randomised trials and the best research responds to questions identified by people who have lived experience and address real people’s needs.  The People’s Trial is a novel project that aims to stretch the boundaries of participation in clinical research; it’s an experiment to discover better ways of involving the public into the research process using the internet. For the first time, researchers will hand over control of a randomised trial to the public to answer a question of their choosing, in the way they want.  Finding ways for people to have their say in a meaningful way is at the centre of The People’s Trial. While people are often asked to contribute ideas online, the People’s Trial aims to enable shared decision making online leading to an exciting exchange of knowledge.  By taking part, you will learn about randomised trial research by actually doing it. Submit a question for the trial and we will work together to decide the question for the People’s Trial. Together we will explore the stages of designing the People’s Trial using the different types of online participation and interaction that will include live online video events and online decision making.  You can find out more information on our website or email info@thepeoplestrial.ie with any questions   

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Why aren't prenuptial agreements legally enforceable in Ireland?

Author: Dr Lucy-Ann Buckley, School of Law Opinion: divorce may be legal in Ireland yet courts cannot be required to enforce prenups as this would be unconstitutional Recent recommendations by the Law Society that prenuptial agreements (commonly known as prenups) should be legally enforceable may have caused some public surprise. Why aren’t prenups enforceable already? In fact, there has been a prolonged media campaign on this issue – farming organisations, in particular, have strongly campaigned for legal change.  Prenups were traditionally regarded as encouraging marital breakdown and against public policy. Spouses could make a separation agreement where they had already separated, but they could not agree the terms of their divorce before they ever got married. However, some kinds of prenups are enforceable. For instance, spouses can agree in advance to waive their statutory inheritance rights, and civil partners can make binding agreements governing their financial relationship. The traditional public policy view of prenups has been undermined by legal changes in recent decades. Divorce is now constitutionally permitted and legally regulated, so why does Ireland still not enforce prenups?  From RTÉ Radio 1's Countrywide, a 2013 report on the views about pre-nups within the Irish farming community The Constitution of Ireland provides that a court can only grant a divorce if it is satisfied that "proper" provision has been made for both spouses and their children. The Supreme Court has emphasised that whether provision is "proper" (that is, if it is fair and appropriate) is a matter for the courts. The legislature cannot interfere with this, although it can (and does) specify factors the court should consider in exercising its discretion. These include the duration of the marriage, the needs, resources and earning capacity of the parties, the parties’ contributions to the marriage, whether there are dependent children, and the terms of a separation agreement. Courts are not currently required to consider the terms of a prenup, but the legislation does not prevent it either. Indeed, a recent High Court decision suggested that judges might have regard to prenups in some cases. However, courts cannot be required to enforce prenups, as this would be unconstitutional. Accordingly, while a Ministerial Study Group recommended in 2007 that the divorce legislation should explicitly require courts to have regard to prenups, it did not recommend that they should be automatically enforceable. The Study Group’s recommendations were never implemented and the debate continues. It is often argued that legally recognising prenups would respect the parties’ wishes and reduce legal costs. There have certainly been cases where family assets have been significantly depleted due to prolonged litigation about financial matters. Other arguments include the importance of keeping an asset like a family farm within the family or preserving its economic viability by preventing division. However, there are also dark references to supposed "gold-diggers", commonly assumed to be women, who make off with large portions of their husbands’ property after very brief marriages. This theme has featured in the campaign of some farming organisations even though – as noted above – Irish law does not give divorcing spouses automatic property rights and any financial orders will depend on numerous factors.  From RTÉ 2fm's Dave Fanning Show in 2015, family law specialist Paula Duffy on the situation with prenups in Ireland There are also good arguments against upholding prenups – or at least against applying them automatically. Prenups are made before marriage, but may not be applied until many years later. Circumstances may have completely changed and an agreement that was originally reasonable could now be completely unfair. There may have been unfair emotional pressure or one party may have been at a disadvantage of some kind while negotiating. These issues can lead to litigation, so prenups do not necessarily reduce costs. Research also suggests that people who intend to get married are often unduly optimistic – for instance, they may assume a prenup will never be enforced.  However, there are also broader social policy concerns. Research shows that women generally find it significantly harder than men to recover financially after divorce. Women tend to be the ones who take time out of work for childcare, and consequently they lose out on salary, promotions, pensions, skills development and employability. This isn’t just a personal choice – quite apart from gendered social expectations, Irish employment law gives very little paid parenting leave to men (even women have only a social welfare entitlement, if anything). It should not be forgotten that a key aim of the current system of financial provision on divorce was to rectify gross unfairness towards women, who could previously be left with almost nothing after years caring for a family. Prenups are problematic to the extent that they undermine this legislative aim. Many of these concerns can be addressed to some degree. The 2007 Study Group recommended various safeguards, such as independent legal advice for both parties, as did the recent Law Society report. Other jurisdictions have additional safeguards Ireland might learn from. READ: Do you take your sister-in-law as your lawfully wedded wife? However, one important protection relied on by the Study Group has been considerably weakened. They assumed that the constitutional requirement of proper provision meant that prenups could always be modified by the courts to prevent injustice, but this may no longer be the case. Courts have increasingly emphasised the importance of upholding separation agreements on divorce, with very limited exceptions, and the same approach might also be applied to prenups. However, the separation agreement cases do suggest a court might still modify a prenup if either party was left in need.  Will Ireland legislate to recognise prenups? It appears the government is still holding fire. Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has indicated that he intends to wait for the Law Reform Commission to make recommendations, which may not happen until 2021. Watch this space…

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: The importance of porn literacy for young Irish people

Author: Kate Dawson, School of Psychology Opinion: there are many reasons why young people in Ireland watch porn, so how can we support them in navigating their online sexual lives? Irish people are among the largest users of online porn in the world (sixth to be precise). Our recent research shows that Irish young people also see porn for the first time at an early age: 58% of young men report seeing porn for the first time under the age of 13. The Irish also watch porn on a regular basis, with 70% of young men and 15% of women watching porn every week.  People in Ireland watch porn for several reasons. First, and perhaps most unsurprisingly, they do so to get turned on. They mainly do this alone, but 22% also report having watched porn with their partners. Women watch porn out of curiosity more than men and 50% of both men and women say that they have used porn to learn about sex. Porn is informative in a few ways. It provides detailed information about a range of sexual behaviours, close-up footage of genitalia, examples of sexual functioning and an awareness that sex can be pleasurable. However, these representations can be limited and often fail to represent realistic sexual encounters. From RTÉ Radio 1's Ray D'Arcy Show, Kate Dawson discusses her study which tracked young people's engagement with pornography However, mainstream porn can be a pretty bad educator related to sexual safety. Condom use, sexual negotiation and verbal consent communication are seldom portrayed. Certain behaviours, which may require exercising additional sensitivity or caution, are often represented as being easy. The primary concern of parents, educators and policy makers in this regard is that young people will think that porn is a realistic portrayal of real-world sex and seek to replicate it. We know from research done by our colleagues at Zagreb University that perceived porn realism is highest during early adolescence. According to findings from the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children study, this is also a time where Irish young people are beginning to become sexually active. It is therefore very clear that there is a real need for youth to be equipped with information about pornography and be supported in developing skills necessary to critique sexual representations in media so that they can make healthy and informed decisions about their sexual lives. Porn literacy, defined as "the ability to deconstruct and critique sexual messages in pornography", has been suggested as a potential resolution in this context. A key component of porn literacy is that it should provide alternative points of view and the opportunity to discuss such beliefs in a safe and non-judgemental environment. From RTÉ Radio 1's Pantisocracy, Taryn De Vere, Richie Sadlier, Shawna Scott and Dr. Paul Ryan discuss sex and the Irish with Panti To date, discussions on what porn literacy should entail tend to focus on the negative implications of porn use. This was echoed in reports from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills on how to improve relationships and sexuality education in schools suggesting that we talk about the risks of porn use. But there are a number of reasons why we should not only talk about the risks. Allowing for discussions on the positive, negative and neutral outcomes can help young people to understand how personal beliefs vary about the appropriateness of sexual practices seen in porn. Having this knowledge can help young people to become critical thinkers. Our research which explored young people’s recommendations for porn literacy highlighted the following core constructs that should be explored in porn literacy educational initiatives: Reduce shame and increase awareness of porn use First, porn literacy should aim to reduce shame around porn use. Only by reducing shame can we begin to have conversations about how porn impacts our understanding of sexual consent, body image and self-esteem. By reinforcing stigma and shame (saying porn is bad, don’t watch it), we close off conversations about porn, and prevent those who experience problems with porn from seeking help. From RTÉ 2fm's Eoghan McDermott Show, Dr Phillipa Kaye discusses the effects of porn on teenage mental health  Body and genital Image Some believe that porn provides varied representations of body types, but others argue that it often portrays a standard of beauty, particularly related to genital aesthetic (larger-than-average penises, and symmetrical vulvas with small labia). Porn literacy should facilitate the exploration of both points of view and present detailed illustrations of varied body types to broaden peoples understanding of normal bodies. Discuss sexual communication and consent Porn rarely portrays examples of verbal consent, in other words, we rarely see porn actors discussing or negotiating sex. Porn literacy should facilitate discussions on why there is absence of sexual communication in porn, and facilitate the development of skills related to sexual communication, promote resilience in being able to accept sexual rejection, and identify consent or a lack thereof. Sexual violence Although representations of rape and sexual assault in internet porn are rare, sexual coercion, token resistance, and rough sex are commonly depicted. Porn literacy should facilitate the exploration of these topics, why some portrayals may be problematic and how such representations should differ from real-life consensual relationships. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Carl O'Brien from The Irish Times and Dr Karl Kitching from UCC discuss the findings of a major government review of sex education Real sex Porn literacy should discuss the realities of first sexual relationships. Providing young people with information about realistic expectations related to sex can help them make decisions about their sexual lives that coincide with their own values and desires. Sex can be funny and embarrassing too, and incorporating humour into these conversations will certainly lighten the atmosphere! Pleasure and orgasm Some porn prioritises male pleasure over female pleasure. It also portrays sexual pleasure as easily achievable and that every sexual encounter will feel good. Challenging such representations is important for youth regarding their sexual self-esteem and confidence.   The parental view Through interview discussions with parents we identified some core messages that parents believed it was their role to share with their child: (1) acknowledge porn’s existence; (2) acknowledge that a child’s curiosity about pornography and sexuality is normal; (3) create awareness of the pornography industry and its scripted nature; (4) the differences between fantasy and reality in how pornography portrays sex and (5) children and teenagers should be supported in asking questions about pornography and to be aware of supports.  From RTÉ Radio 1's Ray D'Arcy Show, researcher Caroline West from DCU and occupational therapist and sexuality educator Sarah Sproule discuss how to talk to your children about sex Simply talking about the unrealistic nature of pornography was believed not to be enough and that young people should also be taught about the realities of sex. This is illustrated by one parent's comment: "sex can be disastrous as well. We have all had bad sex; you never have bad sex education. Well, you have bad sex education, but never education about bad sex" (Mother).  As with any sex education programme that provides comprehensive information about a range of sexual practices and identities, not all of which will be used by every individual. Similarly, with pornography, it may provide information about a range of things, individuals have the right to explore such behaviours at an appropriate age, if they choose to, but should not feel the need to replicate these behaviours in order to have a fulfilled and satisfying sexual relationship. People should be equipped with the skills to make their own decisions about their current or future sexual lives and have the confidence to communicate what with their partner. Educators, parents and policy makers all have a role to play in supporting young people in this regard.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

How the Catholic Church impacted on the Troubles

Author: Dr Maggie Scull, Irish Research Council postdoctoral fellow at the Moore Institute Analysis: there were widespread misunderstandings about the power, control and influence of the Catholic Church during the conflict Perhaps one of the most iconic images of the Troubles features Fr Edward Daly. Then a priest at St Eugene’s Cathedral, Daly waves a white handkerchief as he helps to carry the body of injured teenager Jackie Duddy on Bloody Sunday. This image broadcast around the world helped to explicitly connect the Catholic Church with the 30-year conflict in which individual priests, women religious, and bishops helped to advocate for peace. At the same time, restrictive Catholic Church policies and a more conservative hierarchy limited its effectiveness as a peacemaker and heightened tensions between communities. Misunderstandings around the power, control and influence of the Catholic Church over its parishioners abounded throughout conflict. Sectarian ideas, including people voting however their priest told them continued to be spread and, in extreme cases, fear-mongering centered on the power of the Pope who was slandered as the "whore in Rome". From RTÉ Archives, a RTÉ News report on Ian Paisley heckling Pope John Paul II at the at European Parliament in Strasbourg in 1988 Many outside Ireland considered religion the main cause of the unrest. Throughout the conflict, British government officials regularly met with religious leaders to ask their opinions on policy initiatives and to get the mood of the people. British Catholics and Protestants alike wrote to Catholic bishops demanding action to end the violence. When their efforts failed, it was thought a lack of effort on the bishop’s part rather than a lack of influence was to blame.  The Vatican’s response to the conflict was limited. The exception was Pope John Paul II's much-celebrated three-day visit to the Republic of Ireland in September 1979. Crucially, though, the Pope did not cross into Northern Ireland for fears of his safety. Addressing a crowd of 250,000 at Drogheda, just 30 miles from the border, the Pope proclaimed: "now I wish to speak to all men and women engaged in violence. I appeal to you, in language of passionate pleading. On my knees I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace."  During the 1981 Hunger Strike in Long Kesh/Maze Prison, the Pope sent an envoy, Fr John Magee, later bishop of Cloyne, to speak with lead hunger striker Bobby Sands and British government officials. Neither of these papal interventions proved effective. From RTÉ Archives, Kieron Wood reports on Monsignor John Magee becoming Bishop of Cloyne in 1987  The issue of excommunication became a sticking point for Catholic bishops. Officially excluding someone from participation in the sacraments and services of the Christian Church was not common practice in the modern era. However, Catholic bishops faced regular questions from the British media asking why IRA members had not been excommunicated. Excommunicating IRA members could isolate sections of the Catholic community who felt the IRA provided protection from perceived corrupt police and British Army forces. Equally, those who conflated the conflict with religion viewed the Church’s failure to excommunicate republican paramilitaries as compliance and support for violence. Catholic bishops rarely publicly spoke about excommunication but, in later years, some reflected that IRA members effectively excommunicated themselves by their violent actions. This reluctance to tackle the excommunication issue led to missed opportunities for ecumenism, which were further aggravated by the Church’s insistence on segregated education and the 1970 Vatican apostolic letter Matrimonia Mixta emphasising that children born of "mixed" marriages should be raised Catholic. These policies and responses increase community tensions and acted as barriers to integration.  Some Catholic priests and many Protestant clergy did act as negotiators between militant republicans and their political adversaries, whether they were constitutional nationalists or members of the British government. Priests were supposed to embody neutrality and had historically adjudicated between different Irish groups. Priests acted as mediators between the Officials and Provisionals in the early 1970s and again between the Provisionals and the British government resulting in the 1974-75 ceasefire. From RTÉ One's One News, a report on the death of Fr Alec Reid in 2013 During the late 1980s and early 1990s, priests like Fr Alec Reid and Fr Gerry Reynolds provided rooms in the Clonard Monastery for Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and the SDLP’s John Hume to meet privately. At the same time, Fr Denis Faul continued to publicly denounce the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein. A carrot and stick approach emerged among the Catholic clergy. Revelations of clerical child abuse in the 1990s rocked the Catholic Church. The Fr Brendan Smyth case was the first of many accusations which led to damaging cover-ups and revealing a Church-wide problem and undermining its moral authority when attempting to mediate the conflict. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

What time is it? A brief history of time management

Author: Professor Kieran Conboy Analysis: stress and anxiety over how we manage our time has been a problem since, well, the beginning of time   Time is our most prized asset, illustrated by its status as the most commonly used noun in the English language. Once gone, it cannot be retrieved. Unlike other possessions, we can't earn, borrow or steal it. Yet we are increasingly dependent on technology to control, structure and manage this most precious asset. Our every move is dictated by digital calendars and our time spent responding to over-flowing email inboxes. Research shows productivity apps and tools promise to manage our time more effectively, but have little or no impact. We are technologically tethered, iPhone addicted. Even when at rest, social media, gaming apps and other invasive technologies regain control of our time, teasing us to watch one more clickbait ad or play one last game. Although contemporary debate often centres on the negative impact of technology on our time, this is not new. It has been happening since historical records began. Before engaging in a tirade against modern technology, it is worth reflecting on the struggle between technology and its (in)ability to help us measure and manage our time. The first time management technologies Sun-dials were our first technological step towards structuring our time. They originated in Egypt circa 3,500 B.C., and simply depicted time based on the sun’s shadow as it tracked across the sky. As sunrise and sunset varies each day, the first limitation of sun-dials in co-ordinating and managing people's time was that an "hour" was never the same two days in a row. Given Ireland’s latitude for example, an hour would have ranged from 38 minutes in winter to 85 minutes at the height of summer. This suited agriculture and other sun-dependent tasks, but not society in general. You're definitely late for that meeting now There were also days - and weeks - where rain and cloud severed the link between sun and dial, and so the ability to tell the time, let alone manage it ,was lost. When asked the time in weather-beaten countries such as Ireland, it isn’t ideal to say "I don’t know, but the dial said 2 o’clock three weeks ago". In 1,500BC, water and sand clocks emerged as humanity's next attempt at time management. Based on measuring flow from or to a container (similar to egg-timers), these were an effective means of organising short events such as sermons, lectures, and torture. However, the cost and scale of these contraptions (Su Sung’s famous water clock was 40 feet high) put them beyond the reach of most towns and so were only common amongst aristocracy. The small fact that water freezes made their use seasonal at best. The bells, the bells... Around 1200 AD, Benedictine monks were the first humans to sever the ancient link between time and nature. They managed time in the belief that obsessive adherence to monastic order was needed to overcome "the enemy idleness" and chaos that underpinned the Roman Empire’s demise. They developed the verge escapement, a mechanism that regulates time through pendulum weights and later coiled springs. It used bells to communicate each hour and to guide all aspects of life from 6am to 9pm, mainly consisting of prayer and work. From RTÉ Archives, a RTÉ News report by Liam Ó Muirthile on the restorarion of the Shandon bells in Cork in 1987 Unfortunately, these mechanisms were highly inaccurate, often 15 minutes early or late. As a result, dozens of bells would ring out across each European city in a continuous cacophony of noise from a quarter to until a quarter past each hour. Nobody could co-ordinate or organise their time around bells that often rang for as long as they were silent. The noise was so incessant that King Charles V of France decreed in 1370 that all Parisian bells must synchronise with those of the palace. The need to synchronise still persists today: until the Notre Dame fire in April, the cathedral’s 13 tonne bell "Emmanuel" would ring five seconds before every other to mark major Parisian events. Time at sea One of the most glorious achievements of time technology came in the 18th century when clocks provided a a way for sailors to accurately calculate and manage their location at sea and thus save thousands of lives. The problem was so difficult that a £20,000 cash prize was offered (equivalent to about £1.5m today). Finding a pendulum clock that could maintain such accuracy while withstanding a range of temperatures, the rocky motion of a ship and exposure to storms and winds was a very difficult challenge. A clock’s deviation of even an hour after months at sea may throw a location calculation out by 400 miles, and often resulted in many fatalities. From RTÉ Radio 1's Ray D'Arcy Show, an interview with the first two voices of the speaking clock in Ireland, Francis and Antoinette In more recent history, the most significant time management innovations have come during the darkest periods. The factories of the industrial revolution in England and New England are often vilified for the rise of clock-time and the resulting focus on mass production, standardisation and exploitation of labour. However, as Caitlin Rosenthal explains, it was actually the savage brutality of slavery throughout the American colonies that brought the most significant time-based techniques for workforce organisation. The Nazi movement had a similar impact. The reason Spain’s timezone aligns with Belgrade and not the UK and countries of similar longitude is due to the Nazi regime and not the relaxed Spanish attitude as is often believed. The alleged negative ramifications for Spanish citizens include sleep-deprivation and lower productivity. Indeed, the Spanish government are still struggling with proposals to change working hours and breaks to accommodate this temporal misalignment between Spanish clocks and the rhythm of nature. What's the time now? A second is now defined as 9,192,631,770 cycles of the radiation that gets an atom of cesium to vibrate between two states. It is a measure so precise it can be used to detect miniscule variations in the earth’s rotation, and enables things we take for granted such as GPS and mobile communication. It is all the more surprising then that we suffer from so many technology-driven time management issues in a time of such technological proficiency. The Amazonian Amondawa tribe have no concept of time not time-related language However it would be wrong to think that everyone today operates on similar levels of temporal specificity. Take the Amazonian Amondawa tribe for example. First discovered in 1986, they use no technology to structure or regulate their time. In fact, they have no abstract concept of time, nor time-related linguistic structures. There is no word for "time", or periods such as "month" or "year". We stress about "being late", "such little time", "working long hours" and "watching the clock", while no such constructs exist in Amondawa. Research has shown this is in no way due to cognitive limitations of Amondawas, but because the need to organise themselves within temporal structures simply never emerged. Many may feel that going "full Amondawa" is impossible in Western civilisation. But for those who do, Mark Boyle’s The Way Home provides a reflective attempt to "unplug from the machine-world", to extricate from clock-time and instead live by the temporal rhythms of nature that every technology since the sun-dial has attempted to over-ride.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Why periods matter when it comes to females in sport

Author: By Úna Newell and Georgie Bruinvels, Orreco Analysis: elite female athletes and coaches are working with the menstrual cycle to gain a performance edge Women’s sport is on the rise. However, when you mention menstruation to a lot of people, male and female, they still get uncomfortable. They think it is all about blood loss and pain and that it is too personal a subject to talk about openly. But elite female athletes and coaches across the globe are starting to work with the menstrual cycle to gain a performance edge. The female athlete We all know that physiologically women are different to men. But there has been a lack of research historically on female athletes in the area of high performance and, as a result, training practices for men and women have been very similar, if not the same. It is an issue that many elite sportswomen have spoken out about recently. Studies are now gradually emerging to provide a better understanding of the menstrual cycle and highlight how exercise and nutrition can be altered to advance female athletic performance and reduce injury risk, and, crucially, on how women need to train as women and not as men. It’s not just about periods When talking about the menstrual cycle, the key point is that it’s not just about those few days around menstruation – it is about the whole cycle. This is because the primary female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, rise and fall throughout the entire menstrual cycle. As these hormones travel in the blood, they can affect everything from how athletes respond to training to how they recover and even to how their bodies metabolise or breakdown food for energy. From RTÉ The W podcast, the story of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 so far with RTÉ soccer analysts Lisa Fallon and Louise Quinn and RTÉ Sport's Elaine Buckley and Jacqui Hurley For example, in the first half of the cycle, as oestrogen rises, females are more likely to get the most benefit from a strength or high-intensity training session as the repair of muscle tissue is thought to be better at this time, and energy and strength levels rise to a peak. This changes in the second half of the cycle when progesterone levels start to ramp up, affecting other things like core body temperature, muscle breakdown, resting heart rate, breathing rate and insulin resistance. Lowering injury risk Research is also indicating that there are certain points in the menstrual cycle where the risk of soft tissue injuries may be increased due to the effects of hormone fluctuations on ligaments, muscles and tendons. For example, the time most associated with an increase in risk of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, the key stabilising ligament in the knee, is when oestrogen levels peak, just prior to ovulation. This is because high oestrogen levels are linked with increases in joint laxity and changes in neuromuscular control. This means that the stability of the knee may alter and the muscles surrounding them may activate differently. It does not mean that an athlete should stop training, but, instead, by tracking and monitoring their cycle, they canadapt their preparation, training and nutrition in advance to lower the risk of ACL injuries during this window.  "How do we bridge the gap between the elite and the amateur environment to optimise female performance?" A barrier to performance? Away from the elite environment, many exercising women say the menstrual cycle continues to act as a barrier to achieving optimal performance. The results of a global survey (of over 14,000 women) conducted by Irish sports and data science company Orreco in partnership with Strava, the social network for athletes, and St Mary’s University Twickenham revealed that: · 74% reported their menstrual cycle negatively affected their performance; · 75% had never discussed their menstrual cycle with their coach (this rises to 82% in Ireland and the UK)' · 72% received no education regarding exercise and their menstrual cycle The lack of discussion in the wider domain and the lingering sense of taboo and embarrassment around what is, in fact, a natural process is often driven by the fact that there is very little education available on how the menstrual cycle relates to exercise and well-being. So how do we bridge the gap between the elite and the amateur environment to optimise female performance? It is not about training harder, it is about training smarter and working with your natural physiology, not against it At Orreco, we have been working with world-class female athletes for nearly two decades and have research partnerships with the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at NUI Galway and scientists at St Mary’s University and the University of Houston in Texas. As part of our female athlete programme, we developed FitrWoman, a free app to help active women track their period and tailor their training and nutrition to their menstrual cycle, so they know when to push harder, when to prioritise recovery, and how to maximise every training session. We have also introduced FitrCoach, an education and monitoring platform for coaches and their support teams to understand the different stages of the menstrual cycle and help redefine the way female athletes train in order to sustain peak performance at the highest level. No matter what your favourite sport is, it is not about training harder, it is about training smarter and working with your natural physiology, not against it.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

On your bike: a short history of the Tour de France

Author: Ruadhán Cooke, French Analysis: France's focus will be on the maillot jaune rather than the gilets jaunes in July as the annual cycling fête tours the country  The 106th Tour de France gets under way from Brussels on Saturday next and concludes in Paris on Sunday July 28th. Over these 21 days, 22 eight-man teams will cover 3,460 kilometres of competitive action which always include gruelling mountain stages in the Alps and Pyrenees. For a few weeks at least, focus in France will switch from the social unrest of the yellow vest movement to the intrigue of the Yellow Jersey, which this year celebrates its centenary. It was first worn by Eugene Christophe who was leading the race at the start of stage 11 of the 1919 Tour on July 19th. Despite never winning, Christophe became one of the Tour’s first heroes, suffering the cruel fate of breaking the forks of his bike on a mountain descent in 1913. At a time when no external assistance was permitted, he was hit with a time penalty because a small boy worked the bellows at the forge where Christophe was making his own repairs. The same mechanical failure occurred while still leading the 1919 Tour with just two days to go. From RTÉ Radio 1's Doc On One, From Carrick-on-Suir to the Côte d'Azur sees journalist Shane Stokes follow Sam Bennett on his first Tour de France in 2015  The Tour’s Grand Départ from the Belgian capital is a special tribute to local boy, Eddy Merckx. The most decorated and arguably the greatest cyclist of all time, Merckx was nicknamed The Cannibal because of his ability to "devour" opponents regardless of the terrain or season. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first of his five Tour wins. At the end of each stage this year, a special edition Yellow Jersey will be presented to the race leader commemorating both past heroes of the Tour (including both Christophe and Merckx) and the iconic routes and summits of the race and symbols of France’s cultural and architectural heritage. First held in July 1903, a cycling tour of France was conceived as a publicity stunt by the fledgling breakaway sports newspaper L’Auto (which subsequently became L'equipe) in a bid to outdo a more established rival. L’Auto’s template was to create events that would stimulate interest, attract a readership and thereby increase circulation. The formula of a Grand Tour of almost superhuman proportions, with its stages, jerseys, jargon and rituals was thus invented in France and copied elsewhere, most notably with the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España. The race leader’s jersey is yellow, partly because L’Auto was printed on yellow paper but also because such a distinctive colour meant its wearer was much easier to identify. From RTÉ Archives, Roy Willoughby interviews Stephen Roche for RTÉ Radio 1's Sunday Sport about the first stages of the 1998 Tour de France which took place in Ireland Interrupted only by the two world wars, the race has always been a by-word for organisational and technological progress, while at the same time remaining deeply respectful of both France’s and its own history and traditions. Although it is a commercial product owned and exploited by a private media organisation, it has become a national institution and an object of almost universal affection. The route no longer completes a perfect loop and makes frequent visits into neighbouring countries. Beginning with Amsterdam in 1954, the Tour has started outside France on 21 occasions since. In connecting the local to the national and the international, it seems to project a certain idea of France’s sense of its place in the world. Dublin hosted the start of the 1998 Tour, while stage 2 brought the race from Enniscorthy to Cork. Back in France, a doping scandal involving members of the Festina team erupted, threatening the credibility not just of the Tour, but of the sport of cycling itself. Ironically, the following year’s race, billed as the "Tour of Renewal", marked the first of Lance Armstrong’s seven-year record-breaking winning streak. Since his confession on Oprah and subsequent convictions for doping, his victories have been erased from the Tour’s records. From RTÉ One's Claire Byrne Live in 2016, Paul Kimmage on the ugly side of sport Irish journalist and author Paul Kimmage rode three Tours in the 1980s. His book Rough Ride, published in 1990 shortly after his premature retirement from professional cycling, provides a fascinating account of the pervasive doping and culture of secrecy he witnessed first-hand. Kimmage's subsequent work has contributed hugely to the exposure of drug cheats and has put pressure on cycling’s international governing body to clean up the sport. Despite the litany of scandals which have undermined the sporting integrity of the event, the Tour’s popularity has been amazingly resilient. Synonymous with summer, the Tour always incorporates the French national holiday of July 14th. In addition to the millions of people who stand on the side of the road to watch the race, many more make a hobby of watching the Tour at home, such is the quality of the free-to-air television coverage which provides breath-taking images of the French landscape and extensive commentary on items of interest prompted by the route of each stage. From RTÉ Archives, a RTÉ News' report by Michael Ryan on a civic reception for Tipperary cyclist Sean Kelly in Carrick-In-Suir in 1986 In stark contrast to the FIFA Women’s World Cup currently taking place in France, the Tour de France Women, which was first held in 1984, never established itself and has been repackaged on a number of occasions since. Following the same route as this year’s men’s time trial, a one-day event known as La Course by the Tour de Francetakes place on July 19th. In all, there have been 10 Irish participants in the Tour since Shay Elliott’s debut in 1956. Only three Irishmen have worn the Yellow Jersey for a cumulative total of eight days. Five Irish riders have had stage wins and Stephen Roche was the overall winner in 1987. Sean Kelly won the Green Jersey rewarding the most consistent sprinter on four occasions. Ireland will be represented in this year’s race by first cousins Nicolas Roche (son of Stephen) and Dan Martin, riding their ninth and seventh Tours respectively.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Why democracies need science

Author: Rachel Costa Opinion: understanding the science behind the problems we face will empower us to tackle this century's big questions  We do not usually realise how much our lives are embedded in science and technology. It might be clear if you think about the gadget you are probably using to read this text, but we rarely remember that this is also the case with thousands of other daily things we use. Like the electricity that keeps the lights on and powers fridges, microwaves, television and electric showers. Or food. Most of the food you eat in your daily life is a product of science including the selection of seeds and machinery-based harvesting techniques. Science allowed our society to reach a point that was never dreamed of by our ancestors. Famine and plague, which were major concerns until the beginning of the 20th century, do not kill as many lives as they did thanks to technological applications. Science solved a lot of problems our species faced for centuries and will probably give us solutions to the challenges we will have to deal with in the next few decades. The planet's population is likely to reach 10 billion people, for example, and global warming is knocking on our door. But science cannot answer every question. Our life cannot be governed only by facts as it would then be, in Bertrand Russell's words, "a prison for the human spirit". Science can give us some technical solutions, but deciding to apply them is a question that we must answer collectively. From RTÉ Archives, RTÉ News report by Emma O'Kelly on Science Week 2006 A good example is the use of nuclear power. Science made it possible to split the nucleus of an atom and get energy out of this reaction, but it is up to citizens to choose if we are willing to take the risks associated with its use. Nevertheless, a comprehension of the technology and its fundaments is needed to understand the risks of the use of nuclear energy. Moreover, most societies in the developed world adopted democracy as political regime, meaning every citizen can exercise the power, particularly by voting. The strategies to overcome problems related to population growth or the increasing of average temperature in the planet are rooted in science, but every citizen exercising their voting right will play a role in the final decisions. Addressing these issues in a reasonable way depends on as many people as possible understanding the scientific method. Understanding the science will empower us to tackle this century's big questions and help society in the decision process itself. In a democracy, every citizen plays a role in decisions. A proper functioning democracy depends on the voting system working well and freedom of speech is vital for this. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, UCC palaeontologist Dr. Maria McNamara discusses new research on dinosaurs, birds, feathers and flying reptiles But freedom of speech does not mean that each person is entitled his or her own facts. The scientific method allows us to separate what is a fact – something that was observed through a cautious, verifiable and reproducible method – from what is not a fact. Besides, to adopt some principles of the scientific method when discussing issues that concern the society ensures that the freedom of speech is not distorted. Criticism and developing a mindset that embraces uncertainty are at the core of the scientific method and should also be central to every process and outcome which might influence society. The scientific mindset requires an ordered approach to test reality, collect and organise facts and think outside the box. This is important not only to answer objective questions, but also subjective ones. It's a way of thinking which usually allows us to accept the premises of whoever thinks different from us, which is central for enhancing the process of debate and decision-making. Science empowered humankind with a method that is, at once, disciplined and imaginative. The scientific method allowed us to thrive as species, but can do so much more by giving us the tools to overcome real problems and enable us to approach different questions – objective or not - with open minds, hearts and will. Our society would gain a lot by having more people able to apply a scientific way of thinking to every aspect of life Conversely, science is considered a dull thing. In his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, physicist and science communicator Carl Sagan wrote that we have built a society that deeply depends on science and technology, but yet almost no-one understands science and technology. He went on to state that this mixture of science dependence and science ignorance would bring disastrous consequences on us. The scientist is not a person who thinks more or in a better way than others. The scientific method is a style of thinking rather than a body of knowledge, and this can be taught. Scientists are only people who got more training to develop this mindset. Our society would gain a lot by having more people able to apply a scientific way of thinking to every aspect of life, including debating ideas in the public sphere. Luckily, the scientific way of thinking will allow us to overcome the challenges we have to face and build a world in which happiness can be reached by every living being.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

From Paris to Athy: The origins of Grand Prix motor racing

Author: Dr Éamon Ó Cofaigh, Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge Analysis: In 1903, Ireland became the first place to host an international motor race outside of France, the racetrack consisting of a figure '8' centred on Athy, Co. Kildare. What is widely held as the first ever automobile race took place between Paris and Rouen on 11 June 1894 was actually a trial intended to assess the reliability of the recently invented motor car. A "significant" crowd of curious onlookers turned out at the Porte-Maillot to witness the start, and of the 102 entrants, 21 appeared on the start line and 17 made it to the finish. The Comte de Dion, on a steam engine of his own invention, crossed the line first, covering the distance of 127km in six hours and forty-eight minutes at an average speed of just over 18km/h, including a lunch-stop.  The inaugural Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race the following year was won by Emile Levassor on a Panhard in a time of forty-eight hours and forty-eight minutes (24.5km/h), an achievement commemorated by a statue located at the start/finish line on the Place Porte-Maillot in Paris (near today’s Ryanair bus terminal). The success of these events prompted the recently formed Automobile Club de France (ACF) to hold city-to-city races on an annual basis.  National borders were crossed as technological developments extended the automobile’s range with races linking Paris with Berlin, Vienna, and Madrid followed. Commemorative monument of the 1895 Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race on La Place Porte-Maillot in Paris (Image: Éamon Ó Cofaigh) The largest sporting event in 1903 was not, as most would assume, the inaugural Tour de France bicycle race, but the Paris-Madrid road race organised by the ACF, whose departure from Versailles on 24 May 1903 attracted a reputed 200,000 spectators and a further two million people lined the roads from Paris to Bordeaux. A spate of fatal accidents, however, brought about the cancellation of the Bordeaux-Madrid stage of the race. Among the victims was Marcel Renault, brother of Louis, and co-founder of the company still prominent in motor sport and automobile production today. The ill-fated Paris-Madrid race signalled the banning of city-to-city races, as it was deemed impossible to adequately marshal motor races on open roads. The compromise insisted on by the authorities was a closed circle on public roads, the precursor to circuit motor racing as we know it today. From RTÉ News Archive, The streets of Dun Laoghaire become a motor racing track. Report shows various action from the Formula 2000 Grand Prix through the streets of Dun Laoghaire. The winner of the event Ivan Thompson opening a bottle of champagne. International motor racing began in 1900 when a wealthy American journalist named James Gordon Bennett Jr. decided to sponsor the Gordon Bennett trophy. This annual event was open to a maximum of three entries per nation, which were to be painted in an identifying colour irrespective of their manufacturer: blue for France, red for the United States, yellow for Belgium and white for Germany. As there was no British entry in the inaugural race and since the three colours of the Union Jack were already taken, the Napier driven by Selwyn Edge in 1901, and which won the following year, was green. This is reputedly the origin of British Racing Green. Although the competition was initially French-dominated, success by other nations revealed its potential to manufacturers and the public. The first British victory in 1902 brought with it responsibility for hosting the 1903 race. Legal constraints in Great Britain led the organisers to look to Ireland where a relaxation of speed limits was permitted on rural roads, but not in towns. The racetrack consisted of a figure ‘8’ centred on Athy, Co. Kildare. At seven points where the track passed through towns, there were non-racing zones where the cars followed a bicycle through the streets. This first international motor race outside France attracted global attention, and also inspired the story ‘After the Race’ in James Joyce’s Dubliners (1914). Camille Jenatzy, driving a Mercedes, won the race, taking the Gordon Bennett Trophy – and the next year’s race – to Germany. The final Gordon Bennett race saw the competition return to France in 1905. From RTÉ Radio 1's Sport Audio World, Eddie Jordan recalls that fateful day in Imola in 1994 when Ayrton Senna lost his life while leading the San Marino Grand Prix. While the Gordon Bennett Cup races (1900-1905) had been a success in the internationalisation of motor sport, these competitions had left France increasingly frustrated. While other nations had to struggle to assemble a team, France had to hold separate qualifiers to choose its representatives. Thus, with only three French cars out of twenty-nine qualifying for the 1904 event, most manufacturers found themselves without a chance to prove themselves on the international stage. The ACF decided to boycott the 1906 Gordon Bennett competition, announcing that a new Grand Prix would be held, allowing three entries from each automobile manufacturer and which was held on a triangular circuit joining the towns of Le Mans, Saint-Calais and La Ferté-Bernard. On 26-27 June, the race took place on the 103.16km circuit, which every car had to complete six times on each of the two days. Twenty-three French cars took part in the competition, which, despite a significant attendance, made a loss. This was because most of the spectators decided to watch the race from areas where it was free rather than paying for entry into the main stand. This setback notwithstanding, the entire weekend was deemed a success by the ACF, and Le Mans went down in history as having hosted the first automobile Grand Prix.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: Why it's necessary to create new climate change institutions

Author: Dr Rónán Kennedy, School of Law Opinion: Paradoxically, climate change is better tackled in a bottom up fashion through a variety and range of activities across different scales of governance.  It has been clear for quite some time that international, European, and Irish climate change law and policy is not delivering the emissions reductions that are required. This has received considerable media attention in recent weeks, perhaps because of the protests spearheaded by the activist Greta Thunberg and led by children worldwide. The Irish government is promising a radical new and comprehensive plan to revitalise our efforts to reduce emissions. However, climate change is a complex and challenging area with significant vested interests who block progress. Nonetheless, there is an urgent need for fresh ideas and meaningful innovation if we are to avoid the potentially catastrophic implications of climate change for Ireland and elsewhere. Because climate change is a global problem, it is easy to conclude that global solutions are the only way forward. However, climate change is also a very difficult collective action problem, and working through international institutions, such as the United Nations or the European Union, often results in movement at the pace of the slowest and least interested. On RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Colman O'Sullivan reports on what a phasing out of domestic heating boilers could look like. Sometimes even that progress is held hostage by this who would seek to block any movement on the issue, particularly the United States, Saudi Arabia, and other countries with a significant vested interest in the existing energy infrastructure. Paradoxically, climate change is better tackled in a bottom up fashion through a variety and range of activities across different scales of governance. Irish Climate Policy Institutions Are Inadequate Although Irish institutional frameworks have been moving towards a more networked architecture, they are not adequately prepared for this. We have a planning code and planning system that is manifestly not fit for purpose, with overly complex laws, a lack of capacity by both elected representatives and civil or public servants, and a poor understanding of the underlying issues by decision- and policy-makers. There is therefore a need to rethink these to simultaneously redress two issues. The first is the fragmentation of planning by stronger central policies such as the National Planning Framework. The second is encouraging local authorities to support and develop a range of initiatives that will allow communities to experiment with responses to climate change mitigation and adaptation. The latter will make available templates which can be re-used in a variety of locations. Innovation in Climate Law and Policy is Essential We should also think about how we can encourage innovation in implementation within Ireland. The EPA report, ‘Addressing Climate Change Challenges in Ireland’ states that ‘[r]esearch and innovation are crucial to advancing [the] transition to a low-carbon economy and green economic growth.’ For lawyers, one of the chief concerns for research and innovation is with public institutions and governance, a topic which is dealt with in the National Economic and Social Council report on the climate change challenge: Ireland is formulating its strategy for transition to carbon neutrality at a time when we recognise that our public institutions and system of governance, at a range of levels, have weaknesses that have led to profound economic, social and fiscal crisis. Our work, on this and other projects, confirms that Ireland has many of the micro-economic requirements for a vibrant economy and a high degree of social capital; these can only combine to create overall success, where public systems of governance, resource allocation, conflict resolution and policy learning are effective. All our goals, carbon neutrality included, depend on successful, deep, public reform; …  New Climate Institutions: National and Local, Public and Private There is therefore a need to examine our national and local institutions to see what can be done. Nationally, the Climate Change Advisory Council is not an adequate vehicle to achieve the level of economic and social transformation that is necessary. Although it has been sounding the alarm in very clear terms, stating in its most recent report that ‘Ireland is completely off course in terms of achieving its 2020 and 2030 emissions reduction targets’, it can only make recommendations and conduct reviews. Read: What's in Ireland's landmark climate change report?  Read: "The worst in Europe": Ireland's climate and energy to-do list It has no powers to impose penalties for failure to achieve targets. It should be enhanced or replaced with a body which is sufficiently well-resourced and endowed with the statutory powers necessary to encourage and require compliance with ambitious targets. This was one of the key recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly when it considered climate change. Regionally and locally, there is a need for cross-cutting networks linking public administration and civil society. Local energy agencies exist in some parts of the country and some, particularly Tipperary Energy Agency, have done very commendable work. Every local authority should be required to create one, in collaboration with nearby third-level institutions. Consider also what could be achieved if the ‘Transition Towns’ network was placed on a proper statutory footing, with deep integration of climate change into the drafting of development plans? In addition, learning and education initiatives such as Cloughjordan ecovillage are few and far between; tax incentives, subsidies, and other government support could encourage the development of further similar projects across the country. On RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Richard Bruton, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, and Micheál Martin, Fianna Fáil Leader, discusses Ireland's ban on smoky coal and why there are areas of the country not covered by the ban. There are also considerable opportunities to involve the private sector and develop entrepreneurship in climate-aware products and services. Sustainable Nation Ireland manages the Irish office of Climate-KIC (which is a European knowledge and innovation community, working to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy), although this is Dublin-based and would be more effective if it is was regional and distributed. Climate Policy Must Be Plural, Polycentric, and Hybrid The complex nature of the issue means that top-down frameworks with inflexible mechanisms and targets do not work well. There is a need to move beyond these approaches without ignoring the work that has been done to date. Effective climate change law and policy will have to emerge from a hybrid web of policy tools, legal instruments, and multi-layer governance arrangements. This is particularly important when thinking about adaptation rather than mitigation, which will require greater diversification and decentralisation. We need to think about climate law as plural, polycentric, and hybrid. Will the promised all-of-government plan incorporate such innovative thinking, or will it simply repeat the same empty promises, centralised planning, and reluctance to really change what has characterised Irish climate change law and policy since the first national strategy document in 2000?

Friday, 7 June 2019

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: Why it's more important than ever to protect the health of our oceans

Author: Professor Louise Allcock, Zoology Opinion: It's worth remembering that our oceans are a shared resource, and through much of our history, they had no-one advocating for their care. It is not a never-ending resource, and we can damage it from afar. Twenty-seven years ago at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Canadian delegates proposed an international day to celebrate the oceans, hence why the 8th of June is World Oceans Day.  The 1980s had seen increasing global awareness of environmental concerns. The 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development highlighted many issues, like how the oceans provide "the ultimate sink for the by-products of human activities" and how the growth of the world’s population and economy make demands for food, fuel and waste disposal that negatively impacts the ocean. Ireland’s ocean is more than ten times the size of its land at around 880,000km2. The ocean economy provides jobs for more than 30,000 people in shipping, fisheries, leisure, tourism, oil & gas, engineering and conservation with an annual turnover of almost €6 billion. But it is not a never-ending resource, nor is it just Ireland’s resource, and we can damage it from afar. From RTÉ News, rubbish found on ocean floor in deepest-ever sub dive. We need healthy oceans as they produce more than half the world’s oxygen (through photosynthesis of algae large and small), they sequester carbon (i.e., withdraw carbon from circulation), provide us with food, regulate our climate, and provide a wealth of genetic resources.  The potential value of anti-cancer drugs from marine organisms may be more than a trillion US dollars so our biodiversity is worth preserving for this alone.  The ocean is good for our health in other ways. Both Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union have funded projects to develop ‘blue spaces’ such as coastal areas to improve health and wellbeing. Sometimes we damage the ocean unintentionally as we have done with plastic. The highly progressive ban on plastic bags in Ireland enacted in 2002 was primarily to protect against litter on land. It predated the 2004 seminal paper in the journal Science that first noted the presence of microplastics in beaches.  Yet the ban was prescient: research shows that microplastics are in deep marine sediments, in the polyps of corals, and even in the poos of whale sharks.  Microplastics are everywhere, and larger plastics are caught in gyres and persist throughout the world’s oceans. People have responded hugely to this issue and campaigned widely and must take much credit for the European-wide ban on many single-use plastics that will come into force in 2021. NUIG PhD student Alina Wieczorek observing whale shark suction feeding on plankton at the surface at night as part of a wider project investigating how whale sharks might be exposed to microplastics. Photo: Dawid Szlaga. Can we be as influential in other areas of concern?  As scientists, the answer is surely yes – but, in fact, the answer is yes for everyone. In fisheries, scientists can generate data in the field, develop models, and improve statistical analyses, to ensure accurate estimates of maximum sustainable take are passed to the policy makers.  But despite these efforts, only 67% of the world’s fish stocks are fished sustainably: 33% are overfished. As consumers, we can all look for seafood that is certified as sustainable, and pressurise our favourite shops and markets to supply it, and we can support other campaigns.  In the last few years, due to sustained public pressure, the practice of discarding caught fish at sea, because the boat had no permission to catch that species, has been banned by the EU, as has trawling below 800 m. Read: Into the blue space: the joys of outdoor swimming On June 21st, Irish scientists will participate in Ocean Sampling Day – a world-wide initiative to sample simultaneously and identically a few litres of water. The filtered residue will be subjected to DNA sequencing which is one of the most effective ways to detect invasive species (due to small larvae being in the water column) before they become widespread.  Invasive species can be hugely damaging to the marine environment, outcompeting and smothering other life and reducing diversity, and they are often first detected by knowledgable members of the public. Most recently divers found the southern European Golden Kelp species Laminaria ochroleuca off Mayo. Golden kelp, an invasive species discovered off the Mayo Coast by divers. Marine scientists study climate in numerous ways. Physicists study the exchange of greenhouse gases and heat between the upper ocean and lower atmosphere – processes that govern both weather and climate, while chemists study ocean acidification under increasing CO2 levels.  Marine animals, particularly those with a calcium carbonate shell or skeleton, are extremely vulnerable to ocean acidification as a lower pH hinders mineralisation. From a better understanding of the physical and chemical processes involved in ocean climate change, scientists are able to model and predict future climate more accurately, and thus empower politicians to act in the common interest.  Lowering our individual carbon footprints can impact the overall carbon load on the planet if enough of us engage, but lobbying governments for better public transport, investment in renewable energy and other wide-reaching policies that will help us reach our carbon targets under the Paris Agreement on action to combat climate change will have far greater impacts. Our oceans need us to meet these targets. From RTÉ Six One News, climate change protests held across the country. This year alone has seen a remarkable increase in environmental activism. Children, led by 16-year old Swede Greta Thunberg have come out of school to strike for climate. Extinction Rebellion have, through peaceful protest alone, caused both the Irish and British governments to declare a climate emergency. We have seen a ‘green wave’ in both the local and EU elections.  By the end of this year, both myself and my colleagues will have spent months at sea between us in all the oceans of the world. We will have dropped gravity cores in the Artic, studied the air-sea interface in the Antarctic, taught a climate change course on a German research vessel, and studied our own changing shorelines.  The latter is incredibly important given that two million Irish citizens live within 5km of the coast. So on this World Oceans Day, let us all appreciate the wonderful things that the ocean does for us, and think a little about how we all might protect its health for future generations.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

How the Famine was recorded in 19th century letters and journals

Author: Dr Ciaran McDonough, Moore Institute Opinion: correspondence between scholars offers a fascinating and overlooked sense of the Great Famine in real time The Great Irish Famine is, arguably, the most defining event of 19th-century Ireland. Affecting the whole of the island, it was, and is, described in biblical and apocalyptic terms. In attempting to convey the scale of it, scholars frequently focus on the vast numbers of those who died or who emigrated, or examine the Famine on a macro, rather than micro, level. While there is no problem in this approach, it often ignores the more personal reflections that can be found in correspondence and in journals. One would not expect antiquarian correspondence to be a good source of this. They were, after all, scholars who spent their days translating medieval Irish literature, collecting folklore and writing history. Yet, as prolific corresponders with each other (sometimes several times a day to the same person), their letters offer a fascinating, and often overlooked, insight into the social and political matters of their day. From RTÉ Radio 1's Blighted Nation, The History Show with Myles Dungan explores how the Great Famine changed Ireland forever John Windele was an antiquarian based in Cork who received letters from all over Ireland. One correspondent was Thomas Swanton, a Methodist land owner from Ballydehob in west Cork. He first began writing to Windele in 1846, when the potato harvest had failed for the second time and people were not optimistic about the outlook. As a member of the local Relief Committee, he offers a unique insight of how local landlords attempted to deal with the growing problem and of how frustrated he felt in not being able to do more to help, especially as he often paid out his own pocket. On December 12th 1846, Swanton wrote warning that "there must soon be many deaths from famine in my neighbourhood if something effectual be not done." (RIA 4 B 6/104 (iii)) He grew frustrated with proposed work schemes, writing in a letter dated December 21st 1846 about how the local relief session was able to switch from fixing roads to breaking stones, which the men could at least do under sheds erected to keep them from the freezing rain. He ends the letter "I sincerely wish you many happy returns of this season which used to be joyous." (RIA 4 B 6/104 (v)) From RTÉ Archives, a RTÉ Radio 1 Morning Ireland report by David Hanly from October 1995 on President Mary Robinson's call for British and Irish governments "to express genuine regret" for the Great Famine His letters from 1847 spoke of the terrible conditions in the district, which he feels has been neglected, and his anger at the powers that be for not providing more help, especially those in eastern districts, which he does not feel to be as badly afflicted as west Cork or Connacht. From the letters of another of Windele’s correspondents, we can see just how horrific the situation was. Whereas Swanton seems to be in a good personal situation, Rev. D. A. O’Sullivan from Enniskeane, who was a vicar in Bandon, wrote about his own hunger during 1847. His first letter on the subject is from March 27th 1847 and it is clear from its contents why he was not a frequent corresponder with Windele: "It was one o’clock this morning when I sat down to the dinner that was due to have at five yesterday. Fever is raging in all directions. Dead bodies for ten days without internment. My own nephew, a fine boy of 16 years of age lies dead in the next room, I fear that I will not be able; from the presence of such duty, to attend his remains to his father’s grave." (RIA 4 B 6/124) From RTÉ Radio 1's Arena, a discussion on the Coming Home: Art and The Great Hunger exhibition with artist Robert Ballagh and curator Niamh O'Sullivan At this point, O’Sullivan was still able to have dinners but things had progressed at such a rate that he was forced to forage for food by July: "Fever here is on the increase; the rations are also decreased, and the harvest must get fit for employing all hands. We shall have much hunger, and I dread, much fever, yet to endure. However we must only beast the waves again; and from its perilous summit, preach controversy by living amid pestilence and death, or by dieing [sic] for our flocks. "My chief diet since I saw you last consists of water cresses and an unpure [sic] spring. You can form no idea of what hunger is unless you have endured and felt it yourself. The most graphic and glowing description of it would give you but a very imperfect notion of it – the sensation and the chock [shock] must be only felt, not describable." (RIA 4 B 7/16) From RTÉ Archives, a RTÉ News report by Ciaran Mullooly. from 2008 on a new famine archive at Maynooth Archive and Research Centre at Castletown House in Celbridge One can contrast this with those supposed eastern districts to see that Swanton perhaps had a point. Redmond Anthony, an antiques dealer from Piltown in Co Kilkenny, complained that he had not been able to sell tickets to a lottery and that his business had been affected because of the distress. William Hackett from Midleton and the distilling family complained about how he was making a loss grinding relief corn. He sympathised with the poor people, though. John O’Donovan, who was based in Dublin highlighted that conditions were bad there, writing on January 7th 1847 to James Hardiman in Galway that beggars rapped on his door every night. (RIA 12 N 10/46). Hardiman responded that, in Galway, "the fever meant that we are ‘walking in the midst of the shadow of death’" (RIA 24 O 39/JOD/38 (xxvi), p.5). O’Donovan frequently complained to a relative in Paris that his relatives in Kilkenny badgered him for money, when he found it hard to support himself and his young family. (NLI MS 132, no. 18).  Life had went on regardless and the letters are interspersed with accounts of antiquarian research carried out The letters highlight how the Famine affected all, even those in the supposedly safer eastern parts of the country. More importantly, they demonstrate how people reacted to the Famine on a personal level, witnessing death all around them. But life had went on regardless and the letters are interspersed with accounts of antiquarian research carried out. Seen as the news bulletins that they once were, these letters give a sense of the Famine in real time.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Is war inevitable between the US and Iran?

Author: Professor Ray Murphy, Irish Centre for Human Rights Opinion: escalating tensions between the two countries could have huge ramifications for the Middle East  As the war of words between the US and Iran escalates, the risk of an accidental armed conflict breaking out remains high. Not surprisingly, it is hard to decipher a clear strategy by US president Donald Trump, but the rhetoric is alarming. The now typical bellicose pronouncements from Trump do little to reassure allies, while adding to the general incoherence of US foreign policy under his leadership. Assurances by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan that their objective has been to deter Iran do not inspire confidence. Shanahan is reported to have said that they now want to prevent further escalation and the US is "not about going to war." It certainly does not look that way.  Furthermore, if as is claimed the US administration’s aim is to prevent Iranian miscalculation, this fails to take account of an equally likely US miscalculation. In a characteristic vitriolic tweet, Trump recently threatened that "if Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!" Iran's foreign minister responded by criticising Trump for threatening the Islamic Republic with its "official end." Mohammad Javad Zarif posted his own message on Twitter, saying Trump had been "goaded" into "genocidal taunts." In the US, Democrats are especially worried that the Trump administration may try to rely on war authorisations provisions in order to circumvent seeking approval from Congress for any action. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Borzou Daragahi, International Correspondent for the Independent UK, discusses the rising tensions between Iran and the US Trump’s aggressive tweet came a few hours after a rocket was fired into Baghdad’s so called Green Zone close to the US embassy in Iraq. The US saw this as a clear signal which confirmed warnings of Iranian plans to target US interests in Iraq. There were also a series of explosions that damaged four oil tankers in a United Arab Emirates port and a drone strike on a Saudi oil facility by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are funded by Iran. The three attacks in the Gulf all have a clear common denominator. Although Iran has not claimed responsibility (the Houthis took responsibility for the drone strike), the widespread assumption is that the Iranians were behind them. Such attacks enable Iran to send a threatening message while also maintaining deniability. The latest attack’s proximity to a clearly American target (the embassy in Baghdad) was most likely what triggered Trump’s recent outburst and caused him to threaten Iran directly. In the past Trump has said that he wished to avoid involving the US in conflict in the Middle East. However, he seems unable to contain himself when he perceives any provocation.  From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, warns of the worsening humanitarian situation in Yemen amid fears that the world's worst cholera outbreak could be set for a massive resurgence In the current situation, regional dynamics, especially the undeclared war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, are also important. At the same time, Saudi Arabia and Israel have been urging Trump to adopt a more aggressive policy toward Iran since his election and such a policy has long been advocated by US National Security Advisor John Bolton. It is hoped to force Iran to make additional concessions on its nuclear programme and disrupt its support for militant organisations. In early May, the US accelerated the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group to the Middle East and deployed B-52 bomber aircraft to the region along with a Patriot air-defence missile battery. In conventional military terms, Iran cannot compete against the US. However, as the centre of Shia power in the region, its strength lies in the ability to mobilise proxy forces to assist in achieving its objectives. Iran is the primary supporter of Hezbollah in Lebanon and was pivotal in supporting the Assad regime in Syria. It is also the main power behind the Houthi rebels in Yemen, in addition to having significant influence in Iraq and on Islamic Jihad in Gaza. This makes Iran a formidable regional foe and not a country to be underestimated. There are also three vital passages to trade in the area that remain especially vulnerable. The straits of Hormuz, is the best known but Bab al-Mandab and the Suez Canal are also of strategic importance, especially to Israel. The Strait of Hormuz is a vital shipping route linking Middle East oil producers to markets around the world and it has been a flashpoint in the past. From RTÉ News, US president Donald Trump threatens "end of Iran" if US interests attacked Iran’s threat to these routes is real and, while it is unlikely that it can stop trade, it has the capacity to cause widespread disruption. Weaponised drones, missiles and remote controlled sea borne devices can all have devastating consequences. Even certain Democrats in the US concede that Trump is responsible for provoking Iran. The US has abrogated its treaty obligations under the so called Iran nuclear deal, negotiated during the Obama administration to prevent Iran from nuclear weapons production. Trump also has re-imposed punitive sanctions that have damaged severely Iran's economy, and designated Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organisation. READ: 40 years of politics, change and protest in Iran Sadly, one of the elements lost in the current debate about the use of force in the region is international law. It is often conveniently ignored that the threat or use of force by states is prohibited by Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. This is a long standing fundamental principle of international law that governs relations between states. It is not for powerful states to decide what rules to apply or disregard when and if it suits their purposes. War does not have to be inevitable and, in such a scenario, there will be no winners. The main losers once again will be innocent civilians caught up in a conflict not of their making

Thursday, 30 May 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: The politics of a céad míle fáilte for visiting dignitaries

Author: Dr Tomás Finn, History Opinion: visits by heads of governments and states to Ireland have always generated interest among the public in Irish foreign policy Controversy over Donald Trump's forthcoming Irish visit raises the question as to how the Irish state should receive the president of the United States. The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, pointed to recent history and visits by American heads of state since Ronald Reagan to highlight the close and important relationship between the two countries and the approach his government would take to any stay in Ireland by Trump. While acknowledging the opposition that exists to Trump, Varadkar’s preference, as with the visit by Pope Francis in August 2018, was understandably for any protests to be moderate and peaceful. Visits and relations with different heads of states and governments since independence have illustrated not only the priorities of the then Irish government, but also how these have at times diverged from sections of the Irish public. Following the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the Irish government’s main concern was with forging an identity that was separate to that of Britain. But the reality of the continuing constitutional link and a close economic relationship with the United Kingdom meant it was difficult for the government to pursue an independent foreign policy or to support the issues it had before the establishment of the state. In 1930, for example, the Irish state refused to receive India’s Mahatma Gandhi, who was campaigning for Indian independence, least such a visit damage relations with Britain in advance of the critical Imperial Conference later that year. From RTÉ Archives, Éamon de Valera announces that the Irish Free State would be neutral if war broke out in 1939 While the Second World War and the Irish policy of neutrality proved that the state had by that stage become completely independent, it only underlined the continued difficulties of striking a balance between pursuing a policy that was different to that of Britain but remaining on good relations with them and the US. Because of Éamon de Valera’s policy of benevolent neutrality to the Allies, Ireland managed to escape relatively unscathed from the Second World War, but appeared to undo much of its good fortune just as the war was coming to an end. After the death of Adolf Hitler, de Valera paid a visit to Dr Eduard Hempel, the German minister in Dublin, to express his condolences. Unsurprisingly, this gave rise to severe criticism, particularly in the US, but also provoked a strong reaction from the British prime minister, Winston Churchill. To de Valera’s mind, especially given that the Dáil had adjourned only a couple of weeks earlier following the death of US president Franklin D. Roosevelt, not to offer condolences (like, for example, other neutrals Switzerland and Sweden) would have been illogical and contrary to the dictates of neutrality. This points to one of de Valera’s greatest legacies. Where he could lead Ireland through challenging times perhaps better than anyone (as seen by the war and in his celebrated response to Churchill), he left others to decide what neutrality and independence actually meant. From RTÉ Archives, Éamon de Valera replies to Winston Churchill’s criticism of Ireland’s policy of neutrality throughout the Second World War It was during the immediate post-war period that the Irish state defined the parameters of its foreign policy. In many ways, state visits by the Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in 1949, the Ghanian Prime Minister, Kwame Nkrumah in 1960, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco in 1961 and finally, US president John F. Kennedy in 1963 reflected the choices Ireland had made. While Nehru and Nkrumah’s references to shared histories and praise for the Irish struggle for independence can be placed alongside Kelly’s and Kennedy’s nostalgia for their ancestral home, the significance of the latter’s visit was that it was the first by a sitting American president and reflected Ireland’s proximity to the western world. Not only was it very popular and, as with the others, passed without diplomatic or security incident, the Kennedy visit pointed to how Ireland had moved away from neutrality and expressions of independence at the United Nations, views which had been at variance to those held by the United States. Especially under Seán Lemass’ premiership, Ireland adopted a broadly western position at the UN. With its application for membership of the European Economic Community in 1961, the state recognised its interdependence with the US and Europe. From RTÉ Archives, RTÉ News' footage of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco arriving in Dublin in 1961 Meetings in 1965 between Lemass and Terence O’Neill, the Northern Ireland prime minister, and the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement of the same year underlined the extent to which foreign policy had during the post-war period become interlinked with economic policy. In this context, membership of the EEC from 1973 and the visits of American presidents Richard Nixon in 1970, Ronald Reagan in 1984, Bill Clinton in 1995, 1998 and 2000, George W. Bush in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2011 strengthened the existing cultural and economic ties with the US and Europe, reflecting how Ireland had moved beyond a dependence on Britain. Visits by different heads of governments and states from the 1960s generated a greater interest among the public in Irish foreign policy. Unlike under de Valera, who was both Taoiseach and Minister for External Affairs, governments were increasingly willing to engage with civil society organisations. A desire to influence the nature of the foreign policy of Ireland as well as that of other countries, most notably the US, lay behind the dissent which progressively became a greater feature of visits by foreign dignitaries. Early examples included Maoist students who targeted the King of Belgium with anti-imperial protests in 1968. In 1970, US president Richard Nixon was subjected to anti-Vietnam demonstrations and had eggs thrown at his car by activist and feminist Máirín de Burca during his visit. From RTÉ Archives, footage of Richard Nixon's visit to Ireland in 1970 Later visits by Reagan and Bush provoked the greatest negativity. A coalition of organisations and individuals came together in 1984 to object to Reagan's policy, particularly in relation to Central America. Bush's stay in Ireland in 2004 was the occasion for thousands to protest against the Iraq war. The opposition to Reagan was particularly notable for being the first to garner such diverse groups, utilise unusual tactics and to generate considerable publicity. It included as many as 27 different groups including the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, the Union of Students in Ireland, the religious sisters for Justice and individuals such as Bishop Eamon Casey, the current President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins and the future judge, Catherine McGuinness. The coalition marched, boycotted events and held a "de-conferring" ceremony at University College Galway (now NUI Galway), where some of those who had received honorary doctorates handed theirs back to the "Acting Chancellor", socialist republican and writer Peadar O’Donnell, in protest at Reagan receiving an honorary doctorate in laws from the university. From RTÉ Archives, RTÉ News' report on a demonstration in Dublin against the visit of Ronald Reagan to Ireland in 1984 While the Irish government raised concerns around Reagan’s policy in Central America, the fact that Reagan was easily re-elected as president later that year raises doubts as to the effectiveness of the protests. How representative they were of the general public is another question, with the majority of the public supportive of the visit. Furthermore, many of the demonstrators also hoped that good relations with the US would continue to exist. Certainly, Reagan spoke of the need for tolerance and reconciliation in Northern Ireland during his visit and fulfilled the hopes the Irish government had for his stay. Notwithstanding this, the protests were significant in raising awareness of international issues in Ireland and of bringing a number of groups together, such as the Irish Anti Apartheid Movement, which had been active since the 1960s and were part of a wider movement internationally. In that context, the anti Reagan campaign was the logical continuation of the protests against the King of Belgium and Nixon. It also indicated the extent to which there was an awareness of and engagement with international issues in Ireland, which has only increased in the following decades. READ: The global aspects of an Irish protest against Donald Trump Statements from the Taoiseach illustrate that he is only too aware of the public’s interest in foreign affairs and in particular its view of the current American administration. As with past governments, he is likely to discuss trade, Northern Ireland and other issues of benefit to Ireland with the visiting president, while downplaying the differences and seeking to manage any protests that occur. In that context, the lessons of previous visits by foreign dignitaries, particularly that of Reagan, is to acknowledge different viewpoints while not straying too far from the public’s view in welcoming Trump or any other head of state to Ireland.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: 'Archives can give voice to victims of past violence'

Author: Dr Barry Houlihan, James Hardiman Library Opinion: archives provide a forum for transparency as well as for deconstructing myth-making within a nation’s history Archives which are generated by societies or people under threat from war, conflict, abuse, genocide, or other violent means, are, at best, precarious in their existence, and at worst, absent entirely. Archives of testimony, oral history, letters, diaries, official documentation, legal records and more, provide evidence of human experience under the exertion of power and control. Archives can give voice to victims of past violence or can also function to maintain an enforced silence and prolong a lack of accountability, transparency, and truth. But who is recorded within the records? What agency do such records have to inform the next generation? And how to young people engage with violent histories? The ability of each successive generation to access records of their recent past and longer history is a key signifier of a functioning democracy. Archives are an objective space that provide a forum for transparency as well as for deconstructing myth-making within a nation’s history. In 1968, then Minister for Home Affairs in the UK, William Craig spoke bluntly on the idea of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland and on what he called "the problem of history": "I cannot think that the healing process is to be helped by providing an arena where old and imaginary slights can be relived, where disappointed office seekers can air their frustrations and where old agitations can be revived. Like every scar, it will never get well if you pick it." Despite the headlines, soundbites and continuously scrolling of our newsfeeds, there is a much bigger story that is not being heard In the context of contemporary Northern Ireland, the risk is for the normalising of inaccurate or partial histories of the recent past within new generations. We encounter the past in various new ways and through new media today. In Derry Girls, the experience of a Catholic family and group of teenage girls (and one wee English fella) presented events of early 1990s' Derry, from bomb scares to Presidential visits, to young audiences in an accessible means. Recent remarks were made by Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, about how British soldiers and police who were responsible for killings in Northern Ireland, in particularly those soldiers on Bloody Sunday, "were people acting under orders and under instruction and fulfilling their duty in a dignified and appropriate way". Bradley later apologised for the comments. Kevin Boyle was a major figure internationally in legal and human rights study and practice, and was both scholar and activist. The Professor Kevin Boyle Archive at the Hardiman Library, NUI Galway contains records of legal cases, global human rights issues, vast amounts of correspondence, research notes, and teaching materials across over four decades of a career which began on the front lines of the civil rights' movement in Northern Ireland. From RTÉ Six One News, tributes paid to Professor Kevin Boyle on his death in 2010 Born in Newry, Co. Down in 1943, Boyle studied law at Queen's University, Belfast, and criminology at Cambridge University. While a young lecturer in law in Belfast in the mid 1960s, he became aware of the agitation around civil rights and human rights issues, particularly for Catholics in Belfast and Derry. Boyle became a committee member of groups such as the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and People's Democracy, and so ensured his place as a major figure in advocating for equal rights across Northern Ireland. He Chair of Law at University College Galway (now NUI Galway) from 1978 to 1986 and was central to the founding of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway – the first such dedicated centre in Ireland - before finishing his career at University of Essex. Boyle’s archive contains records of human rights cases from 1960s Northern Ireland to the plight of Kurds in the early 2000s. A key facet within the archive is the voice of young people grappling with social and economic inequalities. In a letter from Boyle to Professor Laurie Taylor at York University in March 1977, he outlined the problems faced by young people in Derry, with whom he had regular contact through his legal practice and research: "I’m concerned only with those who have got "into trouble". Much of my practice is appearing for young persons aged 16-21, from both sides of the fence, though latterly mainly from the Bogside/Creggan. The first point is obvious: they are ordinary kids: they are not psychopathic nor in the main are they particularly ‘leaders’, especially energetic. Their political thought is rarely developed - it’s just the normal set of assumptions that everyone that everyone who lives in Bogside/Creggan [are of the viewpoint] we are Irish, the Brits should leave – unionism is bad, army and police regularly beat up people etc." As RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta Nuacht a hAon ó Samhain 2014, tuarascáil faoi cartlann a bhí ag an Ollamh Kevin Boyle agus Ollscoil na hÉireann Gaillimh Boyle examines the sociological implications for labelling of young people determined by their address, accent, or school. "Remedies", he argues, "also have to be political and structural to have an impact on the violence and youth involvement." Given the current ongoing impasse in government in Northern Ireland, Boyle’s words still carry great resonance today. The late journalist Lyra McKee, recently murdered in Derry, referred to her generation as "The Ceasefire Babies", those who are today also witnessing a lack of leadership and dialogue within their communities. Other challenges to openness towards the past in Northern Ireland is the proposed closure of the CAIN (Conflict Archive on the Internet) which is a vital and unique recourse which makes available thousands of documents from the Troubles period available freely online. To close this project is not just irresponsible but also short-sighted in its treatment of the past for those now growing up and learning of these events as history today. The archive of past conflict should not be closed, symbolically or physically, as the ramifications in terms of public knowledge and legal accountability are live and urgent issues today. Archives are spaces of memory-practice, where people can try to put their inherited history and trauma in context by transforming their experiences into meaning through empathy with the past. In Kevin Boyle's last published work from 2010, a foreword to A Vision for Human Rights, he stated "despite the often scattershot coverage by global media of human rights issues, the wretched conditions and suffering of millions are for the most part ignored." Despite the headlines, soundbites and continuously scrolling of our newsfeeds, there is a much bigger story, a much larger narrative that is not being heard. The archival record can be a force to break this silence. The Violence, Space and the Archives conference takes place at NUI Galway on May 23rd and 24th. 

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: The art of the essay

Author: Dr Emer McHugh, O'Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Opinion: how essay collections by Irish writers are showing that the personal is political In Emilie Pine's 2018 best-selling essay collection Notes to Self, she says "I write this [essay] now to unlock the code of silence that I kept for so many years. I write it so that I can, at last, feel present in my own life. I write it because it is the most powerful thing I can think of to do." Pine frames her work of composing this personal narrative as an act of testimony and it perhaps encapsulates what the modern essay (or piece of creative non-fiction) can do. "The personal is political", after all, as American radical feminist Carol Hanisch wrote in a 1969 essay. I’m reminded of Joan Didion chronicling the deaths of her husband and daughter in The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights. I’m also reminded of Olivia Laing tracing the lives and work of queer artists, as well as meditating on her own loneliness, in The Lonely City, and Claudia Rankine using poetic form to lay bare institutional racism in Citizen: An American Lyric. There are many more examples: bell hooks, Nora Ephron, Maggie Nelson, Samantha Irby, Scaachi Koul, David Sedaris, Leslie Jamison, Annie Dillard, Jean Hannah Edelstein, Lindy West, to count a few, are perhaps some of the most well-known writers in creative non-fiction working today. A RTÉ Culture Night interview with Emilie Pine  Closer to home, I’d argue that Anne Enright’s Making Babies (2004) deserves as much attention as her novels, a wonderfully witty collection of personal writing on motherhood that is strongly reminiscent of Ephron – and perhaps a predecessor to writers like Irby, Koul and West. Two new essay collections by Irish writers follow in this tradition. Perhaps I am being unimaginative in grouping them with Pine (after all, all three writers appeared at an event together at the recent Cúirt International Festival of Literature in Galway). However, Sinéad Gleeson’s Constellations and Ian Maleney’s Minor Monuments follow on from Pine’s work and many other precedents in using the essay form as an act of testimony. Between them, they use the essay to address the regulation of bodies, pain, the urban/rural divide and the contours of the landscape, all of which take on pertinency in an Irish context. From RTÉ Radio One's Arena, Emilie Pine, Sinead Gleeson and Ian Maleney discuss the art of the essay  Minor Monuments focuses on what it is to be from the rural landscapes of Ireland and to be of those landscapes too. An indelible aspect of this is Maleney paying tribute to the memory of his late grandfather, John Joe, and to the life John Joe shared with his wife (or Nana). "Below" explores his grandparent’s home as a centre of gravity and a constant source of stability. "I dream of my grandparents’ house because it is the strongest shelter I have experienced against time’s many erosions", Maleney writes. "It has a history that precedes me, and a symbolic register that transcends me. It remains always something other than property." Intertwined with this is Maleney’s precise, refreshing evocation of the push and pull of one’s rural heritage and the allure of urban life. "I set about worming my way into the artistic milieu I had longed to experience as a teenager in the countryside, back when I’d hoarded whatever diluted artefacts of the creative life I could, after they’d filtered down to the middle of nowhere." Since finishing the book, I return to this sentence again and again. Maleney’s past self assumes that one can only access the "creative life" through urban infrastructures yet Minor Monuments demonstrates that this is not necessarily the case. From RTÉ Radio 1's Arena, Ian Malaney's essay on how large-scale peat exploitation at the turn of the 20th century brought an unexpected visitor to the boglands of Offaly Constellations traces the "story of a life in a body", an Irish body, Gleeson’s own. In a similar fashion to Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, Gleeson traces the story of a body in pain, through her experiences of arthritis and leukaemia. In "Blue Hills and Chalk Bones", that body also operates in relation to the omnipresence of Irish Catholicism, namely the pilgrimage to Lourdes: "I thought about the baths, and how if I believed enough, I would be cured". Gleeson also writes of the "form of guidance: that the work of artists such as Frida Kahlo, Lucy Grealy and Jo Spence provided in their explorations of their bodies in illness. "Perhaps articulating a life-changing illness is part of recovery. But so is finding the kind of articulation that is specific to you." Quoting Anne Carson, Gleeson concludes that, for Kahlo, Grealy and Spence, "a wound gives off its own light", which perhaps summarises Constellations’ approach to the subject too. It is difficult not to read this collection while conscious of how the Irish state has regulated pregnant bodies through the (recently repealed) Eighth Amendment. Gleeson knows this, stating in "Twelve Stories of Bodily Autonomy (one for the twelve women a day who left)" that "until 2018, it was impossible to talk about the body in Ireland and not talk about abortion. […] Before [the referendum] Ireland did not see the individual as a distinct being." Constellations and Minor Monuments are not only very good essay collections. They are also testimonies to what it is to be as an Irish woman in pre- and post-referendum Ireland (Gleeson), or a person who, having left rural Ireland as many of our generation have done, still feels the pull of home (Maleney). Returning to Pine, these collections demonstrate that, for some, writing can be the most powerful thing we can do.  

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: What did the "lord of blood-vengeance" do in medieval Ireland?

Author:  Andrew Ó Donnghaile, a PhD Medieval Studies candidate Analysis: when it came to getting retribution for grievances, the aire échta was the man to call  The themes of medieval vengeance and reprisal are increasing familiar to the public eye in the cinematic age of Vikings, The Last Kingdom and Game of Thrones. Nevertheless, what might raise more eyebrows is the existence of a grade of lord in medieval Irish society whose legally charged task was to obtain redress for an grievance caused by one kindred upon another. Such redress could go as far as forcible seizure or vengeance. This person was called the aire échta, the "lord of blood-vengeance". A closer look at various early medieval Irish texts indicate that the aire échta appears to have been more influential before a period of recurrent interterritorial legislation (that is, laws between kingdoms), beginning in the eighth century. Some evidence has emerged that may show how the position of the aire échta became eroded by ecclesiastical disfavour, the increasing influence of elite clergymen in interterritorial dispute settlement and increasing legal administration by overkings in the hierarchy of medieval Irish kingdoms. So how did the "lord of blood-vengeance" operate? Críth Gablach, the 8th-century law-text on the status of various kinds of people in society, includes a difficult Old Irish passage on the aire échta, expertly translated by legal scholar Neil McLeod: "the aire échta, why is he so called? Because he is the leader of five which is excluded from committing slaughter under a cairde ["treaty"] until the end of a month, to avenge the dishonouring of a kingdom from which a person has recently been slain. Provided they do not do so before the end of the month, they go [to obtain redress] in the treaty-kingdom and their protection does not lie with him there." From RTÉ Radio 1's History Show, Gillian Kenny on laws and practices around marriage in medieval Ireland Disputes occurring between two kingdoms which had a cairde "treaty" (or more precisely, "a legal protocol for handling disputes between kingdoms") normally would be settled by means of "sureties", or legal representatives acting on behalf of the victim’s and offender’s kindreds. They would ensure that compensation was paid across a kingdom’s border for an offence. However, when this system did not work as intended, and the offender and his kindred did not offer to pay compensation for a murder committed across a territorial border within a month’s time, the aire échta could gather five people from the victim’s close kindred (brothers, father, uncles, or cousins) and cross into the offender’s kingdom to avenge this murder. However, could this commando-style operation exacerbate tensions between kingdoms or fuel dynastic feuds? And how did early Irish ecclesiastical communities perceive the aire échta? Some answers to these questions lie in the eighth-century law-text Bretha Crólige, "Judgements on Blood-lyings" and the legal narrative "The Expulsion of the Déisi". One passage in Bretha Crólige reads: "there are three persons in the territory who are maintained according to the [standard of] maintenance of a bóaire - neither their dignity nor their sacred character nor their rights nor their tonsure make any increase in [the standard of] their sick-maintenance —a druid, a reaver, a satirist. For it is more fitting in the sight of God to repudiate them than to protect them." A later scribe of this text wrote the words aire échta in a gloss under the word díbergach, "reaver". The term díbergach is often used of someone engaged in an interterritorial raid. These three kinds of people in the passage are said to be maintained according to a bóaire, a commoner who is lower status than a lord. Thus, both the scribe’s portrayal of the aire échta as a díbergach, and his implicit contention that the aire échta has no lordly status illustrates the scribe’s distaste for the aire échta. It may even reveal a later demotion in status of the aire échta’s position. Mention of the "aire échta" (Trinity College Dublin MS H 3.18, 1337, p. 180) The author of an eighth-century legal narrative "The Expulsion of the Déisi", appended to the beginning of a law-text on accidents Bretha Éitgid, illustrates the potential disorder that could result from the violent actions of an aire échta. While Óengus Gaíbuaibthech ("Óengus of the Dread Spear"), the aire échta of the tale, is off in Connacht to avenge an affronted kindred, his niece is abducted by the king of Tara’s son, Cellach back in the overkingdom of Brega. Óengus swiftly returns to Brega with his vengeful task unfulfilled, to take vengeance for this more local dispute. With his blundering, tactless actions, he kills Cellach and in the process accidentally blinds the king of Tara Cormac mac Airt, and kills his legal officer. The author illustrates the potential volatility of the aire échta’s office: when things get out of hand, the result may be exacerbated tensions and a fragmented socio-legal framework within an overkingdom. So was there a better way to handle interterritorial disputes when dynastic politics and elite members of society were directly involved? At the end of the seventh century, an innovative kind of interterritorial legislation emerged that flourished for over a century: the ecclesiastical cánai. These were edicts enacted by the most powerful kings and ecclesiastics throughout Ireland, along with their subordinates, and were designed to function between kingdoms, and sometimes even between entire provinces. The first of these edicts, Cáin Adomnáin, proscribes a far more expedited timeline for payment for offences than usual. This would make it even less likely that a month would pass with an offence going unresolved, after which the duties of the aire échta would be required. It may well be that these edicts were partly intended as church-mediated legislation to deal with interterritorial issues even when contentious dynastic politics came into play. So was there a better way to handle interterritorial disputes when dynastic politics and elite members of society were directly involved? By the time of the early 10th century, we see a law-text involving the distribution of cró, "compensation for murder", and díbad "inheritance", which describes an overking arbitrating disputes involving homicide between two subordinate kingdoms under his rule. In many regions, methods of interterritorial dispute settlement seem to have moved largely beyond the aire échta by this time, which may explain his later demoted status mentioned above. However, legal discourse on the aire échta does continue even to the Early Modern Irish period (c.1200-1600AD), but whether this suggests the continued existence of the office or simply the prolonged interest of early modern legal scholars is less certain.

Friday, 17 May 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Has economics lost its ability to relate to the real world?

Author: Dr Srinivas Raghavendra, School of Business and Economics pinion: for macroeconomics to be relevant, it must bring social aspects into its analysis, including the role of gender When a discipline  is as unaffected as economics has been by the 2008 financial crisis, it may be safe to say that it has lost its ability to relate to the real world. This is particularly true in the case of macroeconomics, the branch that informs the budgetary and monetary policies of a country. The limitations of modern macroeconomics are now recognised by the proponents themselves and there has been a considerable amount of public debate around the world to rethink economics in a way that relates to what people experience in their day to day lives. Economics is a social science - indeed, it used to be called the "queen" of social sciences. For economics to be relevant to the real-world, it should reintegrate social relations and other social aspects in its analysis. To start with, it should incorporate gender relations in economic analysis given gender norms form an important basis for social relations. For a start, modern macroeconomics should reconstruct and engender the notion of "household" liberating it from the wisdom of the "rational agent". Not all decisions in the household are amenable to the rationalistic point of view. Activities regarding the care of children, elderly and other members in the household are mostly done by women and these are not based on "rational" calculations. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Suzanne Lynch, European Correspondent with the Irish Times, reports that the EU wants action to deal with Ireland's macroeconomic imbalances When you examine this issue, it becomes clear that care is essential for the re-production of market labour. The amount of unpaid care that goes into various types of domestic work releases labour time for predominantly male members of the household for paid market activities. The unpaid care is not just an input in today’s economic output but, through the care of children, it produces future labour or human capital and hence it is an investment for the future. There is substantial international evidence that supports the observation that the burden of unpaid care falls more on women, in both developing and developed countries. In 2014, OECD data showed that women spend on average between three to six hours on unpaid care activities, while men spend between 0.5 to two hours across all regions of the world. In OECD countries, women spend about 2.4 hours each day more than men on unpaid care work. In Ireland, data from the first pilot time-use survey conducted in 2005 reveals the time spent on unpaid work and caring time on weekdays average just over five hours for women compared to one hour 40 minutes for men. The McKinsey Global Institute estimated the unpaid care work undertaken by women to be $10 trillion of output per year, roughly equivalent to 13% of global GDP in 2015. Any rethinking of economics must recognise that the invisible hand of the market rests on care and that capitalism uses and reinforces patriarchy for its sustenance The unequal burden of unpaid care work on women adversely affects their ability to take part in the labour market and impacts on the type and quality of employment available to them. Women are more likely to take up part-time work, often in vulnerable employment. The unequal burden of unpaid care work on women and the consequent adverse impact on their earning potential creates a self-perpetuating dynamic between the gendered division of labour and women’s economic empowerment. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, articulates the explicit goal of achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls with a specific target to recognise and reduce the unequal burden of unpaid care work of women. The SDGs further stress the importance of macroeconomic policies as a crucial enabler of gender equality and recommends that economic policymakers recognise and value unpaid care work of women. However, the gender-blind macroeconomic models do not have the means to identify the adverse dynamic between economic growth and gender inequality, and their policies can indeed lead to a reinforcement of gender inequalities.  For macroeconomics to stay relevant, it must recognise the role of gender norms and social relations in economic decision-making at both household and community level. When the economy is viewed through the prism of social relations, it highlights the role of care, which is unpaid and deemed unproductive, as being fundamental for both today’s output and for future economic growth. Any rethinking of economics must recognise that the invisible hand of the market rests on care and that capitalism uses and reinforces patriarchy for its sustenance.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: What does your local council do with your money?

Author: Dr Ger Turley and Stephen McNena, Economics Analysis: Leitrim spends €392 per person on roads, Galway spends €86 per head on housing and Meath spends €44 per citizen on recreation and amenities With the local elections taking place next week, it's a good time to consider the role of local councils and especially their economic function as a provider of local services funded by taxpayers’ money. In terms of both spending and income and, in particular, commercial rates,  here are some big differences between local authorities. These can be accounted for by variations in expenditure needs arising from differences in the physical, socio-economic and demographic profile of the area and its population The Local Authority Finances website allows taxpayers to see how their money is spent locally. Aiming to improve transparency and accountability by informing the public on how taxpayers’ money is spent locally, it can be used to access and understand individual council income and spending budgets. It can also provide cross-council comparisons, with a view to identifying differences in local authority spending and income, as well as star performers and council laggards.  Initially developed by PublicPolicy.ie with funding from Atlantic Philanthropies, the website shows local council income and spending by revenue sources (user charges, commercial rates, local property tax, central government grants etc) and expenditure functions and local public services (housing, roads, planning, environmental services, recreation and amenities etc). We've used date from here to create the summary table below and the following findings.  From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, why BusConnects is a key local election issue in Dublin Of the eight functional areas that local councils provide, four service divisions account for 75% of total current spending. These are housing (€351 per person nationwide in 2019), roads (€208), environmental services (€152) and recreation & amenities (€102). But across the 31 local authorities, there are sizeable differences in terms of how much councils spend per person. The highest and lowest spend per head occur with Dublin City Council and Meath County Council, at €1,751 and €635 per inhabitant respectively. For housing, expenditure per person ranges from €686 in Dublin City Council to €86 in Galway County Council. On roads, the range is from €396 in Leitrim County Council to €92 in Fingal County Council. For environmental services, including the fire service and street cleaning, Dublin City Council spends €362 per person whereas Meath County Council spends €84 per person. On recreation and amenities, including libraries, the arts and leisure (parks, playgrounds, sports and leisure facilities) spending per capita ranges from €223 in Galway City Council to €44 in Meath County Council. From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Sean O'Rourke, Gary Murphy from DCU and Kevin Doyle from The Irish Independent on local election issues As for spending changes over time, the more urban, eastern local authorities have witnessed the largest increases in day-to-day spending since the last local elections, with the more rural local authorities experiencing the smallest increases and even some recording reductions in day-to-day spending since 2014. In contrast, all local authorities experienced reductions in current (and even more so in capital) spending between the local elections of 2009 and 2014, coinciding with the years of austerity. Even with the recovery in the general economy since the last local elections, the issue of the rural/urban divide remains a serious challenge for our policymakers, both local and national. Funding sources also differ, reflecting differences in tax bases and economic activity. Take, for example, the two Galway councils and consider the shares of revenue income in rates and in grants as indicators of autonomy and dependency. The commercial rates share of revenue income in Galway County Council is 23%, but it is 42% in Galway City Council where the industrial and commercial property base is higher. The central government grants share of revenue income in Galway City Council is 25% compared to 38% in the more rural Galway County Council with less business activity.   This difference between rural and urban councils is countrywide, with the more urban densely populated councils able to rely more on own-source incomes such as commercial rates, retained local property tax (LPT) and user charges, resulting in a greater degree of fiscal autonomy for these councils, while the rural less populated county councils have to depend more on central government grants to provide local public services. Commercial rates account for about 30% of total revenue income, as against the local property tax which accounts for only 8% As most tax revenue (as distinct from service charges and central government grants) for local councils is in the form of commercial rates and not LPT, we report the commercial rate called the Annual Rate on Valuation (ARV), for 2019. In Ireland, income from these business taxes is used as a balancing item to equalise budgeted expenditures with budgeted income from all other revenue sources, to ensure the local balanced budget rule is met. What is interesting is the cross-council variation in the ARV, as is evident in the table. For those local councils that have not revalued the commercial rates base recently, the ARV ranges from 79.25 in Kerry County Council to 56.77 in Tipperary County Council. Where local councils have undertaken a recent revaluation of industrial and commercial properties liable for commercial rates, the ARV ranges from 0.2760 in South Dublin County Council to 0.1500 in Fingal County Council. Indeed, two of of the four Dublin councils are amongst the councils that levy the highest ARVs in the country, but, on the other hand, the other two Dublin councils have the lowest ARVs nationwide. As for these cross-council differences in the ARV, the ARV in 2019 in any local council is a reflection of that council’s ARV levied in the past. As a tax on business property, commercial rates account for about 30% of total revenue income, as against the LPT which accounts for only 8% of revenue income. Given the Government’s recent and regrettable decision to, yet again defer the revaluation of residential properties for LPT purposes, this imbalance between business and non-business taxes to fund local public services is an issue that requires more analysis and discussion. Indeed, the local elections provide an ideal opportunity for voters and policymakers to debate this and other local concerns. Data take from www.localauthorityfinances.com and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government www.housing.gov.ie^Expenditure data for Limerick City and County Council are not included as its annual budget is inflated by the spending on the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme with Limerick City and County Council running the shared services centre on behalf of the 31 local authorities. Similarly, Dublin City Council is the lead local authority in the Dublin region for homeless services (operating a shared service arrangement via the Dublin Region Homeless Executive), and for the fire service. This is important when comparing expenditure data across the four Dublin councils. Given the variations in the profile, circumstances and choices of the different areas and their constituents, these cross-council differences in budget income and spending are not unexpected. The argument in favour of decentralisation and having local councils, after all, is to bring government closer to the people so that citizens get what they want given their differences in preferences and willingness to pay, rather than the uniformity than comes with central government provision. In the run-up to these local elections we urge voters to use the website to get a breakdown of their local council income and spending and how it compares to other councils and the national average. By doing so, they can see how taxpayers’ money is spent locally.    

Thursday, 16 May 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Why do some Irish estuaries turn green every summer?

Author: Dr Liam Morrison, Earth and Ocean Sciences Analysis: large amounts of seaweed biomass produce negative consequences for both ecosystem and human activities One of the main human pressures affecting European coastal ecosystems is nutrient over-enrichment as a consequence of human activities. Reduction in nutrient loading is considered the main remediation action. Nutrient over-enrichment became an important issue in Europe after industrialisation and the increased use of commercially available artificial fertilisers following the Second World War. Estuarine environments are particularly susceptible to nutrient over-enrichment and other pollutants as a consequence of the smaller size of these water bodies, their relatively lower flushing rates and because they are the primary receptor of land based contaminants which enter through rivers. The development of opportunistic macroalgal blooms or seaweed tides which occur in many parts of the world are a clear indicator of nutrient enrichment in estuaries. Macroalgal blooms do not pose a direct health risk, but the accumulation and subsequent degradation of large amounts of seaweed biomass over short periods of time produce negative consequences for the ecosystem and shore-based human activities. For instance, biomass degradation as a result of bacterial breakdown and decay in estuaries dominated by large seaweed tides can consume most of the oxygen in the water. They also release toxic compounds which in turn impact on fish, shellfish and other species and organisms crucial for ecosystem functioning and services. The green estuary in Clonakilty is not a tourist attraction During the Beijing Olympics in 2008, 13,000 square-kilometres of seaweed biomass (over 1 million tonnes) had to be removed from the sailing venue in Qingdao Bay at a cost of €200 million. In Brittany, 14,560 m3 of Ulva seaweed was removed from the shoreline at a cost of €1.8 million in 1992. The cost of lost ecosystem services are likely much greater and difficult to accurately determine in monetary terms. In Ireland, the largest macroalgal blooms occur in the Tolka (Dublin Bay), Argideen and Clonakilty (Co. Cork) estuaries. These estuaries fail to meet the criteria for "Good Ecological Status" as part of the process for assessment and monitoring of macroalgal blooms under our obligations for the EU Water Framework Directive. The percentage of the estuary affected by macroalgal tides and the biomass abundances recorded during peak bloom conditions are considerably higher than the regulatory requirements, suggesting potentially significant harmful effects on organisms and ecosystem. Despite much effort to reduce nutrient loadings in the last few decades, such as the development of more efficient waste water treatment facilities, our research revealed an increase between two and three-fold in the biomass density of Ulva during peak bloom of the green tide affecting the Tolka Estuary between 1990 and 2016. But other indicators related to the monitoring of the environmental quality in this estuary (such as dissolved oxygen in the water) revealed a lower incidence of lower oxygen concentrations in the seawater and hence the improvement in water quality. Gathering research data at the Tolka estuary in Dublin The addition of nutrients to Irish estuaries arises from a combination of current loadings and potential reservoirs (e.g. nutrients stored in estuarine sediments and in groundwater which are slowly released to the marine environment), making it difficult to identify the importance of specific sources. Considering this, a reduction in current nutrient loadings may not result in an instantaneous reduction in the occurrence of opportunistic macroalgal blooms. It is worth noting that recovery of natural ecosystems is often slower in terms of time period than the processes that actually lead to the degradation in the first instance. For example, a community shifts from seagrass meadows to macroalgal or microalgal tides in estuarine environments as a result of human-induced nutrient inputs has been reported to occur over relatively short periods of time, while the recovery of seagrass meadows is much slower. This can have important negative effects in the natural goods and services that estuaries provide, such as the provision of habitat for organisms and nutrient and carbon sequestration. The release of nutrients from agricultural practices is already a significant source of surface water pollution, and is potentially predicted to increase with a greater demand for food associated with global population growth. Food Wise 2025, the Irish Government’s vision for the agri-food sector, includes agricultural intensification to satisfy domestic demand and increase exports, which may impact on water quality and greenhouse gas emission targets. It is likely that these issues will result in increased nutrient over-enrichment and hence increased incidence and severity of macroalgal blooms as predicted by EPA modelling approaches and direct observations elsewhere in the world. The release of nutrients from agricultural practices is already a significant source of surface water pollution Although nutrient enrichment is a necessary prerequisite for the development of macroalgal blooms, other factors such as temperature, salinity or the pool of opportunistic species capable of blooming control seaweed tide development and severity. During the course of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA)-funded Sea-MAT project at NUI Galway, we observed an increase in the area affected by macroalgal blooms in the Clonakilty Estuary using historical satellite images. This increase was not related to greater nutrient loading, but as a consequence of the arrival of an alien species from Japan (Agarophycum vermiculophyllum, previously known as Gracilaria vermiculophylla) as confirmed using molecular identification techniques. The Sea-MAT project also discovered that green tides affecting Irish estuaries are multispecific (comprised of many species) and not monospecific (just one species) as previously thought. This could have important consequences for bloom persistence, nutrient enrichment and storage in sediments, and ultimately effective management strategies. Meanwhile, our EPA-funded MACROMAN project will attempt to predict the response of seaweed tides in Ireland in the context of global change in order to identify solutions aimed at preventing eutrophication and boost ecosystem recovery.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: How hurling conquered Hollywood

Author: Seán Crosson, College of Arts, Social Sciences and Celtic Studies  Analysis: there has been a long and colourful relationship between Gaelic games and cinema home and away While Gaelic games are among the most popular sports in Ireland, few will be aware of the long tradition of depicting these games in the cinema, a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of the cinema. In fact, as early as 1901, the Irish Animated Photo Company filmed a Cullen’s Challenge Cup hurling game between Rovers and Grocers played at Jones’ Road – now Croke Park – and the film was screened as part of a "Grand Gaelic Night" at the Rotunda on Parnell Street the following week. In subsequent years, Gaelic games have repeatedly provided filmmakers with a resonant motif to represent perceived aspects of Irish identity, perceived as these representations have been neither straightforward nor unproblematic. In international productions in particular, Gaelic games have been employed on occasion as a short hand for regressive stereotypes associated with Irish people, including their alleged propensity for violence. But for domestic film makers, Gaelic games afforded distinctive Irish cultural practices and were employed to promote and affirm the Irish nation, particularly as an indigenous film culture began to develop in the aftermath of the Second World War. From the late 1960s onwards, a critical turn became evident in these homegrown productions, though contemporary depictions of Gaelic games still occasionally reveal the more problematic stereotypes associated with Ireland and Irish identity.  British Pathé coverage of the 1937 All-Ireland football final In Ireland, the historical relationship between sport and film has been complicated by the fact that much of this film emerged from British and American production companies. While an Irish film culture was slow to develop post-independence, the representation of Gaelic games in the inter-war years depended almost entirely on foreign newsreel companies such as British Pathé and British Movietone. The surviving footage from these companies – of which there are fortunately a significant number of examples – provides an important record of Gaelic games in these years, and some of the finest players from both codes.  However, their presentation sometimes reveals prejudiced perspectives and a limited understanding among producers of the games being filmed. While the rather contrived, clipped, upper-class "Oxford" accents evident in newsreel commentary are standard for British newsreels of the period, they seem rather incongruous for reports of Gaelic games. These accents may have conferred a certain respectability and international recognition on the sports featured, but they also contributed the occasional mispronunciation, as in the case of Cavan ("Ca-vinn") in a 1937 British Pathé newsreel of that year’s All-Ireland football final and Laois ("Leese") in footage from the 1936 All-Ireland football final from the same company. Commentators also occasionally resorted, rather erroneously, to other sports to explain the action, for example with county teams being referred to on one occasion as "clubs" and a reference to the beginning of a Gaelic football game as a ‘kick-off’ rather than a throw-in A further fascinating aspect of the story Gaelic games on film is the enduring relationship between hurling and Hollywood. Several of the major Hollywood studios, including MGM, Paramount and Warner Bros, have produced films which focus on this most distinctive of Irish sports. Hurling first appeared in a number of Warner Bros shorts’ series released in cinemas in the early 1930s, including two episodes of series presented by the seminal American sport broadcaster Ted Husing. In 1936, MGM released a short entitled Hurling as part of their highly-popular "Pete Smith Specialities series". This described hurling as Ireland’s "game of assault and battery" and drew heavily on established and problematic stereotypes concerning Ireland and Irish people at the time. The peak for Hollywood short films on hurling came in 1955 when Three Kisses was nominated for an Oscar. Featuring leading Cork hurlers of the time and games from the 1955 hurling championship, Three Kisses is a fascinating rendering of hurling, Ireland and Irishness from a Hollywood perspective.  By the 1950s, references to hurling and hurlers in particular featured in a range of feature films, including The Quiet Man (1952), The Rising of the Moon (1957) and Young Cassidy (1965), all work by the legendary and multiple Oscar-winning Irish-American director John Ford. Indeed The Rising of the Moon remains one of the most controversial films of the 1950s for its depiction of battered and bruised hurlers returning from a game on stretchers, provoking strong protests from the GAA and considerable, often hilarious, comment from Irish Times' columnist Myles na Gopaleen (better known to many as author Flann O’Brien). Excerpts from Rooney (1958) The game itself or references to the sport has continued to be a feature in major international productions including Rooney (1958), about the hurling exploits of a Dublin binman, and brief scenes in Ryan’s Daughter (1970), The Crying Game (1992), and British crime thriller Blitz (2011). More extended sequences appear in Ken Loach’s Palme D’Or winning The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006), while Neil Jordan included a reenactment of one of the most infamous moments in Gaelic football history, 1920's Bloody Sunday, in his historical biopic Michael Collins (1996). While these international depictions of Gaelic games provide revealing insights into the depiction of Ireland and Irish culture often from afar, the emergence of a domestic film culture is inextricably linked to the representation of Gaelic games. The earliest surviving depictions we have of Gaelic games – a 1914 actuality of the all-Ireland football final replay of that year between Kerry and Wexford and a sequence in the 1918 feature film Knocknagow, emerged from the efforts of pioneering companies and individuals in the story of Irish cinema, including the Irish Animated Picture Company (the first indigenous film producer and distributor) and the Film Company of Ireland, Ireland’s first producer of feature films. In the aftermath of the Second World War, an Irish film culture began to coalesce around the efforts of the National Film Institute of Ireland and subsequently Gael Linn. For both organisations, film depictions of Gaelic games were key concerns and featured among their most popular productions, including Gael Linn’s coaching films Peil (1962) and Christy Ring (1964). In the later 20th century, Gaelic games continued to feature prominently in independent Irish productions including Fergus Tighe’s Clash of the Ash (1988), Pat Comer’s influential feature documentary A Year ‘til Sunday (1998), and the horror work of Conor McMahon, including The Braineater (2001) and Dead Meat (2004).  From the first moving images captured in 1901 to more recent productions, the representation of Gaelic games on film has evolved significantly in response to developments in the sports concerned, Irish society and technology. Indeed, for those who watch these sports on TV or attend major games in Croke Park today, significant parallels exist with the history of cinematic depictions of these sports, both in the manner in which games are televised for broadcast and the in-stadium experience itself, complemented today by the relaying of action on the pitch onto the two permanent big-screens in the stadium. While television is undoubtedly the key medium for contemporary moving image depictions of Gaelic games, these representations are nonetheless indebted to the extraordinary legacy of the cinema and cinematic depictions of these sports. 

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Why we need to address weight stigma in all aspects of life

Author:  Marita Hennessy, Health Behaviour Change Research Group, and Susie Birney Opinion: stigma against people with obesity can cause exclusion and inequality in healthcare, employment and society Weight bias is defined as a negative attitude and stereotype against people with obesity. This can cause exclusion and inequality in healthcare, employment and society. It promotes stereotypes that people in bigger bodies are lazy, weak-willed or lack intelligence. This is linked with physiological and psychological health risks and leads to patients not seeking help. Shaming people to try and be healthier doesn’t work. In fact, research shows that stigmatising messages have the opposite effect to that intended, and drive unhealthy eating and activity behaviours. How we talk about obesity is important, whether it’s in our interactions with healthcare professionals, in health information materials, in the media, in advertisements or in the news. People-first language should always be used, as well as non-stigmatising imagery. Many patients are involved in support groups online or at their weight management centres. They attend cookery lessons, mindfulness classes and exercise classes. They arrange family walks and healthy lunch meetings to share recipes and tips. Despite these efforts, patients need support and help from healthcare professionals, family, and everyone in society. Susie Birney provides the patient perspective on living with obesity and why we need to end weight stigma Nobody has a greater vested interest in diagnosis, treatment and support than the patient themselves. Living with obesity, you go through every single day anticipating, fearing, expecting and preparing for the worst. Dealing with stares, comments, suggestions and judgements takes up every ounce of your emotional energy. Stigma needs to stop and we all need to advocate and act to end weight stigma. This includes members of the public and patients, researchers, the media, health professionals and government. Healthcare professionals in particular need training and support around obesity stigma to ensure that patients with a higher weight are treated with respect and are not dismissed as non-compliant. Patient advocacy and approaches to reducing obesity stigma are the key themes for the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland (ASOI), which takes place at the Convention Centre Dublin on May 17th and 18th. The ASOI is the Irish representative body at the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) and the World Obesity Federation. The ASOI aims to develop an understanding of obesity through the pursuit of excellence in research and education, the facilitation of contact between individuals and organisations, and the promotion of action to prevent and treat obesity, across the island of Ireland. "Nobody has a greater vested interest in diagnosis, treatment and support than the patient themselves" Photo: UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity The annual conference will bring together national and international speakers from a range of backgrounds and disciplines, including clinicians, social scientists, and media and patient representatives to share best practice on how we can avoid obesity stigma when delivering public health campaigns. Media representatives will also take part in a panel discussion on how obesity is discussed in print, broadcast and online media, and how to reduce obesity stigma to better support public health messaging. As part of the conference, the Association will mark European Obesity Day 2019 on Saturday, a day which raises awareness and increases knowledge about obesity and the many other diseases on which it impacts. Recognition of obesity as a chronic disease will result in greater access to care and treatment for those who are overweight or have obesity and may also strengthen actions to prevent obesity at a societal level.  The first European Obesity Day was held in May 2010 and events over the years have included information stands, fun-runs, debates and workshops for politicians and policy makers. In 2010, European Obesity Day received an award for Campaign of the Year at the European Public Affairs Awards and won the Best European Lobbying Campaign Award in 2017. This year, Ireland will host its first major European obesity event in conjunction with the ASOI annual conference. It will be unique in that patients were involved in planning and will participate throughout the day by introducing, concluding and chairing sessions. Patients will also hold a patient booth where they can be found by anyone attending the day who wishes to talk to them one-to-one. Patients representatives have been a part of the ASOI Committee for some years now and are working towards creating a national patient organisation that will increase the patient voice collectively. Patients are eager to share their experiences and help decrease the regular stigmatising reactions from society. The theme of European Obesity Day 2019 is "tackling obesity together" and this event on May 18th is certainly trying to do that.        

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: 10 ways institutional abuse details are still being kept secret

Author: Dr Maeve O'Rourke, Irish Centre for Human Rights Opinion: 20 years after Bertie Ahern’s apology, the State's insistence on secrecy is stronger than ever This week, the country will mark the 20th anniversary of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s State apology to survivors of Ireland’s Industrial and Reformatory Schools. Explaining his motivations for the apology some years later, Ahern told the Ryan Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse that "the reality is we were dealing with a group of victims who were decent honourable people, who had suffered and deserved the State’s [sic] best apology the State could give". This is a truism worth reflecting on: victims/survivors of institutional abuse in Ireland are decent honourable people who deserve decent honourable treatment by the State. In other words, victims/survivors of institutional abuse are equal citizens who have the same constitutional and human rights as everyone else. It is only by recognising and respecting those rights now that the State can demonstrate remorse for, and capacity for change from, its previous pattern of abuse. This is a principle that should have underpinned all responses since 1999 to our terrible legacy of unlawful family separation and systematic cruelty and exploitation in institutions nationwide. From RTÉ Archives, RTÉ News reports on Taoiseach Bertie Ahern apologising on behalf of the state and its citizens to the victims of institutional child abuse on May 11th 1999 Censorship of survivors and archives But while rightly establishing some statutory investigations and financial payment schemes, the State has at the same time exercised its legal powers for the last two decades over the evidence contained in witness testimonies and the archives of church and official bodies to censor survivors and keep personal information from many. Survivors have been treated as though they cannot be trusted with the evidence of their own past. Public access to non-sensitive documents such as administrative files, inspection and financial registers, and burial location records, has also been prohibited. The church authorities in turn have felt no obligation to establish public archives that are readily searchable and accessible. In this way, survivors’ access to the courts and Garda complaints mechanisms has been gravely hampered. The ability of many to piece together their own history – including such fundamental aspects as their own identity and health conditions – has been denied. In addition, society’s opportunity to properly engage with our recent past and dismantle the similar systems that prevail at present is significantly curtailed. From RTÉ News, Conor Hunt reports on the commencement of the Dáil debate on the Ryan Commission report in June 2009 Why we need an independent national repository Now is the time for political leaders in Ireland to announce the creation of an independent national repository which gives survivors and relatives of the deceased all existing personal records. The national repository should also provide public access to testimony voluntarily deposited, archival records and other material evidence of our shared history. This was the primary recommendation of the Clann Project, an evidence-gathering initiative of which I am a co-director with Claire McGettrick, upon publishing our Principal Submissions to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation. These submissions to the Commission of Investigation drew on 79 witness statements drafted by the international law firm Hogan Lovells LLP. The Government should heed the clear and carefully-devised Set of general recommendations for truth commissions and archives published by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence in 2013. Canada offers an example of how to construct national archives of institutional abuse records, as Dr James Gallen of Dublin City University frequently argues. The Canadian National Center for Truth and Reconciliation, established recently at the University of Manitoba, houses millions of digitised records taken from government sources, Indian Residential Schools and the religious bodies involved in managing them, survivor statements (given voluntarily to the archive) and other community events and hearings conducted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission over the past decade. The National Center’s policies and activities are overseen by a Governing Circle including survivors and their ancestors and a majority of whose members must identify as Aboriginal. The human rights abuses described by survivors of Ireland’s institutions and adoption system are among the most serious recognised by the international community Ireland’s human rights record The State’s ever-expanding censorship of testamentary and archival evidence is unlikely to fully survive future litigation. Putting survivors through the intense stress and delays of litigating for access to basic information will be yet another incalculable failure on all of our part. Ireland’s international human rights reputation is also at stake, as critical reports and urgent recommendations by independent treaty monitoring bodies and human rights experts continue to pile up. As Dr Carole Holohan wrote for Amnesty International Ireland following the Ryan Report’s publication, and as I have written with colleagues in the Clann Project report and previously in the Justice for Magdalenes' report on the Magdalene Laundries, the human rights abuses described by survivors of Ireland’s institutions and adoption system are among the most serious recognised by the international community. Forced disappearance, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, widespread arbitrary detention and systematic violations of the right to respect for family and private life all require the State to investigate in a manner that includes victims/survivors. The State has obligations to allow access to judicial complaints mechanisms and to ensure that victims/survivors have the means of obtaining redress including as full rehabilitation as possible. From RTÉ News, Sharon Tobin reports on Clann Project's finding that the State's insistence on secrecy around adoptions causes human rights violations These things all depend on the State producing the evidence it holds and forcing the production of privately held records. An independent national repository is an essential way of showing that Irish society and the State mean to treat people differently than we did before. 10 ways in which institutional abuse information is still kept secret (1) The Retention of Records Bill 2019, which Minister for Education Joe McHugh recently introduced in the Dáil, proposes to withhold from public inspection every document gathered or made by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, Residential Institutions Redress Board and Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee for no less than the next 75 years. This includes all survivor testimony and all administrative records and other evidence of the operation of Industrial and Reformatory Schools. The Bill does not provide for survivors to be given a copy of their own testimony or asked whether they wish their testimony to form part of the national historical record during their lifetime. (2) Almost no prosecutions appear to have arisen from the investigations of the Ryan Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, as the advocacy group Reclaiming Self has highlighted. The Government’s explanation to the United Nations Committee Against Torture is that "the provisions governing the Ryan Commission’s work precluded the disclosure of the names of persons identified as perpetrators, hence this information was not available to An Garda Síochána for the purposes of initiating criminal investigations."  From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, a report on the publication of the Reclaiming Self report into the treatment of institutional abuse survivors  (3) Under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002, it is a criminal offence for survivors to "publish any information concerning an application or an award made under this Act that refers to any other person (including an applicant), relevant person or institution by name or which could reasonably lead to the identification of any other person (including an applicant), a relevant person or an institution referred to in an application made under this Act." Not only does this legislative provision appear to prohibit survivors from writing or speaking publicly about their experiences of seeking redress, but Reclaiming Self states that some survivors have interpreted it as preventing them from reporting their abusers to the Gardaí. (4) The ongoing Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is refusing to provide survivors or the family members of the deceased with any of the personal information that it holds concerning them. In one letter to a survivor seeking her own records, the Commission said that its refusal was "in order to safeguard the effective operation of the Commission and the future cooperation of witnesses". Meanwhile, as reported by Conall O’Fatharta of the Irish Examiner recently, the Commission said that it was refusing to inform families of the whereabouts of their relatives’ graves because underpinning legislation makes it "an offence for anyone, including a member of the Commission, to disclose or publish any evidence given or the contents of any document produced" and as a result "we cannot inform the families".  From RTÉ Archives, a 1999 report from RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland after the State apology about if the commission of inquiry has the powers to investigate what really happened (5) The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is refusing to provide survivors with a transcript of their own evidence to the Commission. (6) The Mother and Baby Homes Commission has decided to reject all survivor requests for public hearings, while the evidence that it gathers in private will be sealed for at least several decades according to its underpinning legislation and current High Court case law caselaw. (7) According to its grounding legislation, the archive of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission will not be available for future use in civil or criminal proceedings. (8) Regarding the Magdalene Laundries, the Department of An Taoiseach has repeatedly refused to release any of the contents of the McAleese Committee archive claiming that it is holding the archive "for safe keeping" and "not…for the purposes of the FOI Act". The ability of many to piece together their own history – including such fundamental aspects as their own identity and health conditions – has been denied The non-statutory McAleese Committee returned all religious-owned records at the end of its work. Its archive contains all State records concerning the Magdalene Laundries, including administrative and financial files, and likely also contains some information relating to the as-yet unidentified burial sites of many women who died while incarcerated. (9) There is no statutory right for adopted people (whether lawfully or unlawfully separated from their family) or people who were placed in informal or illegal care arrangements as children to access their early life files. As noted by the Clann Project, this is at odds with the legal position in Northern Ireland, England and Wales, Scotland, Germany, Spain, Austria and the Netherlands, among other jurisdictions. (10) There is no explicit statutory right of access to personal records for relatives of children or adults who died in State or institutional care, many of whom still lie in unmarked graves.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: When theatre goes digital...

Author: Barry Houlihan, James Hardiman Library Opinion: how does contemporary theatre function when it no longer entirely "human"? As audiences of western theatre we are conditioned primarily to process plot, character, thought, diction, music, and spectacle, that are bound by unity of action, place, and time. In the era of artificial intelligence, big data, social media, bit-coin, and the dark web, we are essentially "born-digital". In the words of author John Cheney-Lippold and his study, we ARE data.  The categories of digital theatre and performance now include augmented reality, virtual reality, gamification, and immersive theatre, to name a few. But if theatre is an exploration of humanity and human experience, how then does contemporary theatre function when it no longer entirely "human"? Can we as theatre audiences be reflected within this digital maelstrom? The answer is we already have been. Web-based platforms create a space where theatre is created, edited, distributed, stored and retrieved. Performance art is mediated through technology as much as it is created through digital means. Live broadcasts from major international venues such as the Met Opera in New York or the UK National Theatre’s NT Live are now established and allow audiences in participating cities around the world to sit and view the live performance through the vicarious window of their local cinema screen. From RTÉ Radio 1's Arena, Fergus Sheil discusses the live screening of The Magic Flute by the Metropolitan New York and Royal Opera House Covent Garden in Irish cinemas The intermediality of digital theatre has been experimented with in various forms within contemporary Irish theatre. An early example of this was Who was Fergus Kilpatrick? Devised by The Company and commissioned by Project Arts Centre, the piece utilised, theatre, video "and stories filled with white lies and conspiracies [that] clash with old footage, old documents, old heroes to uncover new answers, a new company and a new truth". The premise of the play was to question the philosophy of reality and its construct through history: can we trust where we came from or what we think we know of the past? And how is our contemporary understanding of the past altered or deleted for corrupt gains or political advantage? It is noticeable that the platform for theatre that constitutes large-scale digital components have been mostly such major international arts festivals as the Dublin Theatre Festival and Galway International Arts Festival. The reasons for this include the global audience that can now view such productions through social media, post-show talks, live streaming and the international touring platform that international festivals provide. Incantata by Paul Muldoon had its world première at the Galway International Arts Festival in July 2018. In the play, a grieving figure of Muldoon himself, played by Stanley Townsend, engages in a relationship of memory with his recently deceased lover, the artist and print-maker, Mary Farl Powers. A video camera is affixed to the back of a plastic chair, which is then affectionately dressed with a coat and scarf, humanising the inanimate body of the camera creating a cyborg/human duality of presence that ironically (and tragically) is absent through death. Much of the action of the play is not present at all, but rather imagined and remembered and made present through digital means, displayed live to the audience projected onto the back-wall of the stage. This also serves to portray grief in its simplest and most raw of states – the desire to make a loved one present again from what is lost and gone. From RTÉ Radio 1's Sunday with Miriam, Paul Muldoon discusses Incantata Enda Walsh's Arlington premiered at the 2016 Galway International Arts Festival and included mixed-media and an extended piece of choreography. The work was as much an art installation as strictly theatre.  The Second Violinist premiered at the Galway festival in 2017 and starred Aaron Monaghan as a lone and isolated figure, often playing video games on his phone as he commutes on the bus. This was projected live before the audience on an expansive screen that stretched the length of the stage, serving to situate the online characters we all inhabit within versions of ourselves embodied through the web. Theatre company Dead Centre have created new ways in recent years of considering how we witness and contemplate contemporary life and also how we encounter the archive and production histories of major plays and canonical figures through digital production and performance. Chekhov's First Play and Hamnet both had Irish premières during the Dublin International Theatre Festival in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Chekhov's First Play opens with the 'real' director, Bush Markouzal playing a character of a director, speaking to his audience and instructing them on how they can hear his running commentary on the play, through the headphones that all audiences members were given. From RTÉ Radio 1's Arena, Sophie Gorman reviews Chekhov’s First Play by Dead Centre ‘The Director’ explains that he's the kind of guy who goes to an art gallery and spends his time reading the captions on the wall, rather than looking at the paintings: ostensibly he reads the metadata rather than views the object - the streams of code upon which systems operate and which users find an interface. In the theatre, as much as in a gallery, the interface exists as a space between actor and audience. The digital interface introduces a further facet or performance space, a virtual and intangible space that is both present and live.  "I'll be offstage so I won't distract you, I'll just be a voice in your head. Hope it's not too strange. It can feel a little intimate. Like even though everyone can hear this, it feels like I'm just talking . . . to you." As the play opens audience can hear 'the play' live on stage but also the voice of the offstage Director. The Director comments in real-time upon the live action, revealing that "[he] had ambitions once, to create new forms of theatre . . . connect to audiences in a new way . . . remind us we're alive." When the character of Anna questions "Do we matter? . . . I have a feeling that we don't anymore", she directs it to the audience as much as to her on-stage cast members. In Chekhov’s First Play, the cast are, like Beckett’s Estragon and Vladimir, waiting for someone, Platonov, who becomes a form of human avatar for an audience member in reality, in search of hope in a time where empathy and human connection are all but obsolete. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drama On One, writer and director Bush Moukarzel, dramaturg Michael West and actor Ollie West discuss Hamnet Hamnet utilised "live video and dead video" to present a contemporary retelling of Hamnet. Ollie West played Hamnet, the son of William Shakespeare who died aged 11, and who remains "one letter away from being "a great man", Hamlet". The videography within the play, designed by Jose Miguel Jiminez and with sound design from Kevin Gleeson, presents a live co-existence of viewpoint that relays onto a large video wall the audience looking at themselves looking at the play. Andrew Clancy's design includes a large video wall that simultaneously projects the dead child and past with the contemporary living Hamnet. The inverse to this process applies to the digital archive of performance. Work which was produced in traditional media but through digitisation allows us to reanimate performance, gesture, sound, music, even audience laughter and silence, in order to create a digital and virtual reality of performance. For example, a recording of Donal McCann as Frank Hardy in Brian Friel's Faith Healer at the Abbey Theatre in 1980 in the digital theatre archives of the Hardiman Library at NUI Galway reveals a performance masterful in its simplicity and control within a monologue form. The intimate gesture of McCann's posturing and the constant movement of his hands bring an intimacy to his performance. This is in stark contrast to Ralph Fiennes' portrayal of the same role at the Gate Theatre in 2006. Fiennes cuts a cocky, brash and unrepentant Frank Hardy, a huckster selling false promises and security. In a sense, this was Faith Healer for the Celtic Tiger-era - baseless bravado beneath a polished exterior. It is noticeable that the platform for theatre that constitutes large-scale digital components have been mostly such major international arts festivals Augmented reality superimposes a computer-generated image upon a user’s view of the present real world to create a composite dual reality. Theatre in such form will also leave you questioning the reality of performance, the reality of theatre, and even the validity of our contemporary society as well as of our documented history. This work tightly embraces the aid of digital technology and painstaking video and sound editing and blatantly flaunts the presence of pre-recorded scenes amid live feed. As the framework of truth and believed conceptions of what we know to be reality are dismantled on stage before us, it becomes apparent that the import of this work will be to keep challenging what exactly is live in theatre and how we as audiences assemble to listen and to witness it.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Here are 9 reasons why geography matters

Author: Frances Fahy, Anna Davies, Irish Research Council Opinion: the decision to make geography an optional Junior Cycle subject risks impoverishing Ireland's future (1) Geography describes the earth Geo comes from the Greek word for Earth and the "graphy" part comes from the Greek word which means to write about something. Thus geo and graphy literally means "to write about the Earth."  Geography teaches vital skills that help us describe and read the world and is representations, from ancient maps and charts to contemporary models and satellite images. Irish statesman and scholar Edmund Burke noted, "geography is an earthly subject, but a heavenly science". (2) Geography links the past to the present and the future Geography helps us understand how past societies and environments developed, which provides the context for the present and helps us to plan for our future. Geography helps us answer the question of "how do we wish to live?" in an informed way.  As Michael Palin said, "geography is the subject which holds the key to our future". From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Dr Kieran Hickey from UCC on why the removal of geography as a core subject in the Junior Cycle is a horrendous decision (3) Geography involves different disciplines  Geography combines the study of physical and human worlds and provides a unique context to study how our world is changing and how we can adapt to and mitigate changes. Geography considers both human and non-human processes and how they affect each other, for example how and why floods occur and how they impact landforms, human settlements and industries. It combines scientific and social literacy; it provides a bridging space in the curriculum to bring together the creativity of the arts, the insights of social science and humanities as well as the important principles of natural science methods and practices. It gives students a "big picture" view of the world as well as detailed understanding of natural and social systems and provides students with the ability to translate knowledge across disciplinary fields, a skill that will become increasingly important in the 21st century. From RTÉ Archives, an introduction to geography from the Telefís Scoile show from March 1969 presented by David Langride  (4) Geography contains essential survival skills In December 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean formed tsunamis (tidal or seismic sea waves) that devastated communities and environments in 14 countries making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. One student from the UK holidaying with their family recognised the signs of an impeding tsunami – the tide rushing out, the bubbling water, and the erratic movement of boats - from the geography lessons they had received and warned their family to leave the beach immediately. (5) Geography provides an understanding of scale Geography covers processes operating at and across scales, from the microscopic to the extra-terrestrial and the world needs geographically literate and global citizens now more than ever. Understanding the earth and society should be a pre-requisite to govern. Former US president Barack Obama put it like this in 2012: "the study of geography is about more than just memorising places on a map. It's about understanding the complexity of our world, appreciating the diversity of cultures that exists across continents. And in the end, it's about using all that knowledge to help bridge divides and bring people together." From RTÉ Radio 1's Ray D'Arcy Show, Dr Arlene Crampsie from the School of Geography at UCD uses geography to show the best GAA counties, but does former Kilkenny hurler DJ Carey agree? (6) Geography gives us an understanding of place The world around us is geography’s laboratory. Geography provides a tangible means for students to put theory into practice, to take learning from the classroom into the real world. It provides the lived context to connect understanding of physical properties – such as landslides - to the fundamental cycling of water to the importance of decision making about appropriate land use and settlement location. It helps people to understand their place in the world and comprehend current and historical social, cultural, economic, environmental and political events. To quote geographerYi Fu Tuan, "geography is the study of earth as the home of people" (7) Geography helps us address the big challenges There is no silver bullet to resolve global challenges such as biodiversity loss, mass extinctions, major societal upheaval, rising inequalities and global climate change. Geography provides the intellectual glue that can bind together insights from physics, chemistry, biology, geology, sociology, economics, political science and many other disciplines. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Dr Conor Murphy from the Department of Geography at Maynooth on why investment is needed in long term flood forecasting For example, geography helps us understand how our climate has changed over time, how human and physical processes have interacted to cause current conditions and how those interactions will continue to change landscapes, environments and livelihoods in the future. Geographical understanding helps us plan for uncertain futures based on our knowledge of past and current conditions. Geography helps inform human development illustrating how our very survival relies on the effective functioning of both natural and social systems. (8) Geography helps people get jobs Geography provides important applied and transferable skills, with many employers prizing the knowledge and skills that geography students acquire throughout their education. UK studies have found low levels of unemployment amongst geography graduates where leading universities and politicians recognise geography as one of the key "facilitating" subjects for entry to degree level study. Geography helps create the kind of global citizens that are required to navigate the challenges that lie ahead (9) Geography provides an education that everyone deserves. Ireland has a proud history of geographical trailblazers, from the late and great Anne Buttimer to the current leaders of our discipline who are making theoretical and empirical contributions to knowledge worldwide. However, geographers are not created at university, the seeds are sown in primary school and cultivated at second level. Removal of geography as a core subject for the Junior Cycle risks impoverishing our future. Geography fosters critical thinkers who are able to navigate the complexity of our data rich world. Practical and relevant, it is a living, breathing discipline, a science of sciences; a site of synthesis and integration. It helps create the kind of global citizens that are required to navigate the challenges that lie ahead. 

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

70 years on, is NATO past its sell-by date?

Author: Professor Ray Murphy Opinion: NATO has moved far from a core mission "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down."  Former NATO Secretary General Lord Ismay is once famously reputed to have said that NATO’s core mission was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down." A range of external and internal events have created a perfect storm that poses an existential crisis for NATO’s future. Founded in 1949 as a mutual defence organisation to counter Soviet expansionism in Europe, NATO today faces a multiple range of threats. Ironically, its biggest challenge is posed by its most powerful member, the United States. Lack of American leadership under an antagonistic and unpredictable President Trump have proved a blessing for NATO’s enemies, especially Russia. Trump has criticised what he sees as lack of commitment by NATO allies, tweeting in June 2018 that "the US pays close to the entire cost of NATO-protecting many of these same countries that rip us off on Trade (they pay only a fraction of the cost-and laugh!)." From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland in 2016, Andrew Cottey from UCC's Department of Government on Donald Trump and NATO During the recent visit of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to the White House for St Patrick's Day, Trump could not restrain himself from having a swipe at his European allies when he accused the EU of treating the US unfairly while threatening to impose trade tariffs. A planned NATO leaders meeting in Washington to mark its 70th anniversary was downgraded to that of foreign ministers amidst fears of the chaos Trump might cause. This is in stark contrast with the 50-year celebration hosted by President Clinton in 1999. NATO is based on an international treaty, Article 5 of which embodies the core commitment to mutual defence. An attack upon one is considered an attack on them all. This provision was invoked in response to the Al-Quaeda September 11th 2001 attacks on the United States. There were a number of remarkable aspects to this, chiefly that it led to military action outside of Europe in Afghanistan under the auspices of NATO and with the support of the UN. NATO does not provide the best mechanism to confront contemporary challenges This was not what the founders had envisioned for NATO, but it was evidence of its ability to adapt. But even then, cracks in the edifice were evident with resentment among the allies that some members were shouldering an unfair burden. It may also be asked what the war in Afghanistan has achieved after 18 years.  Interventions in Afghanistan and Libya have come at an enormous human cost and ending the Afghan conflict must be a priority. Since the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO has expanded incrementally but significantly into Eastern and Central Europe. Not surprisingly, this has alarmed Russia as the west is perceived to be encroaching into the former Soviet sphere of influence and threatening Moscow. It is also a violation of a reputed US pledge not to do so after Germany’s reunification in 1990. From RTÉ Archives, a 1974 episode of Seven Days asks if it's time for Ireland to join NATO While the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the annexation of the Crimea in 2014 have complex causes, they are also linked to NATO policies. In 2014, Putin complained bitterly of NATO’s expansion to the east and contemporary manifestations of the centuries old efforts to contain Russia. For its part, there is overwhelming evidence of Russian efforts to meddle in the political affairs of Western states. In fact, such efforts highlight that one of the main threats to all European states, NATO and non-NATO members alike, is the risk of a cyber-attack. This does not have to be on a scale to precipitate armed conflict, but all economies and civilian infrastructures are vulnerable. A further major threat is posed by Poland, Hungary and Turkey, all of which have moved to the right contrary to the democratic values espoused by NATO. These developments, along with a truculent Trump, are undermining relations between member states and the cohesion of the alliance. In the past, maintaining this cohesion was one of NATO’s success stories, but this is no longer the case.  Since the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO has expanded incrementally but significantly into Eastern and Central Europe Trump has threatened to withdraw from NATO. Such a turn of events would end the Atlantic Alliance as currently constituted and present Russia with a major victory. For that reason alone, this might not be a good development right now.  In the context of maintaining peace in Europe, the EU has played a much more significant role than that of NATO. It is worth recalling that it is not that long since the war in the former Yugoslavia and it will take some generations to overcome the legacy of that bitter ethnic conflict. NATO was critical in enforcing a peace agreement to end the fighting. From RTÉ Archives, Colm Murray reports for RTÉ News on the arrival of a Dutch NATO submarine in Dublin in November 1986 Is NATO past its sell by date? The United States under Trump has proved itself an unreliable ally and this is despite the fact that the US has much to gain from NATO membership. At the very least, American pressure on its NATO allies to spend more on defence should be countered with an argument that the US should spend less. If the US keeps up its current level of military expenditure, then Russia and China will respond similarly and the arms race escalates.  Contrary to what some analysts might have us believe, there is no significant military threat from conventional Russian forces massing on the European frontier. Russia is in decline with an ageing population and shrinking economy. A more immediate threat to Europe stems from a combination of right wing populism, extremism and the risk of cyber-attack and political subversion from outside powers. The growth in Chinese technological and economic power also presents a more long term threat on the horizon.  NATO does not provide the best mechanism to confront contemporary challenges. Large military budgets do not address the causes or consequences of political upheaval and social exclusion. Military expenditure does not neutralise extremism. It is often driven by the interests of what former US Allied Supreme Commander and President Eisenhower identified as the military-industrial complex.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

What's the outlook for Irish soldiers in the Golan Heights?

Author: Professor Ray Murphy Opinion: as a new batch of Irish troops prepare for deployment, the possibility of military action by Israel in the Golan remains a serious threat The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was established in 1974 following the disengagement agreement between Israeli and Syrian forces. Although Israel continues to occupy a large portion of the Golan, both parties agreed an 80km long and narrow zone of separation which would be monitored by the UN peacekeeping force.  Israel occupied the Golan Heights in 1967 and, despite a purported annexation in 1981, the UN and the international community consider it occupied territory. While the announcement that Donald Trump's US administration has recognised the Golan Heights as Israeli sovereign territory may not have any direct impact on UNDOF’s day to day operations, it is another destabilising factor in a volatile region.  From RTÉ Radio 1's News At One, Fergal O'Brien reports that the Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe doesn't share the US president's position on recognising Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights Prior to the outbreak of war in Syria, UNDOF was a relatively uneventful mission, but that changed with the outbreak of hostilities. UNDOF is small in terms of size at just over 1,100 personnel and Ireland has contributed around 130 personnel annually since 2013. The Defence Forces 58th Infantry Group are currently in the process of returning home from their UN peacekeeping mission on the Golan Heights and are being replaced by the 59th Infantry Group. UNDOF remains an important mission in an area of significant strategic importance. Under the disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel, it is the only military presence allowed in the area of separation.  It is one of the last traditional so called UN Chapter 6 missions that may only use force in self-defence and, as such, is reliant on the co-operation of the parties to the conflict. Therein lies one of the main dilemmas as the Assad regime could not be relied upon to fulfil its part of the agreement in recent years.  From RTÉ One's Nine News, a report on the Irish Army's peacekeeping mission in the Golan The war in Syria spilled over into the UN zone on a number of occasions in recent years. Fortunately, the situation has stabilised and Irish troops have been able to redeploy fully along the Syrian side of the area of separation since 2018. Although most commentators will highlight the out of date mandate as the critical weakness in the mission, the reality is that the volatile situation on the ground has been the most pressing problem. The ceasefire between Syria and Israel has been violated in the past and Syria has placed heavy weapons in the area monitored by the UN in contravention of the agreement from time to time. There have also been Israeli and Syrian air strikes. The UN’s options are limited in the circumstances. UNDOF was established as a Syria-based mission and how it operates, including the use of enhanced equipment or new technologies, is subject to the disengagement agreement. Any changes must be approved by both Syria and Israel and proposals to do so have been blocked in the past.  Ireland’s support for this mission remains critical to its long term viability It is in the interest of Israel and Syria that UNDOF remain and the full deployment of the peacekeeping force along the ceasefire line is welcome. Although UNDOF remains a dangerous mission, the dangers of a spillover from the Syrian conflict has receded as current mopping up operations against ISIS are concentrated in the north.   In the past, there were serious clashes between armed opposition forces and pro-government forces in the Bravo side of the ceasefire line, an area that is the responsibility of Syria. Such groups would have no respect for the role of UN peacekeepers and would not hesitate to attack UNDOF. The possibility of being caught in the crossfire between Israel and armed groups, including Syrian forces, also remains a serious risk.  From RTÉ Radio 1's Arena, a 2015 report on Apples of the Golan, a film which looks at the Syrian Arab inhabitants left behind in the Golan after the 1967 Six Day War Despite the fact that the troops on the ground were forced to redeploy in 2014, UNDOF still contributed to stability in the region. While its observation role was thus limited, it continued to play a key role in liaising with the parties to prevent a flareup in the area.  Irish troops are well equipped and trained for the mission. They have good armoured protection and mobility capabilities. This was especially evident when they effectively rescued their surrounded Filipino colleagues in 2014. While Irish troops are prepared for any scenario, especially as the force commander’s quick reaction force, UNDOF’s mission is not a peace enforcement role. The Irish government was correct to agree to send troops to the Golan and allow them to remain despite the deteriorating situation. However, in 2014 the then defence Minister Simon Coveney made it clear that Ireland "would not move into the territory of peace enforcement" or become involved in the civil war in Syria. Although the overall situation is calm, the Golan remains a volatile region Ireland’s support for this mission remains critical to its long term viability. UNDOF does not face the challenges associated with a protection of civilian mandate and inadequate service support problems associated with other UN missions and the overall security situation has improved. The immediate challenge of deploying in the area of operations previously evacuated for security reasons has been overcome. There was no option but to redeploy at the time due to legitimate concerns about extraction and protection.  Russian intervention in Syria has been pivotal and this is reflected in the changed situation on the ground. Although the overall situation is calm, it remains a volatile region. Assad has won the war in Syria, but the regime is still struggling to consolidate its control over much of the country.  In the Golan, the threat from Iranian-backed Hezbollah and other fighters remains. Israel is determined to deny Iran a foothold in Syria, but is limited in its options to prevent this happening. The possibility of military action by Israel in areas supposedly under the control of Syria on the Golan remains a serious threat.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

I fought the law: how 1980s' Irish theatre took on the gardai

Author: Patricia O'Beirne Opinion: Irish theatre responded to serious problems within the police force in the 1970s and 1980s with surprising fury As a nation, we have been forced to acknowledge that there are serious problems within the police force in Ireland. Most recently, we had the Maurice McCabe story, revealed in the Charleton Tribunal, which pointed to corruption and lack of accountability at the highest levels of authority in An Garda Síochána. This phenomenon is not a recent one. For instance, the 1970s and 1980s saw miscarriages of justice such as the Sallins train robbery convictions and the infamous Kerry Babies Tribunal. This period also saw extra powers granted to the gardaí in response to the threat of paramilitary gangs north and south. Following on from the 1971 broadcasting ban, the re-introduction of the jury-less Special Criminal Court (1972) and the Emergency Powers Bill (1976), the contentious 1984 Criminal Justice Act gave increased powers to the gardaí for stop, search and arrest. From RTÉ Archives, Brian Farrell interviews Conor Cruise O'Brien in 1973 for Seven Days about Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act  In response, Irish theatre in the Republic, which had been silent in the main regarding the Troubles, reacted with surprising fury. Plays written by Frank McGuinness, Aidan Mathews and Tom Murphy demonstrate real concern over such erosion of civil rights and the potential for abuse of these laws by the gardaí. Frank McGuinness’s Borderlands (1984) was written for young adults under the TEAM initiative and it played in schools all around Ireland. In the play, four youths - two Protestant and two Catholic - set off on a sponsored charity walk from Northern Ireland to Dublin. When the boys reach the Republic they encounter antagonism in the person of Vonnie, a landowner on whose land they attempt to camp. Vonnie calls the local guard to help evict them who berates the boys when he arrives: "This country’s civilised. No packs of savages blowing the brains out of each other". Ultimately Vonnie regrets calling him, telling him "we still have ones over you in this country".  From RTÉ Archives, Maria Keating reports for Ireland's Eye in 1983 on the TEAM initiative to bring theatre to schools  This is a strong anti-establishment message to give school children. In his introduction, the director of TEAM, Martin Drury notes that the guard is "frighteningly real...in the way he gives expression to the institutional violence and the perversion of language embodied in the Criminal Justice Bill". The bill was debated in the Dáil during the play’s tour. Aidan Mathews’ The Antigone, loosely based on Sophocles’ Antigone, played in the Project Arts Centre in 1984. The play opens with the Chorus, played singularly by Mannix Flynn, putting posters featuring Orwellian messages onto the wall of the stage. Haemon, Creon’s son, is now Chief of the Secret Police. The trappings of an autocratic state apparatus are obvious from the start of the play; Creon and Haemon implement their rule by whatever means necessary. One step down the power structure, Chorus is obsequious towards Creon and Haemon but displays violent and sexist behaviour towards the female characters. The end of act one is signalled by an increasingly audible reading of the Criminal Justice Bill, here again the focus of protest. A sense of great unease about potential and actual abuse of power by the state and her arms is evident in these plays and others of the period The audience are deliberately targeted throughout the performance: they witness a cover-up as a critic of the state is murdered and Antigone warns them that they are next. She is attacked by Chorus and the ensuing struggle is staged as if Antigone is choking for real. The play ends with the cast turning on the audience, telling them to disperse quietly, calling them voyeurs and peeping toms, and finally Creon orders them to go home as they can do nothing. Mathews stages the nightmare scenario of life in a totalitarian police state as lurid reality.  Tom Murphy staged his own unease with police corruption in his play The Blue Macushla at the Abbey Theatre in 1980. In his introduction to Plays: One, Murphy writes of a series of frightening incidents which occurred after his return to Ireland in 1970 when he became aware of the exceptional powers of the Garda Special Branch Division, set up to deal covertly with terrorist activity. Poster for The Blue Macushla at the Abbey Theatre in 1980 A film-noir tale set in a sinister nightclub which fronts all kinds of illegal activity, the play tells the story of a common thief who is blackmailed into allowing his premises to be used by Erin Go Bráth, a paramilitary organisation obviously suggesting the IRA. The mood is satirical, the onstage world a parody of a state gone rogue. The climax sees the passing of the "holy grail" (a black book which contains the names of those implicated in crime) from the gang of criminals into the hands of the equally corrupt cops. The "book" does not stop there and it is implied that it contains names from the highest offices in the land. A sense of great unease about potential and actual abuse of power by the state and her arms is evident in these plays and others of the period. Theatre can react with immediacy to societal issues and concerns, but the themes staged in these plays were controversial at the time. There was a widespread reluctance to question any emergency laws or the granting of exceptional powers to the gardaí for fear of being associated with paramilitary propaganda. The legacy of this lack of accountability brought to bear on the forces of the state lingers on. It accounts for the arrogant attitude to internal policing that is evident in An Garda Síochána today. The playwrights, it is clear, were right to be concerned.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Meet St Patrick's spin doctor

Author: Niamh Wycherley Opinion: a cleric who lived 200 years after St Patrick's death is the one responsible for many of the stories around the saint's life About 200 years after the death of Patrick, the powerful church of Armagh was jockeying for position as the head of the Irish church. Like any good election campaign, they needed a plausible poster-boy and a clear, cohesive message and a cleric called Muirchú was given the task of creating a narrative about St Patrick. Much of what we "know" about the saint was carefully constructed by Muirchú. Heavily influenced by the Bible and other key early Christian texts, he composed a lively tale, the "Life of St Patrick", which presents Patrick as a conquering Christian hero. He spin doctored the image of Patrick to such a degree that the actual personal accounts written by the saint himself (his so-called "Confession" and his "Letter to Soldiers of Coroticus") became largely irrelevant in contributing to his public persona. Elements of history that did not fit with this image were conveniently swept aside. For example, we know from other historical sources that a bishop, Palladius, was sent to Ireland in 431 by Pope Celestine to "the Irish believing in Christ". However, Patrick’s role in converting the whole of Ireland to Christianity is central to Muirchú’s story, so Palladius has to be side-stepped by Muirchú who implies the bishop did not really like it in Ireland, left shortly after he arrived and unceremoniously died on his journey home. From RTÉ Archives, Patrick Caulfield tells the legend of of St Patrick’s confrontation with the pagan god Cromduff which saw Co Mayo's Dún Briste separated by the saint from the mainland The path now clear, Muirchú depicts Patrick as a superhero, vanquishing paganism in Ireland after an epic showdown on the hill of Tara with King Loíguire’s head magicians. Patrick picks this fight by lighting an Easter fire, visible on a hill, in direct breach of the king’s orders. (Patrick’s fire represents the Christian religion which, it is foretold, will burn brightly on this island forever.) Incensed by this disobedience, Loíguire instructs his magicians to destroy Patrick. With God on his side, Patrick disposes of the first magician quickly and brutally, Lochru being miraculously hoisted into the air and dropped, smashing his skull against a stone. The next day, according to Muirchú, Patrick has a fierce battle with the magician Lucet Máel involving poison, weather manipulation and trial by water, which culminates in Lucet Máel getting burned alive. The end result of all this supernatural violence is the conversion of Loíguire and, ultimately, of all the people in Ireland. Muirchú’s figure of Patrick is scary, violent, and a powerful patriarch in the Old Testament tradition. Closer to the actual truth of Patrick’s missionary activities might be the account provided by Tírechán, Muirchú’s seventh century contemporary. Like any text written hundreds of years after the events they purport to portray, Tírechán’s collection of stories about Patrick cannot be taken as a reliable account of his actual movements. "St Patrick was a Protestant": from RTÉ Archives, Brendan Wright's 1995 report for RTÉ News on different attitudes to St. Patrick in Northern Ireland But his description of Patrick travelling around the West of Ireland, converting and baptising on what was mostly an individual basis, broadly tallies with Patrick’s own version of events. Patrick says in his "Confession" that he was the first to take Christianity to a part of Ireland where no evangelist had penetrated before, "to the point beyond which there is no-one". In this context, he is probably referring to the western coast of Ireland, which may not have been touched by the Palladian mission. Like all good raconteurs, Muirchú does not let facts get in the way of a good story. An image of Patrick doing the hard yards and traipsing around in the rain ordaining priests and founding churches does not hold the public consciousness on the same level as the pagan-slaying, heroic figure created by Muirchú. In fairness to the scribe, his "Life of St Patrick" is a highly accomplished piece of hagiography which aimed to promote the cult of a saint and communicate religious messages of deep theological importance. It is not correct, therefore, to paint Muirchú as a medieval PR guru with a flippant disregard for the truth. For example, his depiction of Patrick as an Old Testament hero in the mould of Moses and of Tara as Babylon emphasise the influence of the Bible as a direct inspiration. As with all literary constructs, the intended audience may not have been expected to "believe" every detail of the story. Patrick is rightly famous in Ireland, but arguably for the wrong reasons The texts regarding the development of the cult of Patrick and the church that adopted it are preserved in the early ninth century Book of Armagh on display in Trinity College Dublin. Unlike its more attention-seeking room-mate, the Book of Kells, the Book of Armagh is both a valuable source for early Irish history, ecclesiastical politics, society and religion as well as a precious artefact. Patrick is rightly famous in Ireland, but arguably for the wrong reasons. While he was not the first to bring Christianity to Ireland, he did compose the earliest complete written sources that survive. Those wishing to commemorate the "real" St Patrick this year can read these documents here and judge for themselves.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

CSI St Patrick: just where is the saint's body?

Author: Dr Niamh Wycherley  Analysis: despite his fame, the exact location of the body of St Patrick has been a bone of contention for over a millennium The veneration of saints’ relics, or remains, has always been an integral part of the religious experience in Ireland, as elsewhere. Despite declining Church attendance, millions of Irish people were drawn by the tours of St Thérèse’s bodily relics to Ireland in 2001, 2009 and 2012. Indeed, the widespread media coverage of the discovery in April 2018 of the heart of St Laurence O’Toole, stolen from Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral six years earlier, indicates an ongoing fascination with relics in modern Ireland. But what of the relics of St Patrick, celebrated patron saint of Ireland and inspiration for Tourism Ireland’s hugely successful Global Greening? Despite his fame, the exact location of the body of Patrick has been a bone of contention for over a millennium. It is claimed that Patrick is buried outside Downpatrick Cathedral. A large granite stone marks the spot, placed there in the early 20th century to prevent pilgrims from taking fistfuls of grave-soil away with them. However, the tradition of Patrick’s burial at this location is influenced by late 12th century propaganda (some 700 years after Patrick’s demise) by the Anglo-Norman John de Courcy. Understanding the deep-rooted appeal of the cult of relics and the important role of saints as patrons to the local people, de Courcy staged the "discovery" of the relics of saints Brigit, Colum Cille and Patrick in 1185. He exhumed their bodies and translated the relics into a new tomb at Downpatrick. From RTÉ Archives, Gary Honeyford reports on St Patrick's Day celebrations in Downpatrick in 1985 This process of "discovery" and translation was a common feature of the cult of relics since Late Antiquity and was famously popularised by Ambrose, bishop of Milan, c. 386, when he wanted to build a new basilica. Indeed, the shrine of St James, finish-line of the increasingly popular Camino de Santiago de Compostela, was created after the miraculous "discovery" of the body of St James at a politically expedient juncture in the reign of monarch Alfonso II in the ninth century. Regardless of the activities of de Courcy, there has been strong evidence since the seventh century that Patrick’s body is, in fact, buried somewhere in Downpatrick. Our most detailed account is provided by distinguished ecclesiastic and scholar Muirchú, who composed the Life of St Patrick, in the late 600s. This piece of hagiography (holy writing/saints’ "biography") is not a witness to the actual life of Patrick, but provides valuable information on the creation of the cult of Patrick and the Irish church in the seventh century () . By this time, prominent Irish churches such as Armagh, which claimed to have been founded by Patrick in the fifth century, and Kildare, were vying for position as the leading Irish church. Armagh focused on establishing Patrick as the greatest saint in Ireland and the apostle of the Irish. However, Armagh did not possess the actual body of Patrick. This left Muirchú, tasked with promoting Armagh and the cult of Patrick, in an awkward situation. From RTÉ Archives, St Patrick visits the Scaoil Amach an Bobailín studio for a glass of porter in 1991 Armagh’s rival, Kildare, supported its own claims to supremacy by exalting the lavish tombs of founder Brigit and her bishop Conláed. Brigit’s hagiographer, Cogitosus, described the vast numbers of pilgrims who visited Kildare drawn by these tombs, and they were clearly the source of much revenue and vitally important for the monastery’s political position. Cogitosus’ grand portrayal clearly embarrassed Armagh, given its lack of any bodily remains for Patrick. Research being carried out at NUI Galway, funded by the National University of Ireland, indicates that the veneration of relics was vital to the Church in Medieval Ireland. Muirchú explains the lack of Patrick’s bodily relics in Armagh by weaving an evocative tale, which owes more to the Bible and to political jurisdictional realities of the seventh century than to historical truth. He explains that an angel appeared to Patrick before his death and instructed that two untamed oxen should be sent off carrying his dead body. The oxen stopped at Dún Lethglaisse (modern Downpatrick), according to Muirchú, and there Patrick was buried. The angel further stipulated that a cubit of earth should be placed over the body to prevent its exhumation. This neatly explains why Patrick’s body was not translated into a grand shrine in Muirchú’s era. Indeed, Muirchú’s account elaborates that there was fierce contention over Patrick’s body after his death, between warring factions, the Uí Neill/Airthir and the Ulaid. To "prevent the shedding of blood", both groups were led astray by an "illusion" and "the mercy of God" and neither could lay claim to the body. Some relics were "acquired" in less than savoury circumstances Muirchú’s literary account of potential war being waged over Patrick’s body reflects a real problem in the Middle Ages — the theft of relics. Demand for relics was so strong that trade in relics as commodities became big business. Some relics were "acquired" in less than savoury circumstances. The phenomenon of relic-theft or "kidnapping" (as saints were thought of as still alive) highlights the considerable impact of saints’ cults on society. And this is not just a medieval trend: relics are still considered ripe targets for theft today, as we have seen recently with the heart of Laurence O’Toole. While the precise location of Patrick’s relics may never be known, his "voice" is preserved in his fifth century writings, now easily accessible online .

Monday, 11 March 2019

Remembering the King's Cup, rugby's forgotten first World Cup

Author: Philip Dine Analysis: how a rugby tournament a century ago ushered in a new era in international rugby and may be considered a forerunner of the Rugby World Cup While football has often been associated with the First World War, rugby's connections with the conflict are less familiar, but also arguably more significant. For it was rugby union which historically identified itself as the most patriotic of British team games, both within its homeland and across the empire. As its name suggests, this 15-a-side and, until the advent of professionalism in 1995, resolutely amateur version of the sport had its roots in the network of English "public" (i.e. private) schools including, most famously, Rugby School in Warwickshire. These privileged institutions also shaped the game’s value system within the universities and the leading clubs, as well as the armed forces, with the result that rugby’s prevailing ethos came to combine unashamed elitism with overt militarism. When war was declared in August 1914, the game’s administrators cancelled fixtures and made grounds available to military authorities. Players were encouraged to volunteer and responded enthusiastically, often joining up with club-mates. Their model was Edgar Mobbs of Northampton and England, who led a "sportsman’s" company into his local regiment, most of whom (including Mobbs) would not survive the war.  Rugby in 1919: a public schools versus public schools services match at the Old Deer Park, Richmond, London. Photo: A. R. Coster/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images In total, 27 England internationals lost their lives, alongside 10 from Ireland, 30 from Scotland (proportionately the heaviest toll) and 13 from Wales, together with nine Australians, 13 New Zealanders and five South Africans. This very visible sacrifice undoubtedly helped to legitimize rugby’s claim to be the British empire’s most loyal sport. Significantly, the 1914-1918 hostilities did not put a complete stop to rugby matches, as the War Office encouraged representative games between military selections, which were designed to keep up morale both at home and within the forces. It was against this backdrop that the King’s Cup, known formally as the Inter-Service Tournament, was held in the spring of 1919, just a few months after the Armistice of November 11th 1918 had brought the devastation of war to an end. The teams involved highlighted the event’s combined military origins and imperial aspirations. The British army’s line-up brought together English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh players under the official title of "Mother Country". This composite side was joined by the Royal Air Force, which notably included the future England captain, RFU President and Conservative Member of Parliament, Wavell Wakefield. Programme for the match between the Mother Country and New Zealand service teams in 1919. Photo: Public domain These British representatives would take on selections from the southern hemisphere dominions of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, together with Canada, which was included with a view to popularising the game there. The competition was organised on a league basis at venues spread across England, as well as in Edinburgh and Swansea. In a sign of things to come, New Zealand’s military representatives dominated the event, winning the final play-off against the "Mother Country" 9-3 at Twickenham on April 16th 1919. Three days later, their captain, Jimmy Ryan, who had played four times for the All Blacks before the war, was presented with the silver cup by George V that the king had personally donated as the tournament prize. Among the more striking aspects of this deciding match was the relative proportion of officers to other ranks in the two teams that took the field that day. While the victorious New Zealand side included one officer and 14 others, the "Mother Country" selection was made up of 14 officers and one other.  It is also revealing of British perceptions at this time that France was not invited to take part in the competition, despite the French being established participants in the annual Five Nations Championship and wartime allies. Moreover, French rugby had suffered similarly heavy losses during the conflict, with 24 internationals killed. In what remains the most striking example of this carnage, no fewer than 15 of the 30 players involved in the 1914 championship quarter-final between Bayonne and Perpignan perished in the ensuing conflict. The King's Cup of 1919 ushered in a new era in international rugby and may consequently be considered a forerunner of today’s Rugby World Cup Under these circumstances, the French understandably objected to their exclusion and were granted an exhibition match against the victorious New Zealanders at Twickenham, three days after the tournament final, with George V once more in attendance. Predictably, the men in black again prevailed 20-3, also going on to win a return match in Paris, although by a much-reduced margin of 16-10. The most conspicuous absentee from this international celebration of the restoration of peace, together with sporting normality, was the great Dave Gallaher. Originally from Ramelton in Co Donegal, Gallaher had captained the first New Zealand tourists, the "Original All Blacks", on their triumphant tour of Britain, Ireland and France in 1905 and 1906. This durably influential figure perished in the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, one of four brothers who served in the war and of whom just one survived. Although undoubtedly designed to bolster imperial sentiment in the wake of the Great War, the Inter-Service Tournament of 1919 ushered in a new era in international rugby and may consequently be considered a forerunner of today’s Rugby World Cup. Introduced in 1987, this modern competition paved the way for what is now a thoroughly professional and increasingly globalised, rugby world. With its ninth edition kicking off in Japan in September 2019, the participating nations will doubtless be preparing battle plans for the coming ‘campaign’. A century on from the King’s Cup of 1919, such familiar sporting metaphors may usefully remind us of rugby’s remarkable links with the so-called "greater game" of the First World War.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Why is the Irish planning system so complex?

Author: Dr Rónán Kennedy, School of Law  Opinion: as highlighted by the saga of the Apple data centre in Athenry, Ireland's planning process can be slow, torturous and complex for all involved One of the cases which the Supreme Court is due to hear this week during its sitting at NUI Galway is an appeal against the granting of planning permission to Apple for the construction of a data centre in Athenry. It is well known that the delays with this permission led Apple to drop this project. As the appeal arises from the extent to which Irish planning law is open to public participation, there may be further mis-guided pressure to change this when it emerges back into public view. Unusually in Europe and worldwide, the Irish planning system allows anyone, whether or not they have some tangible interest in the locality (such as owning neighbouring land), to make submissions or observations on a planning application. The time limits for doing so are relatively tight, but many individuals and non-governmental organisations get involved. European environmental law also requires that developments that will have a "significant impact on the environment" are subject to a process of environmental impact assessment (EIA). These procedural requirements are often criticised as leading to delay, and this has particularly been the case in the fall-out from the Apple data centre debacle. From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Sean O'Rourke, Independent Group technology editor Adrian Weckler discusses Apple's data centre in Athenry The timeline for the project began in early 2015, with a planning application submitted to Galway County Council in April of that year. This was for the first phase of the development, including one data hall and preparatory works for an electricity substation. The full development was to include eight data halls, the electricity substation, and various ancillary and support buildings and take 15 years to build. Galway County Council granted permission in September 2015, which was appealed to An Bord Pleanála by two local residents, who objected on a variety of environmental grounds, including the greenhouse gas emissions that would be caused by the development and whether renewable energy could be used. An Bord Pleanála granted permission in August 2016, but this is under challenge in the courts. One of the main arguments advanced against the project was that the EIA should consider the long-term plan for the site, rather than the limited initial phase; this was rejected by the High Court. The Irish planning process can be slow, particularly when legal challenges are taken While Apple has dropped the project, the case continues despite this, as one of the other features of Irish planning law is that permission for a development attaches to the land for which it is granted rather than a particular individual. There is still a valid planning permission for the site, and it is possible that some other developer will build a data centre before it expires. The case was before the Supreme Court in October 2018 to deal with some preliminary issues regarding the scope of the appeal and whether a question would need to be referred to the Court of Justice.  The Irish planning process can be slow, particularly when legal challenges are taken. The government has made several changes to the system as a result, including limiting access to judicial review and removing certain categories of "strategic infrastructure" development from the remit of local authorities, so that applications are made directly to An Bord Pleanála. It intends to extend the definition of strategic development to include data centres: an amendment to planning legislation to enable this requires only a ministerial order. From RTÉ One's Six One News, a report on calls for reform of the planning process after Apple's decision to scrap their plans for a data centre in Co Galway Since early 2018, the courts have also required that challenges to strategic infrastructure projects are fast-tracked through the Commercial Court. Some commentators have suggested that observations should be limited to those with a tangible interest in the locality, while industry groups such as IBEChave called for significant stream-lining and fast-tracking. The public may, therefore, be further excluded from the planning process. But if the process is slow, short-term reactive fixes are not a good solution. Irish planning law is full of them, and they make the system difficult to understand and hard for the public to engage with. The challenges of climate change, which are becoming more obvious on a daily basis, require a much more long-term approach. The recent Citizens’ Assembly deliberations on the topic demonstrate that the public can grasp complex environmental issues when they are given the opportunity to do so. A planning system that encourages and welcomes public engagement, and provides scope for discussions about the difficult choices that every society will have to make as we have to reconcile environmental protection and economic development, would be a valuable support for this. Unfortunately, our political systems encourage short-term, local thinking and our elected representatives have shied away from tackling these questions. From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, Richard Curran talks to Maurice Mortell, Managing Director of Equinix Ireland, about why Ireland has become a global destination for data centres When problems emerge in the planning system, the default response seems to be discourage public participation. Individuals need to fall back on the courts when politics lets them down. Ireland’s future interests would be better served by properly resourcing local government, encouraging it to integrate the Sustainable Development Goals into its decision-making and requiring developers to think through the environmental consequences of their proposals.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

The hidden world of rare diseases

Author: Eoin Murphy Opinion: Rare Disease Day highlights current and future developments which may imrpove the lives of those suffering from these diseases February 28th is Rare Disease Day. It's estimated that at any one time up to 30 million people across the European Union may be suffering from one of the more than 6,000 rare diseases or disorders, which have been identified to date. Some of these diseases may affect only a small number of people with others affecting thousands. They can affect young and old alike, with 50% of rare diseases affecting children.  What is a rare disease? We define a disease or disorder as rare when it affects less than one person per 2000 of population. You may be familiar with some of these diseases like Huntington’s disease (HD) or Muscular dystrophy (MD), but there are many less heard of such as Epiderymolysis bullosa (EB) and Multiple system atrophy(MSA). Fortunately, developments in treatment methods have led to the availability of medications that may help people cope with the symptoms of these diseases. However, due to the underlying complexities and, in some situations, genetic mutations, none of these diseases listed have a cure. From RTÉ Archives, a RTÉ News report from 1986 by Colm Connolly on the Foundation for Prevention of Childhood Handicaps (FPCH) which offers comfort and hope for parents of children with rare diseasesWhat are the challenges for those who suffer from a rare disease? The the first challenge many may face is being correctly diagnosed. Due to a lack of scientific knowledge and information, diagnosis can be delayed - and in some cases, patients can even be misdiagnosed. As the disease progresses, daily tasks may become more and more difficult to complete without assistance. Eurodis- Rare Disease Europe carried out a survey of 3,071 patients, carers and family members from the rare diseases community spread across 42 European countries. The findings were startling: eight in 10 patients and carers having difficulties completing daily tasks. Seven in 10 of those surveyed had reduced or completely stopped professional activity due to their own or their family member’s rare disease. And perhaps not surprising, considering the impact on their daily lives, three times more people living with a rare disease or caring for a sufferer report being unhappy or depressed. From RTÉ Radio 1's This Week, Elaine Keogh, speaks to families about the drug Vimizim which treats an ultra-rare condition amid concerns that the HSE may decide not to reimburse it Those who are diagnosed with a rare disease and their families also face long-term challenges. Due to the variation in how sufferers will respond to treatments of their symptoms, and the fact that the same disease may progress at a different rate from person to person, uncertainty surrounds the future of all those involved. This is then compounded by inequalities and difficulties in accessing treatment and care depending on which jurisdiction in Europe you reside. These factors can create huge financial burdens for rare disease families, both in the present and into the future. What is happening to combat rare diseases? Over the past decade, changes have been occurring at policy level across the European Union. In 2007, The European Commission’s Health and Consumer Directorate-General launched a public consultation regarding European action in the field of rare diseases. In November 2008, the European Commission adopted the Rare Diseases: Europe’s Challenges report, as well as putting forward a proposal for a EU council recommendation. In June 2009, the Council of The European Union adopted the council recommendation on action in the field of rare diseases. The EU committee of Experts on Rare Diseases (EUCERD, 2010-13) and the European Commission Expert Group on Rare Diseases (CEG-RD, 2013-16) were established to support EU policy on rare diseases. The work of both these groups was aided by two EU Joint Actions for rare diseases, the EUCERD Joint Action and RD-Action. "Despite the investment, only a small number of drugs for rare diseases have reached patients" At a national level, Ireland has also been making policy changes. In 2014, then Minister for Health, Dr. James Reilly published the National Rare Disease Plan for Ireland. This put forward the vision and principles of how Ireland would integrate treating and caring for sufferers of rare diseases into the health system. Despite the positive gains which have been made across Europe, Brexit will undoubtedly lead to major issues. Movement of medicines, communication of research and access to cross-border patient databases are vital to the progression of research. How to create an environment for advanced research Due to the rarity and diversity of these disorders, it is essential that international collaboration continues. Connecting experts, researchers and clinicians across borders and pooling the resources at their disposal can create the most conducive environment for advanced research. The existence of these collaborative networks across the EU has allowed for the creation of large patient databases and the running of multinational clinical trials. Initiatives such as the European Reference Networks and International Rare Diseases Research Consortium have connected centres of expertise and healthcare, facilitating the advancement of cross-border research. The growth of world rare disease day has highlighted the difficulties sufferers face in everyday life To demonstrate the level of importance the European Union places on researching rare diseases, more than €1 billion will have been invested into over 200 collaborative projects from 2007 to 2020. Despite the investment, only a small number of orphan drugs (drugs for rare diseases) have reached patients. To increase this number, it is crucial that the pharmaceutical industry plays a more active role in the development process. Increasing awareness about rare diseases Since its inception in 2008, the movement has grown from 12 participating countries to over 90 countries and regions around the world. The growth of world rare disease day has highlighted the difficulties sufferers face in everyday life. As awareness has continued to rise, policy changes have also been brought forward at both European and national levels. These changes have created an environment where advanced research can take place. As this research increases and awareness grows, it allows for developments which may make the future lives of people suffering from these diseases a little brighter.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

How rural and agricultural areas can deal with climate change

Author: Sinead Mellett Analysis: a new project aims to improve the resilience of Atlantic rural and agricultural areas at high risk from climate change The Atlantic area is at high risk from climate change with increased intensity and frequency of storms, drought and flooding. All of these have implications for the agricultural sector and this is leading to huge uncertainties in the way climate change will directly and indirectly affect agriculture and food systems. The RiskAquaSoil project from researchers at the Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway aims to develop a comprehensive management plan for risks in soil and in water to improve the resilience of Atlantic rural and agricultural areas. The principal aim of RiskAquaSoil is to alert people to the fact that climatological disasters can and will happen during a lifetime. The project proposes simpler and more efficient tools and services for managing the more harmful risks in different parts of the Atlantic area of Europe, which stretches from Ireland to Andalucia. The project is inviting local communities to participate, adopt and apply the current solutions provided to address these issues. It will also allow them to understand what political and local levers can be triggered to allow these new principles of management for a better resilience to climatic changes to be applied in the fields by farmers and rural people. From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Sean O'Rourke, agricultural journalist and farmer Darragh McCullough talks about farming and climate change The RiskAquaSoil project will contribute to a better co-ordination plan for detection, risk management and recovery for rural areas, maritime and terrestrial areas, especially for agricultural purposes that are mainly associated with climate change, natural hazards and also human pressure. Climatic changes are slow on average, but they seem to be becoming more frequent at the extremes. This slowly changing average prevents us changing proactively and we end up reacting after disasters, such as recent fires in Greece and the earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia. The project partners will combat the adverse effects of the impact of climate change, especially on agricultural lands. This plan will have three stages linked to three specific objectives: (1) early warning and diagnosis: testing new low-cost remote methods to measure and forecast the local impact of different meteorological phenomena. These techniques will provide accurate data that will result in a better early detection system in rural areas. Diagnosis activity will be enlarged with climate change scenarios such as frequency of heatwaves, droughts and flash floods, including forecasts and the improvement of climate information services to farmers. The research finding also showed that the majority of farmers are willing to adapt compulsory measures to better adapt their farm to climate change (2) implementation and adaptation: developing several pilot actions in agricultural lands that will permit better soil and water management taking into account the risks associated with climate change, such as flood risk maps and soil erosion risk solutions. It will also include pilot actions in maritime areas such as soil erosion management, small storm catchment and farm management practices. (3) capacity building and dissemination: training and commitment of local communities and farmers for increasing capacity building, information and co-operation in risk management and damage compensation systems. Previous research revealed that farmers did not proactively seek out information on climate change unless it was a regulatory requirement, a customer request or was going to have a potential economic benefit to the business. It also highlighted that engagement with advisors and farming networks is a huge influencing factor for information, survival, growth and support for the farmer. From RTÉ Radio 1's Countrywide, EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan on the Common Agricultural Policy and climate change A pilot study revealed that farmers in Ireland are concerned about severe weather events and its effects on their farm. The research finding also showed that the majority of farmers are willing to adapt compulsory measures to better adapt their farm to climate change. The results will inform a larger survey, conducted on behalf of RiskAquaSoil, to determine farmer’s perceptions and attitudes towards climate change.  Some of the work on the project to date includes: Remote sensing training actionIn Galicia, the CSIC team has installed soil erosion monitoring traps in two vineyards to quantify the benefits for soil protection of innovative vineyard floor management practices Climate tendenciesACMG analyzed representative climatic data from multiple Atlantic zones, for the last 30 to 50 years. The proximity to the ocean is noticeable with an average minimum temperature of 5.5°C in Mullingar, 8.7°C in Agen (France) and 10.4°C in Amareleja (Portugal). An increase in the annual average maximum temperature is distinguishable, from +0.3°C in Valentia, +0.7ºC in South-West Devon (UK), +1.2ºC in Agen (France), +0.8ºC in Lourian (Galicia Spain) and +1.3°C in Amareleja (Portugal). The precipitation shown no tendency, with zones in Portugal with a 12.8% increase and others in Galicia, Middle-Garonne and Devon with a -0.5% decrease. The average thermal daily amplitude varies in summer from 5.6°C in Valentia to 13°C in Amareleja (Portugal) while there is 11.2°C in Bergerac (France). That amplitude is increasing in 7 places (+0.1 to 1°C) and decreases in 1 (-0.4