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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°C) while staying stable in 2.Westcountry Rivers Trust catchment trialsThe Westcountry Rivers Trust has been running three catchment scale trials in Devon. The first is a water quality acid remediation trial reducing the high pH spikes, the second is a water quantity natural flood management trial buffering flows and the third is trailing a new low cost telemetric monitoring probe to assess water quality and quantity. Watercourses monitoring after wildfires After the wildfires that affected Portugal in 2017, a watercourses monitoring campaign was initiated in 10 sampling points chosen based on the size and percentage of burnt area of the watershed. These monthly campaigns will detect changes in water and sediment proprieties in a post-fire scenario and establish the persistence of these effects.  The NUI Galway-led RiskAquaSoil project is an EU INTERREG Atlantic Area Cooperation Program supported by European Regional Development Fundsand with associated partner, Teagasc. The other countries partnering on the project are France, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

As you like it: Kenneth Branagh, Shakespeare and Irishness

Author: Emer McHugh Opinion: one of the most well-known modern Shakespeareans just so happens to be an Irishman, albeit one enmeshed in the English theatrical tradition Kenneth Branagh’s latest film All Is True depicts the latter stages of William Shakespeare’s life, as he retires to Stratford-upon-Avon following the burning down of the Globe Theatre in 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII. Indeed, the film’s title riffs off the alternative title of that play. This being Branagh and Shakespeare, the film stars some of the biggest heavyweights in modern Shakespearean theatre. Judi Dench plays Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway, Ian McKellen plays the Earl of Southampton (curiously depicted as much older than Shakespeare) and Branagh dons a wig and beard to play Shakespeare himself. Branagh is perhaps one of the most renowned Shakespeareans of the modern age, if not the most renowned. His work in the 1980s and 1990s with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Renaissance Theatre Company have long been documented. He made his debut at the RSC starring in Henry V in 1984 at the age of 23, which made him the youngest Henry in the company’s history. In 1989, he brought Henry V to the big screen in which was his directorial debut: that film would earn him Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. From RTÉ Radio 1's Arena, an interview with Kenneth Branagh about All Is True He has played Hamlet four times on stage and screen, including his 1996 four-hour feature-length version. In recent years, he has directed himself as Macbeth at the 2013 Manchester International Festival and as Leontes in the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s 2015 production of The Winter’s Tale, as well as directing Tom Hiddleston as Hamlet in the 2017 Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) fundraiser. And that’s not to mention his film adaptations of Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It and Love’s Labour’s Lost, his performances as Richard III and Coriolanus, and so on. The label of "the new [Laurence] Olivier" has followed Branagh around for much of his career and, given Olivier’s extensive work on Shakespeare on stage and screen, it’s not hard to see the comparison.  Trailer for All Is True As we can see, Branagh tends to be primarily associated with Shakespeare. Shakespeare is perhaps the most famous writer in the Western canon, but he is also a ubiquitous symbol of Englishness, and of English cultural hegemony and imperialism. Branagh has long been associated and subsumed within the apparatus of English Shakespeares. Indeed, he even commenced the 2012 London Olympics by reciting "This isle is full of noises" while dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel and he also accepted a knighthood in 2012. However, there is also the matter of Branagh’s Irish background, which cannot be so easily disentangled from his work. He was born in Belfast to a Protestant family in 1960 and moved to Reading at the age of 10 when the Troubles were at their height. The subject of Branagh’s Irishness, and whether Branagh can or should actually consider himself Irish, continues to be raised in the press. He famously said to an interviewer that "I feel Irish. I don’t think you can take Belfast out of the boy". From RTÉ 1's Six One News, Kenneth Branagh talks about the impact his childhood in Belfast had on his career as an actor and director Branagh has spoken of the difficulty of fitting in as Irish in 1970s Reading. In a 2003 interview in the Telegraph, he said he was enormously conscious of his Irish accent and swiftly "became English at school while remaining Irish at home". It was, he says now, "a dreadfully uneasy compromise about which I suffered inordinate guilt". Given this forced dichotomy between Englishness in public and Irishness in private – especially during a time when Anglo-Irish relations were especially tense, and when anti-Irish sentiment was particularly virulent – young Branagh’s feelings of guilt are revealing. So too are his comments about his time studying at RADA. Besides noting that "not a trace of Branagh’s Belfast accent remains", a recent Irish Times interview also features Branagh reflecting on the inclusion of ‘a "received pronunciation" exam at RADA "There was no desire to knock out our accents. But we needed to be able to speak that way if required’. Of course, this speaks to the assumption that Shakespeare can only be spoken in Received Pronunciation, particularly within the apparatus of British Shakespearean theatrical institutions. But, as we know, a Shakespeare production doesn’t necessarily need to sound like RP in order to be adequately "Shakespearean". We need only look at Patrick Lonergan’s recent Brainstorm article on Irish Shakespearean productions to see this. Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare in All Is True: "one of the most well-known and established modern Shakespeareans just so happens to be an Irishman" What does it mean to speak Shakespeare with an Irish accent – whether from Belfast, Dublin, Galway, or elsewhere? And – this is a larger question – how does one signify Irishness, or should one feel as if they must signify it? After all, Irishness is not a uniform entity or experience across this island. In the case of Branagh’s Irishness, the absence of a noticeable Northern accent leads to commentary. But in the case of speaking Shakespeare, anything less than an English accent also leads to commentary. Assessing how Englishness and Irishness intersect and interact in the career and public persona of an actor such as Branagh feels considerably pertinent as the uncertainty over Brexit and the consequences the referendum has had, and may have, for Anglo-Irish relations grows. Nonetheless, the fact remains that one of the most well-known and established modern Shakespeareans just so happens to be an Irishman - but an Irishman entrenched and enmeshed in the English theatrical tradition.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

A history of wounds

Author:  Georgina Gethin At any point in time, approximately two percent of the population or, 100,000 people in Ireland have a wound of one kind or another. This number will increase year on year as we live longer and changes in our life styles make us more susceptible to chronic illness.  Wound healing is a very complex process that is influenced by the health of the individual, the medications they take, the cause of the wound, the local blood supply and hundreds of cell types, clotting factors, cell signaling systems and much more. It is like an orchestra that requires the perfect balance of instruments and people each playing the same piece of music at the same time and in the same place. It is not hard therefore to image how easily it can go wrong – imagine Handel's Messiah without the choir!  But wounds do heal and only those that have gone deeper than the layers of the skin will leave a scar. The history of wound healing is like a history of science and research and is full of big blunders, great breakthroughs and improved patient outcomes.   The way it used to be Hippocrates (400-377 BC) believed nature would heal wounds and applied honey and/or oils as an ointment for wounds. About 400 years later, Celsus (25 BC-50 AD) proposed that inflammation was necessary for wound healing and described the three principles of inflammation; rubor (redness), tumor (swelling), and calor (pain). Approximately 150 years later, the Greek practitioner Galen (130-200 AD) proposed the beneficial effects of pus formation for wound healing, which became known as The Laudable Pus Theory. This theory lasted for hundreds of years and caused immeasurable suffering and tales of ingenuity to thousands of patients. They believed that the production of pus was necessary to heal the wound and applied many potions and boiling oils to wounds to promote the formation of pus.  Such practices continued through the centuries until the work of Ambroise Pare (1510-1590), which saw the end of the use of boiling oils in favour of more humane salves, which included the use of honey. Pare conducted an early clinical trial, albeit unintentionally, when he found soldiers' wounds treated with salves were less irritated and pain-free compared to wounds treated with boiling oils, which were painful and swollen. In the 1800s, Louis Pasteur established the Germ Theory of infection. This was followed by the development of disinfectants in the prevention of infection, particularly relevant to surgical wounds. Bernard Courtoisdiscovered iodine, Ignaz Semmelweis introduced hand disinfection to prevent puerperal fever on the labour ward and Joseph Lister introduced the carbolic spray during surgery. The use of disinfectants and antiseptics was now becoming more widespread. French solders tending to an injured colleague in 1863. Photo: George Stacy/Buyenlarge/Getty Images Wounds from hunting and battles Infection was the main enemy of all wounds and efforts to control and treat infection lead to one of the most important discoveries of the last century, antibiotics. In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered that Penicillium mould released antibacterial substances and antibiotics were developed from this. Sulphonamides were introduced in the mid 1930s and applied to wounds in powder form. The development of antiseptics such as EUSOL (Edinburgh University Solution of Lime) in 1915 and the more widespread use of antibiotics in the 1940s contributed significantly to the cessation of use of traditional therapies. From RTÉ Radio 1's The History Show, Dr Joseph Harbison on how the wounded were treated during the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 and Dr Rhona Mahony on babies born during Easter Week It is most probable that the management of wounds, up to the mid to late 19th century, was primarily concentrated on acute wounds encountered through hunting, battles, poor working conditions and surgery. Chronic wounds, such as leg ulcers we now know, are most prevalent in the over 65 age group. But up to 1840, the average life expectancy of Irish females was only 61 years so many people did not live long enough to get this type of wound. The seminal work by George Winter in 1962 changed the approach to wound management, from keeping wounds dry to the promotion of a moist environment. He demonstrated that the rate of new skin formation of wounds in a moist environment was faster than wounds exposed to air. In conventional medicine, these improvements and advancements in knowledge, coupled with a transition to evidence-based clinical practice lead to the discontinuation of many empirical therapies. Kilkenny hurler Tommy Walsh gets stapled up What causes a leg ulcer? Think about the circulation as a plumbing system. Blood is pumped by the heart around the body through a series of arteries, the further away from the heart they go the smaller they get so that the tiniest of vessels are called capillaries and are only the width of a strand of hair. This arterial blood, rich in nutrients and oxygen, feeds the cells of the body. Once this is used up by the cells, the blood is returned to the heart through the veins.  This blood is depleted of oxygen and nutrients and is sometimes referred to as blue blood. To get back to the heart the veins have a series of valves in the centre to help prevent back flow of blood and these veins are usually positioned in the middle of muscle groups which help to pump the blood back to the heart to start the cycle again. The management of wounds up to the mid to late 19th century was primarily concentrated on acute wounds encountered through hunting, battles, poor working conditions and surgery These valves are very important and people who sustain a blood clot in their leg or get inflammation of the veins (phlebitis) can damage the valves. All of this is important when trying to understand the causes of various leg ulcers. Venous leg ulcers are a debilitating chronic condition, occurring in the presence of venous hypertension. They effect one to two percent of the population globally, with women predominating in a ratio of 2:1. It is widely believed that only older people get venous ulcers but almost half of all ulcers start before the age of 65 years. Historically, venous ulcers accounted for the majority (70 percent) of all leg ulcers. The number of people with a leg ulcer is expected to increase in line with an increase in the ageing population, worsening lifestyle choices, increased chronic illness and issues with accessing healthcare. A ship's nurse attending to a stowaway in 1956. Photo: Bert Hardy/ Picture Post/Getty Images These ulcers have a profound impact on a person's quality of life and morbidity including issues such as pain, exudate (leaking fluid), odour, immobility, isolation and depression. Healing is often delayed, with ulcers persisting over 12 months in many cases and 50 percent will reoccur within three months of healing. They are usually shallow, painful ulcers around the ankle area, usually on the inside of the ankle. They can produce high levels of exudate (fluid) and are caused by damage to the venous (vein) system. Thankfully treatment is now well advanced beyond the boiling oils of Galen to advanced wound care dressings and bandages.  Treatment begins with a full assessment, usually be a nurse in a leg ulcer clinic and then the use of compression bandages and stockings. If assessed and treated early the majority will heal within 12 weeks. The main difficulty is that support stockings must be worn once the ulcer has healed in order to prevent it from recurring. The reason being that the damage to the venous system has not changed and the person is always at risk. There are surgical options available which can help prevent recurrence and this should be discussed with the GP. The Vattienti of Verbicaro in Italy whose Easter ritual involves cork boards and glass. Photo: Getty Arterial ulcers are more challenging as they are caused by damage or disease of the arterial system. They are more painful, usually small but deep and look more "punched out" in appearance. They occur around the foot. Because disease of the arterial system not only happens in the foot, the person with arterial ulcers will have other cardiovascular disease problems. The limb often looks shiny and hairless and the toe nails are dry and brittle. The solution to these lies in addressing the cardiovascular problem and may in cases require surgery to improve the blood flow. Bandages are not used but simple dressings can help manage any leakage and ease the pain. Some new dressings and local treatments are quite effective to ease the pain. Diabetic foot ulcers occur in people with diabetes. The global prevalence of diabetes mellitus was an estimated 451 million people for ages 18 to 99 years in 2017 and is expected to increase to 693 million representing 9.9 percent of this population by 2045. Currently, in Ireland an estimated 4.65 percent of our adult population have diabetes. As this is projected to increase, diabetes-associated complications will also increase, including foot ulcers. Over a lifetime, approximately 15 to 34 percent of people with diabetes mellitus will develop a foot ulcer. Irish data have shown that the lifetime risk of an individual with diabetes mellitus undergoing an amputation was 22.3 times that of an individual without diabetes mellitus and it has been suggested that up to 85 percent of such amputations are preceded by a non-healing diabetic foot ulcer. It is said that a limb is lost to diabetes every 30 seconds somewhere in the world. There is significant mortality associated with foot ulcers, with up to 50 percent of patients not surviving 5 years' post amputation.   How to treat leg ulcers A comprehensive assessment will ensure an accurate diagnosis and this will guide the treatment plan. There are over 700 dressings on the market but they are aimed at different stages in the healing process and to manage different wound characteristics, for example to clean the wound or to manage exudate. The Cochrane Collaboration www.cochrane.org continuously reviews the evidence for wound care dressings and other interventions to promote wound healing and have shown that there is no single dressing that is better than all others. The European Wound Management Association provides a resource for the public to address some questions related to wound management and the Alliance for Research and Innovation in Wounds is currently working with patients in seeking to design research to answer questions of importance to them.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Let it flow: how flowing water can appear to be completely frozen

Author: Nathan Quinlan Analysis: Here's the engineering behind that recent viral video and optical illusion  You may have seen the video which recently did the rounds billed as "laminar flow". Water pours from a tap so steadily that it looks like a solid twisted icicle. It’s utterly still, until it’s disturbed and it splashes like ordinary water. Is it a camera trick or an outright digital fake? Could the water be rapidly freezing and thawing? Or it it a liquid with more exotic properties? If it is actually what it seems, this weird behaviour goes to the heart of fluid dynamics, an old branch of physics that that still holds mysteries and keeps engineers busy designing everything from heart valves to wind turbines. Is this video genuine? To flip the question - why not? Why does it look so very wrong for water to flow with a convoluted but rock-steady surface? Two effects dominate our intuition about water. One is turbulence. If the speed of a flowing fluid (liquid or gas) increases, it transitions at some point from predictable laminar flow to chaotic swirls and vortices. The chaos is turbulent flow. It’s what you what you feel on a windy day and what you see in the early stages of milk mixing into tea. Turbulence isn’t just more turbulent than laminar flow; it’s fundamentally different. Turbulence is almost universal in our daily lives. The easiest way to find laminar flow is to look at more viscous liquids, for example by mixing colour into thick paint or icing. The internet debate on the video isn’t helped by the fact that "laminar" is often lazily defined as "parallel". There is some truth in this, but the reality is more subtle. This is a video of very slow laminar water flow past a cylinder, with dye injected to visualise it: The flow swirls and tumbles, but it’s regular, and the marker dye stays in well-defined streaklines. Though it’s laminar, it’s anything but parallel. The other effect in play is surface tension, which enables insects to walk on ponds, and pulls liquid drops into a round shape. In some ways, a water surface is like a very weak balloon skin. Because of surface tension, a cylinder of water in air (falling from a tap, for example) is inherently unstable. The slightest irregularity in its surface will be amplified by surface tension, and will grow until the stream breaks into drops. This was discovered by Joseph Plateau, who spent a lot of time staring at the sun for science. Later he went blind and, later again, did classic experiments in fluid dynamics. This video shows real high-speed footage of a water jet breaking up under surface tension, even though it’s laminar (this so-called Plateau-Rayleigh instability is explained beautifully here): These two phenomena - turbulence, and instability driven by surface tension - combine to make water splashy, wobbly and erratic in our daily experience. In theory, the convoluted but steady flow in the video should be possible if we remove turbulence, and remove other sources of any disturbances that surface tension can latch onto. One of the most thoughtful responses to the video came from Dr Andrew Steele, a biologist and author based in London. He argued that the water flow might be unsteady but oscillating in a regular way. If it oscillates at exactly the same frequency as the camera’s frame rate, it would appear to be frozen on video. He pointed to a previous example where a water stream was blasted with a speaker to synchronise it to a camera, with spectacular results. That would be a very pleasing explanation, if true, but I was still hoping the phenomenon was real. Along with Dr Nobuhiko Izumi, a physicist working on nuclear fusion in California, Andrew and I got into a conversation on Twitter and Andrew went on a mission to track down the original photographer Dario Bonzi. In the end, Andrew and Nobuhiko set about recreating the effect in their kitchen sinks. This is scientific method and the internet at their joyous best: people coming together to debate ideas, keeping sceptical but open minds, and testing those ideas with experiments, all for no reason but curiosity. Here’s my own effort: The verdict is in: it’s real. Theory is all very well, but nothing beats an experiment. Unlike Plateau’s tests of the human eye, you are strongly encouraged to do this one at home. (There are some tips under the video on YouTube). Why does it work? We’re feeding the flow from a still pool instead of pipes and valves so there is no turbulence. We’re eliminating other disturbances that might trigger breakup into droplets (for example, in my setup, the effect can be spoiled by ragged edges on the opening, probably because they feed vibration into the flow). These pure conditions are very unusual in our everyday dealings with water - and that alone is why it looks so very strange. I was prepared to accept that this phenomenon required some flukeish conditions that occurred where Dario stumbled across it in the Italian Alps, but I was stunned to find that it’s so easy to recreate. The same fluid dynamics are exploited in other fun applications such as laminar fountains and urinal technique. There are more serious uses too: the paper industry uses stable sheet-like laminar flows to jet a solution of fibres onto a bed. In our research in the CÚRAM centre in NUI Galway with medtech company Aerogen, we explore the same principles in technology that uses microscopic liquid flows to generate droplets that can be inhaled for medication purposes. If you’d like to explore further in the world of fluid flow, two good places to start are Dr. Nicole Sharp’s FY Fluid Dynamics and the Gallery of Fluid Motion.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Biafra and the challenge of aid

Author: Kevin O'Sullivan Opinion: unless we are willing to tolerate a world where the poor are constantly in "crisis", we must do more to tackle the injustices that initially put them in that position Biafra changed many things. In June 1968, an ITV news broadcast woke the world to the massive humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Eastern Region of Nigeria, then in the throes of a brutal war of secession with the Nigerian government. Its impact was immediate. Biafra became the world’s first televised famine, the west’s first response to humanitarian crisis in the post-imperial third world, and a pivotal moment in the history of aid. The missionaries and volunteers who delivered emergency relief symbolised a new way of conceiving the west’s responsibilities towards the outside world. That sense of obligation was only added to by the thrilling sight of Joint Church Aid planes flying aid into the region under cover of darkness, with the ever-present risk of being shot down by the Nigerian air force. The west, their actions implied, should do everything in its power to help communities in need. From RTÉ Radio 1's Leap of Faith, John O'Loughlin-Kennedy tells the story of how Concern came into being in response to famine in Biafra Those dramatic scenes were vital in creating the NGO industry with which we are so familiar today. Though some well-known brands from the late 1960s – like Canairelief and Nordchurchaid – have long since receded from memory, others went on to much bigger things. Formed in March 1968 following a meeting of missionaries, former aid workers, medical and educational personnel at the Dublin home of John and Kay Kennedy, Africa Concern later changed its name to Concern Worldwide to reflect its expanded mandate. Other, more established NGOs also benefited from the public attention and, above all, massive spike in public donations that the crisis precipitated. In Britain, for example, Biafra thrust Oxfam, Save the Children and Christian Aidinto a spotlight they have left only rarely since. But Biafra’s legacy is a lot more complicated than this brief list of highlights suggests. The aid community was heavily criticised for its intervention in the region. Some claimed that NGOs had allowed themselves to be manipulated by the Biafran regime, and that the rebels used the cover of famine to generate sympathy for their cause. The Biafran crisis came at the end of a decade when the Christian churches had expended much energy adapting to the social, political and cultural realities of decolonisation Others remarked on the problematic language used to foster public engagement with the campaign. Photographs and footage of emaciated men, women and children, their bodies ravaged by kwashiorkor and marasmus, created an enduring picture of Nigeria (and, by extension, Africa) in the minds of those watching in the west. That image was not positive. Despite the humanitarians’ good intentions, the unfortunate by-product of their actions was often to reduce Biafrans to a position of helplessness and dependence on outside help. Those criticisms in turn raised questions about how individuals in the west should enact their responsibilities towards the third world. The Biafran crisis came at the end of a decade when the Christian churches had expended much energy adapting to the social, political and cultural realities of decolonisation. Some missionaries had even been encouraged to return to university to train in social work and other related areas, and to align their activities more closely with the world of development aid. In Biafra, these links came in particularly useful, since missionary networks and mission centres became integral to the distribution of emergency relief. From RTÉ Archives, an RTÉ News report from August 1968 on Irish aid for famine relief in Biafra Yet while Joint Church Aid (nicknamed "Jesus Christ Airlines" by its pilots) was busy flying famine relief into west Africa, a parallel debate was taking shape that fundamentally challenged how people in the west viewed their relationship with the global poor. It focused on themes that are familiar to us in the 21st century: economics, inequality and social justice. Third world commentators, diplomats and statesmen condemned the concentration of wealth among certain states and players in the global economy. The Christian churches adopted an equally forthright tone. The publication of Pope Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio (on human development) brought the concept of justice to the centre of Catholic thinking and inspired the Irish Catholic hierarchy to create Trócaire six years later. At the same time in Latin America, the emergence of what became known as "liberation theology" encouraged clergy to speak out against unjust social structures and class conflict. Their ideas were very different from the altruistic spirit that defined the relief effort in Biafra. What good was charity, they asked? Was it even compatible with the pursuit of an equitable world order? From RTÉ Archives, New Day In Brazil was a 1977 Radharc documentary on liberation theology in Brazil These questions remain as vital now as when they were posed in the late 1960s. They challenge us to think about how we understand our relationship to those we wish to help. Put simply, where the pursuit of justice and liberation implies some form of solidarity with the poor (or, at the very least, with their goals), the provision of aid and emergency relief is essentially a one-way relationship. We give in the expectation only that those on the receiving end will be grateful for our generosity. Which approach is the "correct" one to take? The world needs the first responders like those who saved many lives in Biafra. Yet without recourse to economic justice and a re-ordering of the structures that perpetuate global inequality, where will that leave us? Unless we are prepared to tolerate a world in which the poor are constantly in "crisis", it is imperative that we do more to tackle the injustices that have left them in that position to begin with.  

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Poking the Russian bear

Author: Emily Tock Opinion: anti-Russia rhetoric is endemic throughout the west as part of what seems to be a concerted effort to isolate and demonise the country "If you put that in context with everything else we knew the Jews were doing to interfere with the election, and just the historical practices of the Jews, who typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favour, whatever, which is a typical Jewish technique. So we were concerned." Imagine if former US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that on a US political talk show. Hackles would be rightly raised at this rank anti-Semitism,and justified condemnation would issue from the interviewer, media and the Anti-Defamation League. What Clapper actually said to Chuck Todd on Meet the Press on May 28th 2017 was as follows: "if you put that in context with everything else we knew the Russians were doing to interfere with the election, and just the historical practices of the Russians, who typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favour, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique. So we were concerned." From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace studies at the University of Bradford, says we could be entering a post-arms control era after Russia joined the US in suspending involvement in the Nuclear Forces Treaty The presenter did not utter a word of protest at this blatantly racist language scapegoating the entire Russian people. With recent statements from UK MP Priti Patel that possible food shortages in Ireland should be used as leverage in Brexit negotiations, racism, ignorance and insularity seem to be par for the course in political rhetoric recently. But where does language like this lead? Certainly not to international co-operation or peace. And language demonising an entire country of 160 million hasn’t been limited to the bizarre and frightening world of US politics in the age of Trump. It is endemic throughout the west and is at the centre of a concerted effort to isolate and demonise Russia, which the west regards as a threat to its continued hegemonic global control. It is disturbingly reminiscent of propaganda used in the run-up to the two World Wars, but it is being used this time to bait a nuclear Russian bear. The truth of the matter is that Russia has not been the aggressor in world events over the last 30 years. Since the fall of the former Soviet Union, the United States and other NATO nations have pursued a foreign policy towards Russia ranging from strong-arming it to adopt predatory capitalism and privatisation of national resources and reneging on NATO’s promise not to expand further east than Germany, while Russia shrank its borders and dissolved the Warsaw Pact. In recent years, this foreign policy has expanded to crippling economic sanctions on Russia and its trading partners, unjustified expulsion of Russian diplomats and seizure of Russian-owned diplomatic buildings and land, and a ridiculous slew of accusations of supposed Russian perfidy.  From RTÉ Radio 1's Marian Finucane Show, Daniel McLaughlin, Central and Eastern Europe Correspondent for the Irish Times, on the major tensions between Russia and Ukraine The west has pronounced Russia guilty of countless crimes with no presentation of evidence, upending the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. It accused Russia of invading the Crimea and continues to promote this simplistic, erroneous version of the historical reality of legal Russian military bases in the Crimea, a region populated by many generations of ethnic Russians who voted for annexation to Russia. The west has accused Russia of meddling in elections in the United States, France, and Germany. French and German investigations have been unable to confirm these accusations. Various US intelligence agencies have not provided any hard evidence to support the accusations of "meddling" or "collusion" between the Trump administration and the Russian government, relying on charges of financial crimes and faulty intelligence "assessments". Even media outlets are warning that Mueller’s special investigation will ultimately fizzle out. The west expelled over 100 Russian diplomats after one unsubstantiated accusation by Theresa May of Russia’s alleged (and ineffective) poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter by a nerve agent ten times more lethal than Sarin. The UK has paraded a litany of ever-changing evidence, timelines and obfuscation in this case. Moreover, a UK government financed programme named Integrity Initiative may have had a hand in the framing of the Skripal case, according to the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, which released a briefing note on leaked documents regarding the Skripal affair, attacks on Jeremy Corbin and anti-Russian propaganda activities inside the US and Eastern Europe. From RTÉ One's Prime Time, Richard Boyd Barrett and Colm Brophy debate the Government's decision to expel a Russian diplomat in solidarity with the UK over the Skripal poisoning This is in line with what appears to be a deliberately cultivated Russophobic western foreign policy, one which is trumpeted by the media. The most recent attempts at demonising Russia include The Times publishing an article accusing children’s show Masha and the Bear of being Putin propaganda. Not to be outdone, the BBC published an article on how Putin’s Russia turned humour into a weapon. The New York Times promoted a series of homophobic cartoons lampooning supposed sexual relations between Trump and Putin. Another Times' piecehighlights how Russia allegedly duped naive African-Americans into not voting in the 2016 election, the inference being that US racism is solely a secret plot thought up by Russia in 2016. Trump’s latest announcement of pulling US troops out of Syria and Afghanistan is being portrayed as a "gift" to Putin. And finally, the Times has just published another piece which, again, purports that "corruption is in Russia’s DNA".  Western governments anxious to maintain a uni-polar world order against a resurgent Russia are flirting with disaster by engaging in such rhetoric. The demonising is increasingly echoed by the media to further this agenda. Academic Stephen F. Cohen queries whether politicians and media "actually prefer trying to impeach Trump to avoiding war with Russia". They haven’t yet accused Russians of poisoning wells but, unless more balanced language is heard, I fear that day is not far off, especially if attacking a little Russian girl and her bear is considered fair game.  

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

With every grain of sand: a history of sand

Author: Dr Aoife Blowick Analysis: geoscientists use unique fingerprints held within individual grains to piece together the history of sands in rivers, beaches and deserts Some people like squeezing it between their toes, others use it as art material. It’s a valuable commodity, actively mined and exported across the world as part of an $80 billion dollar industry. It's now increasingly protected in many destinations from sentimental tourists taking a little piece of their holiday with them. But where does sand come from, how did it come to be there and why should we care about it? Sand is composed of thousands of individual grains formed when bigger rocks are broken down by water, air or ice over time. Each sand is unique, comprised of grains of various composition, size and rounding, giving the stunning range of beaches across the world from the famous black sands of Hawaii, composed of volcanic glass, to the pristine white paradise beaches of the Maldives, almost exclusively made up of quartz grains. Besides these visible characteristics however, sand grains hold the key to a completely invisible, secret world. A world that sedimentary provenance analysis unlocks. From RTÉ One's Six One News, a report on how Achill's Dooagh beach has disappeared again What is sedimentary provenance? Sedimentary provenance is forensic geoscience which seeks to find where sand is sourced from and how it is transferred from its source to its current resting place. Like CSI, geoscientists use unique fingerprints held within individual grains of sand to track their route across the earth’s surface. In this way, we can piece together the history of sands in rivers, beaches and deserts. Not all sand grains have useful fingerprints and because each sand grain is different, the type of fingerprint geoscientists can use is also different. Some grains, such as zircon and rutile, have isotopes which can be dated to give an age of formation or a time at which their geological clock was reset, usually indicating a period of mountain building or continent-continent collision. Other grains, such as feldspar, tourmaline and garnet, can have different amounts of various elements, providing a unique geochemical make-up which can be linked to a particular source. However, unlike human fingerprints, the fingerprints of sand grains aren’t always so simple to match with its source. Many rocks have similar types of minerals so the individual grains they produce when broken down can’t always be distinguished. Modification of the source fingerprint is also a problem. Thousands of tons of sand can be transported in a matter of hours during floods and grains of sand can survive for millions of years, constantly being moved, buried, cemented, and recycled or even sometimes reset, so the fingerprint of its original source often becomes overprinted. From RTÉ Archives, Cathal Murray reports for RTÉ News on an international sand sculpting festival in Dublin in 2003 Grains can be transported for thousands of kilometres without breaking down. Grains in the Mississippi delta have been tracked over 3,700km upstream as far north as southern Canada, while grains in the Nile delta have travelled close to 7,000km. As a result, grains from one source are often mixed over and over with grains from other sources. On the other hand, more easily crumbled grains can disappear altogether by either being physically broken down or chemically dissolved and/or altered, meaning important pieces of the puzzle can be lost entirely. Sand through time So can you really see the world in a grain of sand? Yes! Take a handful of sand from any beach or river and you can get an idea of where that sand came from. Grain characteristics such as grain shape can help to determine how the sand came to be there – windblown sands are typically well-rounded, clean grains with a frosted texture formed by the grains hitting against each other, while river sands are typically more angular, often accompanied by mud. However, sand is constantly on the move. Whether tumbling along in a river, dragged under a crawling glacier or blown above us in the air, sand is continuously being generated, transported and reworked. By using the unique fingerprints held within individual sand grains, geoscientists can get a clearer picture of how sands come and go through time. The going is good: horses and riders on Rossbeigh Strand, Co Kerry for the Glenbeigh Races in 1973 With just a few grains, geoscientists can uncover the size and location of river systems active millions of years ago (many of which still exist today), the changing shape of the landscape, the position of the continents, and even something about the climate which prevailed at the time the sands were deposited. Within individual river systems, the pathways of sands can be tracked in high resolution (e.g. whether those sands sat for millions of years on the floodplain of a river or were transported straight to the world’s oceans). So why should we care about sand? We all love a golden white paradise beach, but few of us know how much we use sand on a daily basis. After water and air, sand is the most widely used resource on earth. Sand is used to make the screen you read this through, the glass you drink from, the buildings you sit in, the roads you drive on. Sands hold precious oil and gas reserves, drive production of electronics, and protect against coastal erosion. READ: How to build the perfect beach But like all resources, sand is not infinite. A looming sand crisis means sand production and extraction needs to be better understood and regulated, to ensure sustainable solutions are created. So next time you’re standing on the beach, crossing a river, or passing some outcrop on the side of the road, remember that sand could have been produced millions of years ago, thousands of kilometres away, in a completely different climate than we have today and transported by wind, air or ice. Not bad for a little grain of sand!

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

How pop culture enables bisexual people to tell their own stories

Author: Dr Emer McHugh Analysis: from music to TV to film, bisexual narratives have meant writers and artists can challenge and defy stereotypes What are the most common misconceptions and stereotypes associated with bisexual people? They’re manipulative. They’re confused. They’re greedy. They’re secretly gay. They’re secretly straight. They don’t exist. While accounting for the pressures that respectability politics places on marginalised communities, what we see (and how we see ourselves) in different realms of popular culture can reflect societal attitudes and common-held opinions. Bisexuality is no different, especially when these misconceptions aren’t challenged, or if bisexual people themselves don’t get the opportunity to challenge it. Even though bisexual people have always been a part of the LGBTQIA community – the pioneering activists Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and Brenda Howard were all bi – on a societal scale, sexuality has tended to be polarised as gay or straight. There has been little accounting for those who are attracted to more than one gender, which is how bisexuality and non-monosexuality are defined, but I also account for those who are pansexual, sexually fluid and other similar queer identities. Sara Ramirez as Callie Torres in Grey's Anatomy Take for example, the ice pick-toting serial killer Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) in Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct (1992), or Katy Perry singing "you’re my experimental game" in "I KIssed A Girl" (2008). Depicting bisexuals as duplicitous and indecisive is also generally symptomatic of how members of the LGBTQIA community have been represented as deviant in popular culture. But what happens when this narrative is challenged? What happens when representations of bisexual people defy these stereotypes? What happens when bisexual people write their own narratives? On television, we’ve seen the likes of Grey’s Anatomy’s Callie Torres and Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Rosa Diaz, played by Sara Ramirez and Stephanie Beatriz, both bisexual actresses, activists, and advocates. Upon her marriage to a straight cis man last year, Beatriz wrote about her sexuality for GQ magazine: "we’ll make vows that I will take very seriously—till death do us part. But I’ll be bi till the day I die, baby, and I vow to myself to always sing that truth." "Gettin' Bi" from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Other recent popular shows such as The Legend of Korra, Steven Universe and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend have featured bisexual protagonists and characters. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is particularly notable for its musical number "Gettin' Bi". "It's not a phase, I'm not confused", Darryl (Pete Gardner) sings. "Not indecisive, I don't have the 'gotta choose' blues". The bisexual film-maker Desiree Akhavan’s Channel 4 television series The Bisexual places exploring bisexuality at the forefront, as Leila (played by Akhavan herself) begins to explore dating men after ending a ten-year relationship with a woman (Maxine Peake). Akhavan commented that ‘[w]hereas there’s only pride when I say lesbian, there’s only coolness to say queer. Bisexual didn’t feel like it represented me and I wanted to know why, when technically it very much represents who I am.’ While she navigates the difficulties of coming out and coming to terms with her sexuality in the series, Leila’s bisexuality is always firmly asserted, never downplayed. Frank Ocean "Chanel" Popular and alternative music has offered avenues for bisexual artists to assert themselves (Billboard recognised this, by publishing a special feature in 2018 on bisexual artists such as Halsey, Jason Mraz and Brendon Urie). The late Pete Shelley, lead singer of the Buzzcocks, was openly bi throughout his career, and conscientiously swapped out ‘he’ or ‘she’ with ‘you’ and ‘I’ in his songs. In a 2009 interview with Pitchfork, Shelley commented on this practice, that "the object of my attention could be either. I can always say this one is about you, even if I wrote it about someone else". Recent work by queer musicians such as St. Vincent (a.k.a. Annie Clark) and Frank Ocean resist monosexual conceptions of sexuality. Ocean’s 2017 single "Chanel" was lauded as a bisexual anthem for its refrain ‘I see both sides like Chanel’, and in the case of Clark, "Sugarboy" (from 2017’s campy "Masseduction") features frantic chants of ‘Boys! Girls! Boys! Girls!’, as well as the suggestive lyrics ‘Sugarboy, I am weak / Got a crush on tragedy […] Sugargirl, dissolve in me / Pledge all your allegiance to me’. Similarly to Shelley, Clark largely eschews ‘he/she’ pronouns in her work, except in the case of her narrative-based ‘Johnny’ songs (‘Prince Johnny’, nonetheless, has queer themes).  St Vincent "Sugarboy" It would be remiss to omit Janelle Monáe’s 2018 album (and accompanying "emotion picture"), "Dirty Computer" (also spotlighted by Billboard). Dirty Computer celebrates queerness and non-monosexuality throughout: for example, ‘Pynk’ sees Monáe sing about being sexually pleasured while dressed in trousers resembling a human vagina (the actress Tessa Thompson is seen poking her head between as an unsubtle innuendo). Monáe also resists respectability politics by depicting her character Jane in a loving non-monogamous relationship with both a man (Jayson Aaron) and a woman (Thompson) in the emotion picture. "Make Me Feel" perhaps acts as a manifesto for the entire project: rather than having to choose between the two, Jane dances in a nightclub (lit with colours resembling the bisexual and pansexual flags) with both of her lovers – signifying how bisexual people shouldn’t have to choose who they love.  Janelle Monae "Make Me Feel" The common thread here, is bisexual creators and characters proudly asserting who they are: they "don't have the 'gotta choose' blues", so to say. In the case of Monáe, Ocean, Akhavan, Beatriz, and Ramirez, we also see broader representations of queerness beyond whiteness. We know that representation matters – it matters that bisexuality is depicted as decisive, valid, and present.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

How to beat fake news with algorithms

Author:  Lucas Azevedo Opinion: can we use machine learning to automate fact-checking and verification in the battle against fake news? Since its creation, the internet has been evolving and taking part in every aspect of the human life - and that is not any different when it comes to news. In fact, by reading this article through a browser and not on a printed paper, you are embracing this process. Recent studies show that approximately 65 percent of the US adult population accesses the news through social media and more than a billion people worldwide are active on a daily basis on Facebook alone. This creates a whole new paradigm where blogs, forums and social networking websites are not subject to traditional journalistic standards. This results in a lower quality of information being consumed by the readers. When presented with a false sentence and a true one and asked to indicate which one is the fake, humans are just four percent better than chance. Furthermore, readers typically find only a third of all text-based deceptions. This reflects the so-called "truth bias" or the notion that people are more apt to judge communications as truthful. Recently there were cases of innocent people being attacked by mobs in India when the attackers were lead by rumours spread over the WhatApp mobile phone application. The recent presidential campaign in Brazil also saw a great number of fake news being spread on groups of the same messaging platform. The fact that these messages are encrypted makes the conventional process of fact-checking and dealing with misinformation even less efficient. For more than a decade, such agencies as Snopes, Politifact and FactCheckhave been preventing the spread of false news, hoaxes and incomplete or neglected information. Many press companies, websites and journalistic groups work on the hard tasks of monitoring social media, identifying potential false claims and debunking or confirming them. Unfortunately, manual fact checking is an intellectually demanding and laborious process. As it takes an average of 13 hours for the true version to be shared after the rumour "peaks", the right version of the facts often receive less attention and rarely reach those who first believed the lie. As Jonathan Swift said in his classic essay "The Art of Political Lying", "falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it".  As if the situation wasn't bad enough, humans have an automatic unconscious response when exposed to a counter-evidence to what they already believe is true. Sometimes, the exposure of a fake news story paradoxically not only fails to debunk the false idea, but increases their confidence about it in their minds. This effect is known as the "backfire effect". But with the aid of artificial intelligence, data scientists have been making good progress in the task to automatically detect fake news or deception in a text. Similar to how some people display visual signs when lying, humans generally use spoken or written language in a different way when they are trying to deceive other and we can use these characteristics to train an artificial intelligence algorithm to identify possible fake news. Psychoanalysis studies have already shown the relationship between a number of linguistic aspects to the presence or absence of deception in a given piece of text. Applying these findings to the domain of news articles might be a way to increase people awareness. For example, it was shown that false news is, on average, less objective than documents describing real events. Other semantic aspects to be taken into account are emotiveness, affect, moral bias and formality. Syntactic characteristics have aided many Natural Language Processing tasks and are also a great means to make computers make sense of language. Data is the hindrance. Similarly to most machine learning models, the amount of data available for training is often what differentiates a good model from a bad one. In general terms, the more data you feed a machine, the better it gets at what it is supposed to do. By using crawlers, a type of bot that is used to navigate the web and save its content, the process of obtaining news articles is automated and can be performed continuously. This is in itself not a simple process and the wrong content of an article is captured more often than wanted. After sufficient data is collected and used to train the deep learning classifier, the model can then be used to predict whether a document is fake or not, and that is why it is called classifier. There are many types of machine learning models, but the principle is roughly the same: finding correlation between the training data and the input to determine the prediction. The higher the similarities between the input and the fake news used to train the model, the higher will be the probability assigned. The initial step with a piece of text is to measure each of the linguistic aspects by assigning a continuous score to it. These scores range from zero to 1 depending on how present the aspect being measured is in the given text. For example, an article with a 0.84 formality score is much more formal than one with a formality score of 0.22. After all the linguistic scores are calculated, they serve as an input for the machine, along with any other information it might take into account. With enough data, a good selection of linguistic aspects and a well adjusted machine learning model, a simple and automatic way to the detect fake news might be closer than expected.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Did a medieval Irish manuscript uncover a new word of Old Dutch?

Author: Dr Pádraic Moran, Classics Analysis: an ancient manuscript on the origins of the Irish language shows the influence of other nations on the words we used It’s not often that medieval Irish manuscripts make the news - and it's all the more unusual when they feature on Dutch national media. Last October, the Dutch national newspaper NRC Handelsblad carried a report that a new word of Old Dutch had been discovered in an Irish manuscript. The newspaper reported that the word in question could be dated to the seventh century AD, which would be quite remarkable for historians of that language, given that only one other Dutch text survives from that period. The story travelled beyond modern national boundaries, being taken up shortly afterwards by the Belgian Flemish dailies De Morgen and De Standaard But how was this discovery made? What was the Irish manuscript in question? Did it really contain Old Dutch? And how would Irish scribes have been aware of, or even interested in, that language? A remarkable prologue claims that the Irish language derives from Hebrew, Latin and Greek and that the Irish people are descended from Greeks The story has its origins in PhD research carried out at the University of Leiden by Peter-Alexander Kerkhof.He published some of his ideas on a blog dedicated to Dutch studies, where he cited an early Irish text known as "O’Mulconry’s Glossary". This is found in a manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin, dating from 1572, now bound as part of the Yellow Book of Lecan. The name "O’Mulconry’s Glossary" was assigned by the great (and often controversial) Celticist Whitley Stokes (1830–1901), although the text’s title is really De origine scoticae linguae ("On the origin of the Irish language"). Despite being copied into a 16th-century manuscript, the language is very ancient and coherent with Irish of the early eighth or possibly even seventh century, putting it among the earliest compositions in the Irish language. De origine scoticae linguae does exactly what it purports to. After a remarkable prologue which claims that the Irish language derives from Hebrew, Latin and Greek (and that the Irish people are descended from Greeks!), it discusses the origins of about 880 mostly Irish words, deriving them from Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, as well as Welsh and Norse. Modern scholars would not now accept most of these derivations, but nonetheless this represents one of the earliest milestones in the study of the Irish language and the beginnings of Celtic linguistics. Entry number 183 in De origine scoticae linguae reads Blinnauga .i. dallsúilech in linga galleorum "Blinnauga, i.e. blind-eyed, in the language of the Gall." Kerkhof took the Latin word galleorum to refer to the Gauls, whose territory in ancient times extended as far north as the Rhine, and whose population included some Germanic speakers. The first part of the glossary headword, Blinn-, certainly corresponds to the Germanic word blind, explained as dall in Irish (nn and nd are frequently interchanged in Irish manuscripts). Kerkhof took -auga as an error for Old Dutch augo "eye" (referenced by Irish -súilech "-eyed" in the text), and reasoned that some early Dutch speakers must have come to Ireland as exchange students to study in its famous monastic schools. The language is very ancient and coherent with Irish of the early eighth or possibly even seventh century, putting it among the earliest compositions in the Irish language. But there is another explanation. Gall in Irish can mean "foreigner" and especially "Scandinavian" (as in the place name Fingall). The term galleorum might therefore equally be a Hiberno-Latin hybrid, referring instead to the Old Norse language. This alternative is more congruent for several reasons. Firstly, language contacts between the Norse and the native Irish are very well documented. Indeed, many Irish words in current use were borrowed from Norse, particularly within those domains in which the Scandinavians excelled: for example, bád "boat" (Old Norse bátr), ancaire "anchor" (ON akkeri), stiúir "rudder" (ON stýri), trosc "cod" (ON þorskr) and margadh "market" (ON markaðr). Secondly, other Norse words crop up in the same glossary. For example, in entry 100, two curious words eist and or are explained as "horse" and "hair" respectively, probably borrowings from ON hestr and hór. In entry 265, a word bantráill, explained as "female slave", is probably a combination of Irish ban- "female" and ON þræll "slave", the latter no doubt another specialist commodity of Norse traders (compare the English word enthralled). Finally, auga does not need any correction as it is already a perfectly good Old Norse word. We find it elsewhere in similar compounds, for example vindauga "wind-eye", borrowed into Irish as fuinneóg and into English as window. The earliest recorded alliance between Irish and Norse was in 850, so we must assume that by then both groups were at least on talking terms. Recent research by this author has shown that the parts of the glossary in which all of these Norse words occur make up a latter addition to the original text, inserted in the late-ninth or early-tenth century. The term Blindauga sounds like a Scandinavian nickname, like that of Thorsteinn Krókauga "hook-eye" or Sigurðr Kýrauga "cow-eye" (both noted by Peter Schrijver).Who Blind-eye might have been is unknown, but we owe the survival of his name today to the interest of an early Irish linguist.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Lessons from Korea for Ireland's broadband strategy

Author: Dr Eoin Whelan, Business Information Systems Opinion: South Korea may be the digital heavyweight champion of the world, but that has come with health drawbacks When it comes to digital sophistication, South Korea is leading the world by a considerable distance. Internet speeds are four times faster than the world average, with 99 percent of households regularly going online. And it’s not just the tech savvy young. More than 60 percent of South Koreans in their sixties surf the web, compared with just 30 percent in Ireland. Not content with such impressive connectivity, the South Korean Government have aggressively developed policies and programs to launch fifth-generation (5G) network services. It worked. Last December, South Korea became the first country to roll out commercial 5G network coverage. Let’s consider their compatriots in North Korea where there are not one, but two versions of the web, both of them dysfunctional. The first version is restriction free, but can only be used by high ranking officials. Some university staff can also get access but this use is heavily monitored. The second version of the web, called Kwangmyong or "Walled Garden", is a cripplingly circumscribed design for the average citizen, who cannot access it anyway due to the extremely costs of PCs and smartphones. It is estimated that there are about 1,000 devices in North Korea capable of connecting to the web. The same figure for South Korea is 112 million. You’d have a better chance of seeing Shergar win the next Grand National than downloading your favourite Netflix series in Kim Jung Un’s eremite nation. So it’s obvious. South Korea are the best in class and we should ape the national broadband strategies that transformed it into the digital heavyweight champion of the world. Maybe not. There could be unintended advantages to the oppressive North Korean approach. You’d have a better chance of seeing Shergar win the next Grand National than downloading your favourite Netflix series in Kim Jung Un’s nation Bear with me, I base this argument not on restriction or censorship, but on the long term consequences for our wellness and productivity. If we were to lift the hood on the South Korean digital muscle car, we see many problems. Internet addiction is now considered a public health crisis. One in 10 South Koreans display serious obsessive tendencies towards the internet, with another 30 percent in the "at risk" category. Many of the research studies on problematic internet use eminent from South Korea where clear links to depression and suicide ideations have been reported. Work, family, and general societal obligations have also received a significant wallop from the digital hammer. In an extreme example, a South Korean couple whose three-month-old daughter died of malnutrition claimed online gaming addiction as a defence. Akin to steroids, the adulation of digital technology has transformed and supercharged South Korea to one of the buffest economies in the world. Its technology companies such as Samsung, LG and the SK Group are among the biggest and most successful anywhere. But the digital steroid is ephemeral and could be destroying the long term health of South Korea. In his bestselling book "Deep Work", Cal Newport adroitly argues that one of the most valuable skills in our economy is becoming increasing rare: the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. This deep work is the key to competitive advantage in our hyper connected 21st century economy. Whereas most people will be lost in an illusionary productive whirl of emails, tweets, notifications, and other buzzes and flashes, the truly successful will be able to switch off and focus on actually being productive, solving problems, making correct decisions and creating valuable output. South Korea speeds or North Korea's lack of distraction? Some of my own research buttresses Newport’s polemic. For many third level students, the constant use of social media is chipping away at their self-control, the consequence of which is poor academic performance. But those who can resist the charms of social media tended to perform very well. These findings were consistent across students in Ireland, the US, and Finland. I suspect if we had gathered data from the 5G amped students of South Korea, the detrimental influence of social media on self-control and academic performance would be even greater. North Koreans are unlikely to distracted by the bells and whistles of the web. There’s not much else to do there but think deeply. So does this mean they will have a competitive edge on other nations in the coming years and we should follow suit by restricting digital technology? Definitely not. As in many things in modern society, the two Koreas represent extremely ends of the spectrum. We should consider the "Goldilocks Principle" which states that extremes are not good for us (as in too hot or too cold). We need digital technology in order to build businesses, create jobs, streamline Government, maintain our communities and provide entertainment. But for our long term wellness and productivity, it needs to be at a level that is "just right". As the South Koreans are now finding out, too much high speed broadband is not good for us. Their government are scrambling to find a solution, one of which, ironically, is to restrict internet access. High speed broadband can come with significant long term costs In terms of a way forward, much can be learned from our own nation’s rear-guard battle with food consumption. We need to consume food to function, just as we need to consume digital technology. But now we realise that the amount and variety of food, the timings of when we consume, and avoiding the sweet tasting salts and sugars producers place in food, are vital in ensuring our diet is at the "just right" level. The same rules apply to digital consumption. Let’s learn from the South Korean experience. High speed broadband can come with significant long term costs. Just as education on healthy consumption is central to the National Healthy Weight Plan, so to should it be for the National Digital Strategy.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

How should Ireland remember Soloheadbeg?

Author: Dr Tomás Finn, History Department at NUI Galway Opinion: Soloheadbeg’s importance lies not so much in its immediate results, but more in how those events have been remembered From the very beginning, the meanings of the events of 21 January 1919 in Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary have been contested. On the same day as the meeting of the first Dáil, Séamus Robinson, Dan Breen and Seán Treacy led a group of volunteers in killing James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, while carrying out an ambush to capture gelignite. Generally considered as the starting point of the War of Independence in Ireland, the ambush certainly marked a new phase in what became known as the Irish Revolution. What Soloheadbeg represented was the latest stage in an ever-growing tension between a militant minority and their more moderate nationalist counterparts over Ireland’s future direction. Since before 1916 and the Easter Rising, there had been volunteers such as Robinson, Breen and Treacy who had demanded a more violent approach, including the targeting of policemen. These volunteers, who became part of the Sinn Féin movement during 1917 and 1918, were with a public radicalised further by the death after being force-fed of Thomas Ashe and the threatened introduction by the authorities of conscription during the First World War. What the military and political wings of Sinn Féin shared was a commitment to an Irish republic. How to achieve this or what exactly it was were questions that remained unanswered. When the 1918 general election was won by Sinn Féin, and with the Dáil due to meet in early 1919, the more militant wing, as reflected by An t-Óglách (the Irish Volunteer) journal, became increasingly fearful that they would be eclipsed by politicians. Soloheadbeg, at least in the eyes of Robinson, Breen and Treacy, was the logical next step and a natural intensification of the intimidation and clashes that had long been a feature of relations between nationalists and crown forces. It was critical that it should take place before or at the same time as the Dáil met as the need to take action had become paramount. According to the witness statements of Robinson and Breen in the Bureau of Military History, the shooting of the two policemen was deliberate. As recounted by Richard Abbot in his book, Police Casualties in Ireland, 1919-1922, and by such historians as Paul Bew, Michael Hopkinson, Michael Laffan and Charles Townshend, McDonnell and O’Connell were decent individuals (McDonnell was an Irish speaker and a widower with five children). Their deaths prompted considerable unfavourable reaction, unsurprisingly from Unionists and moderate nationalists, but even from members of Sinn Féin. As had been the practice in the past, the national leaders of the IRA, as the Volunteers became known, initially believed that Robinson and the others should leave for the United States. When Robison refused, insisting that they should fight (they spent the next months on the run), Michael Collins, the adjutant general of the IRA among other positions, said that that was alright with him. While Chief of Staff Richard Mulcahy viewed Soloheadbeg as tantamount to murder, Collins seemed to approve of an escalation of clashes with the RIC. What Soloheadbeg revealed more than anything else was the divisions within the Republican movement. These would not be so much between Collins and Mulcahy (the latter greatly admired Collins) as between Collins and Cathal Brugha and Austin Stack, the Ministers of Defence and Home Affairs in the Dáil government. They were suspicions of the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood and Collins' role in defence matters and, unlike Collins, insisted that the Dáil should have authority over the IRA. From RTÉ Archives, various audio clips featuring Dan Breen What Brugha and others had not fully come to terms with was that no-one - not even Collins - had control over the actions of local IRA leaders such as Robinson. The latter’s decision not to seek authorisation for the Soloheadbeg attack from General Headquarters was partly due to his concern as to whether he would have received a response in time. More than that, there was a fear that the plan might not have been approved. Throughout much of 1919, headquarters was cautious that an increase in the number and scale of operations was not possible as there was an insufficient number of weapons and the volunteers did not have the training needed for such a campaign. Early in 1919, the initiative in Ireland was taken by local IRA commanders. This was at least in part to maintain the morale of volunteers who, given the lack of action since 1916, were in danger of drifting away from the IRA. The majority of the attacks that did take place during the first half of 1919 were on Catholic Irish policemen, many of whom were respected members of their community. But as the months passed, the number of deaths of policemen increased and these received less sympathy, partly because of a heightened British military response. The RIC was increasingly placed in a difficult position. Drawn in many cases from the same class and background as those who supported Sinn Féin, the motives and actions of members of the RIC were more complex than those of a colonial police force. Much later, some joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland (more likely the Protestant members) or the Gardaí Síochána in the Irish Free State (Catholic members). From RTÉ Radio 1's History Show, historian Edward Madigan on ex-servicemen who fought on both sides in the War of Independence During the War of Independence, many policemen resigned or took early retirement from the RIC. Others tried to assuage the worse effects of British policy, particularly following the arrival of the Black and Tans and Auxiliary forces in Ireland in 1920. Others still switched loyalties and co-operated with the Republican side. But if Ireland was to be made ungovernable as the IRA intended, those that remained loyal RIC policemen were the first in the line of fire, particularly as they symbolised Imperial power and were a source of arms for the Republican movement. Solheadbeg was not only the first attack to result in the deaths of RIC personnel, but the operation also captured explosives which could be then used by the IRA. What gave Soloheadbeg an increased importance was that it took place on the same day as the first sitting of the Dáil. These events reflected the ongoing attempt to make British governance in Ireland unworkable and to place an Irish government and army in its place. In the short term, this met with at best incomplete success. Throughout 1919, early 1920 and with the establishment of IRA flying columns in the later half of 1920, local leaders and conditions remained critical in the increasingly bloody phases of the conflict. Regional leadership retained an ongoing importance in the latter stages of the War of Independence in 1921. They also played an importantrole when it came to choosing a side in the subsequent divisions over the Anglo-Irish Treaty, a settlement which proved to be unsatisfactory to Robinson and Breen (Treacy had been killed in 1920). From RTÉ Six One News, a report on the Atlas of the Irish Revolution which details the impact of the Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War across the country In many ways, the bitter split in the civil war between the pro and anti-treaty forces originated in the differences between the more militant and political wings of the Republican movement which had done so much to instigate the actions in Soloheadbeg in 1919. These issues were not finally resolved until Ireland declared itself to be a republic in 1949, thus removing the final link with the British crown. In the longer term, Soloheadbeg’s importance lay not so much in its immediate results, but more in how it has been remembered. Having initially been criticised, the events in Soloheadbeg inspired a ballad and Breen’s memoir My Fight for Irish Freedom, which greatly added to the author’s fame. In 1950, President Seán T. O’Kelly unveiled a memorial with the names of the IRA volunteers. How the Irish state and its citizens have remembered these and other events has spoken more of the then priorities of the Irish state than accurately reflecting historical events. In the present decade of commemoration, how the Irish state and its citizens remember the actions of both members of the republican movement and those of the crown forces is likely to further illuminate the present and future nature of Ireland.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Five Get Into A Fix: Enid Blyton, Brexit and modern Britain

Siobhán Morrissey, School of Humanities Analysis: influenced by the turmoil of the 1940s and 1950s, Enid Blyton's work also reflects the political climate of today's Britain Enid Blyton was a British children’s author who wrote over 600 books between 1921 and 1965. Some of her most famous series are The Famous Five, Malory Towers, Noddy and The Secret Seven. A film adaptation of Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree (1939-1946)series is being made by StudioCanal, written by Simon Farnaby, the co-writer of Paddington 2. This series, along with The Wishing Chair (1937-1950), are Blyton’s two most popular fantasy series and both were written around the time of the second World War. In these stories, we follow the exploits of brave British children as they discover and explore fantasy worlds filled with wonderfully named characters such as the Saucepan Man.   Blyton’s books have sold millions of copies – estimated somewhere around the 500 million mark – and she is one of the best-selling fiction authors of all time. Despite her immense popularity, relatively little scholarly research has been done on the author’s work. Due perhaps to the phenomenal success of the Harry Potter series, popular children’s fantasy fiction is a category now considered worthy of academic attention. But Blyton’s fantasy work remains under-explored and under-researched. There are numerous reasons why her work has been ignored by critics, the most predominant being the general discrediting of Blyton’s fiction as non-literary, or sub-literary and therefore unworthy of serious critical analysis. The general, popular opinion of Blyton is that she was a childlike, psychologically immature woman who created fantasy worlds into which she could escape. As a result, her fantasy books are dismissed as escapist by children’s literature scholars. While other Blyton series, such as The Famous Five and The Adventurous Four have been studied in relation to their historical context, the fantasy texts are thought of as entirely disconnected from the historical, social and political context in which they were written. Enid Blyton working in her garden in Beaconsfield. Photo: George Konig/Getty Images I offer a counterargument which maintains that the fantasy books were heavily influenced by the political ideologies and the turmoil of mid-20th century wartime Britain. The texts are a reflection of, rather than a distraction from, Britain’s engagement in the second World War. Contrary to scholarly opinion, Blyton did not restrict her nationalistic and patriotic values to her realist texts. Lurking underneath the surface of the fantastical adventures of The Magic Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair series are pervasive and strong nationalistic ideologies. A veneration of courage and the military spirit, an acceptance and a glorification of violence and a fear/hatred of the outsider are all evident within Blyton’s fantasy texts. These nationalistic tropes are also seen in the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, who sought to revive and use folklore and fairy tales to help construct a sense of national identity for German people in the 18th century. Similarly, in Ireland, W.B. Yeats revived folklore and fairy tales of the Irish peasantry to stimulate a sense of Irish national identity in the 19th century. Blyton used these nationalistic elements to create patriotic stories in which courageous young British heroes eradicate the figure of the outsider and foil the attempts of the enemy to invade and conquer their home, thereby providing a sense of agency and power to child readers. Blyton’s fantasy work continues to reflect the political climate of contemporary Britain In The Adventurous Four, a realist, non-fantasy text,Blyton’s allusions to the war are far more explicit than in the fantasy series. References to Nazi Germany are scattered throughout the story: the child protagonists see "the sign of the cross…the sign of the enemy, the foe of half the world". Blyton’s jingoism is unequivocally expressed in The Adventurous Four. The protagonist’s father speaks of the injustice in having to "fight so much evil and wickedness", and of the necessity of remaining "strong and courageous" when fighting against "such a powerful and evil enemy as ours". Blyton’s fantasy texts both reflect and respond to the threat of invasion felt by Britons during the second World War. The Faraway Treeis placed repeatedly under threat by foreign invasion. For instance, in The Enchanted Wood – the first book of The Magic Faraway Tree series-an army of invading red goblins hoping to conquer the Faraway Tree are captured, tied-up, and held prisoner by the child protagonists. The children celebrate the successful defeat and banishing of their enemy with a feast. However, Blyton’s fantasy work not only responds to the political issues of mid-20th century Britain. but continues to reflect the political climate of contemporary Britain. Fears of mass immigration and the vulnerability of borders are prominent themes throughout the fantasy series. These issues, fears and concerns remain relevant to the political climate of modern Britain. Blyton’s texts have been edited and updated for modern readers, but the nationalistic elements of the texts, and the anxieties exhibited within the texts regarding mass immigration and the permeability of borders have evaded censorship and continue to influence new generations of young readers. The author’s name is used in parody editions of the Famous Five series, including Five on Brexit Island, and Five Escape Brexit Island. Blyton’s work represents a particular vision of nostalgic Englishness, and my research examines the manner in which contemporary publishers use the name of Enid Blyton to continue to construct an anachronistic sense of national identity for modern readers.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Is it time for an electronic backstop for our only land border?

Author: Niall O Brolchain, Whitaker Institute and Insight Centre for Data Analytics               Analysis: Innovative technological customs control may provide part of the answer for minimising Brexit disruption along the border The Brexit process for Britain to leave the EU has cast serious doubt on the harmonious functioning of the Irish border. This doubt is very much fuelled by the stated aim of the Brexit process to allow Britain to "take back control" of the movement of people and goods between the UK and the EU. This doubt is not the fault of anyone on the island of Ireland, despite what the pro Brexit English Conservative MP Jacob Rees Mogg may suggest. "If we leave without a deal", Rees Mogg commented, "the main culprit will be the obdurate Irish government’s threats about the phantom border issue". The Good Friday Agreement was an enormous political achievement and one that the world can be proud of. Signed in April 1998, it differs from the Brexit process in that its’ aim was to fix something that was actually broken. Since it came into force, it has allowed the island of Ireland to function relatively normally and the geographically nonsensical Irish border to become almost invisible. From RTÉ Politics, Conor McMorrow reports on how companies are dealing with the prospect of the border becoming an EU frontier Anyone who lived through the troubles in Northern Ireland and experienced paramilitary violence, road closures and permanent checkpoints involving armed soldiers and policemen will perhaps be forgiven for not wanting to return to the bad old days. For those of us who can remember such things, the border is certainly not a phantom issue. In the context of the current debate, how can technology and best practices provide an electronic backstop or smart border as a contingency plan in case a viable political solution can’t be found? First, let's examine a few of the relevant terms: Brexit: The process for the UK to leave the EU. The decision was made by the UK Government following a non-binding UK wide referendum in 2016. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was triggered on 29th March 2017, which means that the UK is on course to legally leave the EU. Hard border: Means that people and goods will be stopped and checked at all border crossings. At present there are more than 200 crossing points but many of these may be closed to prevent the Irish border becoming a backdoor between the UK and the EU if more restrictive rules are imposed. From RTÉ News2Day, Paul Cunningham explains the Brexit process including the backstop Backstop: Refers to the EU plan for Northern Ireland to continue to have the same rules as Ireland in relation to the free movement of goods and people, to facilitate a low-friction border until a trade agreement is put in place between the EU and a post Brexit UK. Single Market: This guarantees the free movement of goods, capital, services, and labour (the "four freedoms") within the EU. The UK wants to leave this, removing this guarantee for those wishing to travel or trade across the Irish border. The balance of trade now greatly favours the UK as Ireland has steadily reduced its exposure to the UK market. EU Customs Union: Conceived in 1957 and completed in 1968, it allows tariff free trade within the EU. Brexit would almost certainly see new tariffs imposed. Research carried out for the EU policy department for citizens’ rights and constitutional affairs proposes the following solutions which may apply regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations: (A) Measures to assist movement of people under the UK and Ireland Common Travel Area (CTA) 1. Free movement lanes at major border crossings for eligible people. 2. Use of Enhanced driver's licenses and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) capabilities. From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, The Irish Border talks about what it's like to be the centre of all this attention 3. Use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) at manned and unmanned border crossings. 4. Requirement for people not eligible under CTA to present at a manned border crossing. 5. One check: at jurisdiction of entry. 6. Creation of a frequent travellers program for people not eligible under the CTA. 7. Legal basis for collaboration and data exchange between Ireland and Northern Ireland. (B) Measures to create a low-friction border for the movement of goods 1. A bilateral EU-UK agreement regulating an advanced customs cooperation that avoids duplication and where UK and Irish customs can undertake inspections on behalf of each other. 2. Mutual recognition of Authorized Economic Operators (AEO). From RTÉ's Brexit Republic podcast, a report on Sir Ivan Rogers' robust analysis of the current Brexit debate 3. A Customs-to-Customs technical agreement on exchange of risk data. 4. Pre-registration of operators and people (Commercial Travellers programme in combination with a Certified Taxable Person programme). 5. Identification system by the border. 6. A single window for standardized electronic information with one-stop-shop-elements. 7. A Unique Consignment Reference number (UCR). 8. A simplified customs declaration system (100% electronic) with re-use of export data for imports. 9. Mobile control and inspection units. 10. Technical surveillance of border using Closed Circuit Television and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (CCTV and ANPR). These measures could create a low friction border, but not a no friction border. The best example of a low friction high-tech border is the one between Sweden and Norway. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Europe Editor Tony Connelly on how the Sweden/Norway border operates At the moment, official trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland amounts to about €2.5 billion per annum with 23,000 people commuting across the border for work each day. The trade figure is estimated to reduce by about 17 percent with the introduction of a hard border. A low friction electronic border would almost certainly reduce that loss. But the political reaction to a hard border in Ireland is uncertain. While the West Lothian question and the rise of English nationalism may be driving Brexit, Irish nationalism "hasn’t gone away you know" and the Irish government is acutely aware of this. All solutions to minimise the risk of a return to the bad old days of the troubles should be explored and that should include research into the potential of an innovative electronic backstop for the Irish border.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: The trials and humiliations of Theresa May

Author: Professor Daniel Carey, Moore Institute Opinion: how can we explain the British prime minister's ability to carry on despite a constant wave of attacks, onslaughts and setbacks? Much has been made of Theresa May’s humiliation in recent commentary on her embattled position as British prime minister. The term has been widely used by headline writers, pundits, and political correspondents ranging from Channel 4 to The Daily Telegraph, and even as far afield as the editorial board of The New York Times. I suspect that the word, whether in verbal or noun form, will haunt her in any word cloud dedicated to coverage of her premiership. Few could argue with the view that she has suffered a remarkable onslaught during her tenure. She has endured the resignation of a succession of ministers and junior ministers (including two Brexit secretaries), who have gone on to form a chorus against her, coupled with denunciations in the conservative press where we might ordinarily expect support for a Tory leader. The Telegraph, in particular, has allocated large swathes of space to Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson intent on trouncing her. From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Barry Lenihan reports on how Theresa May survived the vote of no confidence in her leadership In parliament, her marathon sessions at the dispatch box defending the Brexit deal have been distinguished by relentless attacks not just from the opposition benches but from her own MPs. Even her supporters in the Commons have confined themselves to tepid endorsements at Question Time. Beyond that, she has suffered a series of comical mishaps, including a disastrous appearance at the Tory Party conference in October last year, featuring a coughing fit, a comedian handing her a P45 and part of the signage falling down during her address. Getting trapped in the back of her car as she arrived to meet the German Chancellor Angela Merkel (due to a recalcitrant door handle) is only the most recent incident. From RTÉ Six One News, a report on Theresa May's speech to the Conservative Party conference in 2017 Most politicians would have crumbled, and either resigned, broken down or returned venom with venom. How does she carry on? I have a theory about Theresa May. To understand the theory, one must first remember that her father, the Rev. Hubert Brasier, was an Anglican minister, serving as a hospital chaplain before becoming vicar of two different parishes in Oxfordshire over the course of his career. Why is this relevant? The key to Theresa May’s fortitude may be her acceptance of the model of the humiliation of Christ as a guide to political life. I’m being facetious of course in characterising her this way, but only a little. Christ’s humiliation is a central component of Protestant readings of the Christian narrative, starting with the acceptance of a human form and culminating in the crucifixion, in the midst of jeers. Numerous examples recur in the Bible, such as his treatment at the hands of the Roman soldiers, their mocking of him, the freeing of Barabbas rather than Jesus by Pontius Pilate, the beatings and abuse of chief priests, the temple guard, and his scourging on the orders of Pilate. Those who accept humiliation as their destiny also potentially take the country with them in this fate Theresa May’s sturdy will to carry on despite her relentless humiliation testifies to an expectation that this is what public life offers, not glory and redemption but daily trial, suffering, and abuse. Countless examples come to mind: the business of trundling back and forth to Brussels in a position of obvious weakness, selling something to her party and to the Commons that no one accepts, the thorn in her side of Boris Johnson, confronting a vote of no-confidence, the certainty that she would never be allowed to lead the party into another general election (now cemented in her pre-vote announcement that she would retire from the post). One could go on. If all of this speaks of a character not driven by ego but by a service ethic, it comes with a risk. Those who accept humiliation as their destiny also potentially take the country with them in this fate. The scenario becomes a national norm. One could argue, mind you, that this unenviable predicament is built into Brexit and would beleaguer anyone who served as Prime Minister, regardless of party or persuasion. "There is also something strangely refreshing about her acceptance of this condition" But there is also something strangely refreshing about her acceptance of this condition. The deep humility sets her apart from most leaders, and certainly from her female predecessor as Tory leader, Margaret Thatcher, who occupied much more the role of Warrior Queen. May’s determination offers an antidote to the public school arrogance that features so prominently in her party, not least among her internal opponents. She is now becoming a phenomenon. Perhaps the resilience derives from a religious source, a secular incarnation of the humiliation of Christ.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: The return of the hard-right in Spain

Author: Begoña Sangrador-Vegas, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures Opinion: recent elections has seen the rise of a new hard-right party in Andalusia and their success in the south may well go nationwide Last weekend, regional elections took place in Andalusia. For those not familiar with Spanish politics, Spain is made up of 17 autonomous regions. Each autonomous region (comunidad autónoma) holds its own parliamentary election and has its own government headed by a First Minister (Presidente). These regional governments have powers devolved in certain areas specified in their statutes and always within the framework of the Spanish constitution. Andalusia is the region with the largest population, some 8.5 million inhabitants. It also has one of the largest unemployment rates (23 percent) and lowest living standards in the country. Since the beginning of the democratic period in Spain after Franco’s death in 1975, Andalusia’s government has always been in the hands of the Socialist Party, PSOE, who also currently controls the Spanish government.  But after last weekend's elections, the Socialists will be unable to form a government for the first time in Andalusia. Although they obtained the highest number of votes, they lost 14 seats. Even a coalition with left-wing Adelante Andalucía won’t be enough to make up the numbers.  People casting their vote during the regional elections in Andalusia One of the biggest surprises from the election is the rise of Ciudadanos (C’s), a party slightly further to the right of PP, who've gone from nine to 21 seats. Then, there's the entry to the political arena of the unashamedly far-right Vox, with 12 seats. Vox tick all the extreme right boxes: anti-immigration, Eurosceptic, homophobic, anti-abortion, anti-gender politics and obsessively nationalist. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign strategist, has been openly supporting Vox, as he has done for other European parties with a similar ideology (UKIP in Britain, Rassemblement National in France etc).  Since the end of Franco’s dictatorship, the PP has managed to encompass a wide spectrum of right-wing ideologies, from moderate conservatives to far-right and everything in between. After all, most of their original leaders, and a good number of their successors, had connections with the dictatorship. Although there was a far-right party, Fuerza Nueva (New Force), present at the beginning of the transition to democracy, it had fizzled out by the 1980s. It was too extreme for the new democratic times.  But things have changed since then. Spain has been a democratic country for over four decades now. It has gone from being "last in line" in western Europe to a country which, due to its size and economic weight, must be taken into consideration in any EU decisions. The fat-cow years of the second half of the 1990s and first decade of the 2000s changed the sociological face of the country. Over four million immigrants (10 percent of the population) mostly from Latin America, Romania and Morocco, have settled and work in Spain. Like Ireland, Spain has had to adapt quickly to a multicultural society that did not previously exist in the country to such a degree. But Spanish right-wing parties can also point the finger at a domestic enemy which they perceive as determined to destroy the "sacred" unity of Spain. Enter Catalonia However, the "lean cows" of the crisis came home around 2010. Since then, despite the politicians’ talk of economic recovery, a large percentage of the population has only experienced austerity measures. These have deeply affected education, healthcare and social services, leading to house evictions and long queues for food banks. The young generation faces the prospect of precarious employment that rules out the possibility of starting a family. The unemployment rate is still too high (15 percent) and the birth rate is so low (1.3 children per woman) that the future generation replacement rate and payment of pensions is bleak.  Once welcomed as an asset, immigration is now perceived as a liability with people blaming migrants for the lack of jobs, reduction in social benefits and increase in criminal offences. The continuous landings of boats carrying illegal migrants on the southern coast have elevated this fear to a red alert of invasion. As is the case in many other countries in Europe and beyond, the foreign scapegoat for domestic problems has been identified and the far-right will feed on it. Long forgotten are the banking crisis and massive bail-outs which have indebted Spain and other European countries for generations to come, all of which were the cause of the austerity measures that reduced public expenditure, landing us in the precarious situation we are now in.  But Spanish right-wing parties, due to the plurinational make-up of the country, can also point the finger at a domestic enemy which they perceive as determined to destroy the "sacred" unity of Spain. Enter Catalonia. Since the illegal referendum on independence last year, the short-lived declaration of independence days later, the exile of ex-First Minister Puigdemont and five of his ministers and the incarceration of other members of the Catalan government, the Catalan secessionist roller-coaster has been in full motion. Catalonia was mentioned continuously by the PP, C’s and Vox during the Andalusian electoral campaign, together with well-deserved criticism for the ruling Socialist Party in Andalusia for corruption and incompetence.  Thousands of peope attend a demonstration in Madrid cagainst Catalan separatists Control of immigration and suppression of Catalan aspirations with an iron fist are the solutions offered by right-wing parties to the bleak economic and social situation Andalusia finds itself in. A quick fix to problems whose roots are embedded in centuries of under-investment, a situation of large estates owned by absentee landlords in need of a thorough agrarian reform, a culture of clientelism, precarious jobs in the tourist industry, and a general lack of vision for the future of this large region of Spain. What is more worrying is the prospect that Vox may have entered Spanish politics to stay, not as a mere regional exception. This will be revealed when the next general election takes place, something the right-wing parties are enthusiastically pushing for. Meanwhile, the mainstream politicians in Europe keep on sleepwalking, hoping that the growing disillusionment with their policies felt by their most deprived citizens won’t translate into further advances for the extreme right. READ: The rise of populism on the Danube and Vistula European left-wing parties have lost their way since the collapse of the Communist bloc. They have been unable to offer any real social reform policies that can redress the worst excesses of the greed of corporations and neoliberal elites. It is hard not to see what is happening all over Europe as a wake-up call. The "right-ing" is on the wall. 

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: We're all celebrities now

Author: Mary McGill, Global Women's Studies The Brainstorm Long Read: where fame tends to emphasise exceptionalism, celebrity today celebrates ordinariness. Back in 1968, legend has it that pop art pioneer Andy Warhol popularised the 15 minutes of fame concept. Warhol’s full quip, which apparently appeared in an exhibition program, was "in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes". Smartphones and wifi might not have been what Warhol envisaged but they certainly speak to the democratisation of fame he predicted. Thanks to social media, we could say we're all celebrities now - but what does this mean in practice? And what happens when a concept like celebrity, once reserved for a very select and cosseted few, starts to play an increasingly prominent role in everyday life? "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes" To begin, it is important to distinguish between fame and celebrity. Being famous and the famous themselves have fascinated humankind for centuries. In this traditional sense, fame is not restricted to individuals in the entertainment industries, but extends to achievement in all kinds of fields from science to philosophy to sports to commerce to war. By contrast, contemporary celebrity is primarily a media phenomenon, created, circulated and sustained by the media itself. It is also worth noting that when we talk about ‘celebrity’ and ‘fame’ we are not only referring to individuals but also culture and representation. As Stars, Richard Dyer’sanalysis of Hollywood’s star system shows, celebrity is political, reflecting the values and preoccupations of the era and industry which produces it. Contemporary celebrity culture’s close links to the media is not the only thing that makes it distinctive. Where fame tends to emphasise exceptionalism, celebrity today emphasises something very different, something which seems to run counter to the whole notion of celebrity - ordinariness. To understand why this is the case, we need to briefly rewind to the 1990s and a genre that many regard as a key precursor to social media: reality television. From RTÉ Radio One's Ray D'Arcy Show, Deirdre O'Kane and Rory Cowen talk about the Irish version of Gogglebox In his analysis of modern celebrity, Understanding Celebrity, Graeme Turner defines the demotic turn in late 20th century popular culture as a point when "ordinary people" began playing increasingly prominent roles in the media. From the Real World (1992) to Big Brother (1999), from Gogglebox (2013) to The Circle (2018), reality television perfectly encapsulates the dynamic Turner describes. Think, for example, of Big Brother UK contestants since the early Noughties who have managed to parlay their appearance on the show into a media career. Rather than a stand-out talent or a remarkable experience, it is their perceived ordinariness that provides their point of entry into the media and the foundation for their public image. This new mode of celebrity has proven so effective and lucrative that the reality television format is now increasingly intertwined with other formats, such as the talent show. We see it in The X Factor’s infamous "journey" narratives, in which contestants’ backstories feature in tandem with their talent. In this context and many others, performing ordinariness becomes integral to the development of the celebrity even as their ascent to stardom calls into question their ordinariness. From RTÉ 2fm's Chris and Ciara show Blindboy Boatclub on why reality TV is still popular The appeal of ordinariness can also be associated with something else today’s celebrity culture holds in high regard: being seen as "real". For celebrities of all stripes, there is a heavy premium placed on presenting oneself as authentic and accessible, as a person rather than simply a product. However, this is a very tricky line to navigate because, as Alison Harvey puts it in The Fame Game: Working Your Way Up the Celebrity Ladder in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, celebrity "is the ultimate expression of the self as branded good."By its nature, celebrity is packaged, commodified and carefully managed. This makes any claim to authenticity difficult, not least because it requires a performance which must look natural rather than strategic. One of the primary sites where ideas about ordinariness, authenticity and modern celebrity collide is on social media. This is no accident. By its very design, social media places a massive emphasis on status, the pursuit of which leads people to mimic behaviours which were once the preserve of celebrities alone. While social media is positioned as democratic compared than other forms, as Alice Marwick points out in Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age, the reality is more complex. Reflecting the preoccupations of Silicon Valley where it emerged, Marwick argues social media follows a logic that celebrates and enshrines competitive individuality, intensive self-management and entrepreneurial common sense. Online, it is not just celebrities who are expected to behave like celebrities. Anyone with a social media account will be familiar with the self-management that goes into everyday practices like taking and posting a selfie or a status update. Depending on the context - and the audience - these pursuits can take up a lot of our psychological and emotional energy, as can monitoring the response our posts get or don’t get. From RTÉ 2fm's Dave Fanning Show, an interview with Jeetendr Sehdev about his book The Kim Kardashian Principle on celebrity branding Self-branding through image management is something we all do now to varying degrees whenever we cross the social media threshold. This is a phenomenon known as "microcelebrity" and it reflects the rise of celebrity culture as a dominant force in everyday life. What is distinctive about microcelebrity, Marwick argues, is that individuals are known to specific rather than broad audiences and that they present themselves as celebrities "regardless of who is paying attention." If this strikes you as a little dystopian, you are not alone. The kinds of ranking and scoring that social media places such importance on can be interpreted, as Marwick explains, as a form of discipline in which we endlessly monitor our own behaviour and others, subjecting ourselves and those around us to judgement. In an episode of Black Mirror, for example, a young woman becomes so obsessed with her social ranking that she undergoes a cringe-inducing public meltdown after a period of increasingly bonkers behaviour. But these fears go beyond fiction. One only has to consider how social media may be used in China’s burgeoning social ranking system to understand that the kinds of judgement digital technologies enable is not to be taken lightly. A form of microcelebrity which has become a major talking point online and offline is the social influencer. Crystal Abidin’s helpful definition of the term cuts through the caricatures as she describes them as "everyday, ordinary Internet users" who manage to build large online profiles for themselves.Critical to their appeal is their direct engagement with their followers. This kind of engagement is notable for how it performs relatability and closeness and the influencer’s willingness to narrativise their life. From RTÉ Radio 1's This Week, Maggie Doyle speaks to Eimear McManus from marketing agency Digital Works and blogger Rosemary MacCabe about the growing power of social media influencers Although much-maligned in some quarters, successful social influencers provide insightful case studies as to how new forms of everyday celebrity work and the basis for their appeal. Like celebrity more broadly, influencer culture invests heavily in the idea of authenticity. To achieve this, social influencers often share in strategic ways intimate aspects of their interior and exterior lives in the process of creating carefully curated content to sustain and increase their follower base. Those who get the mix right hope to draw the attention both of their peers and advertisers and brands. While Instagram may be plastered with images of influencers living it up, it is important to stress that making a living online is not an easy business for most people. Social influencers, especially those starting out, often work without the support system of traditional celebrities who have, at the very least, an agent if not a management team to call on. Becoming a successful influencer is no easy task, requiring the ability, resources and contacts to marketise your life in an increasingly crowded online environment. Although presented as a more accessible route to celebrity than other forms of media, the reality is that those who gain visibility through social media usually have already acquired cultural capital of some kind. For the lucky few social influencers who manage to monetise the attention they receive sufficiently to live off it, this achievement also ties them to sustaining the image their followers subscribe to.  From RTÉ Radio One's Ryan Tubridy Show, Bella Younger on the rise and fall of her social media alias Deliciously Stella  When your life becomes your livelihood, any changes that may happen, particularly those beyond your control, can be very difficult to integrate into an online persona. This becomes further complicated when this persona is expected to be "authentic". When your ability to pay the bills relies on maintaining an image which an influencer moves beyond or no longer wants to embody, this can create issues both psychologically and financially. At a time when more and more content creators are reporting exhaustion and even logging out of the platforms which made them famous, the intense labour - both creative and emotional - involved in this kind of work and its downsides are aspects of modern celebrity which require more attention. Thanks in so small part to the Internet, Andy Warhol’s prophetic take on fame continues to resonate. While few people ever become world-famous, more and more people are a little bit famous - at least to their followers on social media. The effect of this low-level fame is shaping how we relate to ourselves and each other in ways that we have yet to fully appreciate. Although often derided, contemporary celebrity culture has much to teach us about our world and how rapidly it is changing.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Rural Ireland's biggest advantage? It's not like urban Ireland

Author: Dr Patrick Collins, School of Geography Opinion: identifying the needs and opportunities of rural Ireland means actually understanding what it is to be rural Broadband is the latest news story in a long line to focus our attention on uneven development in this small country. From this year's National Development Plan through spatial strategies and Colin Buchanan’s 1967 report, many policy reports harken back to Éamon de Valera’s idyll vision of a countryside alive to the "joyous sound of industry". The most recent figures from the CSO would not make for pleasant reading for de Valera. The reality is that we live on an island that is becoming more urban, more concentrated (we have the rents to prove it) and one which is seeing more and more of rural Ireland fall into an economic slumber.  Who or what is rural Ireland?  The most cursory glance at Irish economic activity since the foundation of the state would tell the story that we are now less reliant on our land for generating revenue. Where 50 percent of the state’s wealth was derived from agricultural (primarily rural) pursuits as little as 50 years ago, the biggest sectors today derive their value from the minds of educated Irish people in the industrial estates and the urban quarters of our biggest cities.  This is part of a global trend, where city growth and urban development is seen as the most obvious spatial manifestation of the new global economy. Cities are given more power to better accommodate and capture future growth possibilities and we will see this coming down the line in Ireland. From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Sean O'Rourke, is Dublin favoured over rural Ireland when it comes to investment?  When it comes to the rural, we are not doing the same. We do not have the same knowledge or understanding. Growth has many friends, decline has few. Many of Ireland’s urban dwellers are little more than one generation removed from the rural. It is ironic then that our knowledge of the rural is so limited. Distilled in popular media, it is viewed as the domain of the IFA, associated with motorway-enabled crime or seen in the likeness of a Paul Henry painting.  Yet rural Ireland holds a multitude. Its beauty is known across the world, while the future energy needs of the country will be served by the winds that blow through it and the waves that crash against it. It is becoming more diverse, more forward looking. For many, it has the allure of a unique quality of life that makes it very different from its urban counterpoint.  Much of our talk about how we can make rural Ireland more competitive often reduces to how we can make the rural more like the urban And it works differently now. Value is derived from all the above and from people accessing and experiencing our unique landscape in a variety of ways from hill walking to greenway cycle paths. One example of the way it works that is often overlooked are the cultural and creative industries. Internationally, this sector has received a great deal of attention. Ernst and Young valued it at $2,250 billion in 2015. In their 2012 review of the Irish creative economy, Indecon estimated an overall contribution of €4.6 billion in terms of Gross Value Add, equating to approximately 2.8 percent of GDP here. Late last year, we undertook an impact analysis of the creative economy (including, creative, cultural and craft industries) in the west of Ireland.  From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, is the Minister for Rural and Community Development delivering for rural Ireland? Much of our talk about how we can make rural Ireland more competitive often reduces to how we can make the rural more like the urban. Any effort to decrease the divergence in economic activity between Irish regions will have to focus on that which differentiates it from the urban. Our work on the creative economy shows that it exists differently within the rural context in three distinct ways:  Product and place From Donegal tweed to audiovisual content from Connemara to west Clare trad, place is ingrained in the products of the creative and cultural industries. Competitive standing here is determined by uniqueness and authenticity, and both these values have a very stubborn geography when ascribed to a product or service. These are markets where replication and massification (most often an urban phenomenon) are almost impossible.   Make it local and sell it global  The attractiveness of the periphery’s produce, notably in the area of craft and design, is how they sit against the mass produced that flood major markets has a role here. How these products reach the market also shows the unique business approaches and models adopted by the creatives. While distributors are important to access the market, technology and broadband in particular is recognised by the majority of creatives as crucial for success. From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, Richard Curran profiles Donegal tweed specialists Magee  Ways of doing business The nature of the work and the resultant produce mark these industries as unique. In many cases, economic gain might not be the primary motive. This affects the business models adopted. Geography also plays a role here. While the vast majority of these industries and their small nature means that more than half work from home, nearly 20 percent of the creative industries work out of shared spaces. The rise of collaborative practices, co-working spaces and collective services agreements has been spearheaded by the rural creative. The Rural Regeneration Fund is tantamount to reducing policy to a "Dragons Den" for rural communities While plaudits have to be given for the setting up of a Department of Rural and Community Development, this will take time to reach full effectiveness. The answer to supporting rural Ireland, however, will not be found in initiatives like a Rural Regeneration Fund, which is tantamount to reducing policy to a "Dragons Den" style mechanism for supporting rural communities. Real support requires a lot of hard work. To identify the needs of the rural means understanding what it is to be rural. A national audit of the "kinds" of rural across the island is start point. Policy then needs to respect that which makes places unique and to build that. This is not achieved by pursuing prescriptive polices that are thought to work only because they worked elsewhere. Progressive policies are needed to bring "making" back to the rural. To trust in the culture and creativity of these distinct, and often times revered places. And for rural Ireland to hum to the joyous sound of industry, it is absolutely necessary that these regions have a broadband connection to do so. 

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Meet the crop-raiding gorillas of Rwanda

Author: Shane McGuinness Report: farmers in Rwanda face many problems, not least such protected species as gorillas, buffalos and elephants snacking on their crops  These storms had a nasty habit of coming out of nowhere. Vast, rain-filled goliaths with the power to transform dusty tracks into raging chocolatey torrents. I took shelter under the overhang of a thatched roof, leaning against the mudbrick walls of a home nestled amongst fields of dense potato drills. I was in farmland draped along the sloping border of Volcanoes National Park (VNP) in northern Rwanda, along with my research assistant, Isaac. We had travelled here to interview farmers about how they farmed, their views on the nearby park and, most importantly, whether they have any problems farming so close to such an important protected area. As we waited for the downpour to finish (so we could hear our conversation over the din), I wondered whether the shaggy residents of the forest were taking shelter too. Volcanoes National Park is situated in northern Rwanda, with the DRC to the west and Uganda to the north. Visual: Shane McGuinness Situated just east of the very centre of Africa, Volcanoes National Park is an incredibly valuable "island" of biodiversity and a hotspot for life. The most famous species it supports, the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is found only here and in a limited area of neighbouring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The golden monkey (Cercopithecus mitis kandti) has an even more restricted range. VNP also supports forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis), Cape buffalo (Syncerus cafer) and a vast range of life we are only beginning to understand. It is thus incredibly important to science. Likewise, it is fundamental to the economy of Rwanda, as tourism – mainly centred around mountain gorilla trekking – injects US$60 million directly into Kigali’s coffers every year. The lush crags of VNP also provide rich farming soil nearby and the volcanoes’ high altitude generates a vital source of water. Sometimes a little too much. However, northern Rwanda is also one of the most densely populated regions of Africa, supporting upwards of 1,000 people per square kilometre. That equates to a suburban density of subsistence farmers. Imagine trying to grow everything you needed in your back garden. This is the challenge of the average family living on the margins of VNP. On top of space restrictions, political turmoil, rebel incursion from neighbouring DRC or the increasing human population, there are yet more limitations to farming in northern Rwanda. It is that of "crop raiding" by the animals of VNP, who regularly leave the confines of their forest refuge and seek the tasty, hard-won produce of humans. In other parts of the world where this conflict occurs, retribution killings, compensation and strong barriers are widely used to reduce the risk of damage and deal with its consequences. These are not options for the farmers on the borders of VNP, however. From RTÉ Radio One's Mooney Goes Wild in October 2015, director of the International Gorilla Conservation programme, Anna Behm Masozera, on a new census of mountain gorillas in East Africa Across 13 months in the field, my research found that a wide suite of species (most of which are protected) regularly damage the crops of subsistence farmers. Buffalos dominate in terms of damage, while gorillas, forest elephants and other smaller mammals make up the rest. Yet owing to their protected status and tourism value, local farmers are restricted from taking affirmative action. All that prevents the animals from leaving the park is a one metre high, poorly maintained drystone wall, where it exists at all. Those places where it is best maintained and complemented by an internal ditch coincide with entry points for tourist groups who pay upwards of $700 per person to see forest’s elusive ambassadors. In part, it is due to the success of conservation efforts that populations of protected species are now healthy enough to spill out of the park. This does not necessarily point to a lack of food in the forest. Human crops could simply be tastier and are certainly easier to gather. And if humans are forbidden from taking action, farmers will continue to be the losers in this conflict. One final and important problem remains for the farmers working these fertile slopes. In the not-too-distant past, those affected could stop growing crops targeted by animals or mix several crops together to reduce damage and improve soil fertility. This flexibility no longer exists, as the Rwandan government now increasingly controls the crops that each field should contain and when they are grown. Tourists walk by fields of pyrethrum flowers that carpet farmland adjacent to Volcanoes National Park. Photo: Shane McGuinness Disobedient farmers are fined and instructed to pull up their "contraband" food crops. One priority crop now grown on a massive scale, by decree, is the pyrethrum flower, extracts of which are used in cosmetics and organic pesticides by western pharmaceutical companies who hold valuable contracts with semi-state companies. All of this means that any damage perpetrated by the hulking brown masses of buffalo have a much greater impact on livelihoods and lives, by reducing the variety of foods grown. For the Rwandan economy this is good news but, for local farmers, things look bleak. As the rain subsides, and the lifting mist reveals glistening fields, we resume our conversation with the young farmer cooking tiny potatoes on an open charcoal fire. "It's the law. If you don't grow ibireti (pyrethrum) you lose your land", she says. "There is hunger because we are not using our land to grow peas and maize. We are forced." Her opinion of VNP conservation was perhaps most telling: "we are also in need of good care. We have to conserve ourselves, and then conserve nature. Tourists visit gorillas, not buffalo."  

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Keeping the poet: poetry, human rights and the presidency

Author: Anne Karhio, Moore Institute Opinion: is a public figure dedicated to poetry more attuned to the moral and philosophical sensibilities of the nation? Tweets with the #keepthepoet hashtag appeared widely on Irish Twitter pages during the recent presidential election. These referred to the re-election campaign of the incumbent president Michael D. Higgins. His public image strongly relies on the fact that he the author of several volumes of poetry, including The Betrayal (1990), The Season of Fire (1993), An Arid Season (2004) and New and Selected Poems (2011), as well as president. Discussions on Higgins’s political career also repeatedly acknowledge his work as a "veteran champion of human rights". His achievements in the area of human rights and his poetic output were recurring reference points in the campaign leading to Higgins’s landslide victory. However, this enthusiasm has not always been shared by literary critics, who have often been less than impressed by the president’s literary achievements. A 2011 review in The Guardian bluntly stated that "Michael D. Higgins is no poet". The Independent quoted a "leading critic" describing his writing as a "crime against literature", rather harshly echoing to the phrase "crime against humanity". President Michael D. Higgins presenting the Michael Littleton Memorial Lecture in 2013 To be fair, not all reviewers have shared this perspective. One characterised Higgins the poet as a "practical Utopian", another described his verse as "thoughtful and sensitive". The overall view among literary professionals veers, perhaps rightly, to recognising that Higgins will likely never challenge William B Yeats or Seamus Heaney as Ireland’s leading poet. However, the conflicted nature of how his verse is received says much about perceptions of the role of poetry in Irish culture, society and among the literary community. It is poetry rather than prose fiction that is frequently regarded as an ethical as well as an aesthetic force. It can offer private consolation, but is also seen to act as a moral compass of society, and foster an awareness of the "republic of conscience" as Heaney famously phrased it. Evaluating the merits and weaknesses, the "goodness" or "badness" of poetry. thus confronts the dilemma of balancing social and political impact against formal or technical dexterity. In recent decades, literary scholars in Ireland and elsewhere have engaged in a passionate debate on how to judge poetry as a sociocultural practice as well as a form of aesthetic discourse. The debate was particularly intense during and in the aftermath of the Northern Irish conflict, which coincided with what has been termed the "Northern Renaissance" of Irish poetry.  The Irish voters’ determination to #keepthepoet hardly results from any claim as to Higgins’s literary superiority Yet such debates easily miss the wider significance of the public discussion. The Irish voters’ determination to #keepthepoet hardly results from any claim as to Higgins’s literary superiority. Most, I would venture to suggest, have read few if any of his poems in any great detail. Rather, it reflects a view that a public figure so dedicated to poetry is equally attuned to the moral and philosophical sensibilities of the nation. An alertness to the power of the poetic also demonstrates the re-elected president’s recognition of the significance of language as more than political rhetoric. In his second acceptance speech, Higgins forcefully stated that "words matter. Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can empower. Words can divide." The repetitive momentum, rather than poetic subtlety, of the phrase was strong enough to resound across national borders. France24 reported on Higgins’s re-election with the headline "as tide of hate politics sweeps Brazil, Ireland re-elects poet of peace". They quoted Higgins’s words while commenting on Jair Bolsonaro’s rise to power during the same weekend in Brazil. Strong peace-endorsing credentials are also held by the former president Mary Robinson, who served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights between 1997 and 2002. Robinson’s career in human rights has built on her background in law and a keen awareness of the symbolic power of language. Of course, It is not unheard of for political leaders to enjoy and write poetry. Barack Obama published a number of poems before his presidency, and the famous Yale professor Harold Bloom described himself as being "not unimpressed with the young man’s efforts". At the time of his execution, Ernesto Che Guevara carried a notebook with poetry by Pablo Neruda, Nicolás Guillen, Cesar Vallejo and León Felipe, and he also wrote poetry himself. But as the contested legacy of Guevara also highlights, poetic ambition is by no means a guarantee of a political leader’s commitment to peaceful advocacy. The numerous dictators discussed in the Scottish author Daniel Kalder’s recent volume Dictator Literature: A History of Despots through Their Writing provide ample proof, if such is needed, that poetic aspiration can exist, if not exactly thrive, in a moral vacuum. Remarkably, while poetry has not infrequently been condemned as trivial, elitist or simply useless, totalitarian governments have, again and again, been sufficiently afraid of poets to silence them by whatever means necessary. The constant preoccupation with how, in the much quoted words of W. H. Auden from In Memory of W. B. Yeats, poetry possibly "makes nothing happen" has repeatedly co-existed in the minds of tyrants with the fear that it might indeed do so. W.H. Auden reads In Memory of W.B. Yeats It was his literary as well as political "dreaming" that left Federico García Lorca "riddled with bullets", "mouth down / in the fickle shadow of his own blood", as Paul Muldoon’s poem 7, Middagh Street reminds us. Political leaders’ affection for, or their unease with, poetry draws on the recognition that poetry can make visible the wonderful and frightful ways in which "words matter".  Poets are rarely saints, yet our contemporary understanding of poetry seems incompatible with the idea that poems by autocratic tyrants could be "good", no matter how technically flawless. Conversely, in an increasingly polarised world, a political willingness to expose one’s creative pursuits and imperfections to public scrutiny has value in itself. Higgins recognised this in an interview with Fintan O’Toole, borrowing the words of a more unanimously celebrated poet: "I like to quote Leonard Cohen...you have to leave aside your perfect model and look at the bell that still rings and ring it."

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Goodbye Irish Film Board, hello Screen Ireland

Author: Tony Tracy, Huston School of Film and Digital Media The Brainstorm Long Read: what does the change of name say about the past and future of the Irish film industry's development agency? A few months ago, the Irish Film Board announced it was changing its name to Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland. The change has attracted very little coverage or comment and would seem to have been received as a timely rebranding after 30 years of existence. But does it also indicate a broader shift in the state’s support and understanding of cultural endeavour? It’s 25 years since Neil Jordan’s border-crossing landmark The Crying Gamewas nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in 1993. It was an outstanding achievement for a low-budget, thematically complex film that had failed at the UK box office and followed a similar success to for Jim Sheridan’s highly local My Left Foot, which had garnered five nominations and two wins in 1990. As it turned out, The Crying Game won in just one category - best screenplay - but it went on to re-write the script for Irish film.   The Crying Game trailer During a hastily convened celebration party at the Irish Film Institute 24 hours later, Ireland’s first Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht Michael D. Higgins took immediate steps to revive – some would say to invent – a moribund and long delayed local industry. He announced that he would re-establish the Irish Film Board and locate it in Galway, a gesture that connected it to the symbolic wellspring of the Irish imaginary since Yeats. Soon afterwards, Higgins built on that initiative by extending the Section 35 tax incentive to individuals willing to invest up to £25,000, transforming the amount of cash available to the nascent industry. By 1996, such investments amounted to £40m and a sustainable Irish film sector gained momentum as a slew of young talent embarked upon often faltering but previously unimaginable careers in film production. From RTÉ Archives, Colm Connolly reports for RTÉ News in 1993 on Michael D Higgins' raft of measures for the Irish film industry A new phase of government intervention in Irish film has gone all-but-unnoticed when current Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan announced in the summer that the Irish Film Board IFB would be renamed Screen Ireland (awkwardly translated as Fís Éireann, "Ireland-vision"). While the new name seems innocuous enough it might be suggested that it represents a fundamental shift in emphasis. It may indeed represent the final credits on long laboured for ambitions to create a distinctively Irish contribution to what is widely considered to be the art-form of the 20th century. The re-branding was accompanied by a release stating that the new name recognises "the widening remit of the agency and gives greater voice to Irish creative storytelling on screen." Reactions within the industry have been mixed, if broadly supportive. Whatever the reason for the change of name, it nonetheless marks the end of an era Neasa Hardiman is symptomatic of shifts in the wider industry, having established an international reputation as an award-winning director of such small screen shows as Happy Valley (BBC) and Jessica Jones(Netflix) among others. Like many, she has had to go to the UK to find challenging, well resourced work in TV drama. She praised the name change as "a welcome enlargement of remit, given Irish TV’s minimal engagement in screen drama and an acknowledgement of current realities."  Oscar nominated director of Room and The Little Stranger, Lenny Abrahamson, also picked up on the importance of small screen production going forward. "I’m OK with it in that I think it’s important that TV is supported", he said. "RTÉ are not in a position to sustain the TV industry here and Screen Ireland have a big role to play." Similarly, Element Pictures' boss Ed Guiney said the change "very much reflects the way the world is moving." A key influence on the name-change was the striking success of Irish animation, with studios such as Cartoon Saloon, Brown Bag and Piranha Bar now world-class players. However, Cathal Gaffney, co-founder of Brown Bag, questioned whether the new name marked a genuine widening of remit: "changing the logo for the Film Board without changing the 1980 Film Board Act is pure PR."  He argued on Twitter that "content consumption has changed since 1980 and a more up to date mandate is what’s needed. Same act has been interpreted to exclude and marginalize animation." From RTÉ Radio One's The Business, Brown Bag's Cathal Gaffney and Darragh O’Connell discuss the success of their company Others have also expressed reservations, albeit for different reasons. John Carney, the multi award-winning writer/director of Sing Street and Once, described the adoption of the screen as "daft": "I think the whole caving in to the laptop and phone screen as some sort of fait accompli is tiresome and wrongheaded," he said. "TV is a passing pleasure. Films do really last a lifetime. Who wants to watch a comedy at home one one’s own? Or a musical!"  Writer/director Joe Comerford was at the forefront of efforts to establish an Irish film agency and sector with films such as Reefer and the Model (1987) and High Boot Benny (1993). Perhaps unsurprisingly, he is therefore one of the most damning of the new name and accompanying ethos, which he describes as "a travesty...abolishing five decades of serious work and which will have very serious consequences for Irish storytelling." The death of Irish cinema? Whether the change is understood as a response to realities, a shift in state attitudes to the meaning and value of cultural production, or simply a re-branding exercise, it nonetheless marks the end of an era. It's the aftermath of an effort by many to establish and imagine a distinctively Irish cinema, initiated by John Huston in a government-backed committee he chaired and which produced in the Huston report in 1968. In 1993, Michael D Higgins saw the re-establishment of the IFB as an overdue gesture of political independence, describing its re-establishment as a choice between "whether we become a consumer of images in a passive culture or whether we will be allowed to be makers of images in an active culture, in a democratic society." From RTÉ Radio One's Morning Ireland, Irish Film Board/Screen Ireland boss James Hickey on its plans for the future While his decision to re-launch the IFB, following its disbandment after just six years by Charles Haughey in 1987, was lightening fast; it grew from the persistent lobbying by a group of politically conscious filmmakers such as Comerford, Pat Murphy, Bob Quinn and Lelia Doolin. Many of these figures were central to the "first wave" of Irish filmmaking during the 1980s, whose work was defined by an experimental approach and a desire for self-representation to counteract the cinematic stereotypes established and perpetuated by British and American cinema. Surprisingly those filmmakers featured far less prominently in its new incarnation and the crucial US successes of My Left Foot and The Crying Game established a template of universal storytelling which grafted local narratives onto mainstream narrative styles and structures. Nevertheless, despite many often underdeveloped and frankly forgettable efforts during its first decade, Irish cinema gradually grew in confidence, reaching something a pinnacle in recent years with the success of films such as The Guard, Room, The Lobster and Brooklyn. However, while these are the most visible successes of Irish filmmaking, they do not reflect the full picture in either cultural or economic terms. Reaching global audiences The global networked screen has radically changed the character and location of the audience. Netflix and those who have followed co-opted and then pushed much further the business model of cable channels such as HBO (producer of Six Feet Under, The Sopranos and The Wire) to enlist huge numbers of subscribers through the production of high quality small screen drama. Today, Netflix boasts 125 million subscribers, a production budget of more than $8 billion and has commissioned 700 original series. These changes have had an transformative impact on national cinemas as audiences stream whatever and wherever they wish with an almost limitless level of choice. Surprisingly, while this may be expected to be especially problematic and potentially cataclysmic for a tiny and fragile industry as Ireland’s, the opposite has occurred. The decision to replace "film" with "screen" seems both timely and an acknowledgment of Irish production and consumption practices. In recent years, the Irish production sector has blossomed. This is as a result of both massive inward production of big-budget TV drama (beginning with The Tudors in 2004 and including shows such as The Vikings, Penny Dreadful and others) while also experiencing a golden age of home-grown creativity in a diverse range of feature live action and animation production.  A striking characteristic of the contemporary Irish audiovisual sector has been the emergence of strongly individual creative voices who no longer obsess about what an Irish film should be or do and whose work is all the better for it. Indeed a great many recent Irish films - Frank, Room, Mammal, The Lobster - have even eschewed Irish settings and stories. So outward-directed has the focus of the industry become that a majority of Irish films now premiere outside of Ireland at elite festivals of independent cinema such as Toronto, SXSW or Sundance and secure international distribution deals before local ones. Alongside an emerging and overlapping gaming industry, and the exponential rise in content production for social media platforms, the decision to replace "film" with "screen" seems both timely and an acknowledgment of Irish production and consumption practices. From RTÉ TEN, director Lenny Abrahamson and actor Domhnall Gleeson talk about their new movie The Little Stranger But one might also detect broader motives at play in a globalised, neoliberal Irish economy that has significantly upped the ante in branding and monetising its culture, while simultaneously attracting huge numbers of high value "platform economy" jobs (Google, Twitter, Linkedin, Apple, Amazon, Uber and AirBnB) since the 2008 economic crash. This is reflected in a subtle shift away from discussions about the value of the arts to a creative economy discourse heralded by the 2011 Building Ireland’s Audiovisual Creative Economy report published by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. One producer who did not wish to be identified suggested that the Screen Ireland name signalled a not-so-subtle subtle drift away from the artistic, cultural and political values upon which the IFB was re-established in 1993, and towards the creation of an agency geared to increase incoming film and TV productions such as Game of Thrones (just finishing) and The Vikings (entering its sixth, and rumoured final season). Supporting this view is the fact that production space in Ireland has significantly increased in recent years with the building of Ashford Studios in Wicklow (soon to be further expanded at a cost of €90m), Troy Studios in Limerick and another massive complex of sound stages planned for the south Dublin coast (backed, naturally, by Bono) Certainly, the uninspiring new Screen Ireland logo offers a revealing and perhaps troubling shift in brand identity. Several geometric shapes (presumably screens of various dimensions) are arranged on a classically corporate background and its overall effect is generic and deracinated with no recognisably Irish element. The "Talent, Creativity, Enterprise" tagline takes up the creative industries discourse first mooted by Tony Blair’s New Labour and reflected in dozens of similarly "inspiring" start-up and tech industry slogans. At its most literal, the tagline locates creativity in the individual, disavowing wider contexts of state and society. But as John Carney suggests, the foregrounding of screen also elides the specific virtues and values of cinema as art form and social experience. The most memorable and enduring Irish films of the Irish Film Board such as Nora, The Butcher Boy, Song for a Raggy Boy, Adam and Paul, Once, Garage, Michael Inside, Song of Granite and many others grew from powerful evocations of Irish character, place and history and addressed indigenous, as well as international audiences, on a range of local themes. Such films were made to be consumed at the cinema and articulate in a communal setting local perspectives on a particular culture. Does the foregrounding of "Screen" allow for a richer and more inclusive variety of such stories? Or signal the death of a state-subsidised commitment to self-representation in favour of jobs and transnational content output? One hopes that it can accommodate both, but it will require leadership, vision and a delicate balancing of priorities.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Under the sea: your guide to octopus, squid and cuttlefish

Author: Dr Louise Allcock, Zoology Analysis: octopus, squid and cuttlefish are likely to be the source of many future solutions to issues of interest to human society Octopus, squid and cuttlefish are some of the most intriguing animals on the planet. Their brains are large, their senses keen and their behaviours complex and particularly marked by stunning visual displays. Yet cephalopods, as they are collectively known, are molluscs and evolved from a small limpet-shaped ancestor. 500 million years ago, tiny shelled cephalopods roamed the Cambrian Seas. For much of geological history, all cephalopods were protected by an external shell: in Ireland, intrepid fossil hunters can find the helical forms of nautiloids and ammonites – both early groups of cephalopods - in the Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks of the Antrim coast. But around 200 million years ago, the cephalopod changed. A rapid period of evolution gave rise to new lineages with internalised shells. These ancestral squids and octopuses were unencumbered by heavy chambered calcium carbonate casings. They were more streamlined, more manoeuvrable, faster, and, for the first time, large swathes of skin were exposed.  This skin has become the hallmark of modern cephalopods. It has evolved to contain millions of pigmented chromatophore organs – each containing a sac of yellow, red or brown pigment granules – and iridescent cells, containing a unique protein called reflectin, of all colours. The colour can change in a flash, to provide camouflage or to communicate. The blue-ringed octopus – one of the world’s most venomous marine creatures – can express its blue rings gently to provide camouflage on a coloured coral reef or can flash them brightly in warning when threatened. The speed of colour change reflects another unique feature of cephalopods: their complex nervous system. Octopuses have half a billion neurons, which is nearly as many as a cat. Two thirds of these are distributed throughout the body, enervating chromatophores, touch receptors, and chemosensory organs on their suckers which allow them to literally "taste" other objects. They can detect light with their skin, which probably allows them to match their brightness to their surroundings better when camouflaging themselves. Bizarrely, for all their beautiful displays, nearly all cephalopods appear to be colour blind, perhaps obtaining just a hint of colour vision thanks to strangely shaped pupils which allow light in from many angles causing different wavelengths of light to focus on different parts of the retina. The more we study these fascinating creatures, the more inspiring they become. Cephalopods that live in deeper waters, where light is scarce or absent, have other adaptations than colour. Many have photophores, which are small light producing organs. These organs may be simple groups of cells that produce light through biochemical reactions, or they may be more complex organs with reflectors, filters and lenses, to control the colour, brightness and direction of the light.  This not only allows the photophores to be used in signalling, but also allows the squid to match the colour and intensity of the light they produce to that of radiating moonlight such that the photophores break up and disguise the cephalopod’s silhouette to a predator looking up at them from below. The photophores of the jewel squid are particularly well developed and cover its entire body. This unusual cephalopod has other adaptations to dimly lit waters. Its eyes are asymmetric. The right eye (seen below) is fairly normal and looks slightly downward, but the left eye is huge and tubular and looks upwards, probably helping the squid to see prey or predators, themselves silhouetted against penetrating sunlight or moonlight. But while the internalisation of the shell allowed the evolution of skin organs, it also brought other problems to solve. The large chambered shell, still seen in modern day nautiluses, was partly gas filled, and provided buoyancy. How to float without it? Some squids simply keep swimming to overcome gravity. Many deep-water squids, including the jewel squid, replace the sodium ions in their tissues with ammonia. The resulting solution of ammonium chloride is lighter than seawater, making the animals positively buoyant. Cuttlefishes have a chambered internal shell, and solve buoyancy in a similar fashion to ancient cephalopods. However, the chambers implode below a certain depth, limiting cuttlefishes to shallow coastal seas. Benthic octopuses, such as the blue-ringed octopus and the giant Pacific octopus, don’t bother with buoyancy. Their shell is reduced to two tiny rods, and their heavier-than-water tissues confine them to a life on the sea floor, or on a reef, where they use their eight suckered, independently flexible arms to crawl over and explore their habitat, foraging on crustaceans and other animals. The large brains of benthic octopuses help them build a spatial pattern of their habitat, such that they can forage for several hours over a relatively large area, and then swim on a beeline back to their den. Females of one unusual group of octopuses have evolved true swim bladders.The males of this group are dwarf and can solve their own buoyancy problems by floating inside barrel-shaped gelatinous zooplankton. Other groups of pelagic octopuses use Dumbo-like fins to swim, and balloon their web out like a parachute to slow their subsequent descent. This phenomenal diversity of forms has inspired numerous technological advances. Scientists have developed materials based on the cephalopod protein reflectin. These materials dynamically change colour, matching their environment and are considered the forerunners of invisibility cloaks. Engineers have developed flexible robots for minimally invasive surgery based on the unique movement of the arms of benthic octopuses. A new generation of robotic attachment devices, mimicking the mechanics of cephalopod suckers, are being developed. These attach successfully to multiple surfaces, whether wet, smooth or rough. Octopus, Squid & Cuttlefish: A Visual Scientific Guide has been co-authored by Roger Hanlon, Mike Vecchione and Louise Allcock. It is published by Ivy Press In this age of biotechnology, octopus, squid and cuttlefish are likely to be the source of many future solutions to issues of interest to human society. They are totally unlike any other animal group and the more we study these fascinating creatures, the more inspiring they become.

Friday, 9 November 2018

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Has Irish theatre finally made peace with Shakespeare?

Author: Professor Patrick Lonergan, O'Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Opinion: after years of ambivalence about England’s greatest dramatist, Irish theatre-makers are now staging Shakespeare's work with gusto One of the most surprising developments in Irish theatre this year has been how so many of our major companies have staged plays by Shakespeare. This represents a remarkable turnaround: for most of the last hundred years, Irish theatre-makers’ attitudes to England’s greatest dramatist have ranged from ambivalence to insecurity. It has even involved hostility, as shown at the Abbey when Ernest Blythe refused to stage Shakespeare’s plays on the grounds of his "foreignness", leading to a de facto ban that lasted from the 1930s to the 1970s. But Shakespeare seems to be everywhere this year. We’ve seen Rough Magic’s outdoor Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Kilkenny Arts Festival and Druid’s Richard IIIat the Abbey, while Ruth Negga’s appearance in Hamletat the Gate caused that show to sell out before it even opened. So how did this change come about? And does it mean that the Irish theatre has finally made peace with Shakespeare?  What’s now mostly forgotten is that Shakespeare dominated the Irish theatre for hundreds of years. In a recent Irish Research Council project, Deirdre McFeely identified thousands of performances of Shakespeare in Dublin, the earliest of which was Othello at Smock Alley in 1662. Those records show that Irish attitudes to Shakespeare have been remarkably consistent. The three most produced plays over the centuries have been Hamlet (in first place), followed by Macbeth and Richard III. They’ve also been frequent, peaking in the 1850s when there were more than 600 individual productions of his plays in Dublin alone. There has been a tendency to be dismissive of that tradition and to see it as mirroring (or aping) what was happening in London. But while there are parallels between the two cities, Dublin was also a place where people tried out new things. Much has been made of Ruth Negga’s performance in Hamlet at the Gate, but  she was following a tradition in taking on that role that began at Smock Alley in 1741, when Fanny Furnival became the first woman ever to play Hamlet.  While Ireland has played host to many of England’s great Shakespearean actors, it also produced several major figures, from Charles Macklin in the 18th century to Kenneth Branagh and Fiona Shaw in our own times. For hundreds of years, Irish people from all walks of life were happy to watch, produce and act in Shakespeare’s plays – without any sense that doing so might be politically contentious. If we want to find a turning-point in Irish attitudes, a good place to start might be April 23rd 1916, Easter Sunday. That was the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and celebratory events had been planned for the following day in both Ireland and Britain. But, of course, they never happened in Ireland. The Easter Rising broke out on the Monday and the celebrations were cancelled. Afterwards, the deterioration in the relationship between Ireland and England was paralleled in a marked change in Irish approaches to Shakespeare. Yes, his plays continued to be inflicted upon generations of schoolchildren, and there were occasional Irish productions, such as a celebrated Irish-language Macbeth at the Taibhdhearc or Hilton Edwards and Micheal MacLiammoir’s 1932 Hamlet at the Gate (the latter of which starred a young Orson Welles). Anew McMaster toured Shakespeare’s plays around Ireland with his fit-up company for decades, and he was also popular with amateur companies, notably the Dublin Shakespeare Society (which had changed its name from the British Empire Shakespeare Society after Irish independence).  However, there was an apparent conviction within the professional theatre world that Shakespeare didn’t fully belong on the Irish stage. It was a belief that might have been expressed in order to mask a deep (and largely unfounded) insecurity about Irish actors’ ability to perform his plays. But if post-independence Ireland was becoming ambivalent about Shakespeare, that was partly because of a growing awareness that Shakespeare had been ambivalent about Ireland. Most of his characters’ references to the country appear to be hostile, as when Richard II dismissively refers to Irish soldiers as "rug-headed" vermin or when Rosalind criticises her lover in As You Like It by comparing him to an Irish wolf. And then there’s the fact that the only Irish character in all of Shakespeare – Captain Macmorris in Henry V – is usually played as a belligerent drunkard. It’s often been asserted that in creating that character Shakespeare invented the Stage Irishman. Although that belief is actually wrong, Macmorris’s famous question "what ish my nation?" has inspired powerful rebuttals from such Irish writers as James Joyce and Seamus Heaney. Of course, we shouldn’t assume that a playwright believes something just because his or her characters say it on stage, but it’s understandable if Irish audiences were uncomfortable when confronted with such negativity.  The beginnings of a re-engagement with Shakespeare were evident from the 1970s, when young directors such as Joe Dowling and Patrick Mason working with young actors like Colm Meaney and Liam Neeson put on small-scale productions of his comedies at the Peacock. Since then, we’ve seen several important attempts to reconcile Shakespeare and the Irish dramatic tradition. Shortly after the conclusion of his celebrated RTE Radio series Scrap Saturday, Gerry Stembridge staged a country and western version of The Comedy of Errors at the Abbey in 1993 – making Shakespeare suddenly seem very contemporary. Also hugely important were Lynne Parker’s productions of The Taming of the Shrew(2006) and Macbeth(2012), both of which allowed the actors to deliver the lines in their own Irish accents, thereby demonstrating that there is no single "right" way to speak Shakespeare’s words. More recently, Garry Hynes’s DruidShakespearein 2015 was an astonishing collision between English history and Irish performance practices, giving us two English kings who not only spoke in Irish accents but were performed by two Irish women (Aisling O’Sullivan and Derbhle Crotty). These and other productions have mapped out new ways for Shakespeare to be performed in this country.  It’s surely no coincidence that this tradition seems to match the development of Anglo-Irish relations over the last half-century. Our revival of interest in Shakespeare coincided with the outbreak of the Troubles,and Irish companies have only begun to fully embrace his work since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. So, without being reductive, might it be reasonable to suggest that, just as English theatres are currently reviving Irish plays as a way of thinking about Brexit, the Irish theatre might be using Shakespeare to explore what the future relationships between these two islands might look like? Perhaps. One example of how Shakespeare highlights Anglo-Irish differences can be found in a recent review of Druid’s Richard IIIby the distinguished English critic Michael Billington. Though generally very positive about the production, Billington described its finale as "perverse" because it suggested that the defeat of Richard merely replaced one monstrous ruler with another. I It’s understandable that Billington might reach such a conclusion. In England, Richard’s defeat is usually presented as something to celebrate: the Tudors have come to power, years of civil war are at an end and a more stable future awaits. But in Ireland, it’s impossible to finish the play in that way as the ascendancy of Henry VII eventually gave rise to the reformation and a new wave of plantations here, which means that it would have been perverse if Druid had not ended the play on a negative note. In Billington’s criticism, we find evidence of how people in these islands (even when trying to find common ground) sometimes see the same things differently, often without being fully aware that they are doing so. What we’re really seeing is that our theatre companies’ ability and entitlement to perform Shakespeare is now taken for granted But perhaps the most exciting thing about these three Shakespeare productions is that they wear their politics so lightly. At the Gate, Hamlet is performed in an unambiguously Irish context. For example, when Claudius prays, he does not speak directly to God, as would have been the case in the newly protestant England of Shakespeare’s time, but confesses his sins to a priest, as would have been the norm in Catholic Ireland. And with its young cast and improvisational tone, Rough Magic’s Midsummer Night’s Dream felt like the next generation of Irish theatre-makers were boldly claiming Shakespeare as their own. It might be tempting to suggest that these productions are in some ways revolutionary. But perhaps it’s better to argue that, on the contrary, what we’re really seeing is that our theatre companies’ ability and entitlement to perform Shakespeare is now taken for granted. The question is no longer "why should we stage Shakespeare?" or "are we able to stage Shakespeare?" but "why wouldn’t we stage Shakespeare?". Now that we’ve reached that point, we can rediscover an exciting history of Irish approaches to Shakespeare, one that has been forgotten if not suppressed. Given how well received these new Irish Shakespeare have been, we also have much to look forward to theatrically.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: How open science creates better research

Author: John Cox, James Hardiman Library, and Dr Elaine Toomey, Health Behaviour Change Research Group Opinion: Science can only progress by building on the research of others and open science aims to make this work accessible to all Today marks the start of International Open Access Week, an opportunity to celebrate progress towards open science worldwide. Open science is a global movement that wants to make publications, data and research publicly accessible as early as possible and actively encourage the general public to participate in a collaborative and transparent research process. It is important to note that open practices extend to all disciplines, not just science. Why is open science needed? Ensuring that science is open, accessible and usable is crucial in order to achieve the greatest possible impact of research. Examples of successful open science collaborations hint at the potential of what can be achieved. In 2016, early sharing of data helped to save lives by bringing the west African ebola virus outbreak under control. The Human Genome Project commenced in 1990 and facilitated data sharing among scientists to decode the human genome by 2003, far sooner than had been anticipated. Public participation has also had significant outputs, ranging from millions of entries in Wikipedia to better water management through the WeSenseIT project. In addition to the benefits that open science can bring, there is also a recognition of the moral and ethical obligations to make research accessible and accountable. Despite the vast amount of research that is funded through public tax contributions, a huge proportion of this is not open or freely available, and instead sits behind the paywalls of commercial journal publishers, as outlined in a Guardian piece by George Monbiot. Research waste is also a serious concern. It has been estimated that the results of around half of all clinical trials remain unpublished, meaning that potentially valuable findings are lost, research is needlessly duplicated and time, funding and patient input is wasted. There are also concerns about the integrity of some research. This made the front cover of The Economist in October 2013, with a headline of "How Science Goes Wrong" and a revelation that only six of 53 published studies in cancer research could be reproduced in one example. An open science approach would have made all materials openly accessible, increasing transparency and making it easier to reproduce reported results. What’s the problem? So why does so much research remain closed, despite the obvious benefits of open science? Arguably, one of the biggest obstacles to open science is the current reward system for academic researchers. Career advancement and funding prospects largely depend on metrics such as the volume of articles produced, and the publication of articles in the most recognised journals in a field. Unfortunately, many of these journals are the property of often highly profitable commercial publishers who typically charge for access. This means that only those who can afford to pay can read their articles, largely excluding the general public who have often funded the research, as well as researchers in poorer countries or institutions. This reward system also drives a competitive culture among researchers which is at odds with the collaborative nature of open science. For example, researchers can be reluctant to share datasets or other materials for fear of jeopardising potential publication opportunities or having ideas ‘scooped’ by other researchers. Other concerns relate to data protection regulations, potential misuse of data, and a mistrust of open access which is often fuelled by predatory or potentially fraudulent journals. Unrestricted and open access to a study’s findings and the journal articles, books or other publications arising from the study is at the heart of open science What does Open Science involve? Scientific research typically involves a number of stages. It starts with planning and designing a study or a project, then proceeds to collecting data and information, analysing and studying the data, and subsequently reporting and making the findings available. Open science is essentially about trying to improve transparency and accountability across each of these stages. For example, pre-registration of a study at the planning stages involves creating a public record of the research plan before data collection begins. This lessens the risk of producing biased science, such as a study that collects data on several outcomes, but only reports the positive or favourable findings. Unrestricted and open access to a study’s findings and the journal articles, books or other publications arising from the study is at the heart of open science. This important concept of free access also relates to study materials such as the questionnaires and measures used, software code and lab books and the research data generated from the study. Making data open and FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Usable) ensures that the findings can be verified and reproduced, enabling us to be more certain of these findings, whilst also paving the way for better and stronger collaborations. Early sharing is a key feature of open science in order to accelerate the uptake and use of important research findings. Traditionally, the lengthy peer review process for journal publications means that it takes considerable time for findings to be made available. Open science has begun to shift the emphasis towards sharing research as it progresses, embracing open methods such as blogging and open notebooks, or peer review conducted openly after publication to improve the speed and spread of knowledge.   One of the main areas of focus within open science is the need to create better reward systems for researchers, and to recognise a more diverse range of contributions or impact when evaluating research and individual careers. Alternative metrics, or altmetrics, track a wider range of activity, attention and impact such as public engagement and social contribution, rather than just number of publications and citations and can help to incentivise open practices. Another important element of open science is citizen science which promotes inclusion of, and contribution from, members of the public in research. What does the future hold? On a positive note, the global movement towards ensuring that research is more transparent, collaborative, accessible and efficient is gathering momentum, with many groups of researchers actively campaigning and advocating for change. Ultimately, open science promotes better science, but it is something towards which we all need to work Open science has been identified as a key priority for the European Commission. Several research funding bodies such as the Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board have also taken steps towards improving the situation. For example, the Irish Health Research Board (HRB) has recently invested in the development of HRB Open Research – a publishing platform for HRB-funded researchers to share and publish their research in an open and accessible way. Science Foundation Ireland is a signatory of Plan S, an initiative launched by Science Europe to ensure that all publicly-funded research is published in open access journals or on compliant open access platforms by 2020. Many funders have also begun to include sections regarding open data management and reporting procedures as part of standard funding applications. However, there is much action that is still urgently needed. For example, a 2016-2017 European University Association survey showed that under 40 percent of participating researchers felt that open access in universities was of high importance. This is of great concern, but may reflect the existing reward systems, which will fundamentally shape and focus what researchers prioritise. As such, universities and other research institutions play a pivotal role in cultivating an open science environment by improving how research and researchers are valued. Signing the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, a set of recommendations developed in 2012 to improve the ways in which research is evaluated by funders and institutions, should be a priority for research institutions. But perhaps more importantly, institutions need also to work actively towards ensuring that their underlying values, ethos and reward systems are in alignment.   Ensuring that science is "open" requires a major shift in research culture and attitudes towards sharing and collaboration. In changing and challenging times, being able to trust in science and research has never been so important, and members of the public should expect to be able to access research findings and contribute to science. Ultimately, open science promotes better science, but it is something towards which we all need to work.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: Doing the math: in praise of Hamilton and quaternions

Author: Professor Michel Destrade, School of Mathematics, Statistics & Applied Mathematics, and Colm Mulcahy, Spelman College Report: it's 175 years this week since mathematician William Rowan Hamilton invented quaternions during a stroll across a Dublin bridge With this year’s Maths Week currently engaging over 370,000 people of all ages on this island, it’s worth pausing to note that it’s been 175 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). Quaternions have returned to the limelight in the past half-century in ways that would have been unimaginable to their creator 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.

Friday, 12 October 2018

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: A history of Irish budgets

Author: Dr Aidan Kane, JE Cairnes School of Business & Economics Opinion: budgets may be about the future, but our fiscal history tells us much about our past and the business of government over many centuries Budgets are mainly about the future: the minister announces taxing and spending plans for the year ahead, and beyond. But as Paschal Donohoe rises to deliver his speech in Dáil Éireann next week, he may well reflect that the weight of the past, and not just expectations of the future, lies heavily on his shoulders. After all, he will come to the Dáil from a department acutely conscious of its central role, however contentious, in every major event in independent Ireland’s story. It is the department of Michael Collins, T.K. Whitaker and Brian Lenihan - and yes, the department of less impressive figures down the decades. Whatever their talents and their failings, ministers for finance have almost invariably been consequential players in political life, and any new minister stands somewhat in their shadows.  Most recently, the Department of Finance is bruised by history. The difficult decade since 2007 opened with deep systemic failure as the Great Recession upended our happy tiger. This was followed by grinding crisis management, under the watch of cold paymasters in Europe and the IMF. Then, slowly, an uneven recovery, yet to be fully believed, which is still uncertainly threatened. At the same time, the Department of Finance is now somewhat restored to its pomp. Having previously lost its public expenditure functions to a separate department (for the second time in its history), it was recently lovingly linked back to that department under one minister. It’s like a post-separation, but pre-marriage, civil partnership with fewer flags, and more memos. All organisations tell their own story to themselves, their history. But does the intricate history of public finance matter very much? Are these just the memories of antique civil servants, fated to be slowly dislodged by shiny new recruits, who have all the impressive energy and brainpower of youth (and perhaps a dash of worrying over-confidence)? Does fiscal history matter for anyone else? I think it does, for a number of reasons. Knowing fiscal history alerts us to the fact that as a political community, we are rooted in a past. Not just a past of war and turmoil, of economic progress and setbacks, and of social movements, but also a past of imperfect, halting, attempts at the ordinary business of government—over many centuries. Start with the language and the ritual of the budget. The budget speech itself is formally a "financial statement" and its form has been in place since independence. Even at that time it emulated long established practice. In some key legal respects, the budget today is identifiably part of a fiscal system set out by the Victorian master of public finance, William Gladstone, as UK chancellor of the exchequer in the 1860s.These origins, although modernised and adapted for a different world, nevertheless remind us that our independence was not an institutional rupture; it was not in important respects simply an abrupt exit from a union: a ‘cliff-edge’, so to speak, but rather, a gradual uncoupling, marked by continuity as well as change.  We did borrow the British model of public finance, with a powerful central treasury department. Our budgetary process continued to use the Gladstonian public finance language of "votes" and "estimates" and "supply" and "money bills" and "appropriation accounts" and the like, long after the UK had adopted more managerial jargon. This inheritance is sometimes derided, or regretted, as "colonials copying the masters". A more sympathetic reading acknowledges that in the aftermath of a rebellion, a war against an empire, a world war, and a civil war, some of the builders of independent Ireland’s system of government understandably sought fixed points of stability in how we did public business in a chaotic world. I would argue that impulses for continuity and stability, right or wrong, are deeply embedded in our fiscal state. I think these were underestimated in the depths of our recent crises by those who predicted (or hoped for) default on public debt and/or exit from the euro—and similarly for those who now dream of exit from the EU.  At independence, a robust and elaborate public finance system, tested and reformed in the UK after the First World War, was close at hand and was taken up. In thinking about this, we are also reminded that independence is not just constructed by popular action and great political figures. You need the lawyers, the accountants and the public finance specialists to turn national aspiration into the machinery of effective government. The current cohort of newer finance and public expenditure civil servants might well take some time to read about the architect of the department they serve. This was Joseph Brennan, the Department of Finance’s first secretary (before they became ‘general’): probably the most under-appreciated figure of our independence story. Think of what Brennan and a very small (and very young) team faced, and accomplished. The exchequer account of 1922/23 lays out in cold but recognisable terms, for those constructing the same document today, some of the challenges of transition and separation for the new state. For example, in that first accounting year, we did not in fact have full control of our fiscal borders. By agreement, there was a transitional period, and we only left the ‘customs union’ with the UK in the following year. Sound familiar? This meant a series of large budget payments back and forth across the Irish Sea for many years, as we disentangled from a fiscal system that had been in place under the union with Britain for over a century. That process was not truly complete for a decade and a half after independence, documented drily in footnotes to accounts, but impactful on public policy all the same. Before that, in the run-up to the treaty negotiations, Brennan, while still a Dublin Castle civil servant, had briefed Collins in extraordinary historical detail on financial aspects of British-Irish relations. The quality of the documents Brennan had prepared meant that Ireland got a pretty good fiscal deal at separation. In essence, the new state did not have to shoulder its share of the joint UK public debt. Scotland should be so lucky. Brennan and his team knew full well that they were not the first to pass this way. They  knew the history of the separate Irish exchequer, before the union with Britain. Fiscal independence had ended not in 1801, but 1817, as recorded in Ireland’s finance accounts of that year. Exactly two hundred years ago, a fiscal drama for Ireland, and not for the last time. No bond holders were harmed in the making of that crisis The Act of Union had required heavy payments from Ireland to the UK, in effect to help pay for lengthy and expensive wars with France. Taxes rose, borrowing exploded, and in time, no more could be borrowed: the Irish exchequer went bust in 1817. No bond holders were harmed in the making of that crisis, but the consequence was full integration of the Irish national debt into that of the UK. Exactly two hundred years ago, a fiscal drama for Ireland, and not for the last time. Before even that, the 18th century saw Ireland’s ascendancy express its identity through the exercise of fiscal power in the Dublin parliament’s varied attempts to control the public purse. A key weapon in those controversies was the regular compilation of detailed accounts of revenue and expenditure, and of accounts of the national debt of Ireland, printed in formal and bewildering detail in the journals of Irish house of commons, at great expense. The 18th century revenue and expenditure data are online to be sliced and diced, and graphed, and puzzled over: they are part of our contested heritage. Today, journalists, graphic artists, public officials, and some economists, strive to present complicated budgetary data in attractive ways for a wide audience. This is not new. This wonderful graphic of national debt is from a 1791 treatise on the history of Ireland’s public finances and is a striking early example of innovation in data visualisation.  The public finances then, at least for wealthy, politically powerful and active citizens, were not mere technicalities. They sometimes prompted riot and tumult, as fear of debt or taxes or wasteful expenditure took hold of the public mind, including politicians eager to make a name for themselves. Ireland has a uniquely precocious historical record of awkward parliamentary public accounts committees, from the early 18th century. Our current PAC members might well wish to copy and paste this prelude to an Irish PAC report of 1707, which rehearses familiar complaints:f course, it is tempting to overdo analogies, or to imply in a naive way that the past was ‘just like now’ in fiscal matters, or otherwise. In going back, we are in different world, one that needs careful exploration, informed by historians’ expertise and sensitivity. But it is irresistible to at least note that Irish public finance did not begin a mere three hundred years ago. It was old by then.This is a 19th century copy of an original in the Red Book of the Exchequer, which went up in flames with so much else in the fire which destroyed Ireland’s public records office in the civil war. The image shows the officials of the exchequer holding to account the sheriff of a county, who has his back to us (at the bottom of the image), and who is wearing a hoodie. He pays in the taxes he has collected which are due to this ancient body. The officials carefully track debts owed and payments made, using counters placed on a table covered with a chequered cloth, from which the name derives. Current public sector accounting practices are somewhat more sophisticated, and senior department of finance officials are no longer barons of the exchequer, one hopes. We have been here before. Good luck, minister.

Friday, 5 October 2018

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: Why consent needs to be an everyday conversation

Author: Dr Charlotte McIvor, O'Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Opinion: Christine Blasey Ford's testimony against US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanagh has put the focus firmly on the issue of consent  As Noeline Blackwell of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre recently observed, the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford against US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanagh was both "extraordinary" and "typical." Extraordinary, perhaps, in terms of the scale of international coverage and tangible stakes of the testimony’s outcomes for U.S. citizens. But typical in terms of both the ubiquity of sexual assault, harassment and rape as an experience of women worldwide across many cultural contexts and the intense positive and negative reaction to Blasey Ford’s allegations. Extraordinary is a description we urgently need to challenge as we consider this case’s meaning in the current global political and social landscape.  The World Health Organisation reported in 2017  that one in three (35 percent) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Last year, a study at NUI Galway, on which I was a co-author, found that 39 percent of female students had experienced sexual coercion and 70 percent reported sexual hostility and/or crude gender harassment by their third year in college.  Last week, it was reported that three female students attending University College Cork and Cork Institute of Technology had reported rapes to the Cork Sexual Violence Centre since the beginning of the autumn semester. It's a shocking statistic in and of itself, but even more so when we consider how drastically underreported both rape and sexual assault are in Ireland and internationally.  I was born in the United States, live in Ireland and am a dual American-Irish citizen. I attended college in the early 2000s when decades of feminist activism insured that anti-sexual violence university and peer/activist education programmes were in place and well-resourced. Counselling for survivors of rape and sexual assault was openly available, I took part in "Take Back the Night" marches and attended first-year orientation sessions where these issues were discussed openly and candidly in mixed-gender groups.  "No means no," we chanted. We were warned about the "red zone," the risky first few months when universities are in session which typically see on-campus spikes in the reporting of rape and sexual assault, a pattern which last week’s Cork revelations again confirmed in an Irish context.  At this time, the statistic I heard regularly was one in four, that one in four women would be sexually assaulted during their lifetimes. As my time in college and then graduate school progressed, the statistical occurrence amongst my peer group and then later as disclosed to me by students, colleagues, and friends seemed in fact much higher than that.  Over almost 20 years, this one in four statistic remains the one that I still hear quoted in the US. The 2002 SAVI survey in Ireland similarly identified that one in five Irish women and one in 10 Irish men have experienced sexual assault during their lifetime, with our more recent NUI Galway campus surveys confirming these general numbers more recently. This means that we have not appreciably reduced rates of sexual assault and rape within a generation, despite steady gains in women’s rights and sexual freedoms legally and socially.  This is just not good enough. We need to change how we are approaching conversations about sexuality, gender and power in everyday life and not just sexual assault and rape. For me - as a researcher, educator, activist and member of the interdisciplinary SMART Consent research team at NUI Galway- the consent sexual health paradigm offers extraordinary hope in terms of offering a new language of the typical that we might practice more actively within our sexual relationships.  In the research we’ve carried out over the last five years, we’ve distilled what we mean by consent down to a four-letter acronym: Consent=OMFG (Ongoing, Mutual, and Freely-Given), a definition to be applied across relationships, genders and sexualities.  Consent is ongoing, it can be withdrawn at any time. Consent is mutual, not one-sided, shared between two (or more) parties. Consent is freely-given by both parties, not under the heavy influence of drink and/or drugs and/or obtained as a result of unequal or coercive power relationships. The Blasey Ford/Kavanagh hearings, suggest that the alleged perpetrators involved were not carrying this layered understanding of consent with them into the room where this event allegedly occurred. If they had been, the outcomes here could have been very different.  By shifting the conversation and our sexual practices towards consent as a matter of course, and not just in extraordinary situations where a crime has allegedly occurred, I think we stand a better chance at actually reducing the statistics above rather than only having these debates around "extraordinary" or media-worthy cases. By making consent an everyday conversation and embedding it as a guiding principle of sexual health from primary to secondary to third-level education in Ireland, we have an opportunity to take people where they’re at and have a pragmatic conversation about the grey (and not so grey) areas we might face when communicating with our sexual partners.  Our process of communication will always be shaped by the gendered and social norms we bring into the bedroom with us, but we can challenge these together without sacrificing sexual pleasure in the process.  We might start by just simply remembering consent is always a four-letter concept: Consent= OMFG (Ongoing, Mutual and Freely-Given). 

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: Dublin Theatre Festival's long and winding road

Author: Patrick Lonergan, NUI Galway Opinion: over the last 61 years, the festival has given us valuable ways to think about our past and future, our place in the world and our sense of what we are and might become When the Dublin Theatre Festival opens later this week, it will celebrate its 61st birthday, making it one of the world’s longest-established arts events. Since 1957, the DTF has staged the best Irish plays alongside major international work and hosted great actors and companies while operating as an incubator for new talent and ideas. Along the way, it’s challenged and transformed Irish attitudes to a variety of issues, from censorship to sex to Catholicism and much more besides.   But in order to reach that point, the festival has had to overcome many challenges, especially during its earliest years, when clerical interference almost destroyed it. It was set up by the theatre producer Brendan Smith, whose first programme made an impressive declaration of intent by inviting the French director Jean Vilar to Dublin and his Théâtre National Populaire performed before enthusiastic audiences at the Olympia. However, the first DTF is now remembered mainly for the scandal that was provoked by one its smallest productions: Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo at the tiny Pike Theatre. Before that play opened, the DTF was sent sinister letters by a group called The League of Decency, which claimed that Williams was advocating the use of birth control. Soon afterwards, the production was shut down altogether by the police when it was alleged that a condom had been shown on stage. The ensuing trial was considered a national embarrassment and eventually collapsed when the presiding judge was harshly critical of the evidence presented by the police. But the damage had been done: the Pike was forced to close. Worse was to follow. In 1958, Smith announced a programme for the festival’s second year that included an adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses and a new Sean O’Casey play called The Drums of Father Ned. Archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid objected to the inclusion of both authors, writing to a subordinate that the Rose Tattoo case ought to have been a "lesson" to the festival about what it could and couldn’t do. He refused to allow an opening mass for the DTF to go ahead. Other groups soon fell into line, withdrawing funding and other supports. Smith was left with no choice but to call off that year’s event, but he defiantly described the decision as a "postponement" rather than a cancellation. And the DTF did return in 1959, soon becoming a leading force in Ireland’s movement towards a more secular society. In 1964, for example, it hosted the premiere of An Triail by Máiréad Ní Ghráda. By dramatising the experience of a young woman who finds herself in a Magdalene Laundry, that play challenged audiences to consider their culpability for the treatment of Irish women. It called attention to the double standard that saw unmarried mothers being incarcerated while the men who had made them pregnant were not even criticised, let alone punished.  Even more daringly, the 1975 Festival saw Tom Murphy’s The Sanctuary Lamp appearing at the Abbey – where it was described as "the most anti-clerical Irish play" ever performed there. It became the subject of a heated public debate which saw the then-President Cearbhaill Ó Dálaigh came out in support of Murphy and opened the door to a more frank discussion of Ireland’s relationship with Catholicism. So the Festival has always created space to re-imagine contentious issues. One of the best examples of that tendency is the bravery and vision it showed when staging Thomas Kilroy’s The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche and Brian Friel’s The Gentle Island in 1968 and 1971 respectively, the first Irish plays ever to feature openly gay characters. And in later years, the Festival has given us new ways to think about countless other topics too.  It’s also brought some of the world’s great actors to Dublin. Orson Welles was present for the DTF in 1959 and more recently we’ve seen such figures as Geoffrey Rush and Vanessa Redgrave in it. And in 1982, just at the start of his career, Samuel L. Jackson earned rave reviews when he performed in a play called Home on the Gate Theatre stage, as part of a visiting group called the Negro Ensemble Company. And it’s always been an important showcase for Irish acting too.  Of course, there have also been occasional controversies. During the DTF in 2000, the Abbey staged a play called Barbaric Comedies, which was lambasted for its inclusion of onstage sex, murder, masturbating monks, and cannibalism – and (perhaps surprisingly, given its content) for being very boring. And in 2004, Tragedia Endogonidia by the avant-garde Italian director Romeo Castellucci lit up the radio talk-shows when it included a scene in which a baby was left alone on stage for several minutes, a moment of tranquillity made all the more disturbing for appearing in a play that otherwise featured several acts of unspeakable violence. It remains to be seen how this year’s Festival will be remembered but, as always, we can be sure that there will be plenty to talk about. There has already been some comment about the fact that it includes only two original new Irish plays, Deirdre Kinahan’s highly anticipated Rathmines Road at the Peacock and Pan Pan’s intriguingly-titled Eliza’s Adventures in the Uncanny Valley, with most of the other new Irish work coming in the form of adaptations. But rather than suggesting that the Irish play is in crisis (a claim that has been made at almost every DTF since the early 1960s), the high number of adaptations instead shows how theatre-makers are increasingly trying to break down the boundaries between art-forms. Irish adaptations shouldn’t be seen as inferior copies of something better. They’re more like remixes, in which samples of earlier works are cut together into something new. So there’s much to be excited about in Corn Exchange’s stage version of the Arthur Miller/Marilyn Monroe movie The Misfits, Rough Magic’s version of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist and Gina Moxley’s Patient Gloria, among others. And just as the DTF reveals where Irish theatre is now, it also allows us to think about how our society is changing. This year’s festival gives special prominence to Shakespeare with Druid’s Richard III appearing at the Abbey and Ruth Negga’s Hamlet at the Gate. Of course, those plays are being staged because they are great works of art first and foremost. But it feels significant that we’re seeing Irish theatre-makers confidently appropriating classic English plays at a time when Brexit is forcing a reconsideration of the relationship between Ireland and the UK. Ireland’s place in the world can also be considered through the Festival’s staging of plays from abroad, notably in return visits by two groups that enjoyed successful visits to the DTF before: the New York-based Elevator Repair Service will stage Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf while TR Warszawa from Poland will present Fantasia. Add to the mix an opera directed by Enda Walsh, a monologue drama in which Downton Abbey’s Brendan Coyle plays a theatre critic who falls in with a coven of vampires and a great season of theatre for children and it’s evident that an entertaining few weeks lie ahead. Like any other organisation, the DTF has had good years and bad - and failures as well as successes - during its six decades of activity so far. It’s entertained many and enraged some; it’s sometimes been boring and often been surprising. It therefore operates not just as a showcase of Irish theatre but as a microcosm of Irish society, giving us valuable ways to think about our past and future, our place in the world, and our sense of what we are and might become.

Monday, 1 October 2018

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: What's required to improve how Tusla works?

Analysis: in the first six months of 2018, Tusla dealt with almost 19,000 children and young people but there is room for improvement and development By John Canavan and Carmel Devaney, NUI Galway Prevention and early intervention are ideas that have both a common-sense acceptance and a well-established evidence basis in medicine and health services. Research evidence on its role in social and educational services is also becoming more extensive and of a higher quality. However, much less is known about its value in child protection and welfare services. With colleagues at the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, we have produced internationally-leading research that demonstrates the role of prevention and early intervention in protecting children and supporting families. One key message from this research is that it is possible to make a difference in the lives of children, young people and families by providing early help, particularly if it has three core characteristics. Firstly, it needs to be provided in a way that gives the power to children and parents to express what they think their issues are and what they think would be helpful to them. Secondly, it is timely, provided when and as the families need it. Thirdly, it is easily accessed in local centres or their own homes and at a time that works for them.  The UCFRC research tracked a major programme of Prevention, Early Intervention and Family Support (known as Partnership, Prevention and Family Support, PPFS) undertaken by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency from 2015 to 2018. The programme seeks to transform child and family services in Ireland by providing services which are provided when and where families need them, are responsive to the difficulties families are having and include the views of family members. The programme has five distinct but complementary and interwoven components: Parenting Support and Parental Participation; Public Awareness (increasing awareness of where to access help among the general public); Children’s Participation (enhancing child and youth participation at all levels of their involvement with Tusla); Commissioning (the funding of services) and the development of the ‘Meitheal’ model.  The Meitheal model is Tusla’s flagship programme for providing early help and is embedded within the organisation’s area-based approach to working with children, young people and their families. The model aims to ensure that the needs and strengths of children and their families are identified, understood and responded to in a timely way so they get the help and support needed. Our research shows that Tusla is getting better overall at providing early help. More widely, the culture and practice of Tusla is changing and it is becoming more preventative in focus and inclusive of parents and children. The research is showing that Meitheal is welcomed by families and is making a positive difference to their lives. Importantly Meitheal is improving outcomes for children and young people over time, particularly from the perspective of mothers. Maternal well-being was the most significant predictor of family outcomes suggesting that supporting mothers is key to supporting families. Over time, this approach may help reduce the numbers of children and young people entering Tusla’s child protection system as families ask for and receive help at an earlier stage with any difficulties they are experiencing. The study also demonstrates good work by Tusla, benchmarked against international best practice, in listening to and including children, in its policies and the capacity of the front-line workers. The research indicates promising results from Tusla’s work in supporting parents through its Parent Support Champions programme. While the public’s awareness of Tusla increased over the study, the research findings have shown that families turn to and depend on family and close friends in the main for help and support. As with all services, there is plenty of room for improvement and further development in the Partnership, Prevention and Family Support programme and our research highlights these areas. This programme does not contain a magic wand and will not solve all issues families face, but it is showing positive results which need to be continued. One key issue for Tusla is to find a way to communicate its fundamental, unequivocal responsibility to protect children, alongside its role in providing help to children and their parents as early as possible.  Beyond this, the Minister for Children Youth and Family Affairs, Katherine Zappone and her department must back Tusla in spirit and with resources to realise the early promise of the PPFS programme. Tusla note that almost 19,000 children and young people received a family support service from January to June 2018. The minister needs to leverage the engagement of other departments and relevant agencies (such as Health, Education, Justice, and the HSE) to ensure all front-line professionals working to help those 19,000 children, young people and their families are doing so together.  Dr John Canavan is Senior Lecturer and Associate Director of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway. Dr Carmel Devaney is a Lecturer at the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway

Thursday, 27 September 2018

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: How much has changed in Ireland since the economic collapse?

Author: Professor Daniel Carey, Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Opinion: a decade on, there is much to learn about how Ireland reacted to the financial crash and its aftermath Ireland’s dramatic economic collapse in 2008 began with the infamous bank guarantee. It was initiated by then Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan against the backdrop of an imperilled domestic banking system and an immense international financial crisis that engulfed the US and UK. Ireland went on to endure protracted bailout arrangements, the Troika terms, severe job losses, public sector pay retrenchment and renewed emigration. A decade later, the country continues its recovery, but what have we learned about ourselves and how have things changed? Understanding the effects eludes a simple précis, but we can start with a basic comparison. The UK responded to the crisis by returning to its elites, vesting its confidence in Eton- and Oxbridge-educated politicians, before plunging into Brexit. The US took another course, with people tearing one another apart politically as their financial fortunes eroded. In Ireland, different cultural resources came into play. A certain dose of fatalism, low expectations of politicians and memories of a country without money proved an unexpected resource. Ireland was the envy of Europe in its relatively compliant reaction to austerity. Admittedly facing even greater challenges, Greece saw violence on the streets. By these standards, Ireland has shown an intriguing cultural resilience. Should we have been more outraged, more insistent on radical change? Paradoxically, the great paroxysm came over water charges. These were rejected by popular protest and widespread non-compliance, sparked in part by a sense that enough was surely enough. The electorate also rejected a misguided attempt to address the problem of the Irish senate by abolishing it, but no further proposals have come forward for reforming the upper chamber. We seem incapable of large-scale readjustment, largely content with (or at least acquiescent in) who we are. Independents continue to enjoy a political heyday, even as their "genepool" suggests alignment with established political parties in many cases. One thing we can be thankful for deserves remark: imagine what 2016 would have been like if the Celtic Tiger had continued unabated. The marking of the centenary of the Easter Rising would have taken place with unbearable triumphalism. Instead, critical self-reflection characterised much of this public commemoration, made possible in some measure by the chastening effects of economic disaster. An early, anguished response to the predicament saw the letters pages of The Irish Times filled with responses to the question "was it for this?" The query drew attention to the sacrifice of the rebels, intent on establishing Irish sovereignty, only to see it handed away to foreign officials representing the IMF and ECB. Much of that concern has disappeared, with the political focus remaining, on the one hand, on preserving Ireland’s corporate tax rate (and refusing the €13 billion owed by Apple), and on the other by contemplating the spectre of Brexit. The British remedy will not be Ireland’s, strong in its EU allegiance, just as the Icelandic option of burning bondholders was sidestepped. Will all of this make us better prepared to avoid a repeat experience or more liable to slip into old errors and merely shrug when things going wrong? The heat in the housing market raises inevitable concerns about repeating a traumatic experience, but presumably it would take some doing to invent another Anglo-Irish Bank to fall in on itself. We continue to pull in different directions. The default mode in government remains largely self-denial at the risk of ongoing underinvestment. At the same time, a decade of limited means has not led to a cultural abandonment of Celtic Tiger-era dreams of conspicuous consumption. We still want the same things, even if we can’t always have them.   Back in 2008 when the financial crisis began, no-one under the age of 25 had much memory of a country without money. Ten years later, those under 25 have little recall of a country that was not living under austerity. The fate of a generation denied its full opportunity is unresolved.

Friday, 28 September 2018

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: How stigma and shame are deployed for political ends

Author: Carol Ballantine, NUI Galway Opinion: we should recognise the instances of political stigma and shame today and act on them before they lead to more inquiries and protests Ireland is undergoing a historic reckoning with its multiple legacies of shame. Recently, with the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland, there was an emphasis on the shame imposed on victims of clerical abuses, and on Irish women who were punished for becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Such women were almost invariably concealed, and often incarcerated, for varying lengths of time. They were left in no doubt that their transgression of sexual activity – which left no mark whatsoever upon the men involved – branded them indelibly as fallen women. By the 1950s, one percent of the Irish population was incarcerated or institutionalised. UCD philosopher and activist Clara Fischer argues that the particularly Irish phenomenon of widespread institutionalisation and corresponding abuse was enforced by agencies of the Church and State acting together. However, it was reinforced by the implementation of national mechanisms of stigmatisation and shaming.  Political shame in Ireland’s past was necessary for the project of national identity formation, with idealised Irishness being predicated on female virtue and male valour. Contradictions to this founding narrative were resolvedthrough institutionalisation and public shaming of transgressors. While the Catholic Church retains excessive and unwarranted power in Ireland, the Church today is not what it was in the 1950s. If we truly want to eliminate systemic shaming from our public sphere, we need to look beyond the Catholic Church into contemporary power structures. Recent research on stigma and shame give good indications of where we should look. The field of stigma studies emerged in 1963 with the publication of sociologist Erving Goffman’s monograph Stigma: Notes on the Management of a Spoiled Identity. Stigma has proven an important concept in the applied social sciences, for example in the fields of public health and public policy. More than 50 years on from Goffman’s core text, sociology professor Imogen Tyler is revisiting Goffman and encouraging us re-integrate power in our understanding of the stigma concept. Stigma is the social process whereby a particular trait or characteristic (smoking, for example, or single motherhood) becomes labelled and negative stereotypes are attached to anybody who carries the label. Those who are thus labelled then lose status in society, enabling discrimination and systematic abuse. One of the most insidious features of stigma is the role it plays in producing the emotion of shame and causing labelled individuals to feel shame. We look to moral philosophy and feminist theorists to understand that shame is a political emotion. Contemporary theorists of stigma and shame exhort researchers to look at the dominant philosophies of governance to understand where political shaming is likely to happen. In Ireland, as in many other places, this political era is characterised by austerity measures to reduce government spending, coupled with deregulation and promotion of highly mobile international capital. This neoliberal approach to governance involves the reduction of government services and the corresponding promotion of individual self-sufficiency. Just as how stigma was put to use in the service of national identity formation in the past, it is necessary to co-opt the wider public to support a changing approach to governance. In the UK, Joanne Latimer explores how cuts to dementia services are justified by portraying dementia as something that can be prevented through managing self and risk, that it is a "moral rather than a neurodegenerative problem". In the case of sexual violence, Dianna Taylor describes a comparable process whereby the idealised rape survivor is characterised in public discourse by grit, determination and self-care. The discourse describes itself as empowering but, to survivors who do not fit the label, there are fewer services than before, and guilt and blame for their own failures to "tough it out" to boot. The flip side of the oft-invoked concept of individual resilience is individual culpability for needs. In a wide range of different fields, we see a similar process: a subtle shift of responsibility towards individuals and away from the state (away too, incidentally, from the concept of rights). In Ireland, it was apparent in taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s campaign, while Minister for Social Protection, which proclaimed that Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All. What is this other than weaponised stigma, the intentional deployment of social judgement to justify removing resources from specific groups? Numerous commentators have drawn attention to contemporary examples of political shaming. While modern Ireland is a far cry from the conservative, narrow-minded society of the past, the political tools of deliberately withdrawing social compassion and support from specific categories of individuals are still in use. Clara Fischer highlights how lone parents are singled out today in much the same way as single mothers were 100 years ago. Perhaps most obviously, increasing numbers of observers recognise the ways in which the system of Direct Provision for asylum seekers is directly comparable to the institutional homes of the past. In the past, an institutional architecture existed to separate "fallen women" and diminish their status in the eyes of the general population. Today, a highly comparable architecture separates asylum seekers. Massive buildings, hotels and hostels in the centre of our towns and communities tell us that it is alright to look away. READ: Magdalene Survivors, An Emotional Week Recent actions to renounce the atmosphere of shame, blame and judgement that prevailed in 20th century Ireland are crucial. Accountability for what happened in the past is necessary. But looking to the future, we would do well to recognise the mechanics of political stigma and shame in the present day, and act on them before they demand yet another round of inquiries and demonstrations.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: How revolutionary was Ireland in 1968?

Author: Dr Tomás Finn, History Department Opinion: Ireland in 1968 shared the experiences of that year with other countries, but did so according to local conditions As with many other places, the significance of 1968 for Ireland was not so much in what happened, but in how the events were perceived in the long term. Remembered as revolutionary and historic, civil rights movements and protests by students and workers and the clashes they provoked with authorities in different countries did not overthrow the institutions of state or existing economic and social systems. What demonstrators and reform-minded individuals did achieve in the Prague Spring and through the campaign for civil rights in the United States, in the Sorbonne in France and in schools, colleges and factories in Italy in the late 1960s and into the 1970s was to challenge what they perceived to be authoritarian and bureaucratic regimes. Where demands for equal rights and a greater say in the running of work places and of universities were not always granted, improvements to education, employment and wages did follow. In Ireland, a desire for change was similarly expressed, albeit mostly in a less militant manner. As elsewhere, left-wing groups were to the fore of a more activist approach but protests were also a response to local conditions. Housing shortages throughout the island and concerns over the decline of the Irish language combined with a leftward shift in Republican circles to give rise to new strategies. This culminated in more direct tactics being adopted from 1968 by the Dublin Housing Action Committee and the Gaeltacht Civil Rights Movement even to the point where these contravened the law. Their actions included demonstrations, squatting in vacant properties, the establishment of pirate radio station Saor Raidió Connemara and defacing the English part of public signs. While they did raise awareness of housing needs and the position of the Irish language, their effectiveness remains questionable given that they did not secure wider societal support. This points to the relative weakness of left-wing politics in southern Ireland, but also underlines the general evolution of society. Rather than experiencing any revolutionary moments, the country during the post Second World War period gradually opened up to fresh ideas about politics, the economy, education and religion. This approach was supported by the mass of students whose focus in 1968 was on issues in higher education rather than wider societal problems. In University College Dublin, for example, discontent over issues such as overcrowding, the proposed merger between Trinity and UCD, library conditions and the later college’s move to Belfield gave rise to the "gentle revolution"’. Protests during 1968 culminated in the November sit-in with over 1,000 students protesting at the university’s refusal to allow them to use the Great Hall at Earlsfort Terrace and particularly an overnight occupation of administration buildings in February 1969. Echoing the Students for a Democratic Society in the United States, the Students for Democratic Action who led the occupation in UCD sought a radical transformation of society. While the protest received the support of the majority of the approximately 1,500 students who attended a meeting in the college the next day, they were, however, prevailed upon by the student body to end their occupation. This provided the space for more moderate student and staff members who were content to see gradual reforms and improvements in facilities. Partly for that reason the Students for Democratic Action, unlike radical students in France and Italy, did not gain the support of workers. As one of the then student activists Kevin Myers put it in Philip Petit’s The Gentle Revolution: "gentle it was; revolution it was not".  Northern Ireland was perhaps a more fertile if dangerous ground for radical voices during this period. The events of October 5th 1968 when a civil rights march organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was banned by the Unionist government but held in Derry, still reverberate on these islands. The march resulted in rioting and confrontations with the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Thereafter, People’s Democracy, a radical student body which included Eamonn McCann, organised a four-day march from Belfast to Derry in January 1969 which was partly inspired by Martin Luther King’s 1965 Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The 1969 march led to loyalists responding with counter demonstrations and violence. From there, events in Northern Ireland quickly escalated into a military struggle between paramilitary organisations and security forces. The Troubles reflected the divided society that existed in that part of the island and the increasing ineffectiveness in that context of forms of protest that had been adopted by the Civil Rights Movement. Where students in People’s Democracy gained, if briefly, more traction than those in Students for Democratic Action, this was, however, partly due to the fact that their demands for wider societal change coalesced with those of the civil rights movement. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, which had grown impatient with the ineffectiveness of the Nationalist Party, emerged from the increased number of Catholics in Northern Ireland, who had benefitted from the 1947 Education Act which brought free secondary education and easier access to higher level education. This also meant that there was potentially greater support for groups like People’s Democracy in Northern Ireland. In southern Ireland, wider access to education had to wait for the 1967 free post-primary education scheme, the reform in 1968 of the university grants system and the establishment of Regional Technical Colleges the following decade. What all this points to is the emergence of an increasingly questioning climate of opinion. This is underlined by the varied response of Catholics throughout the island to the 1968 papal encyclical Humanae Vitae which declared the use of contraceptives to be unacceptable. In some ways, this was the most revolutionary of all moments in that year. Given the almost universal expectation following Vatican II that the Catholic Church would give a liberal ruling and permit the use of contraceptives, there was quite widespread surprise, even shock, both nationally and internationally at the announcement. In his chapter on Ireland in The Schism of ’68, Peter Murray recounts how couples started to look for the "sympathetic priest", "for the ‘easy man’…in the privacy of the confessional". Notwithstanding the compassion individual priests displayed for the difficulties the encyclical caused couples, its greatest legacy for the Catholic Church was the change of direction after Vatican II and the impetus it gave to conservative forces within the church. Divisions within the Irish church were crystallised from 1968 when Rev. Dr James Good of University College Cork criticised Humanae Vitae, for which he was censured by Bishop Cornelius Lucey. The divergence with the public, at least in the long term, was quite stark. Not only were some men and women unwilling to accept official church teaching on this matter, but they have ignored it with use of contraceptives almost universal. This marked a new departure in that independent thinking was much more to the fore in Ireland post 1968. The questioning culture that advocated an opening up of the Irish economy and society and reforms to education and censorship in the 1950s and 1960s had given rise in the 1970s and 1980s to an increasing proportion of the Irish public calling for the liberalisation of Irish laws and changes to the constitution. This led to bitter divisions with conservative forces, including the Catholic hierarchy, who demanded that the status quo be retained. Meanwhile, in one of the few positive moments during the Troubles within Northern Ireland, free family planning services were made available by the short-lived power-sharing government in 1974. This removed contraception as a potentially controversial issue at least in one part of the island. Ireland in 1968 shared the experiences of that year with other countries, but did so according to local conditions. For activists, it was a process of adopting and adapting strategies used elsewhere. But the majority within southern Irish society were content to see continued improvements in education and their living and working conditions, whereas Northern Ireland became subsumed by a bitter conflict from which it has yet to recover. To understand any one year, particularly one such as 1968, one must then understand the long term as well as short term developments that gave rise to the events of that year. It is only then that one can fully grasp the extent to which they are or are not revolutionary.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: What can philosophy tell us about the fight over climate change?

Author: Dr Darrell Jones, Moore Institute Opinion: 17th century philosopher Francis Bacon is playing a role in the urgent contest over the heart and soul of climate action Earlier this year, Ireland’s experiment with deliberative democracy delivered its first results. The Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendation that the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution be repealed and replaced was endorsed in a referendum. The national debate was divisive and, at times, traumatic, yet a broad and informed consensus eventually emerged. For all the moral complexity of their social, medical and spiritual implications, decisions about pregnancies were ultimately understood as personal. One of the other issues that the Citizens’ Assembly discussed poses problems of a different kind. The strength of the scientific consensus about climate change was reflected in the fact that the Assembly was asked not whether something should be done, but how to make Ireland a global leader in doing it. The Assembly responded with 13 recommendations to incentivise or regulate specific socioeconomic behaviours, from managing critical infrastructure and taxation to reforming public transport and the production and distribution of food. But even if all of those measures are enacted, their practical impact is likely to depend on heightened levels of awareness, engagement, and support. None of the proposals dealt directly with the need for improvements in education or concerns about environmental literacy. Outside Ireland, an urgent contest over the heart and soul of climate action is under way. On one side of the debate is Canadian author and journalist Naomi Klein, who argued in her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014) that the environmental crisis can only be resolved by embracing it as an opportunity for radical political reform. For Klein, the central issues revolve around concepts of morality, justice and human rights. Her book documented the ongoing challenge of "confronting the climate denier within", the successes and failures of local and global environmental movements and her personal experiences of trying to conceive a child in an increasingly infertile world.  It also offered a brief account of the historical development of destructive and exploitative mentalities. According to Klein, the 17th-century philosopher Francis Bacon is the "patron saint" of "the modern-day extractive economy". It was Bacon, she argued, who convinced his contemporaries to abandon their concept of the earth as "a life-giving mother" and embrace a new role as "her dungeon master". And it was Bacon, she maintained, whose supposedly materialist and utilitarian schemes inspired both European colonialism and the advent of the industrial revolution. Opposing Klein from within the climate movement is the American psychologist Steven Pinker, whose latest book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress (2018) presents a far more optimistic view of the current and future states of the natural environment. Pinker accepts that anthropogenic climate change is a problem of unprecedented gravity. He also agrees that preventing its worst effects is "a moral issue". Does philosopher Francis Bacon bear historical responsibility for a capitalist war on the climate? However, the case that he makes for "Enlightenment Environmentalism" is that practical solutions are more likely to come from increased investment in science and technology than from "moralistic" yet "misanthropic" efforts to alter the trajectory of global economic development. According to Pinker, carbon emissions plateau and then decline as knowledge and prosperity increase. As he observes, "the team that brings clean and abundant energy to the world", probably in the form of advanced nuclear power, "will benefit humanity more than all of history’s saints, heroes, prophets, martyrs, and laureates combined". One of Pinker’s heroes is Francis Bacon, whose achievements as an early modern theorist of objectivity he occasionally extols in his work. Among his villains are any and all "Romantic" and "quasi-religious" ideologists of social and environmental decline. Does Bacon bear historical responsibility for a capitalist war on the climate? Or was he a prophet of the scientific values on which the future of humanity depends? Both questions involve anachronistic and teleological assumptions and any answers will inevitably be informed by contemporary political beliefs. Even so, the fact that the questions can be asked at all is testament to the power of Bacon’s influence. Some sort of effort has to be made to engage with the content and context of his legacy. Klein’s denigration of Bacon’s intellectual character is supported by a single quotation. In De Augmentis Scientiarum (1623), Bacon explained that in experimental research, "you have but to follow and as it were hound nature in her wanderings, and you will be able, when you like, to lead and drive her afterwards to the same place again". Klein observed that Bacon’s rhetoric has often proved susceptible to feminist critiques. Yet her exercise in literary extractivism is misleading. Elsewhere in his philosophical works, and particularly in his unfinished masterpiece, Novum Organum (1620), Bacon maintained that his ultimate goal was to prepare "the marriage bed of the mind and the universe" and that "the promise of the wedding song" would be "helps for men and a line of discoveries which may to some degree subdue and mitigate their needs and miseries". He also described man as "the servant and interpreter of nature", and insisted that "nature can only be overcome by being obeyed". If some of these metaphors remain vulnerable to feminist attacks, they also show that Bacon’s respect for the agency, authority and mystery of nature ran deep.  Pinker’s dichotomy between Enlightenment and Romantic ideologies is far from new. At the turn of the 19th century, the proto-Romantic poet William Blake placed Bacon alongside Isaac Newton and John Locke in an unholy trinity of philosophers and scientists whose empiricist methods had ushered in an era of "dark Satanic Mills" and impending spiritual doom. Even so, some of Blake’s successors saw things differently. In his lectures On the History of Philosophy (1818-19), the Romantic poet and theorist Samuel Taylor Coleridge viewed mechanism and pantheism as pervasive yet opposite "evils" to which Bacon had been almost unique in remaining immune. According to Coleridge, "the true Baconic philosophy" had rarely been fully understood: only when the human mind was purified and freed would it discover, feel, and learn to revere "the necessity of that one great Being" that constantly operates as the ground and condition of the relationship between nature and itself.The fact that one of the major architects of the scientific revolution could inspire such wildly divergent responses remains instructive While Pinker argues that the "dematerialization" of technology is a "friend" to both humanity and the Earth, Coleridge attributed to Bacon the insight that "science approaches to its perfection in proportion as it immaterialises objects". If Blake’s attack on Bacon was crudely reductive, Coleridge arguably exaggerated the case for the philosopher’s defence. Nevertheless, the fact that one of the major architects of the scientific revolution could inspire such wildly divergent responses among poets at the dawn of the industrial age remains instructive. On the one hand, there is no valid reason to associate Bacon with carbon-intensive technologies rather than with the cleaner and more fundamental sources of energy that states, companies, and investors are currently pursuing. On the other, there is now every reason to take more seriously than ever Bacon’s insistence that natural and moral philosophy are mutually and essentially related. Bacon was neither an irredeemable villain nor an unconditional hero. His final legacy to the history of philosophy is probably best considered unfulfilled.

Friday, 14 September 2018

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: How volunteers became the lifeblood of rural Ireland

Author: Dr Maura Farrell, Geography, NUI Galway   Analysis: sport, healthcare, the environment and culture are constantly supported by rural volunteers who willingly and freely give up their time Voluntary activity is often considered the pillar of community work and it can be the glue that binds a declining economy in many Irish rural communities. The activities carried out by volunteers in areas such as sport, health care or the environment create connections and networks that build resilient Irish rural towns and villages.  As a form of social integration and way to promote the development of community relationships, volunteerism can make a considerable difference to rural society. However, individuals and organisations who carry out voluntary activities face difficulties in excess of their urban counterparts. These difficulties are largely due to a lack of facilities, funding, ongoing support and suitable transport and travel. Nonetheless, volunteerism has the ability to enhance communities and become a vital lifeline for rural regions facing dramatic change and decline. How rural Ireland is changing In the last two decades, rural areas have witnessed unprecedented change, driven largely by globalisation and changes in technology and society. Many EU countries, including Ireland, experienced rural economic decline which resulted in a rise in rural service industries and a decline in the importance of agriculture. Social change has resulted in population decline in some rural areas and an influx of new rural dwellers in others. Issues around commuting, access and mobility are currently widespread in some rural regions, with many others facing problems of isolation, deprivation and poor service provision. The means and support for dealing with such change can often be limited for rural communities, resulting in a reliance on voluntary activities and the volunteer sector. Subject to such change, many Irish communities have worked tirelessly to retain community engagement, build capacity and enhance social capital. The post Celtic Tiger era was difficult, with austerity measures severely impacting rural community funding and support services and national spending on community and voluntary activity being reduced by 45 percent (see Downsizing the Community Sector). During this period, both volunteers and volunteer organisations were under financial pressures, but persistence and dedication ensured government policy refocused its efforts in more recent years, providing additional funding and support for community and volunteer involving organisations. A somewhat reenergised volunteer sector was evident in the Commissioning for Communities report commissioned by Clann Credo, the Community Foundation for Ireland and The Wheel in 2016. This provided evidence from over 560,000 people volunteering their time every year in Ireland’s 11,500 community and voluntary organisations.  Additionally, funding has been allocated from the Department of Community and Rural Development to fund Volunteer Ireland, a national volunteer development agency and a support body for all local volunteer centres and volunteering information services in Ireland. Meet the volunteers In studying volunteerism in rural Ireland, recent research carried out in NUI Galway in conjunction with Volunteer Ireland, eTownz and the NUI Galway Community Knowledge Initiative showed that slightly more males than females are involved in voluntary activities in rural areas. The people involved come from varying backgrounds, with some being long-term residents, while others are "newcomers" to the area. An examination of the employment structure of volunteers showed that people assisting their local community ranged from professional workers to people employed in the service industry and in agriculture as local farmers.  One volunteer stated that: "volunteerism acts as a gateway for new members of a community to get involved in helping to make their new area a better place for all its inhabitants. Volunteerism, in whatever form, makes it possible for members of the community to come together in a socially positive way. With many of our main volunteers in Achill being from other locations around the country and some from different parts of the world, it really gives us a diverse view on different events and ideas to improve our community" Rural voluntary activities and Impacts The variety of activities carried out by rural volunteers is inspiring and ranges from sporting engagement to care services in local communities. Club involvement of different varieties is hugely popular in rural areas, with over 38 percent of rural people involved in a club. Although participation in GAA activities was by far the most popular, many volunteers also carried out activities with charities such as St Vincent de Paul, Foroige, Tidy Towns, Meals on Wheels and local Town Development Associations. The time, energy and effort freely given by rural people to volunteer activities is the lifeblood of rural society Undoubtedly, the services and facilities provided by rural volunteers impact dramatically on the quality of life of rural residents, but voluntary activities also have an economic impact on the state. Our research showed that 83 percent of the rural people believe that voluntary activities carried out in their rural area saved on public spending by relieving pressure on public services. Additionally, networking, cooperation and linking people together in rural communities is greatly enhanced by voluntary activities which in turn enhances the personal development of individuals within the community and improves the mental health and wellbeing of people in the community.  Rural Ireland has struggled in recent years to rise above issues of economic decline, population changes and a depletion of rural services and facilities. Nonetheless, the work carried out by volunteers in every town and village across Ireland is fundamental to the mainstay of rural Ireland. Yes, there are issues, including a lack of volunteers, an over reliance on the same people; inadequate financial support from local and state government and a need for continued support and training. But the time, energy and effort freely given by rural people to volunteer activities is undoubtedly the lifeblood of rural society. 

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: What are Irish soldiers achieving in the Golan Heights?

Opinion: as UN peacekeepers return from and deploy to the Golan Heights the role of Irish soldiers in the region has changed dramatically in recent years The Defence Forces 56 Infantry Group part of the UN peacekeeping mission on the Golan Heights is currently returning home and being replaced by the 57 Infantry Group. 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. Prior to the outbreak of war in Syria, this was a relatively uneventful UN mission, but that has now changed dramatically. UNDOF is small in terms of size, at just over 1,100 personnel, and Ireland has contributed around 138 personnel annually since 2013. Given the overall uncertain situation in the region, it might well be asked what is the point of putting Irish forces in harm's way?  UNDOF remains an important mission in an area of significant strategic importance. Under the disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel, UNDOF 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 its main conundrums: how can UNDOF rely on Syria to fulfil its part of the agreement in the current circumstances?  The war in Syria has spilled over into the UN zone on a number of occasions. As it stands, the Irish troops have not deployed fully along the Syrian side of the area of separation since 2014.  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 on a number of occasions and Syria has placed heavy weapons in the area monitored by the UN in contravention of the agreement. There have also been Israeli and Syrian air strikes. The UN’s options are limited in the circumstances. Established as a Syria based mission, how UNDOF 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.  Both Israel and Syria still want UNDOF to remain and would prefer a full deployment of the peacekeeping force along both the Israeli and Syrian sides of the ceasefire line. The war in Syria and the unstable situation on the ground meant that this was not possible in recent times so UNDOF remains a dangerous mission. The spillover from the Syrian war is a major threat. Recently Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu made a rare visit to the Golan, much of which is still occupied by the Israelis.  He asserted that "Israel is prepared for any scenario and I wouldn’t suggest to anyone that they test us".  There has been serious clashes between armed opposition forces and pro-government forces in the bravo side of the ceasefire line that is the responsibility of Syria. Some of these opposition forces are listed as terrorist groups by the UN Security Council and are affiliated with ISIS. 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 Syria also remains a serious risk.  Despite the fact that the troops on the ground were forced to redeploy in 2014, UNDOF still contributes to stabilty 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, UNDOF’s mission is not a combat role such as being undertaken by UN forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Irish government was correct to agree to send troops to the Golan and maintain them there despite the deteriorating situation.  However, then Minister for Defence Simon Coveney made it clear in 2014 that Ireland "would not move into the territory of peace enforcement’ or become involved in the civil war in Syria". Russian intervention in the Syrian conflict has been pivotal and this is reflected in the changed situation on the ground in the Golan and other parts of Syria today. Ireland’s support for this mission is 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. While the overall security situation appears to be improving, an immediate challenge for the Irish contingent will be deploying in the area of operations previously evacuated for security reasons. There was no option but to redeploy at the time, due to legitimate concerns about extraction and protection. Nevertheless, many now feel that full deployment of Irish forces back in the area of separation is overdue.  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Monday, 3 September 2018

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: How Ireland should deal with the issue of historic abuse cases

Opinion: Ireland’s approach to the issue of historic abuse cases is a national conversation not to be taken lightly Last month, Pope Francis visited Ireland for the first papal visit here since 1979, with the contrast in attendance between then and now highlighted by many commentators. Events and official meetings held in Dublin and Knock were well-covered by Irish and international media, as were the effects of the Pennsylvania report, and protests organised by Irish groups advocating for survivors of abuse in predominantly Catholic institutions and dioceses. Protests like #Stand4Truth and the 1,000 people who attended a vigil in Tuam highlighted the anger at the Vatican’s lack of accountability about the systematic abuse of young children and women. Three aspects of the debate which have received less attention are the scale of the abuse revelations globally, the response of governments in different countries and the decades of work by survivors and activists to force the attention of media and politicians. Survivors and activists Personal stories are a large part of the current debate, yet this was not always the case. It was not the case in 1935 when John Byrne died in Artane Industrial School. Despite his parents’ best efforts to draw attention to their son’s bruised body and witnesses to a Christian Brother beating him in the yard, the coroner’s court verdict found that his death was due to "natural causes, but the origins may have been unnatural". It was not the case in 1967 when Peter Tyrrell set himself on fire in Hampstead Heath after years of trying to tell his story of abuse in Letterfrack Industrial School. Or when Nurse June Goulding’s personal account of Bessborough mother and baby home in the early 1950s was published in 1998 to legal threats by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Different states choose different models and none cover the breadth of these institutional failings in one commission or report While there are too many to list, journalists like Mary Raftery, Bruce Arnold and Conall Ó Fatharta; academics like Eoin O’Sullivan, James Smith and Diarmuid Whelan and activists such as Christine Buckley and Marie Collins have worked tirelessly for decades. Since 2014, Catherine Corless has pushed Tuam to the fore, highlighting the extremely high infant mortality rate and the burial of infants, while also keeping survivors at the centre of the debate. Previous work by Ciara Breathnach and Eunan O Halpin has similarly addressed this issue of unnamed dead infants in the coroner’s courts, while Lindsey Earner-Byrne has examined the contexts in which the homes emerged.   Tuam was a publicly funded children’s home (and mother and baby home). The women who entered were recorded on the death certificates of their children in the 1920s as primarily being "domestic servants". Many children stayed in the home until they were seven years (girl) and nine years (boys) of age before they were boarded out (fostered). To look at Tuam is to look at the many issues involved in investigating an institution in 20th century Ireland where class, geography, parentage and gender determined your lifecourse. Tuam is one of 10 such homes, connected to institutions like the Magdalene laundries, county homes (former workhouses), industrial schools and psychiatric hospitals (lunatic asylums), as well as fostering and adoption practices. To examine and understand one, we must examine and understand all. International context and state responses Dr Katie Wright and her colleagues have described the approach of states to historic abuse cases since the 1990s as "The Age of Enquiry". Mapping this global phenomenon, they have shown the sheer scale of the abuse. All of these enquiries have taken place in first world countries (Chile’s recent report not being included yet in this database). Different states choose different models, and none cover the breadth of these institutional failings in one commission or report. Some use public hearings, some have named perpetrators, some have redress schemes – but in all, once the terms and conditions are published, the direction of the commission is fairly clear. We need to listen to survivors, not only on the abuse they suffered but on the trauma they experience fighting churches and states After the publication of the Ryan Report in 2009, Ireland was held up as a model for many. Yet as numerous commentators have pointed out, it presented huge issues. What is certain is that the Catholic Church has been implicated in abuse in many countries, with more to be explored, and reparations have not been fully made for this. What next for the Catholic Church and the state? Ireland needs to lead the way on this issue because 80 percent of this state attended mass regularly in 1979. Because our education and health systems are still rigidly attached to the Catholic Church. Because we kept our church-run institutions opened far longer than elsewhere. Because as the Council for Civil Liberties highlighted, illegal adoptions and practices by the Irish state have not been addressed fully. We can learn from best practice elsewhere, where academics, journalists and activists have a platform, and where their evidence is presented and given fair hearing particularly in relation to current issues of abuse. We need to listen to survivors, not only on the abuse they suffered but on the trauma they experience fighting churches and states on a path towards accountability. We need, as one survivor Seamus Ruttledge has proposed, a National Survivor Centre. Prosecutions must be considered and indemnity deals and the withholding of records must cease. Commemoration and memorialisation needs to occur and needs to supersede property interests. The longer history of institutionalisation needs to be addressed in our secondary schools, in a permanent national exhibition and in our current approach to the State and institutions like the Catholic Church. Irish society and the Irish State need to own this. We need to corral the emotion and humanity we have seen in recent years and reflect on the context in which these institutions survived, were supported and in some instances were seen by most people to be needed. That is a national conversation not to be taken lightly, but is one we must have. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: John McCain: the life and strife of a political maverick

Opinion: assessing the career of John McCain must take account of both his remarkable bravery and regrettable political mistakes The death of John McCain has led to a remarkable memorialisation in America. There has been non-stop discussion of two-times presidential candidate on news channels, replete with appreciations, stories of his exploits, barbs and friendships and reflections on his significance in American politics. Details of his funeral were carefully planned by McCain and his family, including lying-in-state in the Arizona capital before a final return to Washington. After lying-in-state at the Capitol rotunda, there will be a funeral service at the National Cathedral, where two former rivals, Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, will give eulogies. Not since the death of Ronald Reagan has such care been exerted to frame a legacy. Two things have been continually emphasised about McCain in commentary from the press and from his colleagues in the world of politics: first, that he was a maverick, and second, that he reached across the aisles. His capacity to find occasions to collaborate with colleagues in the Democrats does seem especially remarkable in the post George W. Bush era, when the logic of American politics is about playing entirely to the base and pursuing a strategy of nullifying the opposition, a tactic especially prominent on the Republican side (see their treatment of Obama during his presidency). The attention that this trait has received speaks to an American lament over the impossibility of compromise, with its accompanying rise in incivility. McCain was acerbic, but he had a capacity to recognise the humanity of people who differed from him. McCain’s reputation as a maverick represents a more complicated question. He traded off it politically in an appeal to the electorate as a person of sincere if unpredictable views, an unscripted politician who rode the "Straight Talk Express" on the campaign trail. On the one hand, it earned him praise for political bravery and gained him laudable independence while also boosting his national profile, enhanced by frequent appearances on leading Sunday political talk shows Meet the Press and Face the Nation. On the other hand, it ensured that he would be alternately lionised and demonised. When the rest of his party was caving in to Donald Trump, he represented a rare voice of opposition and censure, notably on Russia. He famously cast a key vote rescuing the Affordable Care Act from decimation by Trump, with a terse thumbs-down gesture on the Senate floor, but he later supported the indefensible Republican tax bill, Trump’s only major legislative victory to date. The difficulty with the maverick brand is nowhere more apparent than in his choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate in 2008, one he famously regretted. Ostensibly, he saw a reflection of his own style in her, but he signed up a grossly unprepared figure in reality who served to embarrass the ticket. The decision actually represented an act of desperation, a political Hail Mary pass, as he trailed Obama badly in the polls. Palin’s only impact was to make the advent of Trump conceivable, while McCain’s straight talk gave way to Trump’s id-like string of abuse. Maverick he might have been, but I prefer to think of McCain as a dissident figure in the Republican party, relishing the role of outsider and troublemaker, an awkward thorn in an otherwise impermeable hide. He was never a very sensible choice as a party leader and the haste and glee with which he resumed his role as contributor to political chat shows demonstrated his real comfort zone. The third thing that stands out in commentary and memorialisation is his status as hero, earned during the Vietnam war in a hellish five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war in the "Hanoi Hilton" during which he suffered torture. The refrain speaks to a longing for something heroic in an era of venal and craven politics, a reconnection with concepts of service, duty, tradition and honour. There is always a risk of getting carried away with such tributes, but what makes McCain interesting and more complex was his continued reference to his own imperfect service, his mistakes and failings. His frankness was unusual and welcome. It reflected a tacit acknowledgement that he had ultimately signed a confession to his North Vietnamese captors and also that his political record was not unstained with both Palin and his implication in the collapse of Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, having lobbied on its behalf. His honesty made him at once broken and invincible. He eschewed the cant of being a winner. Of all of Trump’s outrageous remarks during his 2016 campaign, his dismissal of McCain is one of the most reprehensible: "he’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured." This from the person who received a military service deferment during the same period for a bone spur in his foot (when asked which foot, Trump instructed reporters to look up the records). In fact, McCain did Trump an unintended favour in the timing of his death by diverting attention away from the conviction of Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen. What kind of president would McCain have made? Had he prevailed in 2000, he would surely have outperformed Bush (assuming that hanging chads would have gone his way in the federal election), but his bellicose approach would have led to post 9/11 retaliation (he supported the Iraq war). His response to Russian electoral interference was praiseworthy in the Trump era, but it is worth remembering his rash belligerence towards Russia in his 2008 campaign as the conflict between Georgia and the breakaway region of South Ossetia intensified. Of all of Trump’s outrageous remarks during his 2016 campaign, his dismissal of McCain is one of the most reprehensible He deserves great credit for his legislative efforts on campaign finance reform, but we might recall that his wife’s inherited wealth financed his entree into politics. He spoke out resolutely against America’s embrace of torturing enemies under Bush, but he was a stalwart defender of massive defence spending. The record, thus, is mixed. What remains in the end is a human touch, a capacity to make contact and friendships with sometimes unlikely figures, and his mentorship of younger colleagues, particularly women entering the Senate. In a divisive age, McCain’s death has brought a reminder to America of a rare capacity in a politician to generate bipartisan affection and the potential - so difficult to imagine in this Trumpian moment - for generosity of spirit. Daniel Carey is a visiting scholar at the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at Notre Dame University This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Friday, 7 September 2018

NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: What's the future of urban living in Ireland?

Author: Ulf Strohmayer, Department of Geography Opinion: if we want vibrant cities, urban citizens need to embrace and demand different forms of urban planning and construction Sitting on a balcony in the Kreuzberg part of Berlin I can hear a neighbour practicing the guitar, a mother of Turkish background talk to her children, rubbish men removing trash bins from a the backyard of a house and the distant murmur of the U- Bahn making its way towards the Oberbaumbrücke. At night, the street begets its own rhythm of sounds and noises. Different languages intermingle in conversation, shouts and the bravado of young people leaving night clubs at 5am. Boom boxes compete with one another, often tied to bicycles and maneuvered by an African marihuana dealer from near-by Görlitzer Park. Or glass breaks following a fracas between two homeless men when the corner shop closes at midnight. Proximities galore; all of them, gentle or rough, denoting the presence of the city, its inhabitants, rhythms and desires. As I listen, I begin to wonder why such urban propinquities seem so intimately tied to living in Berlin and why living in Ireland rarely affords such distractions. The prevalence of suburban ways of life in Ireland, the avoidance of apartment-based ways of living across the generations - apartments accounting for a mere 10 percent of the existing housing stock in Ireland - a broader avoidance of urban densities and the historically late arrival of urban forms of life more generally all come to mind as reasons for that. But as I continue to gaze at a computer screen on the balcony, I cannot help but think that much of the future of Irish cities rides on these distractions. Truth be told, we dwell differently when living near to one another. Berliners either appreciate or have got used to living closely together, rubbing shoulders with other people’s ways of life, than what Irish urbanites would tolerate. In other words, the separation between private and public spaces in Ireland is harsher, less fluid and more geared towards protecting individual, private interests and property than in Berlin. The boundaries between what’s mine and what’s ours emerge with stronger accents in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. In Galway, suburban hedges, front lawns and back garden walls begin to define the urban landscape the moment you step outside the medieval heart of the city. The result is the lowest percentage of multi-family dwellings in the EU paired with a considerably less rich tapestry of experiences that emerge between private and public domains. These experience are not always pretty or nice – witness the prevalence of crude graffiti in Berlin or the sounds I wrote about above – but they involve crucial encounters with practices unfamiliar to some urban citizens and thereby instigate acts of negotiation aimed towards the reconciliation of conflicts. While there is nothing dramatic about these encounters in everyday life, they do make a difference by becoming part of urban routines, conversations, glances, directed forms of attention and, occasionally, avoidances. By contrast, the absence of such encounters within Irish urban environments have created spaces and brought about cultures that are literally inward looking. They do not articulate that most urban of sentiments: a curiosity towards alternatives to what we know already. Hence the collective "we" that is made up of numerous individual dreams and aspirations has become protective against the public, weary of that which we cannot control. This is remarkable given the exemplarily strong sense of community that prevails all across Ireland and which materialises in pubs, on each and every GAA pitch and other voluntary organisations on a daily basis. But their translation into urban practices is largely absent from Irish civil society and the way we build cities has a lot to answer for the current state of urban affairs. As a result, we fight new priority bus lanes that impact, however minimally, on the frontal buffer zone between our home and the street. We lobby to close off connecting pedestrian lanes between suburban estates and tolerate architectural monstrosities if someone can furnish the title deed to an urban parcel of land. The upshot of such practices is that the oft-criticised cookie-cutter form of urbanism continues to define the way our cities grow. It is maintained not merely through an obsession with form, but because we have become thoroughly weary of one another as public personae. We urban citizens need to embrace and actively demand different forms of urban planning and construction. We need practices that avoid established and in-built distances and walls and planning-related customs that neglect spaces for non-commercialised meetings and which are primarily geared towards avoiding spontaneous encounters. Instead of rigid boundaries between individuals and society that define both through static, unchangeable practices, it is transitioning passages, the fluidity between the two, that makes for vibrant urban living. This is also to suggest that a focus on higher densities alone will do little to bring about a much-needed sea change in the way housing is conceptualised and practiced in Ireland (or, in fact, elsewhere). The sounds we eliminate or relegate to a distant elsewhere both indicate the absence of a diverse range of encounters and experiences, and also dramatically reduce the range of what is deemed an acceptable and legitimate contribution to urban debates and practices. Returning to Berlin, any visitor will notice the astonishing range of urban experiments taking place simultaneously within the city. For-profit urbanism mixes with social housing. Co-operative forms of construction at a variety of scales co-exist with groups of private investors or Baugemeinschaften engaged in transforming heritage buildings. Squatters and voluntary "waggon forts" (Wagenburgen) dot the urban landscape. All contributing to healthy, occasionally raucous, debates about the future of the city, as well as possible interactions between its present-day and future citizens, commercial actors and infrastructures. Note, too, that these alternatives and the palatable sense of ownership that permeates Berlin take place in a city mostly populated by people who do not own but rent the spaces they inhabit. Being invested in a city’s future means wanting and being able to contribute to debates, practices and the formation of novel routines and does not need to be tied exclusively to having a financial stake in said future. Encounters of the kind invoked here play a crucial part in that ability to shape future. The result in a higher quality of urban life is tangible and well worth striving for, especially in Ireland. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: How Martin McDonagh's work became part of the establishment

Author: Patrick Lonergan, NUI Galway Opinion: high-profile unrisky summer runs and the casting of celebrity actors like Aidan Turner and Pat Shortt show the playwright's work has come a long way One of the hottest theatre tickets in London this summer is for Martin McDonagh’s Lieutenant of Inishmore, a darkly provocative satire about an Irish terrorist returning home to the Aran Islands to care for his sick cat. To people familiar with the play, its popularity might seem surprising. It was originally staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2001 amid fears of IRA reprisals and protests by animal rights groups, and there were reports of audience members being physically sick during its gory finale. Almost two decades later, London theatre-goers have been forced to come to terms with new forms of terrorism, but audiences now are even less willing to tolerate on-stage violence, especially against animals. So why do so many people want to see The Lieutenant of Inishmore? There are many answers to that question. As Brexit has forced Northern Ireland back into the English political consciousness, the London theatre has shown a renewed interest in Irish work, as evident in a celebrated revival of Brian Friel’s Translations, as well as the premiere of The Ferryman,Jez Butterworth’s Broadway-bound drama about Northern Ireland's "disappeared". English theatre producers seem keen to remind their audiences of the Troubles period and its legacies – with its jokes about Bloody Sunday and the Warrington bombing, The Lieutenant certainly does that. But there’s also the casting. The lead role has been taken by Aidan Turner, making his West End debut just as season four of his hugely successful BBC show Poldark concludes. In that series, he’s everything you’d want a dashing hero to be: passionate and charismatic, impulsive but fundamentally decent. And since his famous topless scything scene, Turner now routinely appears at the top of most of the "sexiest man alive" polls in Britain. It’s no surprise therefore that the marketing for Lieutenant has prominently featured him – wearing only a vest and the kind of facial expression that makes you want to give him a cuddle. We’ve seen this kind of celebrity casting in Ireland too this summer. Dublin commuters have found Pat Shortt staring out at them from billboards across the city, advertising his appearance in McDonagh’s A Skull in Connemara, currently running at the Olympia. In Cork, McDonagh’s own celebrity as the Oscar-nominated writer and director of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has featured prominently in the promotion of the Everyman’s The Lonesome West. And later this year, McDonagh’s next play - A Very Very Very Dark Matter – will open in London, with Jim Broadbent in the lead role. This use of celebrity casting is usually seen as a win-win strategy for all concerned. For audiences, there’s the thrill of seeing a much-loved star in person – and for the actors themselves there’s the chance to prove their versatility. We have all known that Pat Shortt is an outstanding "serious" actor since Lenny Abrahamson’s Garage appeared in 2007, but Skull allows him to display his full range in a darkly funny play. One of the joys of this summer’s production of Lieutenant lies in seeing Turner playing so firmly against his Poldark persona. He’s hilarious in the role, but in deploying his comedic skills he also enhances the power of McDonagh’s satire: audiences can’t help but ask themselves why they are laughing so affectionately at so dangerous a character. It’s a deeply intelligent performance that has significantly enhanced Turner’s reputation But it’s worth asking whether all of this success has made McDonagh’s plays themselves seem less dangerous. When his first drama, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, was premiered by Druid in 1996, McDonagh was seen as an exciting new writer. Here was someone who was using his status as a London-born son of Irish immigrants to re-imagine the nostalgia-inflected version of Ireland’s past from a punk perspective - doing for Irish theatre what the Pogues had done for music. But he soon became a controversial if not divisive figure. First there was a run-in with the tabloids when he was criticised for telling Sean Connery to fuck off at an awards ceremony (McDonagh had been disruptive during the playing of the British national anthem; Connery told him to shut up). And then there was a growing backlash, especially in Ireland, from people who suspected that he should be seen not as an Irish dramatist who was playfully subverting stereotypes, but as an English playwright who was cashing in on the existence of anti-Irish prejudice by populating his stage with feckless stage Irish morons. While rejecting that accusation, McDonagh still seemed to embrace controversy, attacking the theatres that had rejected The Lieutenant of Inishmore for their "gutlessness" or telling The New York Times that he wanted to beat up fellow Irish playwright Conor McPherson in 2010. This seems a long way from where we are now, with McDonagh’s early Irish plays seen as unrisky summer fare, occupying slots that might have been filled by Brian Friel or John B Keane in the past. It’s true that the plays’ power to shock may have diminished. Those early Irish dramas were ruthlessly open about clerical child abuse at a time when most people in Ireland were still unaware of the scale of that problem, for example. But as Ireland has changed – and as McDonagh’s approach has been imitated by others – those jokes are now more painful than revelatory. It might therefore be tempting to suggest that the enfant terrible has almost become part of the establishment. but there is perhaps a more nuanced way of seeing things. Back then, it was suggested by some that McDonagh’s Irishness was suspect because he spoke with a London accent, a view that came from a time when Irishness and Englishness were seen almost as opposites of each other. That narrow understanding of identity hasn’t gone away, but it says much about how this country has changed that McDonagh’s success earlier this year with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, could be celebrated for its Irishness without losing sight of its English and American characteristics. The transformation in how McDonagh is viewed in Ireland could be seen as an encapsulation of how our understanding of Irishness has itself transformed during the last 20 years. McDonagh might no longer be as controversial (even an attack on the racial politics of Three Billboardsfailed to fully ignite), but audiences can still find his plays and films dangerous – not for what they say to us, but for how they make us feel. Go to a McDonagh play anywhere in the world and it’s a near certainty that you’ll hear people saying afterwards that they couldn’t believe they were laughing at such dark material. Yes, those plays provide an opportunity for us to see excellent actors like Aidan Turner and Pat Shortt at work. But fundamentally, they invite us to see ourselves and to ask why we’re drawn to jokes about things that just shouldn’t be funny. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Thursday, 23 August 2018

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: Pope Francis and the modern church

Author:  Gearóid Barry, NUI Galway Opinion: how does Pope Francis compare to his modern predecessors and has his approach to date been marked by continuity or change?  It is not usual for popes to feature in the comedy monologues of American TV late-night talk show hosts. But in March 2014, as the first anniversary of Pope Francis’ election approached, NBC’s Seth Meyers referred to an opinion poll that found that American Catholics felt more enthusiastic about their faith thanks to Francis. Meyers added that "people like this pope", as he was like your high school friend’s cool dad "who let you do stuff". While surely not meant to be taken too seriously, Meyers’ throwaway gag reflected the wider popular narrative that this pope was somehow "different". There is a grain of truth in this perception of "difference". Five years into his tenure, the evidence for a "Francis effect" and larger numbers in the pews is patchy though a greater curiosity about Catholicism abounds. Francis, the first pope from the southern hemisphere, stands on the shoulders of his recent predecessors whose memory he reveres. Indeed, he has already canonized two of them, John XXIII (1958-1963) and John Paul II (1978-2005). How much of Francis’ approach, therefore, is marked by continuity or by change? To answer this, three essential elements of any pope’s mission should be borne in mind: providing continuity, managing change carefully and, finally, holding the centre of the Church together. The seminal event in the history of the Catholic Church in the lifetime of Argentina’s Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been the Vatican Council II (1962-65). Announced in January 1959 by "Good Pope John", just months into the 23 year old Bergoglio’s training as a Jesuit priest, Vatican II ushered in a period of great reform in Catholicism and remains Francis’ "greatest teacher," writes biographer Austen Ivereigh. A new pope, Paul VI (1963-78), brought the Council to conclusion in 1965 yet that was just the beginning of the arguments. In a sense, there has been a 50-year tussle (or "culture war", some would say) between progressives and conservatives within the Church over Vatican II’s meaning and about change, continuity and how to respond to secularism. In the eye of the storm is the papacy, tasked with holding the centre together.  Viewed from Latin America, Bergoglio had been an archbishop who synthesized continuity and change. Liberation Theology, a type of radical social gospel that flourished in the 1970s, had inspired but also divided the church because of its alleged Marxism. At Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007, Bergoglio and the Latin American bishops produced a significant document reconciling what we would recognise as Francis’ vision of "a poor church for the poor" with tradition.  The interlinked pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI (2005-13) spanned a whole generation of Catholic life. As younger men, both Karol Wojtyla and Josef Ratzinger had been direct participants in Vatican II. The Polish pope emphasised renewal while remaining firm on challenging teachings. Ratzinger, whom John Paul appointed as chief of doctrine in 1981, has always argued that continuity is the key to unlocking the true meaning of Vatican II. With his popular touch, Francis shares John Paul II’s unerring sense of the power of gestures and an ability to be a canny politician. In contrast, whereas John Paul went "on tour" and soared above the details of Vatican administration, cardinals elected the Argentinian outsider in 2013 to "clean house", something which had defeated long-time insider Benedict. As John L. Allen, doyen of Vatican journalists, reports, this task has frustrated Francis too. Abuse scandals and the scandalous cover-ups are another test on which Francis has, to date, a mixed record. Ironically, it was champion of continuity Benedict XVI who hurled a thunderbolt in February 2013 by becoming the first pope in seven centuries to resign. Resigning was, even his critics agreed, an act of reform that put clear distance between the man and mystique of the office. The current and retired bishops of Rome are on cordial terms. Their styles differ greatly, their substance not quite as much; Francis and Benedict, in the popular narrative, are pantomime opposites, a kind of "good pope/bad pope" routine.  This inaccurate view reflects the real wounds in the church. For some, Benedict will always remain "Ratzinger", the hardline chief of police, hammer of the heretics and of gay rights. As pope, however, Benedict’s signature encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est (2005), stressed that "God is Love" and that Christianity was not, fundamentally, a set of rules, but rather a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Here he and Francis are completely at one. The instinctive difference between them is that Benedict considers that the church might shrink in size to become truer in order to be the "mustard seed" planting the Gospel for a future harvest. Like John Paul, Francis instinctively sees the church as a big tent, making his own of classic "JP2-like" gatherings like the World Youth Days. For Francis, the tent is also a "field hospital" for the wounded from the drama of existence. Francis’ sense that pastoral need, "encountering" people where they are, has priority over orthodoxy, goes considerably beyond his predecessors’ boundaries. Francis has tried to lower the temperature within the Church on some hot-button issues, such as in his signals of recognition to LGBT Catholics. His hints of support for a more relaxed approach on the question of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving communion, particularly in his exhortation on family life Amoris Laetitia (2016), have caused stirs amongst prelates and Catholic bloggers.  At the centre of all this stands a man, the pope, not so much a global CEO as the designated pastor for a universal church of 1.2 billion members In his recent book To Change the Church, New York Times’ columnist Ross Douthat says that Francis has been way too partisan on this topic and risks pushing traditional Catholics towards schism. Critics argue that the indissolubility of marriage is a difficult but core teaching which this pope risks compromising. Francis’s like-minded appointees, such as Cardinal Blaise Cupich, his choice as archbishop of Chicago, defend Pope Francis’ "revolution of mercy" as perfectly consistent with Catholic tradition. Francis’s avowed purpose at his election was to prioritize the "existential margins" and global injustice and to turn the Church away from her own internal arguments towards the needs of the world. Yet the current impasse over Amoris Laetitia risks spawning years more of internal division. The resolution lies in the Catholic future and perhaps in several papacies’ time! At the centre of all this stands a man, the pope, not so much a global CEO as the designated pastor for a universal church of 1.2 billion members. It’s no small burden, as reflected in the private remark of Albino Luciani, the humble Italian peasants’ son who became the "smiling pope" John Paul I and who reigned for just 33 days in August-September 1978: "Look, Monsignor, I smile, and I always smile, but believe me, inside I suffer." This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Friday, 17 August 2018

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: Ireland's strange relationship with the Rose of Tralee

Author: Mary McGill, NUI Galway Opinion: to dismiss the Roses as Lovely Girls is to overlook what the event says about Ireland's past, present and who we imagine ourselves to be It’s that time of year again when attention turns to Kerry and the Rose of Tralee, a festival that is never anything less than a national talking point. This year, entrants will take to the stage in an Ireland where the repeal of the Eighth Amendment is a reality, where the Pope’s visit is an object of debate rather than unquestioning veneration and where "equality" is the buzzword du jour. Irish society’s relationship to the festival is notable for its tensions and contradictions. While sections of the media ridicule it, the televised show is consistently one of our most watched annual broadcasts. Fr. Ted’s much-quoted Lovely Girls' sketch is often used as a disparaging shorthand for the contest. Yet, far from being passive, blandly interchangeable "lovely girls", the Roses are typically very accomplished and their achievements and lives reflect the changing role of women in Irish society and abroad. Although "loveliness" is emphasised, it is the least of the contestants’ achievements In many respects. The Rose of Tralee began in 1959 as a tourist-attraction enterprise based on the celebration of a very specific type of femininity which has strong cultural connotations in Ireland. In the love song which partly inspired the contest, the Rose of Tralee is a woman named Mary. We are introduced to her entirely through the eyes of her suitor. He tells us that she "all smiling sat listening to me", that she is "lovely and fair as the rose of the summer" and "[h]er voice was a solace and comfort to me." What we glean about Mary is not her hopes, her desires or her experiences, only the male narrator’s starry-eyed interpretation of her. Mary is agreeable, "lovely and fair", but crucially, not sexual or threatening. She is eerily evocative of the "comely" or "happy" maidens of De Valera’s famous "That Ireland we dreamed of" speech, which placed women firmly within the home. In name and nature, she is also evocative of the Virgin Mary, who served as the model of respectable Catholic femininity for generations. But many thousands of women and girls failed to make this grade. For their so-called sins, they were incarcerated in draconian institutions across the country. In an Irish cultural context, we could say that the comely maiden is one side of the coin, the fallen woman the other, and that both forms of femininity inform and rely on one another. It should be stressed that these categories of womanhood were not accidental nor inevitable. Rather, they were socially sanctioned and, although Ireland is progressing, the effects of this history are still felt by Irish women today. The increasing diversity of the Roses in recent years can be read as reflecting a changing Ireland and a changing contest, yet the ethos of earlier times lingers. Unmarried mothers were barred from entry until 2008 and current rules stipulate that entrants must not be married now or in the past. Entrants cannot be older than 28 years of age. They are also expected to have a male escort for the duration of the festival. Entrenched in these stipulations are notions of femininity which give primacy to youth and traditional heterosexual relationships. In an Ireland where debates about inclusion, visibility and equality are now commonplace, it is not surprising that critics interpret such rules as regressive. The most controversial moment of the contest in recent times (or perhaps ever) came during the 2016 live televised broadcast from the Dome. During her interview with compere Dáithí Ó Sé, Sydney Rose Brianna Parkins expressed her support for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment. She faced heavy criticism, much of it centred around the claim that the Rose of Tralee is apolitical and therefore above campaigning. Those in support of Parkins argued that celebrating women should include acknowledging their rights and not silencing them, as Irish society so routinely did in the past. What this incident reflects is the tension between the idealised brand of femininity promoted by the contest to audiences at home and abroad, and the lived realities of Irish women, realities which remained until very recently largely unspoken. Parkins’ daring remarks and the subsequent public debate she inspired brought these two spheres together within a culture that had long endeavoured to keep them apart, venerating one while vilifying and denying the other, unable or unwilling to accept the complexities of women’s lives. In an ironic way, the controversy sparked by Parkins’ offers an insight into the contest’s enduring popular appeal. As a live show, it still has the capacity to surprise, although this is usually through comedy rather than political speeches. For generations of Irish people raised in two channel land, it is event television akin to the Late Late Toy Show and therefore unmissable. In an increasingly globalised and fragmented world, the contest offers a reliable albeit rose-tinted representation of Ireland and Irishness for those who desire it. It has also been easily, even gleefully subsumed into the digital landscape, where the twists and spills of the live shows light up Twitter and quickly become memes and gifs. Irish society has come a long way since the first Rose of Tralee in 1959. It is perhaps partly for this reason that the contest continues to attract the level of attention it does. To dismiss it as a mere Lovely Girls competition is to overlook how it serves as a touchstone for the tensions between Ireland’s past, its present, and who we, as a nation, imagine ourselves to be. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Friday, 17 August 2018

NUI Galway on RTE Brainstorm: New breast cancer treatment may reduce chances of relapse

Report: researchers have discovered a breakthrough in the treatment of breast cancer which may reduce the chances of relapse for those with triple negative breast cancer Triple negative breast cancer is one of the most aggressive and difficult to treat forms of breast cancer which accounts for around 15 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed and occurs more frequently in younger women. Unlike other forms of breast cancer, there are no targeted therapies and chemotherapy is the mainstay treatment. Although initially successful, a large percentage of TNBC patients relapse within one to three years of treatment and have a poor long-term prognosis. Scientists have now discovered a way to improve patients' response to chemotherapy by looking at the exact mechanism of the tumour relapse. They have shown that IRE1, which is a cellular stress sensor that normally acts to alleviate short-term stresses within cells, such as lack of nutrients or oxygen, is a central driver of treatment-related relapse. Dr Susan Logue, from the Apoptosis Research Centre at NUI Galway, where the research was carried out, is first author of the study which has been published in Nature Communications journal. She said "this work has uncovered a previously unknown role for IRE1 and suggests that it may represent a good therapeutic target for the treatment of triple negative breast cancer. While further research is needed, this work is a great example of how curiosity-driven basic research can lead to translational outcomes with real potential to impact on patient treatment." The team discovered that chemotherapy can activate the IRE1 stress response in triple negative breast cancer, leading to the production of survival signals that are pumped out of the cell to support the growth of new cancer cells. Most importantly, the study showed that this process can be halted by specifically inhibiting IRE1 using a clinically-relevant, small molecule drug called MCK8866 that not only improves the effectiveness of the initial chemotherapy treatment, but also reduces relapse of this aggressive form of breast cancer.    Using triple negative breast cancer cells treated with chemotherapy, the research team found that blocking IRE1 activity reduced the production of survival signals, and in turn reduced the growth of new cancer cells by 50 perfcent. Furthermore, in a pre-clinical model of TNBC, the drug increased the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatment, leading to regression of eight out of ten cancers compared to regression of just three out of ten cancers using chemotherapy alone. The combination of the MCK8866 drug with chemotherapy also reduced tumour relapse in this pre-clinical model of triple negative breast cancer. In addition to these laboratory-based experiments, an analysis of 595 patient tumours revealed that triple negative breast cancer tumours displayed the highest IRE1 activity compared to other subtypes, suggesting that IRE1 may be of particular importance in TNBC. This discovery suggests that combining chemotherapy with IRE1 inhibitors co