Thursday, 4 April 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 could offer substantial benefits for triple negative breast cancer patients.   Triple negative breast cancer accounts for around 15 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed and occurs more frequently in younger women Professor Afshin Samali, director of the Apoptosis Research Centre, said "this study is the result of extensive laboratory experiments, analysis of breast cancer patient samples, testing pre-clinical models of triple negative breast cancer and collaboration with our international and industry partners. "The new era of precision oncology aims to tailor treatments to individual cancer patients and we are excited to identify a new therapeutic strategy for triple negative breast cancer patients who are most in need of better treatment options. Furthermore, this strategy may benefit many other cancer patients whose cancer cells rely on activated cell stress responses to survive."  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Author: Eugene Farrell, NUI Galway Analysis: Ireland's coastline communities need better infrastructure and more support to develop and support sustainable tourism The recent good weather has once again highlighted the dearth of infrastructure to develop and support sustainable tourism along Ireland's coastlines. Every year, visitors and local communities highlight the paucity of designated parking, legal campsites, toilet facilities, water or showers, rubbish and dumping facilities, beach and dune access points, picnic areas, seating for visitors to appreciate the views and information on local heritage that is of cultural and historical importance. These issues not only impact the visitor experience, but also continually cause resentment amongst local coastal communities who observe their land being damaged every year by trespassing visitors and campers. In many cases, visitors are simply ill-informed and do not recognise or understand the damage they are causing. In other cases, they do not care and there is a general lack of enforcement of local plans and county beach bye-laws due to limited garda resources and ambiguity in the responsibilities of the local authorities. Who dune it? The Curracloe fire On July 22, the Wexford Fire Service evacuated 800 people from Curracloe beach in Co Wexford as a fire engulfed the sand dunes. The investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing, but speculation is that a disposable barbecue accidentally started it. The fire destroyed 13 acres of the 84 acre dune area and came within 300 metres of reaching the heavily forested 1,455 acre Raven Nature Reserve. Unfortunately, stories like this are not exclusive to Curracloe and the fire is emblematic of the legacy of human actions that are destabilising our already fragile dune systems. Historically, there is a pervasive attitude in Ireland that commonage - lands jointly owned by several individuals who have grazing rights - is public land and people feel it's within their rights to trespass on these lands without seeking permission. This creates conflict on the ground and we are quickly approaching a point in time where coastal communities will close off access to their land in order to reduce the damage from visitors and reduce their liability. The consequences of this ethos change could be catastrophic to the tourist sector. Conversely, this forced exclusion approach will have a positive effect on the long term trend of degradation of ecosystem goods and services in coastal communities. Coastal dunes are an integral part of this ecosystem due to their location on the dynamic coastal fringe connecting the land and ocean. The community vision and innovation are only matched by their determination to succeed and take back ownership of their coast. Direct utilisation of coastal dunes and beaches form an important economic role in many rural coastal communities, rendering them key physical components in the socio-economic fabric. It is therefore fully within the rights of landowners to enforce exclusion until such time as appropriate facilities are provided for increasing visitor numbers. Increasing capacity for coastal visitors Ireland’s Ancient East brand was developed to deliver a new experience for visitors to the east and south regions of Ireland. Costing in excess of €20 million, the aim is to grow visitors numbers in these regions by 600,000 (21 percent) by 2020. The Wild Atlantic Way was developed at a cost of €10 million with a further €100 million invested in capital funding and, if it attains similar growth, its nine counties can expect in excess of 1.1 million extra visitors. We have to ask why no explicit plans are being developed to support the adaptive capacity of rural coastal communities to host these visitors. Adaptive capacity is not simply about having more resources, but also relies heavily on the willingness and capability of communities to convert these resources into effective adaptive action. READ: Ireland's Ancient East, when east is now always east Subsumed within our new National Adaptation Framework is the long term goal of "building capacity" and "increasing climate resilience" of our socio-ecological and economic systems. However, one of the limitations of the framework, which was developed as part of Irelands first climate change legislation Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, is the lack of guidelines to identify and engage with the relevant stakeholders for whom the policy is supposedly designed to benefit, such as landowners, residents, business owners etc.  We are at a critical juncture in time for coastal management in Ireland. We need to be cognisant that building capacity of coastal communities to develop resilient responses to changing climatic conditions can only realistically be achieved using bottom-up approaches where the communities inform the decision makers of local solutions to local problems. The story in the Maharees Researchers in NUI Galway are working closely with a rural coastal community in the Maharees, Co Kerry to support their drive to build adaptive capacity. This is done by reducing the costs of natural (storm related erosion and flooding) and human (pedestrian paths and horse trails to access beach and related activities of parking, camping, unregulated access, dune scrambling, and fires) pressures that are adversely impacting the long term health of the dune ecosystems and the preservation of the tombolo structure. The local community formed the Maharees Conservation Association (MCA) CLG in February 2016 to design and implement short and long-term coastal management solutions. They have since conducted over 200 coastal protection and conservation activities including beach cleans, dune vegetation planting, signage and access fencing, straw bales, dune fencing, cultural and heritage walks, meetings, fundraising events, media, and partnerships and outreach.  There are multiple reasons why this community has enjoyed success. The diverse leadership of their committee and local participation in their efforts has built trust and cohesion within the communities.They reached out to the critical stakeholders and developed very strong networks with key decision makers within the different management agencies (Kerry County Council, NPWS, OPW, EPA, the Heritage Council, An Taisce) and their local political representatives (TDs, councillors).  The community is working closely with staff in multiple third level institutes (NUI Galway, Institute of Technology Tralee, University of Limerick) to access key physical and social data to promote their culture and heritage and to design protection strategies. Consensus building with local landowner, residents, visitors and managers has been critical to the their ability to make impact locally and community engagement involved schoolchildren, farmers, business owners and residents and those visiting for tourism. The community vision and innovation are only matched by their determination to succeed and take back ownership of their coast. Despite the rapid progress over the past two and half years, the community still had ongoing battles with visitors this summer due to the lack of appropriate facilities in the area. However, on a more positive note, the gardaí have now become a key ally and prevented illegal camping in the Trench area of Maharees over the August bank holiday weekend for the first time in decades! The gardaí can apply their right to impound property of illegal campers on private land without landowner permission who won’t leave when asked by landowners. Previously, it was understood that the owners would have to go through the courts to obtain an order. This is a huge step in the right direction. Appropriate capacity building and resourcing can mitigate these recurring problems and ensure that the area grows new sustainable tourism opportunities for the benefit of all. This piece is based upon Dr Eugene Farrell’s research in NUI GalwayDiscipline of Geography & Ryan Institute. The research was funded by OPW and Kerry County Council and supported by the Maharees Conservation Association (MCA) CLG. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

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

Friday, 3 August 2018

The Brainstorm long read: what has the Defence Forces' involvement in UN peacekeeping missions meant for Irish troops? Membership of the United Nations (UN) has been a central pillar of Irish foreign policy since admission in 1955. Maintaining an effective UN, especially in the area of conflict prevention, forms a key objective of this policy. The deployment of the Defence Forces on peacekeeping missions throughout the world continues to provide a tangible demonstration of Ireland’s commitment to the UN and the maintenance of international peace. The 2015 White Paper on Defence indicates that it is also viewed as having enhanced Ireland’s international reputation. This is especially important as Ireland seeks another term on the UN Security Council. A history of active membership of both the League of Nations and the UN has assisted in establishing a peacekeeping tradition. Furthermore, the effects of Ireland’s policies over a range of issues including decolonisation, disarmament, human rights and its history under colonial rule and non-membership of a military alliance, combined to make it acceptable as a contributor to peacekeeping and related activities. The 2015 Defence White Paper confirms Ireland’s policy of military neutrality. This is a fundamental tenet of Irish foreign policy that underpins engagement in all peacekeeping operations. For this reason, deployment of Defence Forces’ personnel on peacekeeping missions will continue to be in accordance with relevant legislation, which contains the requirement for Government, Dáil (parliament) and UN approval, known as the "triple-lock". The story to date  It is difficult to access in general terms the impact that involvement in peacekeeping has had on the Defence Forces. Nonetheless, it is evident that what is generally referred to in Irish military circles as "overseas service" has always been viewed as a welcome respite from the day to day barrack routine at home. It also boosted morale, especially in the early 1960s when the government first agreed to contribute large numbers of troops to the peacekeeping operation in the Congo. It increased the relatively low wages of serving personnel by way of overseas allowances. However, it was the new sense of purpose that the army felt in the 1960s which provided the most significant boost to morale.  The Irish Times in 1963 summed up the effect as follows: "there had been created a better public image of the army. This had been achieved by much mention in the speeches of politicians at home and abroad. The national newspapers have given it much publicity albeit somewhat dramatic and hysterical at times ... there was the enormous benefit in experience that active service gives ... (and) ... Irish troops did at last receive adequate pay in terms of overseas allowances". The Defence Forces' involvement in UN operations has been varied and considerable since the 1960s so how have Irish soldiers been so successful? More importantly, peacekeeping operations from a military point of view have consistently provided an ideal training ground for an army of Ireland's size and resources. This is especially true in Southern Lebanon and the Golan Heights today, owing to the general operational environment of the UN Forces there. The first indication of Ireland's potential suitability as a UN troop contributor state came in 1958, when officers participated in an observer mission in Lebanon. However, Ireland's first major involvement in peacekeeping came two years later when Irish troops departed for the Congo in July 1960.  This proved a baptism of fire and 26 soldiers lost their lives (17 in action), and 57 were wounded or injured. The equipment, training and other military aspects of Irish involvement with the UN today compares very favourably with the Congo in the early 1960s. Irish soldiers arrived in the sweltering head of Central Africa dressed in heavy bullswool uniforms and armed with bolt action rifles. An Irish contingent was still in the Congo when a request was received for another unit to participate in the UN peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).  Between April 1964 and October 1973, over 9,000 Irish personnel served with this Force. In 1973, the 25th Infantry Group from Ireland arrived for a tour of duty with UNFICYP in Cyprus but, following a request by the UN, this unit only spent a week in Cyprus before transfering to the UN Emergency Force II (UNEF II) in the Sinai desert. In early 1974, the Government withdrew Irish troops owing to the deteriorating security situation in Ireland. In 1978, the UN again requested that Ireland contribute a unit to form part of the proposed peacekeeping force for Lebanon (UNIFIL). There have been 47 Irish casualties with this peacekeeping Force, 14 of whom were killed in action. The early years of Irish involvement in Lebanon led to significant tensions between Ireland and Israel and there were a number of serious clashes between Israeli-backed forces and Irish UNIFIL troops on the ground. Today, Irish troops confront a more complex regional situation than in 1978 and a major challenge is how to implement the mandate to protect civilians while avoiding becoming a party to the conflict. From August 1993 to January 1995, Ireland contributed a Transport Company to the UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia (UNOSOM II). The UN operations in Somalia have had a profound impact on peace support missions since and Ireland’s policy and legal framework governing peacekeeping was modified in response. The Defence (Amendment) Act, 1993 amended earlier legislation in significant respects and brought about an important change in policy that was not reflected in the level of public or parliamentary debate at the time. Since 2000, owing to the number, size and complexity of peace support operations, it was deemed necessary to adopt guidelines for participation in peace support operations and these are set out in the White Paper on Defence and White Paper on Foreign Policy. When the matter of contributing troops to the NATO-led operations in the former Yugoslavia (SFOR) and Kosovo (KFOR) was being considered, the guidelines were applied. In July 1999, Ireland agreed to send a transport company to Kosovo as part of KFOR.  There was nothing radical in this decision, and their role was similar to that performed by the Irish contingent with UNOSOM II in Somalia. Nonetheless, Irish involvement in SFOR and KFOR appeared to set the scene for a longer-term re-orientation of Irish participation in international peace support operations. Ireland also participated in the UN-approved international intervention in the then East Timor, operating under various mission titles. In the same year, Ireland also joined the NATO-led Partnership for Peace, thus paving the way for more significant involvement in UN approved but potentially NATO or EU-led crisis management/peacekeeping operations. The guidelines were applied in the decision by the Irish Government to participate in the UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) in 2001 and Liberia (UNMIL) in 2003.  According to the Minister for Defence at the time, the decision to send Irish troops to Liberia was not taken lightly. It was the biggest commitment by Ireland to any mission since participation in UNIFIL in 1978.  There are also the cost implications to the Irish exchequer, in that the costs incurred as part of UNMIL were met from UN funds. The 2007 decision to participate in an EU mission to Chad marked a significant evolution in Irish participation in peacekeeping. This was the first occasion that EU/UN cooperation adopted the model whereby an EU military force and a UN mission were combined under a single UN mandate. EUFOR was a bridging operation to facilitate the simultaneous deployment of a UN police mission and other elements under the UN MINURCAT operation. Although it did have adequate military capability, this was intended for deterrence not combat.  From an Irish perspective, the mission was seen as operationally and logistically challenging. There was also controversy regarding what was seen as the premature withdrawal of Irish forces from MINURCAT, but this was linked to uncertainty over the renewal of the mandate and logistical issues. The Irish and the Golan Heights Since September 2013, the Defence Forces have contributed a contingent to United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights. This 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. In 2014, Irish peacekeepers came under attack while serving as part of the UNDOF mission. After the withdrawal of Austria and Croatia, a company plus of well-equipped Irish troops that were called upon to rescue their besieged UN colleagues and it seems that the Irish contingent was the only one with the military capacity to do so.  READ: what are Irish soldiers achieving in the Golan Heights? Although the mission reflected well on Irish willingness to deploy and prevent the collapse of the UNDOF operation, the clash with Syrian rebel group al Nursra led to a re-evaluation of Irish participation. Thereafter, a previous almost unwavering commitment to UN peacekeeping was going to be more conditional. This can be attributed to increased expectations over military capabilities, the need for realistic mandates and the responsibility of the Irish government to ensure it respected the duty of care to Irish soldiers.  Conclusions The Defence Forces' involvement in UN operations has been varied and considerable since the 1960s so how have Irish soldiers been so successful? While the Defence Forces were organised and trained to fulfil a primary role in the defence of the state against aggression, their most important function evolved to that of providing military assistance to the civil power. Internal security tasks expanded due primarily to the conflict in Northern Ireland and these became the major operational activity.  This is one of the reasons why Irish troops adapted so successfully to a UN peacekeeping role where the duties performed up to recently have also been of a similar character for the most part. Other important reasons were the "can-do" and professional approach of military personnel and the extent to which conventional military skills were retained within the Defence Forces. Given the relatively small size of the Defence Forces, a large number of officers have also served in senior command and staff appointments with UN peacekeeping missions. The changing nature of peace support and crisis management operations has led to a demand for multinational peacekeeping forces that are fully integrated in accordance with recognised international standards for interoperability. The development of more formal bilateral relations with other states is also becoming an increasing feature of Ireland’s security, defence and international peacekeeping and crisis management arrangements. Participation in multi-national peace support, crisis management and humanitarian relief operations is one of the primary roles of the Defence Forces. The 2015 White Paper acknowledges that the degree to which Ireland is prepared to share the burden of EU co-operation and solidarity in the security and defence field, in particular through contributions to military operations and capabilities, significantly influences perceptions of Ireland within the EU. It also contributes to maintaining Ireland’s credibility in the UN which is increasingly relying on regional organisations to provide UN missions with key enablers, rapid response forces and higher-end military capabilities.  Participation also helped Ireland’s case for election to a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, which it did in 1962, in 1981-82 and in 2001-02. Irish involvement in SFOR and KFOR in the former Yugoslavia set the scene for a longer-term re-orientation of Irish participation in international peace support operations. This reflected the move from traditional peacekeeping to more complex peace support operations conducted by regional organisations with UN approval.  As such, it was a significant development for Ireland that should assist in ensuring that the prominent role played by the Defence Forces to date in peacekeeping operations is not diminished in the future.  In August 2005 the Minister for Defence made proposals for participation of Irish troops in EU rapid-reaction forces that required a series of legislative changes. This was the background to the passing of the Defence (Amendment) Act, 2006 which gave more legal certainty to participation by Defence Forces personnel in UN-approved EU, African Union and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe missions. It also clarified the situation with regard to defence force personnel undertaking training-related activities abroad. For many, this was evidence of a growing commitment to EU led operations by Ireland.  European states, including Ireland, remain concerned about putting personnel in harm’s way and their duty of care. A major weakness in many current UN operations is combat support service. UN operations can be logistically challenging, especially medical evacuation assets. There was some resistance from the UN for the deployment of armoured personnel carriers with the Irish contingent of UNIFIL. Such force protection equipment later proved vital on the Golan Heights and necessary in Lebanon to ensure the safety of those deployed.  The problem is that MOWAG armoured personnel carriers are an expensive necessity and the UN must foot the bill. The level of training and nature of the equipment among other contingents is also important. Having to rely on poorly trained and inadequately equipped contingents will not work, especially if the operational environment is dangerous and demanding. Command and control issues can also arise on peacekeeping operations. There has been a distinct lack of realistic debate concerning the role of the Defence Forces and the move from traditional UN police operations in favour of quasi-enforcement operations under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. The decision to replace the Austrian contingent part of UNDOF in Syria did much to challenge the perception that Ireland was risk-averse when it came to UN missions. READ: A controversial legacy - the United Nations and Haiti The issues are complex, and the dilemmas confronting Ireland were evident in the debate about participation in the multinational force in the former Yugoslavia. In reality, both SFOR and KFOR were NATO forces, albeit operating with the authority of a UN Chapter 7 resolution and with non-NATO member contributors. Irish involvement in these forces sets the scene for a longer-term re-orientation of Irish international peacekeeping. Although the Irish commitment to the UNOSOM forces in Somalia in the 1990s was quite small, the decision to participate had significant political and military implications. It was the first time Irish soldiers participated in a Chapter 7 peace enforcement operation and it set a precedent that helped pave the way for the participation in SFOR in the former Yugoslavia. It marked a significant evolution in Irish peacekeeping activities and a realisation that Ireland could be left behind in the changing nature of the international security environment unless it too adapted to events. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform.  Visit here

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Author: Dr John Morrissey, School of Geography and Archaeology Opinion: the current refugee crisis in the EU has much to do with prior Western interventionism over the last half century or more on the borders of Europe, in the Middle East and North Africa The Mediterranean refugee crisis is one of the most shocking exposures of the consequences of continued cyclical violence in our world today. It presents states across Europe with a common challenge: how to intervene responsibly and effectively in mitigation and support. In 1994, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) announced "human security" as its core global development goal as the 21st century approached. In the foreword to its Human Development Report that year, the UNDP’s vision heralded a "people-centred development" and centrally involved setting out a human security agenda for future Western interventions. It was security defined by "development, not arms", and its chief concern was "human life and dignity". Human security, as a guiding principle of locally-attuned interventionism focused on human-centred concerns, has been adapted increasingly in the Global South since 1994 by community leaders, NGO groups, governments and co-operative regional, transnational institutions. However, this new post-Cold War model of interventionism had limited impact in the Global North where old statist understandings of security have persisted. In fact, the "hard" security issues of borders, policing, bombs and bullets were emboldened under the auspices of the war on terror. In recent years, for example, the US model of interventionism in the Middle East led by the US military command, CENTCOM, has been underpinned by a traditional military-economic framing of security. Typically, the profound human geographical consequences are out of view As an academic working in geopolitics and international relations, I am all too familiar with the clinical and abstracted manner in which Western interventionism and security interests work. Typically, the profound human geographical consequences are out of view. The current refugee crisis in the EU has much to do with prior Western interventionism over the last half century or more on the borders of Europe, in the Middle East and North Africa. The effects of the last 15 years of pragmatic geopolitics are especially evident. Long-term refugees are a direct consequence and it is imperative to critically analyse the geopolitics of their displacement. In recent years, I have been trying to think about ways to effectively insist upon broader visions of security, and this led me to the creation of a new Irish Research Council project entitled Haven, which draws upon the UNDP’s concept of "human security". Haven is focused on Europe’s response to the Mediterranean crisis, and has involved field research in France, Greece, Hungary and Ireland, an international symposium of academic, activist and NGO speakers and an edited book currently being completed for Edward Elgar Publishing. The book, entitled Haven: The Mediterranean Crisis and Human Security, includes perspectives from leading international authors from a range of disciplines who document key dimensions of the crisis such as the legal mechanisms enabling or blocking asylum, the biopolitical systems for managing displaced peoples, and the multiple, overlapping historical precedents of today’s challenges. State-centred mechanisms of refugee population management across the EU betray an impoverished security thinking and strategy The Haven book and broader project is about presenting an alternative "human security" envisioning of Western interventionism that critiques the kinds of military and economic definitions of security that commonly involve repeated mechanisms of governmental violence and clinical regimes of population management. Human security calls for investing in, and resourcing, interventions of a different kind: in protecting human rights; in insisting upon humanitarian law; and in enabling locally-attuned rather than top-town security measures. Crucially, it involves a mobilisation of the law in coalescing human rights concerns with a human security vision. Such a vision speaks in multiple ways to the current ad hoc security system of camps, holding centres and direct provision measures – from Ireland to Greece – and its insistence upon legally-binding human rights law challenges governments across the EU to think creatively, ethically and co-operatively about a broader and more sustainable human security endgame. State-centred mechanisms of refugee population management across the EU betray an impoverished security thinking and strategy. The focus on "risk" is key, as it legitimates the so-called exceptional management of "subjects" who are not citizens and therefore not deserving of our care. Their vulnerabilities are typically not recognised, acknowledged or indeed even visible. Instead, these subjects are habitually presented as a threat and the source of insecurities, rather than their consequence, further serving to reinforce the appropriateness of governmental measures to manage such threats – and commonly in a manner that is out of sight and out of mind. There is a recurring need to refuse and challenge how the media and many political parties across Europe negatively portray migration and its effects There is a major discursive battle to be fought to render visible precarity, and to supplant a story of vulnerability in place of narratives of threat and risk. This is where a human security conceptualisation can aid us. Such a goal involves an old postcolonial concern, of course: enabling the subaltern, the marginalised to speak, those whose lives, homes and worlds have been wrecked and displaced by relentless interventionary violence, always in the name of a particular type of "security". Faced with the predominance of instrumental and technocratic research calls on security and migration supported by current EU funding, there is undoubtedly a need to advocate for AHSS-led (Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences) research. Such research aims to bring together scholars, policy makers, activists and (crucially) refugees themselves, to creatively consider how to respond to what is one of the most pivotal "societal challenges" for the EU since its formation. There is a recurring need to refuse and challenge how the media and many political parties across Europe negatively portray migration and its effects. AHSS scholars can play a vital role in theorising more humane, nuanced and historically and geographically sensitive accounts of the crisis, which resist the allure of simplified responsive logics of walls, borders and separations of "us" and "them". We need to increasingly do this via engaged public scholarship, especially in a time of unashamedly post-truth politics. It must be about shared precarity, interlinked risk and cooperative security responses for all The Haven project is partially about documenting the precarious and marginalised worlds of forced migrants across the EU, bringing such worlds into view. It is also about situating critique beyond the academy in supporting a politics of solidarity with an "Other" rarely seen. One of the ways to do that is to draw upon the concept of human security and its legally binding international conventions in strategising for an alternative envisioning of a people-centred security for all. Discourses of security have always centrally involved shaping what the security problem is deemed to be – and by extension the response. In other words, defining security and acquiring resources for the kind of "security solution" deemed necessary is paramount. Recognising this compels us to formulate and communicate coherent and compelling narratives about the kind of security we all want. It must be about shared precarity, interlinked risk and cooperative security responses for all. Human security, as both a discourse and an interventionary strategy, can aid us in considering complicated questions of displacement, migration, human rights and security. It can conceptualise the intricacies of the challenges faced and it can also build a politics of solidarity in working solutions that call out the failure of top-down, technocratic security measures and herald instead the success and hopes of locally-attuned, people-centred interventions. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Author: Mary McGill, NUI Galway Opinion: if selfies are emblematic of modern trends, they are also symptomatic of major changes which have redefined Western societies Tens of thousands of years ago, our early ancestors began to draw on the walls of caves. Some of these images still survive, scattered across Eurasia in places like La Pasiega in Spain and Maros in Indonesia. Despite their different geographic locations, these ancient paintings share striking similarities. Firstly, their existence illustrates the human impulse for creativity and the desire to represent ourselves and the world across time and culture. Secondly, it is notable and moving that so many cave paintings feature stencils of the human hand, a type of primitive signature that says "I was here". It may seem odd to open a piece on the selfie phenomenon with reference to Paleolithic cave paintings. After all, the selfie is in many respects new, a text and practice enabled by digital technologies which are quickly reshaping our social, political and private lives. It is also ubiquitous and easy to produce, hardly comparable to a precious historical artefact. Yet to fully understand the phenomenon’s popularity, we also need to consider factors that are decidedly not new, factors rooted in the human motivation to express and record the things that matter most to us. This motivation is made all the more poignant by the fact that life is fleeting, change inevitable. Hence, as theorists like Roland Barthes have argued, it is unsurprising that we turn to photography as a means of preserving what we hold dear and staying connected to those we have lost. One way of exploring the selfie phenomenon is as a new form of personal photography. It is a form which is much maligned, regularly evoked as a damning example of our narcissistic age.  As a practice, it is, by definition, focused on the self, a preoccupation that is variously cast as wasteful, silly, even pathological. As British journalist Grace Dent puts it, "selfies are a mindless act available every time we need to be mindful." Yet if selfies are emblematic of worrying modern trends, they are also symptomatic of major changes which redefined Western societies over the course of the 20th century. These include increasing industrialisation along with the rise of mass media and consumer culture in which images are a powerful commodity. Collectively, these developments shaped, and continue to influence, the norms and cultures which govern our lives. Since its inception, photography has been integral to this process. As a pastime, it helped form models of travel and domesticity through the family photograph album. In advertising, it attempts to stimulate and reflect desire.  As a method of surveillance, photography has been used to justify deeply dubious notions of difference, helping to create classes of people deemed "other" or "deviant". Hence, far from being frivolous, the selfie phenomenon emerges from a history that is complex, marked by inequality and myth-making.  A key characteristic of modernity is an increased emphasis on the individual as the unit through which people experience the world, as opposed to the family or the community.  Under neoliberalism, individualism has been further elevated, particularly those kinds of individualism that harbour an "entrepreneurial spirit". For example, it is unsurprising that some of the most visible selfie-takers are the likes of the Kardashians who have built an empire by harnessing the commercial potential of social media through their astute use of femininity and its associated labour. Taking the rise of individualism into account, claims of narcissism regarding the selfie need to be carefully unpacked and contextualised. At a glance, it is impossible to tell which selfies are indicative of healthy self-esteem and those which might be classified as concerning. This is something to keep in mind when simplistic notions of vanity or self-obsession are offered as an explanation for the phenomenon’s appeal. In my research, excessive selfie-taking is often interpreted by participants not as narcissistic but as a sign of low self-worth. It is also worth noting that narcissism can have gendered implications. As cultural scholars have shown, it is a charge which is all too readily applied to women’s attempts to represent themselves in the public sphere. Again, this is not new:  Victorian women cyclists faced similar criticism, as did the earliest female artists. While narcissism is an element of the phenomenon that should not be discounted, neither should it be assumed without judiciousness. One key aspect of the selfie’s appeal is the degree of control it gives people over their image. Once again, this notion of control can be understood as a part of a long tradition. After all, a key tenet of personal photography since its inception is that it enables people to depict themselves, "as they would wish to be seen" as Patricia Holland describes it in "Sweet it is to scan: personal photographs and popular photography" from Photography: A Critical Introduction (Routledge, 2015)  How we represent ourselves depends on a myriad of factors, including our culture, personal taste, socio-economic standing and so on. It is also a highly selective process, as anyone who has flicked through a family photograph album or scrolled Instagram can attest. While selfie-practices make the doing of personal photography easier, the motivations and narratives which fuel our impulse to represent ourselves remain complicated as ever. In our rush to explain new phenomena like the selfie, we can come to rely on simplistic explanations which belie complex histories and the role of subjective experiences. Selfies may not be for everyone, but they speak to important issues like identity, representation and what it means to be human in the 21st century. As such, the phenomenon deserves careful attention that draws not just from the present, but also from the richness of the past.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Opinion: archives of where we have called home provide stories and memories of what has transpired across generations Home is something different to everyone. It is an amalgam of many elements: place, people, language, memory and culture. Home can simply mean the people you share a place with. It can also be the food you share and conversations you have. It is the familiar and certain. Home is also wherever you feel it. It can be momentary and migratory. The idea of home is often something you bring with you until you find and reach your destination. Journeying homeward is an odyssey of self-discovery and connection. Home is also a transient idea. Speaking on "Migrants and Memory" in Belfast in 2012, President Michael D. Higgins commented that "transience, after all, is the defining feature of the migratory experience all over the world". Our universal odyssey brings us all searching to locate where home may be or how we can come to find it. We must continually re-interpret our home and re-encounter it, becoming acquainted with the changes we don’t always see happening around us in real-time This year's series of First Thought talks at the Galway International Arts Festival around the theme of home has a particular resonance to society today. The idea of home is growing more complex to define. If one is looking to find information on where they have come from in order to gain a sense of who they are, an archive can provide direction, answers and often comfort. Archives are repositories of documented experiences of our home – where we have lived and where we have come from. Stories abound and memories are reanimated through photographs, maps, letters, writings and accounts of what has transpired across generations of where and what we call home. At the Hardiman Library of NUI Galway, records and manuscripts of the lived experience of Galway and of the west of Ireland are preserved, dating from the 15th century up to present day. The landscape of place and the idea of home is the common backdrop to these common memories which extend across centuries. The sustainability of our environment is dependent on all of us. Climate change is threatening the natural and physical world around us. The archive of environmentalist and broadcaster Éamon de Buitléar includes hundreds of film reels documenting Ireland’s natural heritage and environment through the latter half of the twentieth century, a digital soundscape of our waterways, woodlands, skies and the eco-systems which co-exist but are never without threat. Our artists, writers, actors, musicians and playwrights present our home to ourselves and to the world. The archives of Siobhán McKenna, Thomas Kilroy, Druid Theatre Company, Macnas, Patricia Burke-Brogan and of the Galway International Arts Festival present the culture of our locality to a global audience. The photographs of George Pickow, taken in the 1950s as his wife Jean Ritchie collected folk-songs around Ireland, document a country in transition – moving into a globalising and increasing consumerist world of modern convenience. Rural life, tradition, music, leisure, sport and customs, are captured in the backdrop to the growth of Dublin city and airport. The opening lines of John McGahern’s remarkable Memoir speak of the soil of his home-place being poor; symbolising an instability of home to retain or hold its own secure place. McGahern’s manuscript drafts illustrate the writer grappling with memory and childhood, foraging through experiences of family and the world that shaped his writing. Perhaps more than most, the archive of cartographer Tim Robinson, shows us the significance of the expanse of our common heritage. Robinson’s maps of Connemara, the Aran Islands and the Burren are gateways into our landscape. The contours of habitation and patterns of life are intricately traced and mapped, a spatial and temporal time-lapse of our world taking shape. The archive gives an aerial vantage point through centuries of development – the delicate infrastructure of what we came to call home is captured with Robinson’s maps, writings, drawings and vast amounts of local history and folklore. In his book, "Listening to the Wind", Robinson’s describes the ‘sounds of the past’ recorded in our landscapes, echoes of history of the land that lead toward the Atlantic seaboard: "the ocean, inescapable symbol of the ever-changing, almost eternal, other-than-human setting of human affairs." Home can also extend beyond the grasp of those who need it most. Home-places become classed as territories; territories are occupied and what should be sites of comfort and refuge become spaces of conflict and division. Currently across the world, as well as in Ireland, there are crises of homelessness and statelessness, an existence of parallel absence. Barriers and walls sit uneasily between communities, hindering reconciliation. Homes are also institutional – centres of containment and trauma from which order and rules are governed without empathy or concern, failing the inhabitants and enabled by a society living in silence. We must continually re-interpret our home and re-encounter it, becoming acquainted with the changes we don’t always see happening around us in real-time. Throughout the First Thought talks series, we will be sharing excerpts from the archive collections of the Hardiman Library, images which reflect the changing definition of home in today’s world in which we have inherited and which also can offer directions for reflection on where it will lead in the future. These are places, times, landmarks, events and people, which have shaped our home for better or for worse. By connecting with what home meant in the past we can appreciate it anew in the present and work to change our future home for the better. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Author: Christopher Dwyer, NUI Galway Analysis: critical thinking is essential for us to successfully adapt to both new information and situations so what is it and how can we do it better? Critical thinking is a process of thinking about one’s own thinking through a number of cognitive skills and dispositions that, when applied through purposeful, self-regulated, reflective judgment, increases the chances of producing a logical solution to a problem or a valid conclusion to an argument. Yes, it is a mouthful – and that’s only the simple version! However, when we try to simplify it even further, we run into problems. For example, research indicates that 93 percent of educators in higher education centres perceive critical thinking as an essential learning outcome of third-level education, with the "ability to think critically" ranked as the second most important graduate skill (following "interpersonal skills"). But only about 55 percent of students feel that they were actually provided with opportunities to critically evaluate their own beliefs and perspectives, with a view towards changing them, during their education. Do you know what critical thinking is? Perhaps this can be explained by subsequent research which examined the qualitative descriptions of critical thinking provided by academics. According to one university lecturer, "we expect students to do it [think critically], but now you are questioning me on my understanding of it, I wonder if I actually understand it myself." In addition to the issue of accurately describing what is meant by critical thinking, we are also faced with the effects of the New Knowledge Economy. For example, back in 2003, it was estimated that 500,000 times the volume of information contained in the U.S. Library of Congress print collection was created in the year previously and that the creation of new information is doubling every two years. To avoid decision fatigue, make sure to complete the work that matters most in the morning.  Over the past 15 years, however, it has become tougher to gauge the actual growth of information, particularly in light of internet-based advancements and social media growth, rather than knowledge growth per se. It has been suggested that approximately five exabytes of data are created each day (i.e. approximately five billion pick-up trucks full of text-filled A4 sheets). But what is even tougher to figure out is how much of this data is simply pictures of cats, videos reporting on conspiracy theories and/or paranormal activities or inaccurate and misinterpreted information. Critical thinking is necessary for us to navigate this new knowledge economy and to successfully adapt to both new information and new situations. Over the last several decades, educators, employers and organisations around the world have openly expressed concern about student preparedness for a 21st-century world. For example, President Michael D Higgins spoke last year of critical thinking’s importance and how measures need to be taken to promote it.  In my new book, Critical Thinking: Conceptual Perspectives and Practical Guidelines, my aim is to provide both a thorough description of critical thinking and instruction for improving our critical thinking ability so that we may be better able to adapt to and navigate a seemingly endless supply of information. Since the book’s publication, I’ve been asked by people looking for ways in which they can better think critically in day-to-day situations. Here are five basic tips: (1) Save your critical thinking for things that matter Critical thinking is necessary when you care about your decisions or when the consequence of a decision is impactful. But, if we were to think critically about every single decision we make (i.e. what to wear? What to eat for breakfast? What coffee do I want from the shop?), we would be mentally exhausted before we even got to work in the morning! (2) Do it in the morning Are you a night owl and do you best work at night? If you answered yes, then you’re lying to yourself whether you realise it or not. No-one does their best work at night unless, of course, you wake up in the evening! People expend their cognitive energy on decisions throughout the day, leading to a higher chance of poor decisions as the load accumulates, such as at night. Thus, to avoid decision fatigue, make sure to complete the work that matters most in the morning.  (3) Take a step back Reflective judgment is an important aspect of critical thinking. In simple terms, it’s the recognition of limited knowledge and how this uncertainty can affect decision-making processes. It's about taking a step back and thinking about an argument or problem a little bit longer and considering the basis for the reasons and consequences of responding in a particular way. Research indicates that delaying a decision by even a tenth of a second can significantly increase decision accuracy. While I’m not saying that this tenth of a second will help you solve all your problems, it is vital to take that "reflective step back" when developing or inferring a solution or conclusion if you care about your decision and use critical thinking, i. (4) Play devil’s advocate Our gut intuition is always going to offer its opinion and tell us what it thinks we should do – and we can’t turn it off. This instruction is going to be biased, reinforced by similar experiences or choices in the past. In the context of critical thinking, a good way of learning to overcome this bias and, likewise, the auto-pilot processing of our gut is through playing devil’s advocate and truly considering alternatives. (5) Leave emotion at the door. If we want to be able to think critically, we must remove our beliefs, attitudes, opinions and personal experiences from the equation, all of which are emotionally charged. To think critically, there is only room for empirical evidence, so we must remove emotions, negative and positive, from our thinking. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform.  Visit here

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Author: Tina-Karen Pusse, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures The Brainstorm long read: how a group of professors, journalists and hard science fetishists brought the online culture wars into the mainstream Next week, Dublin’s 3Arena will be filled with an audience willing to listen to a three hour long political debate, with the opportunity to ask some carefully curated questions at the end. Similar events to Winning the War of Ideas with the same or relatively like-minded protagonists are currently filling large venues all over the US, Canada and Europe. If this event took place in a lecture theatre on a university campus, it would be filled with postgraduate students, some staff members and a handful of retirees (most strategically placed close to the exits). So why do these events attract audiences with such long attention spans? Why are people willing to pay between €55 and €200 per ticket for something they could attend elsewhere for free? Who are the attendees and what attracts them to the speakers Sam Harris, Douglas Murray and Jordan Peterson? The audience will consist most probably of young men who are approaching the end of their university education or who have just entered the job market a few years ago (although some audiences have become a little more gender diverse). Many will wear t-shirts with lobster motifs or logos to make themselves recognisable as part of a tribe (ironically, a tribe that claims to resent tribalism or any sort of group affiliation). A certain cohort will have a history of right-wing internet activism on Tumblr, 4chan and 8chan, but will have calmed down and matured from trolling to debating. Another cohort will be part of a disillusioned left, whose main role has been propagating guilt in pointless and tiring twitter grudge matches and in-fights, and who are now in search of a more "invigorating" thinking paradigm. Many of them will be reasonably well educated, but unemployed, underemployed or caught in a job that turned out to be shittier than imagined. Almost all of them will likely be unable to afford half-decent living conditions in Dublin. Since Angela Nagle published her book Kill All Normies: The Online Culture Wars from Tumblr and 4chan to the Alt-Right and Trump (2017), in which she investigates how right-wing internet activists have declared war on so-called "Social Justice Warriors", the extreme fringes of the movements she investigated are no longer restricted to the dark web. Since Trump came into power, these discourses are now being held in public and are steadily seeping into the mainstream. In reaction to this, the left has become more vocal and defensive, especially in the United States. On many US campuses, the situation has become overheated (see Evergreen University, for example). New coalitions have been built between conservatives, liberitarians, classic liberals and excommunicated protagonists of the moderate left who, under normal circumstances, would not have much in common. Now they do, as they are united in opposition to their understanding of identity politics, feminism and hatred for what they confusingly call Neo-Marxist Postmodernism. They also have a common interest in extensive debates on minor differences between their largely now very much aligned views. These are often framed in rather militaristic metaphors, such as "Winning the War of Ideas" which takes place in Dublin. One should think that it makes sense if the people most affected by a specific layer of injustice in a system or institution (such as gender inequality regarding reproductive rights or bodily autonomy) become the primary agents of change and convince others of the legitimacy of their cause along the way to change policies. Ideally, the society as a whole benefits and becomes a little fairer as a result. As we have seen here in Ireland with the abortion referendum, discussions can become heated and people can feel misrepresented, but this is a process very much in line with what most citizens perceive as the essence of political change overall in a democracy. Not so the protagonists of the "Intellectual Dark Web", this loose group of professors-in-exile, podcast hosts, journalists and hard science fetishists, that are currently touring the globe. Who is Sam Harris? The Dublin show is hosted by Sam Harris, known for his Waking Up podcast, books and debates on free will, atheism and his "non spiritual" guided meditations. He became a more controversial figure recently when he invited Charles Murray, the author of "The Bell Curve" (1994), to guest on his podcast in order to rehabilitate Murray’s research that demonstrated racial differences in intelligence distribution. Harris argues that Murray was shunned as an academic, despite the fact that his research findings were thoroughly peer reviewed. He maintained in support of Murray that the research findings ("hard data") were always innocent and that, even if one could identify average differences in groups, it would not have repercussions for individual members of that group – since, individually they could be placed at any spot in that bell curve. They are united in opposition to their understanding of identity politics, feminism and hatred for what they confusingly call Neo-Marxist Postmodernism Even if scientific problems of this view were put aside, Harris is still to blame for not having challenged his guest for his involvement in a think tank with the open political agenda to inform US Republican policies to cut social welfare. This shows that Murray's research project was anything but innocent and that he himself used his findings to directly worsen the lives of some of his test subjects, something which would, by today’s standards, set the alarm bells of ethical committees ringing. Instead of challenging Murray, Harris engaged in Twitter wars with his critics, accusing them of the reputational damage that they had caused to him by pointing this out. While a certain proportion of said criticism clearly went too far, Harris's own view on this matter remains unchanged, even after lengthy debates and a follow up podcast. The Strange Death of Europe The second Dublin guest is British journalist Douglas Murray, author of The Strange Death of Europe. He is one of the most influential critics of Angela Merkel for her decision to welcome 1.2 million refugees to Germany in the year of 2015. Murray claims this decision "destroyed Germany" and "destabilised Europe" despite the fact that Germany has had the three most economically successful consecutive years since reunification, as well as the lowest crime rate since 1992, even with the inclusion of numerous hate crimes against asylum seekers. His main argument against Merkel is that German citizens of Turkish background were insufficiently integrated, despite being in the country since the late 1960s and early 1970s, and that these policy failures from half a century ago prove the general incompatibility of Muslim immigration with Western values. Ignoring the fact that Germans of Turkish background are now to be found in all social classes and professions - and the Bundestag - Murray insists that migration from Turkey, as well as new migratory movements from Syria, Morocco or Namibia, led to destructive competition for resources and state funding between low skilled native and new populations. While it is correct that less affluent urban citizens are priced out of their apartments, this is due to the AirBnB-ification of living space rather than competition with new immigrants for limited space. As with almost everywhere else, Germany has seen unregulated and limitless influx of foreign investment into a property market that can never grow with demand due to simple space restrictions  and the disappearance of rural jobs which leads to more urban concentration.  Certainly there are challenges regarding domestic violence, repression of women, homophobia, inititiations of young men into toxic versions of masculinity in Islam and insufficient treatment of  mental illness in refugee centres. But these problems will not disappear if the humans affected by them are sent to another country (especially a poorer country) - nor should the causes of conflict and fleeing be assessed without considering wider geo-political implications. Peterson's theoretical and associative framework doesn’t offer women much aside from motherhood or careers in caring positions These discussions are avoided by both Harris’s rejection of Islam from an atheist perspective and by Murray’s assessment of Europe and "the West" as a primarily "Judeo-Christian" space. This also does not acknowledge the cognitive dissonance Murray should feel when acknowledging the origins of European culture and democracy in ancient Greece and Rome - both clearly polytheistic societies. The star of the lobster show However, the main draw for the Dublin show is Jordan Peterson, known as a self-help author (12 Rules for Life), a conservative professor of clinical psychology and, since 2016, a YouTube sensation. Despite his open hatred for the "Neo-Marxist Postmodernists" and "feminist types" who have taken over academia and mainstream media, and his affiliation with the ultra-fundamentalist religious propaganda network PragerU, he is a bit of an unconscious postmodernist himself. Peterson answers questions such as "do you believe in God?" with "that depends on what you mean by ‘believe’ and ‘God’", thereby acknowledging the a priori of language and context when constructing meaning. He also is a clear master of assemblage: he creatively combines social Darwinism, biological determinism, Jungian archetypes, highly selective Nietzsche quotes, personal anecdotes, bible readings (inspired by but not attributed to Russian Formalism), Disney film clips and calculated paternal frowning into an all-encompassing theory mesh. This is mainly used to show women their traditional place and make young, depressive men feel a little better about themselves by motivating them to get up in the morning, clean their rooms and be a little nicer to their families (yet a little nastier to people they disagree with on the internet). While his rise in mainstream popularity and his efforts to come across as a paternal figure have recently resulted in also attracting a female audience, Peterson's theoretical and associative framework doesn’t offer women much aside from motherhood or careers in caring positions. If women successfully push into a male dominated field by adapting to its social rules, such as hyper-presentism, they will either regret their childlessness later in life or neglect their kids, claims Peterson. If women are ambitious and successful, they "speak from their male shadow" which makes them hostile and hyper aggressive. When women collaborate and network to change policies to challenge work cultures that don’t allow them to combine parenthood and work, Peterson believes they are part of a Neo-Marxist tyrannic force that poisons campuses and corporations, has infiltrated HR and administration and will lead to the Gulag in last consequence. Pointing out some injustices and exploitations that women have personally experienced which led to a stalling of their careers makes them, per Peterson, too comfortable in their victim mentality and will only ever lead to a further loss of power and respect. For the group of young men that will fill the 3Arena, there is a discrepancy between how they expected their future to be and how it has now materialised Considering how hostile this theory is towards women and seeing how Peterson has found a way of monetising the fact that he is protested (since every upload of a protest video increases the number of his Patreon supporters), it seems a wise strategy to ignore him until the cult has lost momentum. Yet I am afraid we can’t and we should engage in dialogue. While I strongly disagree with the majority of Peterson´s analysis - and even more with the disproportionately aggressive attitudes of many of his devotees -the vacuum that is the centre of male depression that he has identified and is trying to address is worth investigating. Between 2004 and 2016, with a peak at the height of the economic crisis in 2010/11, men in Ireland were four times as likely to die by suicide as women. They were more likely to die by suicide when they were younger and single, whereas women were more likely to die by suicide when they were older and married or co-habiting. The suffering of young single men is very real and perhaps there has not been done enough to sufficiently address it. It needs to be discussed by the left too. Otherwise, depressive men’s self-hatred, anger, contempt and immersion in the pleasure traps of addictive substances and media ("depressive hedonism" as Mark Fisher called it) is exploited by right wing and conservative movements. By doing this, these movements incite hatred in men for being outperformed by women in education, their livelihoods being threatened by affirmative action and immigration or disadvantaged in custody and alimony battles. However, their alienation as diagnosed by Peterson should be explained differently. It is true that we no longer have clear social norms, distinct career paths, reliable values or prestige indicators. Even our "good causes" of the past have been commodified and perverted by virtue signalling and greenwashing of money-making machines to such a degree that charity claims have become suspicious. Our entire human habitat has become quantified. The highest ranking scholars in academia are those that are most cited. Thinkers have become "opinion leaders" when they have the most views on the marketplace of ideas. Professions are most successful and most highly remunerated when their product "scales" and can be used by an exponentially growing number of people. Time we spend on work has been devalued as a mechanism for assessing its worth. The woes of young white men Faced with a job market dominated by KPIs, micromanagement, little autonomy, the suppression of collegiality through constant internal competition and incentive structures with constantly shifting goal posts and unclear purpose, millennials experience earning potentials that aren’t quite what they had imagined. They are often crippled by skyrocketing rents, very likely priced out of the first time buyers’ market for the foreseeable future, and, in many countries, also burdened with student loan repayments. One could now ask how the woes of young white men are any different from those of other (female, transgender, or darker skinned) college graduates, and they aren’t - with one exception. For the group of men that will fill big parts of the 3Arena, there is a bigger discrepancy between how they expected their future to be and how it has now materialised. While they often experience similar socio-economic circumstances as other well educated millennials, their alienation about precariarity and generational disadvantage (especially compared with their fathers) is larger, by comparison, than that of those who are already emotionally prepared for disrupted biographies, overcoming obstacles and constantly facing bias. What Peterson is trying to do is make the individual feel more confident and ready to take on the world without addressing any of the issues that lead to the hopeless situation they find themselves in. The social and economic hierarchies that have developed in the west, in his view, are what they are. While not perfect, they are the best of all systems up to now and every attempt to change or even to tweak them is seen as dangerous. His 12 Rules For Life are a mixture of advice on how to play the dominance game a little better, how to ground oneself with routines in times of crisis and how to improve one’s personal relationships. For many, this is by far better than nothing. But it is based on the idea that there is such a thing as a fixed hierarchy. From a study on serotonin levels and their relation to pecking order positions in lobsters, Peterson assumes that the fact that hierarchies predate capitalism and poststructuralist theories of oppression, their existence was biologically determined, or in Jung’s words, an archetype. Since serotonin works as an antidepressant in lobsters as well as humans, with higher levels corresponding with aiming for higher places in pecking orders, social hierarchies were unavoidable. Moreover, the flattening of hierarchies (more equality) leads to depression and loss of an upward trajectory. Wearing a lobster t-shirt may momentarily release some serotonin, but it will not make the alienation disappear  Even if I pretended for a moment to be a Social Darwinist, this is not very convincing. Humans have developed language as a tool to organise their social dynamics. Many species are so similar to humans that they even can communicate with us, such as cats, dogs, dolphins, chimpanzees or bonobos. But all of these species have differently organised social dynamics and hierarchies, so that even a biological determinist needs to acknowledge that social hierarchies are much more fluid than lobsters crawling on top of each other. Many anthropologists argue that human language developed parallel to a resistance against dominance structures. The ability of humans to open up towards other groups and to organise themselves in units exceeding natural group sizes while balancing complex social dynamics is what differentiates humans from other species. If Peterson believes as he claims in the primacy of the individual, this directly contradicts the view that humans happily subject themselves to dominance hierarchies. A perspective that could combine these two views would be Michel Foucault’s opinion which sees human individuation as result of a constant struggle between submission and resistance. If the current way we organise our allocation of time, chances, work, living arrangements and interpersonal relations produces such discontent and despair. what is the benefit of glossing over rather than facing the vacuum? A withdrawal to the microcosmos of one’s home and immediate family, individualism and, a renaissance of Christian values, may blow some new wine into old wineskins (Markus 2,22). It may, at best, hold things together somewhat for another while, but this will probably delay the process of finding solutions for the pressing problems at hand: long term wealth distribution, climate change, AI, how to deal with our xenophobia as global citizens, or our dependence on fossil fuels. It also acts as if equality of opportunity had already been achieved. As for Peterson’s audience: standing straight with your shoulders back and wearing a lobster t-shirt may momentarily release some serotonin and enable you over time to move one step up in the hierarchy you currently find yourself in. It will feel good in the part of your brain that stems from the time when we all were lizards or shellfish. But it will not make the alienation disappear or make your bullshit job suddenly meaningful. Wouldn’t you want to aim a little higher than just competitive self-improvement? If so, resist being manipulated. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform.  Visit here

Friday, 6 July 2018

Author: Kathy Powell, NUI Galway Opinion: Monumental challenges lie ahead following Mexico's decisive vote for a president and government committed to social and political change By Kathy Powell, NUI Galway It is difficult to overstate the significance of Mexico’s election results and the sense of possibility that they promise. Mexicans voted for a president and a government of the political left, committed to radical social and political change, and an end to the widespread corruption, impunity and violence that has blighted their lives for years. Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (Amlo) won the presidency as a candidate for the Together We Will Make History coalition. With a robust if not historic 62 percent turnout, preliminary official results put Amlo at 53 percent of the vote, 31 points ahead of his nearest rival. He won a majority of votes in 31 of Mexico’s 32 states, while his party, Morena, and its coalition partners have won a majority in both the Federal Congress’ Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate. They also won five out of the nine state governorships that were also being contested, including Mexico City, which elected its first female governor Claudia Sheinbaum. Indeed, for the first time in its history, the Chamber of Deputies has achieved gender parity. It was an emphatic and exhilarating victory across the political system and an unequivocal demand for change and for hope. This puts an extraordinary burden of expectation on Amlo’s shoulders. In some English-language press, Amlo has tended to be characterised as a "populist", a lazy label that has been thrown around all manner of political contexts recently and which has negative connotations of authoritarianism in Latin America. To the extent that populism is used derogatorily, it suggests a lack of political sophistication among supporters, and especially when they are poor. It suggests populism is not "real" politics, even when widespread movements like this one expose the extent to which "real" politics is rooted in corruption and moral bankruptcy. That Amlo is popular does not necessarily mean he is a populist. He seeks to confront social and political inequality, whereas a populist would seek to disguise it. This characterisation tends to overlook the levels of support for Amlo in previous contests and the fact that he has headed the main opposition to the political establishment for the last 12 years, during which he has worked tirelessly to expand his base. In 2006, as candidate for the centre-left PRD, he lost the presidential election to the PAN party’s Felipe Calderón, after a result so close and an election so fraught with irregularities that many called for a total recount of the vote and regarded Calderón’s victory as a fraud (not least Amlo himself). Calderón, who had ironically claimed Amlo was "a danger for Mexico", went on to introduce his militarised war on drugs, instigating the spiral of violence and corruption that continues to shatter the country. Running again with the PRD in 2012, Amlo lost to the PRI party’s Peña Nieto, the current incumbent. The result then was not as close but, at six points, much closer than predicted. That election was marred by extraordinary levels of campaign spending and vote buying on the part of the PRI, as well as many (unanswered) questions about the dubious origins of the money. Nieto’s presidency has been marked by corruption, the exposure of complicity between regional politics and organised crime, rising poverty, unpopular reforms and, over the last 18 months, a significant spike in homicidal violence. In 2006, Amlo’s supporters occupied Mexico City’s Zocalo to protest a stolen election, symbolising a politically divided nation. In 2018, a far more unified electorate flooded in to celebrate his resounding victory. There are many reasons to hope that Amlo will rein in a neo-liberal economic model that has produced increased poverty, inequality and precarity while permitting a massive concentration of wealth closely linked to the corruption and impunity that fuels organised violence and a crisis of public security. Those struggling with exclusion, gender inequality or for indigenous, reproductive and LGBT rights can expect to be heard and taken seriously. Amlo's political career began when Mexico was effectively an one party state and he has been an important figure throughout the long struggle to change it. There are also many reasons to be extremely cautious. The challenges are monumental. Mexico’s transnational capitalist elite are likely to move to protect their privileges, while organised crime will not easily renounce their regional dominance – conflict and repression have been central to the success of both. Amlo and his government are also tasked with confronting corruption in the security forces, and clientelism embedded within the political system. It is a system, though, that he knows well. His political career began when Mexico was effectively a one party state, led by the PRI, and he has been an important figure throughout the long struggle to change it. There is also, of course, Donald Trump with his documented racism towards Mexicans, his fabulist threats about the wall and his abuse of children as a means of border control. Trump was quick to contact Amlo and congratulate him on his victory. In turn, Amlo expressed his hope that the US will support him in his programmes for social development that will address the poverty and exclusion that contribute to both organised crime and to migration. If Trump has any sense – and let’s not go there – then he will. More important still is support at home. Amlo is a man of undisputed energy, but these are not challenges that can be met by a charismatic leader alone. They will require the continued, concerted work and integrity of all of those on his political team who have won office. Mexican voters have already stepped up and shown themselves to be ready and willing. Dr Kathy Powell is a lecturer in the Department of Politicial Science & Sociology at NUI Galway This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform.  Visit here

Friday, 6 July 2018

Author: Eilís Dowd, NUI Galway Analysis: how a 19th century Limerick physician played a major role in the introduction of cannabis to western medicine A little known piece of Irish medical history will be presented at a major international neuroscience conference in Berlin next week. This is the central role that 19th century Irish physician-scientists played in the introduction of cannabis to Western medicine. Most influential amongst these was Sir William O’Shaughnessy who is often remembered as the father of modern day cannabis therapeutics. O’Shaughnessy was born in Limerick in 1809 to a merchant family. He started his medical education in Trinity College Dublin in 1825, but later transferred to the University of Edinburgh from where he received his Doctor of Medicine in 1829. After a distinguished early scientific career as a forensic toxicologist in London, where his work laid the foundation for intravenous fluid therapy for the treatment of cholera, he took a position as Assistant Surgeon with the East India Company and became the first chemistry professor of the Calcutta Medical College. Whilst in India, O’Shaughnessy noted the widespread use of Indian hemp for a "multitude of affections" but he was unable to "trace any notice of the employment of this drug in Europe". Intrigued, he went on to study traditional Indian remedies as well as Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic writings to "to shew the exact state of our knowledge of the subject". From this extensive research, he concluded that "there was sufficient to show that hemp possesses, in small doses, an extraordinary power of stimulating the digestive organs, exciting the cerebral system, of acting also on the generative apparatus. The influence of the drug in allaying pain was equally manifest in all the memoirs referred to." Inspired, O’Shaughnessy initiated his own studies in animals, administering "majoon", an Arabic cannabis sweet, to a dog and reporting that "he ate it with great delight" and became "ridiculously drunk". Similarly, another dog was given "churrus", a Nepalese hemp resin, and O’Shaughnessy reported he became "stupid and sleepy, dozing at intervals, starting up, wagging his tail, as if extremely contented; he ate some food greedily; on being called to, he staggered to and fro, and his face assumed a look of utter helpless drunkenness". In all cases, the animals recovered and were "well and lively" after a few hours. This led O’Shaughnessy to conclude that "no hesitation could be felt as to the perfect safety" of resin of hemp and he proceeded it administer it to his patients. In light of Ireland’s recent pilot approval of medicinal cannabis for the treatment of severe epilepsy, and the experiences of Tristan Forde, Ava Barry and Michael O’Neill, one particularly striking report concerns a severely epileptic 40 day old baby girl. "The child of Mr and Mrs J.L. of Calcutta" had been suffering from "convulsive paroxysms" that had increased in frequency and intensity over 3 weeks in September 1839. Despite "two leeches [being] applied to the head" as well as other forms of treatment, the child was "emaciating rapidly". O’Shaughnessy had by this time "exhausted all the usual methods of treatment, and the child was apparently in a sinking state." Under these extreme circumstances, he "stated to the parents the results of the experiments [he] had made with the Hemp, and [his] conviction that it would relieve their infant." The baby’s parents "gladly consented to the trial" and the cannabis tincture was placed on the child’s tongue. As O’Shaughnessy subsequently reported "the infant fell asleep in a few minutes, and slept soundly till 4pm when she awoke, screamed for food, took the breast freely, and fell asleep again. At 9am, 1st October, I found the child fast asleep, but easily roused; the pulse, countenance and skin perfectly natural. In this drowsy state she continued for four days totally free from convulsive symptoms in any form." Later he reports "The child is now (23rd November) in the enjoyment of robust health, and has regained her natural plump and happy appearance." O’Shaughnessy reported this and numerous other case studies in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science and the London Provincial Medical Journal. "Of all powerful narcotics", he concluded, "it is the safest to use with boldness and decision. I have given Mr. Squire, of Oxford Street, a large supply of the gunjah, and that gentleman has kindly promised me to place a sufficient quantity of the extract at the disposal of any hospital physician or surgeon who may desire to employ the remedy. My object is to have it extensively and exactly tested without favour or prejudice, for the experience of four years has established the conviction in my mind, that we possess no remedy at all equal to this in anti-convulsive and anti-neuralgic power." Impressively, when these early observations are scrutinised in light of current scientific knowledge, the historical claims can be scientifically validated Not surprising, O’Shaughnessy’s endorsement of cannabis as a powerful medicinal product led to its widespread adoption by physicians in Ireland, Britain, Europe and North America. These included several trailblazing Irish physician-scientists including Michael Donovan (b. 1791), Dominic Corrigan (b. 1802), Edward Birch (b. 1840), and Richard Greene (b.1843) who variously demonstrated its efficacy for migraine, neuropathic pain, trigeminal neuralgia, chorea and opium addiction. Impressively, when these early observations are scrutinised in light of current scientific knowledge of the endocannabinoid system, through which cannabis produces its therapeutic benefits, these historical claims can be scientifically validated. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform.  Visit here

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Author: Dr Tomás Finn, History Department Opinion: the Irish presidency has been shaped by competing visions of the office often articulated in electoral contests How should Michael D. Higgins, the President of Ireland, respond to the challenge of an election is a question almost without precedent. If, as now seems probable, one or more candidates enter the electoral fray, 2018 will only be the second occasion when a sitting President has faced a contest. However, President Higgins appears unlikely to follow Éamon de Valera’s lead and remain aloof as the latter did in 1966. But then how exactly should he campaign?  Past presidential elections can be explored for examples of not only how the president or the media have acted, but also how political parties campaigned. As for those individuals who do secure nominations to enter a contest in 2018, optimism and perhaps some inspiration can be found in the strategies used by past candidates. What is clear is the existence or otherwise of electoral contests has been critical to how the Irish presidency has evolved. Presidents and presidential elections can be divided into distinct phases. The four contests from 1945 to 1973 were dominated by Fianna Fáil, while the three from 1990 to 2011 saw increased competition between parties and independents. This reflects the evolution of the office with the early presidents Douglas Hyde, Seán T. O’Kelly and Eamon de Valera adopting a cautious approach while a more ‘activist’ role was assumed in the 1970s by Erskine Childers and Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh. Patrick Hillery reverted to a more conservative view of the functions of the president, while Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese and Michael D. Higgins have each adopted a broader vision for their term in Áras an Uachtaráin. According to the Irish Constitution, the President has specific powers, most notably to refer bills to the Supreme Court for judgements on their constitutionality and whether to dissolve the Dáil when the Taoiseach no longer has the support of the majority of the members of the house. However, it is how incumbents have interpreted the duties of the office which have been crucial in informing what is the role of the President. Critical to how the presidency has been shaped has been the existence of competing visions of the office which have often been stimulated by electoral contests. On the other hand, the absence of elections has invariably led to limited conceptions of the role of the President. Had there been, for example, an electoral contest in 1938, a very different individual could have been chosen to Douglas Hyde, the first incumbent whose outlook for the presidency as one who was non-partisan and ‘above politics’ has informed how each of his successors have approached the office. Equally, the early electoral contests established patterns that have been difficult to change. Costs and the difficulty of securing victory given the dominance of the main political parties and especially Fianna Fáil’s strength in both the Oireachtas and local authorities has made it difficult for smaller parties and independents to put forward candidates. An exception which highlighted the robustness of political exchanges and the extent of the dissatisfaction which then existed with the Fianna Fáil government was the 1945 Presidential election. Having secured the nomination with the support of smaller parties and independents, Patrick McCartan, an independent republican candidate, received over 200,000 votes despite being accused of being unaware of the limited powers of the President and unsuitable to the office. Would a campaign involve posters or going around the country or merely participating in televised debates? In 1959, McCartan failed to secure a sufficient number of nominations from local councils. It was not until 1997 that the local council route to enter presidential elections was successfully used by candidates, while smaller parties and independents were not to use their powers again until nominating Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness in 2011. Other strategies individuals could borrow from earlier elections include the need to have a convincing message which can distinguish one from other candidates. These include Erskine Childers speaking about a more accessible presidency in 1973 or Mary Robinson arguing that she would be "a President with a purpose" in 1990 or Mary McAleese talking of the need to build bridges throughout the island in 1997. Some of these had been borrowed from the ideas of earlier presidents: Childers certainly adapted the themes of Fine Gael’s T. F. O’Higgins who was the first to put forward a different style for the presidency in the 1966 election. Much to the annoyance of Fianna Fáil, O’Higgins challenged the incumbent President, Éamon de Valera. In contrast to the latter’s well-known priorities of unification and the Irish language, O’Higgins ran a vigorous campaign focused on the future and youth. Despite de Valera’s decision not to campaign, he had a number of advantages as the incumbent. Similar to Michael D. Higgins, de Valera had been central to the 1916 commemorations, albeit in 1966 with a much more celebratory tone. Moreover, the jubilee celebrations of the 1916 Rising had occurred shortly in advance of the election and resulted in abundant coverage of de Valera on television and radio. In that context, RTÉ’s decision not to cover T. F. O’Higgins campaign was controversial and could even have affected the result especially given that in the end the winning margin was a mere 10,717 votes. The national broadcaster’s need to maintain balance between the candidates remains ever-present, especially following the dramatic closing week of the election in 2011. Unlike de Valera who was almost blind, which could be viewed as a factor in his decision in 1966 not to campaign, Michael D. Higgins appears to be in better health now than he was in 2011 and seems unlikely to shy away from a contest. But what exactly would this mean? Would a campaign involve posters or going around the country or merely participating in televised debates? Similarly, what should be the attitude of RTÉ, the national broadcaster, given its need to maintain balance between the different candidates? If President Higgins does not campaign and decides to stand on his record in office, the public, RTÉ and other media outlets will hardly accept an absence of scrutiny of each candidate, as was the case in 1966. And yet campaigning contains risks, as the need to be above politics and be presidential remains paramount ever since Douglas Hyde set the tone as the first President. But the Irish presidency has evolved significantly from Hyde and how the early office holders viewed the constraints of the position. It is now defined by alternative visions for the office and its potential contribution to modern Ireland. Electoral contests have been crucial to this evolution. How the Irish President has acted reflects this change as well as how Ireland itself has been transformed as a country. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Monday, 16 July 2018

Author: Mary McGill, NUI Galway Opinion: tales of romance hold huge appeal, but hunger for content without considering the cost can have unintended and harmful consequences It had all the hallmarks of a classic romantic comedy. After a seat-switch onboard a plane, an intrepid matchmaker and her partner watch in glee as the attractive strangers in front of them - who they have inadvertently set-up - seem to really hit it off. The plane lands and the strangers appear to leave the baggage hall together. If this was the cinema, the audience might cheer, but it isn’t. The matchmaker has been tweeting and snapping updates to a rapidly growing, deeply invested online audience. Over the next few days, #PlaneBae, as it becomes known, takes a much darker turn, raising timely questions about privacy and acceptable behaviour in the digital age. Researchers working online will tell you that developing ethical frameworks to deal with the demands of such a vast and fast evolving terrain is a constant work in progress. But work in progress is always rooted in best practice. In research terms, that means studies involving human subjects must secure informed consent, where the individual is given all the information they need to understand what the study asks of them before agreeing or declining to take part. This standard is enshrined to protect the rights of the individual, including the right to privacy. #PlaneBae highlights how the Internet age is changing the way we humans navigate space and time. It also shows how norms and etiquette are in flux as we figure out the best way to deal with a rapidly changing world. Technology allowed tens of thousands of people not just to listen or read about these strangers on a plane, but to see (even though their faces were hidden) and to decipher, based on triangulating the information provided, who these individuals were. There is nothing warm and fuzzy about her attempt to retain her anonymity in the face of trolls hellbent on "outing" her Neither of the people at the centre of #PlaneBae had the opportunity to consent to their lives being turned into content in this way. While the man concerned seemed to embrace being identified, the woman did not. What this illustrates is a critical point: our expectations of privacy are often subjective. Hence, you cannot assume that your interpretation of privacy will be the same as everyone else’s, a point which further underscores the importance of consent. It should also move us to be careful about what we post and share online, both out of respect for ourselves (our notion of privacy may change over time) and out of respect for others. Tales of romance hold huge appeal but hunger for content without considering the cost can have unintended and harmful consequences. There is nothing remotely romantic about the harassment the young woman at the centre of #PlaneBae has been subjected to. There is nothing warm and fuzzy about her attempt to retain her anonymity in the face of trolls hellbent on "outing" her. Her statement on the matter should give us pause for thought, particularly the following: "I did not ask for and do not seek attention. #PlaneBae is not a romance – it is a digital-age cautionary tale about privacy, identity, ethics and consent." Words to keep in mind as we continue to grapple with this brave new world. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform.  Visit here

Friday, 27 July 2018

Author: Mathieu d'Aquin, NUI Galway Opinion: examining the "what if?" potential of new technology like Facebook at the outset would help us think about possible implications It’s 2005 in downtown Palo Alto. Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin are sitting in the conference room in the first Facebook office. Mark puts down the pages he has been reading. Eduardo is nearly finished reading the same document. It’s a science fiction short story written by a young intern with an unlikely triple major in literature, computer science and sociology. They are intrigued by her skillset, but unsure what role she can play, so they ask her to write a story of how Facebook will have changed the world by 2020. They hope she might dream up some useful marketing material. She comes up with something wholly unexpected. It’s a story of how Facebook becomes global, and part of everyday life for millions of people. It’s a story of how the platform has become a tool for fine-tuned, highly precise political propaganda. A tool for mass manipulation, turning democracy completely on its head.  Back to 2018 and to reality. As far as we know, there wasn’t an intern who came up with a science fiction story in the Facebook offices in 2005. However, Facebook has turned democratic systems upside down. A social media platform has caused us to question the systems that lie at the very heart of our society. Let’s extend the fantasy. Let's imagine Eduardo puts down the paper on the desk, sighing. "Well?", asks Mark, "what do you think?" "A bit far-fetched?" Mark jumps at this comment: "What is? Facebook could be that big, right? We could get there!" "Yeah... but it is not a tool for politics. That's not what we are building..." Eduardo answers tentatively. "But it could... whether we want it to or not, it could be used like that." If Zuckerberg was given that fictional heads-up, would he have built measures into Facebook’s design to prevent that from happening? What's the point of this what-if scenario? Imagine what might have happened if Zuckerberg was given that fictional heads-up. If he had an inkling that Facebook could be essentially hijacked and used to undermine entire political systems. Would he have built measures into Facebook’s design to prevent that from happening? Should the data scientists, artificial intelligence experts, platform builders and designers of future technology be engaging in this kind of ‘what if’ thinking? Should they make science fiction imagining or writing a fixture of their project? I believe they should and I’m not alone. In his 2009 essay "Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction", artist and technologist Julian Bleecker argued that science fact and science fiction already have a lot in common, and speculating about a near future, when the technologies we are inventing are already in use, contributes to the design of those technologies itself. He explains that imagining the potential of technology is critical to understanding not only the technical aspects of what we are inventing, but also their cultural implications. This sort of future-gazing helps researchers to reflect upon assumptions and preconceptions they may have regarding their research. Data science research (social media, machine learning, statistical analysis, artificial intelligence, etc) moves relatively slowly. It can be conservative, safe, necessary to certain models of economic growth, even boring. And yet, it is a field that will cause extensive cultural and societal disruption – it already has.  Data scientists don’t write science fiction. Imagining the possibilities of what they do is not part of their methodology: it won't help anybody design faster, more accurate algorithms. But as Jonathan Nolan, co-creator of the TV series Westworld, puts it, what it can do is help us by "inventing cautionary tales for ourselves". In a research world where it seems anything can happen, these cautionary tales should be an integral part of the process. At the recent WWW2018 Web Conference, the Re-coding Black Mirror workshop saw researchers in web technologies use science fiction stories in the style of the Black Mirror TV series to figure out possible negative consequences of their research. They also looked at possible solutions to the issues that emerged from narrating imagined technological futures. This led to critical discussions much beyond the usual focus of computer scientists and technologists working in this area, and well beyond the usual boundaries of privacy and data protection that dominate the current discourse on data ethics. If you are a data scientist, or even if you are just using data science technologies, ask yourself this: what would happen if your vision became reality? What if what you are building or deploying or using became global and part of everybody's daily life? Or what if it didn’t and it was only available to a few? This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Author: Michael O'Dwyer, Apoptosis Research Centre Opinion: while cellular immunotherapy is currently costly and logistically difficult, the use of natural killer immune cells offers huge potential Cellular immunotherapy involves makes the cells of the immune system much more effective at seeking out and killing cancer cells. It's one of the most exciting developments in cancer treatment this decade, and is likely to play a major role in the future therapy of blood and other cancers.  One type of cellular immunotherapy gaining major traction is Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR)-T cell immunotherapy, which was recently named Advance of the Year by the American Society Of Cellular Oncology. CAR-T therapy involves taking the cancer patient’s own immune (T) cells and genetically changing them to better recognise and attack cancer cells, before injecting them back into that patient.  This treatment has already resulted in dramatically improved outcomes from different blood cancers. For example, 94 percent of patients went into remission after receiving CAR-T cells in a clinical trial involving multiple myeloma, an incurable disease from which only 50 percent of patients survive five years after their diagnosis. The current estimated cost of a CAR-T cell therapy in the United States is in the region of $500,000 While extremely promising, CAR-T therapy has a number of disadvantages. The logistics of growing a patient’s CAR-T cells in the laboratory is difficult and takes time, something patients with advanced cancer often do not have. Cancer patients may not have enough healthy T cells to start the treatment in the first place. If donor cells are used, it can introduce a graft versus host response that can have serious consequences for the patient, especially as CAR-T cells persist in the body.  Moreover, the costs involved are considerable and likely to be beyond the means of most healthcare systems. The current estimated cost of a CAR-T cell therapy in the United States is in the region of $500,000. When ancillary costs are taken into account, this could rise to $1.5 million per patient, due to the bespoke and challenging nature of the treatment.  Our research is looking into an alternative cellular immunotherapy option using a different type of immune cell, the natural killer (NK) cell. NK cells are named for their natural ability to kill intruders such as virus-infected cells, or cells that display early signs of cancer. Their ability to kill tumour cells makes NK cells an attractive option for cancer immunotherapies. They also overcome many of the cons associated with CAR-T cells, as NK cells do not elicit the graft versus host reaction and only last for a few weeks to months in the body, thus reducing the risk of long-term side-effects.  NK cells can come from the patient themselves or from donors such as volunteers, cord blood units, and NK cell lines that are commercially available. The number of cells collected can be greatly expanded by culture in the laboratory, enabling the administration of multiple doses of NK therapy. For example, 100 doses of NK cell treatment can be produced from a single unit of cord blood greatly increasing the availability while reducing the cost of treatment. We are investigating new approaches to optimise the activity of NK cells for the treatment of cancer. For example, we have shown in the laboratory that we can modify NK cells to make them better cancer killers, and we are working to improve the way NK cells "home" or find their way to the site of the tumour.  How to remove the off switch Another major obstacle in cellular immunotherapy is the existence of "off switches" on all immune cells, including NK cells. These off switches or immune checkpoints are an important control measure to stop the immune system from going out of control, but cancer cells frequently exploit this to inappropriately turn off immune cells, thus evading detection and destruction. We are taking a unique approach to overcome this problem by silencing immune checkpoint receptors on NK cells, effectively removing the "off switch" completely.  Currently, the majority of research efforts in this field, including clinical trials, are focusing on the enormous potential of CAR-T cells, but we believe that there is equal if not greater potential for NK cells. Regardless of the cells being used, cellular immunotherapy is, without doubt, the future of cancer therapy. The results to date from CAR-T therapy in leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma have been truly outstanding. Patients who appeared to be completely resistant to drug treatments, such as childhood leukaemia patient Emily Whitehead, have gone into and remain in remission.  We should be starting to plan a national approach to immune therapies in the same way that the government re-organised cancer services This is a revolution in the treatment of blood cancers and may provide the prospect of a cure in certain patients. The sooner we embrace cellular immunotherapy, the sooner patients in Ireland will benefit from these revolutionary approaches. With the current population size in Ireland, this would warrant one to two specialist centres with the necessary expertise and infrastructure to deliver such complex treatments. This will require investment by our health service. We should be starting to plan a national approach to immune therapies in the same way that the government re-organised cancer services into specialist hospitals through the National Cancer Control Programme. As an early adopter and a leader in the research and development in this field, we will reap major economic benefits. Ireland will be in a prime position to develop innovative solutions that are attractive to industry, and produce graduates that are highly skilled in cellular immune therapy. We already have a strong record in the production of biologic therapies for the treatment of cancer, with many of the top pharma companies engaged in this activity in Ireland.  But we cannot rest on our laurels and need to ensure that pharma views Ireland as the go-to place for cellular immunotherapy in Europe. If the success of cellular immunotherapy in blood-based cancers can be expanded to solid tumours, the number of patients eligible for this treatment would increase dramatically. My hope is that we embrace this approach to save lives and put Ireland on the map as a pioneer in the delivery of cellular immunotherapy for cancer. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform.  Visit here

Monday, 28 May 2018

Author: Rebecca Downes, School of Humanities Analysis: no other contemporary writer has captured the comedy and tragedy of existence so intensely and with such humour and clarity as Philip Roth Having written part of a doctoral thesis on the theme of death in Philip Roth's work, I did not know quite how to feel when news of his death broke. Of course, death is nothing if not inevitable, and, at 85 years old, is not the worst that can happen. But it also is the worst that can happen. Roth knew this, and it is, in no small part, what makes his work so powerful. Roth published his first book Goodbye Columbus, a collection of short stories, in 1959. A decade later, he burst into the big time with the controversial Portnoy’s Complaint, a veritable panegyric to autoeroticism. Chronicler of the sex life of America, from the smashing of taboos in the 1960s to the prurient fascination of a nation "with a president’s penis" during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he has always railed against moralism. He is celebrated and reviled in equal measure for his outrageousness, honesty and humour in sexual matters. But his greatest theme of all is death. I came to Roth late. I had read a couple of his works and frankly I came away feeling queasy. But when I found myself researching death in contemporary fiction, he loomed unavoidably over me. I knew I would have to go back to him, if only to justify why I wasn’t reading him. My intention was to devise a dismissive paragraph or two on why we - particularly those of us who considered ourselves card-carrying, liberal feminists - were well and truly over the sex and death drives battling it out like little boys’ toy soldiers. I hated the thought of it and so turned somewhat reluctantly to his 1995 novel Sabbath’s Theater, which seemed to mark the beginning of an obsession with mortality that prevailed until his retirement in 2012. It was a fortuitous choice. Here (spoiler alert) is the last line of that novel:  "How could he leave? How could he go? Everything he hated was here." He was at once a classic liberal individualist and a penetrating critic of that most American of ideologies This is precisely how I felt about the book. I could not put it down. Everything I hated was there and it was like nothing I had ever read before. If ever a writer could set fire to the page, Roth could. My queasiness returned but this was rollercoaster nausea. I wanted more. I squealed with laughter. I felt the blood race from my heart to my head, a sense of surprise as horror turned to delight, and often I couldn’t tell the difference. It was remorseless, raw, disorienting, and I went away and read his entire canon. Drawing out contradictions was his talent. He relentlessly demonstrated the dangers of holding too tightly onto convictions and ideologies. This is eminently portrayed in his eerily prescient allegory of the current rise of the conservative right in The Plot Against America. He was a tireless champion of eastern European writers during the Cold War. He was at once a classic liberal individualist and a penetrating critic of that most American of ideologies. To my mind, no other contemporary writer has captured the comedy and tragedy of existence so intensely and with such humour and clarity as Roth. The very act of reading him brings home the ability we all share, if only we were brave enough to admit it, to hold contradictory views. His extraordinary lyricism is never schmaltzy because it is powered by the full force of a gargantuan intelligence and a remarkable largesse in portraying human foibles. It opposes the trenchant convictions of public rhetoric with - I don’t think it is too much to say -love. Although he was no Hemingway, Roth was a writer of sinewy sentences. Not for him the fragile translucency of Henry James or the sideways Irish evasion of Joyce. Roth wrote with a candour and confidence that is quintessentially American. He favoured nouns and he was inordinately fond of lists. His novels are replete with rhapsodic catalogues of the solid stuff of the world. Even writing about death, he could capture the sensation of being alive with outstanding intensity The night after his death I was out walking in Boora bog in Co Offaly and I could not get a sequence from American Pastoral out of my head, a sentence, almost two-pages long, a signature litany that exemplifies the sheer love of life that makes Roth’s writing such a pleasure: "chicory, cinquefoil, pasture thistle, wild pinks, joe-pye weed, the last vestiges of yellow-flowered wild mustard sturdily spilling over the fields, clover, yarrow, wild sunflowers". As I wandered through the Irish pastoral, I felt lucky for having returned to Roth, grateful for his legacy. Even writing about death - especially perhaps - he could capture the sensation of being alive with outstanding intensity. In his majestic works of the 1990s, one gets the sense that each sentence testifies to a tightening grip on existence. Roth was in his sixties at the time, and death, while still far away, nonetheless came sharply into focus. Confronting mortality inaugurated an exceptional creative outburst late in an already illustrious career. In the post millennial period, Roth produced a series of short books - restrained, masterful in their own way - chronicling the process of loosening that grip. These stark novellas chart a stepping back from the great messy tangle of existence. Their brutal clarity is devastating, as if he was writing himself out of existence —which, now we know, he was. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform.  Visit here

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Author: Dr Malie Coyne, School of Psychology Opinion: parents mean the best for their children and would never consciously intend to cause them stress, but do they do so inadvertently? The Stressed documentary followed the trajectory of five adult volunteers who felt overwhelmed by their busy lifestyles and wanted to "be in the moment" more rather "doing" all the time. As therapist to one of the volunteers, I found that using the link between daily living patterns and the three emotional regulation systems (i.e. drive, threat and soothing) from Paul Gilbert’s Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT) was a really powerful way of conceptualising and working with stress. For some, the insatiable need to succeed (drive system) may come from a painful place in our childhoods (threat system). This can result in us having real difficulty in nurturing ourselves (soothing system), as we may not have experienced a consistent model of soothing from our primary caregiver (usually a parent) as we were growing up. If a person hasn't been soothed adequately as a child, then it’s very difficult to know how to instinctively self-soothe in adulthood. This can lead to them ignoring stress alerts and not seeking much needed help and social support. Of course, traumatic experiences during a person’s lifetime including adulthood can also have a bearing. For more on the role of self-compassion in a VUCA (i.e. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world, Dr Nelisha Wickremasingue describes the modern world experience of toxic stress as having origins in not feeling good enough which can trigger a threat reaction related to the fear of rejection or abandonment. To counteract this, three self-compassion practices are recommended including self-kindness (having a warm, soft and soothing inner voice); mindfulness (noticing our thoughts and feelings in the present moment without analysing or denying them) and feelings of common humanity (recognising that imperfection and suffering as shared and inevitable human experiences). This brings me to the early origins of stress and the impact of parents’ early relationship experiences on children’s stress. This was alluded to in my Brainstorm article, which described an initiative by the Galway City Early Years Committee, alongside HSE Health Promotion, Galway Healthy Cities and Galway Parent Network, to share evidence-based messages promoting the child-parent attachment on posters displayed in health facilities in Galway. A parent’s ability to reflect on their child’s needs even under situations of high stress significantly protects the child from the negative impacts of stress This drew the attention of the Stressed documentary makers who were looking at how the stress response develops over the course of a person’s lifetime beginning with the early years. This culminated in them filming us sharing our poster messages dispelling common myths around early parenting and a discussion with a Mother and Toddler and Baby group at the Galway ARD Family Resource Centre, which provided wonderful food for thought on their parenting experiences. On the early origins of stress, one of the posters had the following message on it: "Holding a baby when they cry helps them to grow into a confident and trusting toddler." Myth: You should leave babies alone so that they learn to be independent. Truth: Babies left alone think they have been abandoned so become more clingy and insecure when you are around. Evidence: Early separation from those we depend can be very frightening for a baby and raise cortisol levels in the baby's brain, which shapes their developing nervous system and determines how stress is interpreted and responded to in the future. Babies who are held and soothed when in distress grow into more confident toddlers who are better able to deal with being away from their parents temporarily, rather than becoming clingy. Before delving into this further, it is important to note that most of us parent with the best intentions for our children and would never consciously intend to cause them stress, but do we do so inadvertently? If so, how can we best protect them and grow them into emotionally resilient adults? In our common humanity, it is important to note that we all struggle as parents and that nobody is looking for the "perfect" parent; all a child needs is what Donald Winnicott called a "good enough parent". But sometimes life can get in the way and a resurgence of our childhood wounds can come to the fore when faced with our children’s significant needs, which can feel really overwhelming at times. It is within the sacred crucible of the relationship we form with our children that they learn how to manage stress and to trust in another to support them through it. The quality of the child-parent attachment bond is the foundation for a child’s emotional regulation, which will provide them with a psychological immunity to stress and promote emotional wellbeing and future resilience. Sue Gerhardt talks more about how early stress impacts on the developing brain in her book "Why love matters: How affection shapes a baby’s brain". In it, she speaks about the vulnerability of babies to stress and their dependency on an adult to calm them down and to disperse their cortisol (stress chemical). There is also a need for the parent to acknowledge their baby’s distress and soothe them using the quality of everyday interactions to build a secure connection.  Parents play a crucial role in helping children to regulate their emotions, which requires a lot of self-control and an ability to regulate our own emotions. As our children’s emotional regulators, our aim is to establish pathways and systems in their brains which will enable them to do this for themselves in the future. Without this type of responsive caregiving, children can have later difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships and in managing adversity and stress. So are we stressing our children out? Unfortunately transmitting a certain amount of stress is inevitable Although most parents have good intentions with their children, this is often not enough to develop a secure attachment relationship. Based on 60 years of Attachment Theory, the Circle of Security presents a road map for parents to understand and reframe their children’s needs. This speaks about the power of reflective functioning (the ability of the parent to imagine their own and their child’s mental state) in learning to stand back and choose the most contained responses with children. A groundbreaking study worthy of mention is the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which assessed the effects of traumatic childhood experiences on the child’s developing brain and their future physical and emotional health. It found that the more traumatic experiences an adult had experienced as a child, the greater their risk for both physical and mental health problems later in life. For more on how childhood trauma affects health over a lifetime, watch the Ted talk by paediatrician Nadine Burke-Harris or this discussion on her recent book The Deepest Well.  However, it is not just a child’s experience of a stressor which leads to an impaired stress response in adulthood, but how this stressor impacts on the parent’s ability to care for their child. Studies have shown that a parent’s ability to reflect on their child’s needs even under situations of high stress significantly protects the child from the negative impacts of stress. Another seminal paper worthy of mention is Selma Fraiberg’s "Ghosts in the Nursery" which linked a parent remembering their childhood pain with less likelihood of re-enacting their past with their children. So are we stressing our children out? Unfortunately transmitting a certain amount of stress is inevitable, but ruptures in our everyday interactions with children can be repaired with awareness of our childhood wounds and the ability to stand back and make more adaptive choices. These rupture and repair moments actually build a child's capacity for trust in the relationship. It is all about the predominant parenting style where "good enough" is enough. Rest assured that hope does exist and it is never too late. With awareness and support, every parent can work on the quality of their emotional connection with their child, which will build a psychological immunity to the negative effects of stress. As for nurturing yourself as a parent, gaining emotional support and filling your cup is vital and a good start is to welcome self-compassion into your life.  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform.  Visit here

Monday, 14 May 2018

Author: Professor Ray Murphy, Irish Centre for Human Rights School of Law Opinion: now more than ever, we need to make clear that international law provides mechanisms for accountability The almost daily reports of atrocities being committed in Syria have created an impression that what is happening is somehow a normal part of contemporary conflicts. This premise must be rejected. Furthermore, we cannot allow the indiscriminate attacks and violations of international humanitarian and criminal law to continue or go unaddressed.   The recent successes of the Assad regime in defeating opposition forces around Ghouta, their last stronghold near Damascus, marks another milestone in the war similar to that of the fall of eastern Aleppo in 2016. It is now apparent that Assad and Russia intended to deal a final mortal blow to opposition forces irrespective of the consequences for the civilian population.   Since 2011, members of Syria’s armed forces and regime-aligned militias have been accused of committing serious human rights violations and crimes against humanity. This includes war crimes since the beginning of the armed conflict stage in July 2012. Russia and Iran, in addition to providing lethal weapons to the Assad regime, have also been implicated.  The UN Commission of Inquiry in Syria has documented human rights abuses by armed opposition groups albeit "not comparable in scale and organization with those carried out by the State". In 2012, it observed that human rights abuses perpetrated by armed opposition groups "may be prosecutable as war crimes". Apart from being a failure of international diplomacy and the UN, the current situation is an affront to all humanity.     At the heart of the problem with the UN Security Council is the abuse of the veto power of the five permanent member Nothing demonstrates the need for UN Security Council reform more than the inept response to date. At the heart of the problem is the abuse of the veto power of the five permanent members. These are more often than not central players in all the major armed conflicts around the world. They also happen to have primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security under the UN Charter while being the major arms manufactures of the world.  This is 2018, not Stalingrad during the Second World War or Grozny in Chechnya. The latter in particular provides a chilling insight into Russia's tactics and ultimate aim. Then, Russia also tried denial and counter claim to deflect attention from the widespread and systematic attacks on the civilian population and protected objects such as medical facilities.  What happened in Aleppo in 2016 and more recently Ghouta provides evidence of the broader strategy. The goal has been to crush all opposition groups in a brutal onslaught on rebel held areas. This is also part of a deliberate policy to drive the moderate rebels into the hands of more extreme elements and will ultimately leave no surviving moderates with which the West can align.  There must be accountability for the perpetrators of the war crimes and crimes against humanity taking place in order to deter others. There is evidence that this is what many Syrians want. It raises issues related to the so called peace versus justice debate as some argue that in the short term it would mean that those in power will have a greater incentive to fight on. The International Criminal Court is one option, but to date Russia has prevented the Security Council from referring the situation in Syria to the Court. A message must go out to all those involved in the conflict that what has occurred will not be forgotten and that all parties, not just the government forces, will be held to account.   Any criminal investigation must find its own evidence and build on what others have gathered, often at grave personal risk to local non-government organisations.  Models of other courts include the Ad hoc tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the Special Court for Sierra Leone or the Extraordinary Chambers for Cambodia.  The latter was established decades later to prosecute those most responsible for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.  The conflict in Syria will most likely be classified as a non-international armed conflict, albeit with an international dimension. This is because although Russian forces are participating in the conflict, they are there at the request and in support of the recognised government of Syria and this preserves the essential civil war nature of the conflict. The classification has significant implications for the legal framework governing the situation and hence the nature of any investigation and prosecution of alleged perpetrators.   A lot of evidence has already been gathered on the ground in Syria. The UN commissions of enquiry and similar investigation mechanisms may be able to assist in the process. However, any criminal investigation must find its own evidence and build on what others have painstakingly gathered, often at grave personal risk to local non-government organisations.  Unfortunately, there will be no accountability for those states and leaders that have prevented the UN from being effective. Russia and Assad act as if they have nothing to loose from mass killings. Politically and militarily this may be correct, but it constitutes an amoral strategy.  From a legal and ethical perspective, it must not go unchallenged.  Now more than ever, we need to make clear that international law provides mechanisms for accountability. Like those ultimately held to account before the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, there will be a day of reckoning for those most responsible for the crimes being committed in Syria. Unfortunately, the victims of the Syrian conflict may have to wait some time before this happens.  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform.  Visit here

Friday, 18 May 2018

Report: The discovery of black holes at the centre of the Milky Way will have major implications for future research By Valentina Balbi and Michel Destrade, NUI Galway Researchers at Columbia University recently announced the discovery of 12 Black Holes in the middle of the Milky Way galaxy. Projections estimate that around 10,000 isolated black holes should actually be located in a six light-years wide region. This discovery brings an end to a two-decade-long search for "a black hole density cusp" and will have major implications for black hole hunting and gravitational wave research. Black holes are invisible regions in the universe where the gravitational pull is so strong that nothing can escape from there, not even the light. That makes them particularly difficult to detect with classical telescopes. One trick astrophysicists have come up with is to capture the gravitational waves created when a black hole merges with another black hole. But it is extremely difficult to measure gravitational waves, because they travel billions of light years and reach earth with extremely low intensity. In fact, only five gravitational wave events have been recorded so far. The first confirmed detection took place in 2015, and lead to the awarding of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. It was due to the merger of two black holes into a black hole "binary". Professor Charles Hailey from Columbia University and his collaborators used an alternative strategy to detect black holes. They searched for the weak but steady X-Ray emissions resulting from a black hole merging with a smaller low-mass star. They concentrated their efforts in the "neighbourhood" of Sagittarius A*, a super-massive black hole located at the centre of our own Milky Way galaxy (our solar system is located at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, on one of its outermost spiral arms). Until now, no evidence had emerged to prove the theory that there were thousands of isolated black holes at the centre of our galaxy, surrounding super-massive black holes such as Sagittarius A*. The NASA’s archival data from the orbiting Chandra X-Ray Observatory revealed twelve X-Ray signatures of black holes – low mass stars binaries close to Sagittarius A*. From the density of these binaries among all possible black hole formations, the researchers were able to estimate that there must be about several hundred black hole – low mass star binaries, and tens of thousands isolated black holes hidden in the area within three light years of Sagittarius A*. Putting this figure into context, Matt Redman, director of the Centre for Astronomy at NUI Galway commented: "It’s astonishing to imagine all those black holes packed into such a small volume of space. By way of comparison, a similarly sized volume of space centred on the sun would not even encompass the nearest star, Proxima Centauri."  This cluster of black holes is the closest and most accessible cluster now known, located "only" 26,000 light years away from us, in a galaxy which is 100,000 light years wide. The study, which appeared in April in the scientific journal Nature, will have a strong impact on gravitational wave research. Scientists are now able to estimate how many black holes sit at the centre of the galaxy. This discovery will allow them to estimate which gravitational waves events can be attributed to black holes as opposed to other binary objects (white dwarfs, neutron stars) and supernovae explosions. Professor Andy Shearer from the School of Physics at NUI Galway commented that "The  presence  of so many black holes in such a confined volume makes black hole mergers, which produce the gravitational waves, more likely to occur. The centre of our Galaxy is an exciting place whose secrets will be revealed by telescopes such as ESO’s massive European Extremely Large Telescope and ESA's LISA, a space borne gravitational wave detector." Dr Valentina Balbi is a Marie Curie Fellow with the School of Mathematics at NUI Galway. Professor Michel Destrade is the Chair of Applied Mathematics at NUI Galway and a former Irish Research Council awardee. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform.  Visit here

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Author: Alison Herbert, Irish Centre for Social Gerontology Opinion: not all older people want to retire or, indeed, keep on working so it's important that policy makers take a nuanced approach to the extended working life Funny old month, Bealtaine. If it’s spring, we should have a spring in our step; if it’s summer, then we should be winding down. The Celtic festival of Bealtaine, a transitional point between the spring qquinox and the Summer Solstice, is traditionally a time to welcome back the light and sun, and trust in a healthy autumnal harvest. A more recent addition to Bealtaine in Ireland is the annual arts festival, which celebrates creativity in later life, offering opportunities to engage with music, drama, art, film and dance, and promotes all that is good about active ageing. Bealtaine lays down a strong marker that old need never be boring. But what does active ageing mean to older people and is this what they really want? The EU certainly believes so with its uncritical adoption of active ageing policies that embrace productivity. But this speaks to defining active ageing only within the narrow parameters of employment and an extended working life beyond the official retirement age. Governments have presented this seismic cultural change to work as a golden opportunity for us to flourish in a perfumed cloud of well-being, whilst building up our pension schemes. All of which is grand if those in their late sixties still love their jobs, are fit and healthy and view employment as a major part of self-identity. This is certainly the case for some and research tells us that those who can most easily afford to retire from the workplace are actually the ones most likely to continue working, or to "un-retire" post-retirement for reasons of self-fulfilment. But sizeable sectors of the population feel financially forced into continuing to work beyond retirement age and view this as a form of punishment not opportunity. For a variety of socio-economic reasons, many near-retirement aged workers may want out. They may want to try their hand at something different, to travel, to re-discover family and friends, or just to take it easy by putting their foot on the brake, not the accelerator. Both of these positions are perfectly valid. For some, their well-being and quality of life is improved by continued employment, but the converse is true for others. Those working in physically heavy, mentally demanding, precarious or meaningless jobs may view work as just another Manic Monday and see retirement as the get-out clause that they have long waited for. Women in particular have been found to be at a disadvantage in older age due to their often fractured work history. Gaps in employment to raise children or to act as carer to dependents, coupled with a leaning towards part-time or casual work all impact upon the ability to build up credits towards a non-contributory state pension or sufficient savings to contribute to a private pension scheme. This can, as a recent study on mid-life rural women in Ireland suggests, create a perception of future poverty and a felt need to continue working. That said, research also shows that many women work for more than pecuniary reasons. They may do so to secure a sense of purpose, forge social connections, gain status and establish an identity other than that of wife or mother. Whilst such women often emphasise the importance of job satisfaction over money, this nonetheless may leave them exposed to fewer resources beyond retirement age. Enjoying the present moment is of particular importance later in life so the attraction of retirement may outstrip that of an income A number of studies have looked at the gendered implications of retirement and the extended working life. While women may welcome the idea of new opportunities in late mid-life, and seize the time to engage in further education, travel, or new skills, research has found that many are simultaneously fearful of financial strain, lack of structured days, and loneliness. The decision to retire or not to is also influenced by the work status of one’s partner (or by not having a partner), the perceived state of health of both at mid-life and in later life and the need perhaps to help out adult children financially. Decisions around work and retirement are also influenced by the value we put on time: socio-emotional selectivity theory suggests that enjoying the present moment is of particular importance later in life when older people become acutely aware of limited time. Thus, the attraction of newfound time in retirement may be so powerful as to outstrip that of an income, secure or otherwise. A good quality of life is related to perceptions of control and autonomy. Studies clearly show that those who choose to extend their working lives or choose to retire tend to enjoy a better sense of well-being than those who feel forced into either decision. Such alerts suggest that governments and policy-makers would be well advised to adopt a more nuanced approach to the planning of the extended working life and pension-building that reflects the real trajectory of those in later life, particularly women. Older people who embrace active ageing, either through work or through an alternative pathway, must be similarly protected by policy actions against social exclusion in later life. To equate active ageing solely with work risks triggering its own Mayday signal.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Author: Dara Stanley, Botany & Plant Science Department NUI Galway Opinion: as the landscape begins to bloom again after winter, we should remember that springing to life involves a complex web of timings and relationships It’s that time of year again when life appears after a long, cold winter. Blackthorns are coming in to flower around the country providing a sea of white in our hedgerows, while yellow primroses adorn roadsides. It’s a particularly colourful time of year in woodlands, with bluebell, wild garlic, wood avens and lesser celendine all forming carpets on the woodland floor.  Their aim is simple: to complete their lifecycle before the canopy closes and the woodland floor is thrown back into summer darkness. For many of us, these signs of spring signal ever longer days and warmer weather and so it is no wonder they are a common talking point. With the "beast from the east" and other cold snaps this year, it is likely that many plants are taking longer to burst into life than usual and we have already seen the knock on impacts for farmers in terms of delayed growth of grass and other crops. It seems easy to jump to the conclusion that this is climate change raising its angry head. Of course, climate change is a stark reality, but it takes many years of observations of the timing of these spring events to deduce these long term trends. This branch of science – known as phenology – examines the timing of spring events such as bud burst or flowering time and compares data over long timescales. The National Botanic Gardens, Valentia Observatory and a number of other sites around Ireland are part of an international phenological network. Here, the same tree species with the same genetic origin are planted and the timing of spring events monitored. Research carried out by Alison Donnelly and colleagues at Trinity College Dublin found that the long term trend in Ireland is for these trees to begin growing earlier. However, uncharacteristic years like this sometimes buck the trend! The timing of spring events is also important for insects that interact with the plants that are bursting into life. Bumblebee queens that have been hibernating for the winter are currently starting to emerge. This is a particularly crucial time in their lifecycle; they have been overwintering alone underground, and now have to visit flowers to collect nectar and pollen, make a nest and begin to lay eggs. Only then will the queen have workers emerge who can help her with her work. Having a source of flowers producing nectar and pollen at this time of year can be crucial for their survival. If the timing of spring events is "mis-matched" between the plant and its pollinator, it could have implications for both forage for bees and for the reproduction of plants. A study in Japan found that in years when spring came early, flowers of a native plant species (Corydalis ambigua) emerged before their bumblebee pollinators and as a result did not set as much seed. In other parts of the world, it seems that although flowers are flowering earlier due to changes in climate, their bee pollinators are also emerging earlier and so both sides are keeping in rhythm. As well as wildflowers, spring is also an important time for pollination of Irish crops. Globally, three quarters of all crops benefit from pollination by insects and other animals. About 30 percent of the food that we eat comes from crops pollinated by insects, including almost all of our vitamin C as well as other important nutrients. In Ireland, most of our crops that benefit from insect pollination flower in spring time. Again, the timing of spring and the emergence of pollinators is key. Apple orchards around the south-east are just coming into bloom and oilseed rape will soon be visible as large yellow masses of flowers around the country. Oilseed rape is partially pollinated by the wind, but in Ireland, insect pollinators increase yields by about a third, contributing about €4 million to growers annually. Apples are extremely reliant on pollinators and without them, there would be little or no yields at all. So when you’re looking at the emergence of the first flowers in spring, be cognisant of the fact that it is more than just the start of a new season – there is a complex web of timing and relationships with other organisms at play. One of the key ways in which to help bee populations is to ensure they have a sources of nectar and pollen in early spring time when new bumblebee queens emerge for the first time. If you want to do something for pollinators in your garden or on your land, the All Ireland Pollinator Plan has some useful information and guidance.  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform.  Visit here

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Opinion: research shows that the development of empathy is essential to healthy social and emotional functioning By Pat Dolan and Cillian Murphy, UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre This year, we mark 50th anniversary of the horrific assassinations of Dr Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. In the six months prior to his death, Kennedy had said that he discovered what it meant to empathise and this came directly from his witnessing the poverty of, and prejudice towards, African Americans in the deep south of America. He said he had "walked in their shoes" and it had a very deep effect on him personally, leading him to become a stronger campaigner for civil rights.  Regardless of any view of him or the Kennedy family dynasty, what is key is the fact that by seeing and understanding the experiences of those who were oppressed he "self discovered" empathy. Interestingly, many years later, former US President Barack Obama has also referred to "empathy deficit" as a major problem in the US.  Fifty years on since the deaths of King and Kennedy, it may be timely to bring about a similar epiphany here in Ireland on the importance of empathy - and particularly so through our school systems. For many young people who experience harm in their lives that seriously impairs their mental health and capacity to cope (sometimes on a daily basis), they need specific adults and peers who empathise and care for them.  Thankfully for many young people, going to school is not a threat or a negative experience. But those who are being bullied very often because they are seen as different, don't fit in in some way or merely are just targeted may well experience school as a prison of living hell. Whereas a young person’s home and community outside of school was previously a shelter and a source of respite, being singled out by harmful messages with the use of smart phones and social apps can follow you everywhere. This has led young people to desperation, self-harm and, sadly for some, to suicide. So how can we counteract this? In terms of its social benefits, research evidence affirms that the development of empathy is essential to healthy social and emotional functioning. Across a range of disciplines, research has conclusively shown that the presence of empathy is related to positive academic, social, psychological, and personal developmental outcomes. Where levels of empathy are compromised, studies have found an increased propensity to engage in anti-social behaviour, such as bullying, aggression and offending behaviour. Other evidence suggests that lower social empathy appears to be associated with higher levels of interpersonal and psychological difficulties. Importantly, a significant body of research shows that social empathy and social connectedness promote greater life satisfaction and self-confidence among adolescents, as well as greater resilience to mental health problems. Research has also highlighted the importance of empathy as a deterrent to engagement in anti-social acts and as an enabler of pro-social behaviours. At a more basic level, there are four compelling arguments for empathy education in school systems. Firstly we now know from neuroscience that empathy is not a "fixed given" at birth nor is it "static", but can actually be grown or activated in the brain particularly during adolescence – so you can learn to empathise. Secondly, there is also growing evidence that if you learn empathy in school, you actually do better academically, so empathy learning can help you get better grades. But the two remaining arguments are perhaps the most compelling ones. By enabling social empathy education, you can reduce rates of hatred and instances of physical attack and mental harm targeted by youth to peers. You are therefore more likely to have a set of active youth who will intervene for and on behalf of those who are being victimised or excluded.  Finally, we raise our children not just for our families but also for the wider benefit of civic society so having young people who demonstrate active empathy to others is in everyone’s interest. But we have to take this seriously: just as we send our children to school to learn maths, English or geography, we should treat their learning of empathy in a similar way. Current research at the UNESCO Child and Family Centre at NUI Galway, with strong support from young people, is focusing on gaining new knowledge on the nature of empathy among Irish youth. Furthermore, through its Youth As Researchers Programme, the Centre has developed a curriculum for schools currently at a pilot stage in eight secondary schools and have advanced a community youth programme version in collaboration with Foróige. Importantly, the curriculum looks at how the arts (music drama literature) can be utilised by youth themselves as empathy builders. This all bodes well and particularly so with the new area of learning called wellbeing, which is now part of the junior cycle curriculum. While it is good and important to have wellbeing education (caring for ourselves), it needs to be enhanced with additional empathy education (caring for each other). The world is changing very fast and our education systems have to catch up. We believe social empathy is now a crucial global issue that needs further discussion and attention in our society. Active social empathy is about understanding, valuing and respecting other people, but it is also about taking action to help others and promote positive social change. The active presence of empathy which can be taught in schools as well as modelled in families and supported in local communities is key to preventing bullying, tackling racism, promoting compassion, and improving social connectedness. This is in all our interests now and into the future Prof Pat Dolan is UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement at the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway. Cillian Murphy is an actor and patron of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here  

Monday, 2 April 2018

Author: Enda Dodd, Business Innovation Centre Opinion: to mark World Autism Awareness Day, Enda Dodd talks about the tools which have helped his kids communicate a way out of the isolation of autism For those who have come to know our family around the world, they will tell you that we invest much of our energy in understanding communication. I say this because we believe and live a life immersed in and enriched by this understanding. We are a family who have faced great adversity and ultimately survived. This is a story that relates how we overcame a diagnosis of severe autism where our sons would never learn to communicate. How we transcended this diagnosis through a series of miracles. And mostly, why all this matters. Over the years, much like anyone making their way in the world, my wife Val and I have always had a healthy curiosity for the human condition. But when our children were diagnosed as severely disabled as toddlers, nothing we had experienced up to this time prepared us for what was coming. Autism is a really strange condition to be diagnosed with. It’s a condition where an elementary teacher might say of your child: "he’s very intelligent, but I have no idea how to reach him, he just can’t communicate, he doesn’t fit here, there must be somewhere else for him". Or the local athletics' club confides in you that there are parents who don't like their kids mixing with your less than perfect child, least they might be somehow damaged by the experience. I could write pages on this, but the word most pervading these pages would be "hopeless". Why all this matters We started as anyone might when they receive this kind of news and looked for some uplifting stories of families overcoming autism. There were a few, but they were largely the realm of the wealthy or the lucky on closer examination. Like most, we never had the resources to pay for that rare and unique private school and all that goes with it, like the speech therapy, occupational therapy, social training, rent-a-friend for your 'special' child, to mention but a few. In the US, which has the most autism services, you are talking anything up to $150,000 per year to create the kind of miracles which families like us are looking for.  Recently, our sons Conor and Eoin turned 21, and their story today is of two young men programming full time at a research centre in a leading university. They are contributing their energies to creating the tools and a road map that any family can follow out of the isolation of autism, something they really feel strongly about. Conor and Eoin are making a real difference in the world today, because of who they are, not because of how they were labelled. Today, we and the boys are working with over 400 families around the world, families whose children have started life much as ours did. Children who would never communicate and destined to live their lives in the shadows. Yet through the boys’ efforts and that of an extraordinary support team across the globe, these children will communicate and emerge to take their place in our world. We are only beginning, but the Animated Language Learning (ALL) system has recorded over 50,000 answers to language exercises from children who were often described as unreachable. Their activities on ALL grow language and open up our understanding of their reasoning and use of language, much in the same way that Conor and Eoin did. In this, the support we have received at NUI Galway has been wonderful and has enabled the boys in a truly special way. Our increasing understanding of the ALL data is teaching us how to unlock these children. Indeed, leading NUI Galway researchers in computer science and artificial intelligence are assisting in the mapping of this data while being uniquely supported by the school of education.  What comes next? Our work in this area has led us to conclude that language is a gateway to life. Autistic children emerging with language need to learn how to interact with society, just as society needs to accommodate their differences. As Val constantly says, language is ultimately experiential and is only truly understood in its social use. Our family splits its time between the creation of the ALL language programs and advising parents on how to grow their children in line with their abilities and not society's expectations. Our websitereceives hundreds of thousands of visitors who draw from Enda and Val's blogs on everything from going to the supermarket to dealing with the death of a family member. Our work in this area has led us to conclude that language is a gateway to life Our research center in NUI Galway has attracted the support of Disney, Adobe, Microsoft and Google. I've traveled to Brussels with a view to establish the funding needed to make a real impact in the autism world. NUI Galway is the hub of our endeavour and the spokes reach out around the world. And at the centre of it all are Conor and Eoin, young men who possess an understanding possible only from their unique experiences. Our story will soon become enriched by the academics, teachers, parents and children who are rewriting their futures built on the shoulders of two young men once described as hopeless. Two great communicators who even today are largely non-verbal. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Author: Rebecca Barr, School of Humanities Opinion: there are troubling parallels between historical and contemporary attitudes to rape and sexual assault - and the difficulty of trying such cases in a court of law The nine-week Belfast rape trial has done what decades of sectarian conflict never did and brought the entire country together in an intense debate about law and morality, sympathy and truth. The acquittal of the four young men has intensified, rather than quelled, debate, as women’s bodies and women’s wishes have again become a symbolic battleground for entire visions of society and justice. Irrespective of the outcome, the evidence presented during the trial has been seen as representative of a modern "toxic masculinity" and the grotesque excess of porn culture. But it can also be read as part of a misogynist continuum legible in legal history and literary fiction. For those of us familiar with historical fiction, there are troubling parallels between historical and contemporary attitudes to rape and sexual assault (and the difficulty of trying such cases in a court of law). In 1747, a novel entitled Clarissa, or, The History of a Young Lady by a middle-aged printer named Samuel Richardson, presented a fictional case-study of sexual assault and its repercussions on a young woman. Clarissa is a long read, a detailed account of the lead up to and aftermath of a dimly-described rape. The novel plays off competing subjective versions of events, converging only on the assault, though its meaning is disputed. The female heroine, Clarissa Harlowe, is an exemplary young woman who is pressurised (or hoodwinked) into leaving her parents’ house with an attractive nobleman named Robert Lovelace. His subsequent attempts to seduce her are unsuccessful, thanks to her steadfast and often violent refusals. Clarissa is finally raped, drugged and hysterical, with the assistance of female accomplices. She escapes and precipitately dies, another tragic female heroine in the age of sexual double-binds. She refuses to prosecute, preferring divine justice: "God Almighty would not let me depend for comfort on any but himself", she says. The novel doles out its own form of justice by killing off the now-disconsolate Lovelace. Yet despite the clear intent demonstrated by Lovelace, 18th-century readers were divided. Some felt that Lovelace was too attractive to be wholly bad and that Clarissa’s fatal sorrow was an over-reaction to a natural passion. The author, if no-one else, believed there was a moral message: libertines did not make good husbands and women’s consent mattered. Laughing at rape and rape victims (whether alleged or proven) has a long lineage Modern readers of Clarissa sometimes respond with "the enormous condescension of posterity". This is a sense that the contemporary public sphere is more accommodating of women’s testimonies, certainly more respectful of the seriousness of allegations of rape and sexual assault, believing that the law has evolved to sift subjective accounts and interrogate witness credibility less brutally than before. Yet the Belfast trial shows how close we are to those "unmodified" and cruel forms of public appraisal that underpinned the 18th-century legal system. Reporting for the Irish Independent, Nicola Anderson noted that the spectatorial nature of the open trial led to a reduction in "common decency", where "rape trial day-trippers" treated the proceedings as "a stage production" performed for their entertainment. During much of the plaintiff’s testimony, "scornful laughter rang out in the public gallery", despite the seriousness of the charges. Such forms of humour remodel suffering and shame as a triviality. Laughing at rape and rape victims (whether alleged or proven) has a long lineage. During the 18th century, rape trials were mined as a source for jokes. The Humours of the Old Bailey (1772), an anthology of "comic" trials, advertised the "merry and diverting" rapes included in its pages. The 18th century was inherently skeptical about women’s reliability when discussing sexual activity: articulate accusation and inchoate distress were both judicial liabilities. On the witness stand, then as now, women were open to incredulity, derision, and mockery. As both the Belfast gallery and the 18th-century mob show, nothing disables sympathy and gravity more than laughter.  There are further parallels. Clarissa is written in letters, with both characters giving intimate accounts of events, generating credibility, revealing intentions to their confidants. Richardson’s novel thus harnesses the "to-the-moment" potential of correspondence: the familiar letter was the instant message of the 18th century. The reliability and truthfulness of textual evidence is something the novel explores: what do we mean when we write? How does our audience shape our self in writing? Can  writing reflect our true selves? In the third edition of Clarissa, Richardson added an extra letter, designed to consolidate the moral ugliness of the villain, Lovelace, for readers who persisted in sympathising with him. In it, Lovelace proposes that he and his best male friend embark upon a triple rape: assaulting Clarissa’s best friend Anna, her mother, and a maidservant. This "frolic" – a kind of 18th-century lads’ night out – is an expression of male entitlement. This letter makes Lovelace’s disregard of women and the indiscriminate logic of power underlying sexual violence explicit. He does this because he can and because he revels in his impunity. Lovelace refutes the idea that such an assault would result in imprisonment. Women are unlikely to prosecute, he notes, but he would be delighted if they did. British law "is more merciful in these cases than in any others" and a criminal trial would provide just another stage for exhibiting his prowess. His social prestige and sexual attractiveness will inevitably seduce the audience: "all the women" will favour the defendants and excuse their crimes.  The group texts in the Belfast trial pose similar interpretive questions as those in the novel: how reliable an index to the defendants’ characters are they? The messages exchanged between the defendants in the Belfast trial parallel this fantasy. In both cases, homosocial bonding amplifies misogyny; both correspondences reduce women to objects – stage props that merely confirm the glamour and supremacy of the male participants. Lovelace’s gleeful "what brave fellows! - What fine gentlemen!" is echoed in the smug "why are we all such legends?" of the WhatsApp texts: both revel in their youthful glory. The group texts in the Belfast trial pose similar interpretive questions as those in the novel. How reliable an index to the defendants’ characters are they? As Judge Patricia Smyth advised, "communications of this kind are normally instantaneous and without consideration and may be ill-judged and not representative of character of the sender". As the acquittal shows, the language of sexual degradation is not equivalent to committing a crime. But skeptical readers, like literary critics, can argue that what is written "without consideration" might be evidence of unconscious disposition: interpretive suspicion extends beyond the courtroom. Unlike the law, fiction depends on generating judgement and sympathy, complicating and refusing easy decisions, so that we continue to debate ambiguity while practicing moral discernment. Both Clarissa and the Belfast trial have acted as a kind of touchstone of opinion and both offer us a moment of genuine self-reflection. Novels such as Clarissa illuminate the history of sexual violation and the power dynamics of desire and disavowal at work in our culture. The subjective and historical perspectives they give us show us how badly we have failed to progress. If literature teaches the work of sympathy, we need to start reading now. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Monday, 16 April 2018

Author: Professor Ray Murphy, Irish Centre for Human Rights School of Law Opinion: the clear lesson from the bombing of selected targets in Syria by the United States, France and United Kingdom is that international law counts for little  Once United States president Donald Trump had tweeted his intentions, the bombing of selected targets in Syria was almost inevitable. The use of chemical weapons is prohibited under international law and a flagrant violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The question then arises if the retaliatory attacks launched by the US, France and the United Kingdom can be justified under international law. This is a question of fundamental importance as the alleged violation of international law by the Assad regime is being used as justification for military action.  The law is clear on the use of force and this is reflected in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter which states: "members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of forces against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations". The exceptions to this are self-defence under Article 51 and action approved by the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter. The Security Council failed to adopt a number of proposed draft resolutions on chemical weapons in Syria as it was rendered impotent by the veto mechanism of a permanent member once again, this time Russia. What can be achieved by military strikes on Syria? It is difficult to assess the damage caused to Assad’s infrastructure, but such a co-ordinated attack and the use of fighter jets means that it was probably substantial. Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to destroy the regime’s capacity to use chemical weapons (chlorine gas is an easily acquired industrial chemical). Destroying Syria’s airforce would have had a greater impact, but would require a prolonged and concerted bombing campaign with the risk of direct confrontation with Russia. The strike on Shayrat airbase in 2017 showed that even more that 50 of these extremely expensive cruise missiles landing on a single airbase was not able to keep it out of operation for more than a few hours. That demonstration of US intent and firepower evidently did little to deter further chemical attacks. US Defense Secretary James Mattis said that more than 100 weapons were launched against three main targets on this occasion. He did not specify how the targets were hit, but stressed that the operation did not pose a danger to civilians. It is ironic that a former general was seen to try to restrain Trump earlier in the week and that the president was reported to be unhappy with the options his own military presented to him. "The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons. Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States", Trump said. Armed reprisals In effect, the air and missile strikes constituted what international lawyers refer to as an armed reprisal. A reprisal is the use of military force following an incident usually intended to punish, retaliate or to deter further such incidents. None of these examples fit the exception to the prohibition on the use of force contained in the UN Charter. Reprisals need Security Council authorisation to be lawful and the Security Council has never authorised a reprisal and will not do so in the case of Syria. In 1970, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States which stated that the fundamental rights and duties of states included a "duty to refrain from acts of reprisal involving the use of force" against other states. In 1994, the UN International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion on the Legality of Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons declared that armed reprisals in time of peace are unlawful. Similar reasoning has been followed in later cases. The message for Assad and his allies is that he can continue to slaughter his own citizens - just don't use chemical weapons when doing so. The US has played fast and loose with principles of international law when seeking to take military action and resort to the use force outside the framework of the UN Charter. Even Obama linked US military action to national security when he sought Congressional approval for strikes in Syriafollowing the 2013 chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime (such approval was denied at the time). The UK has sought to justify the action on the basis of humanitarian intervention. This does not stand up to scrutiny and the estimated deaths of half a million Syrians since the conflict began, in addition to the millions displaced, demonstrate the fallacy of this argument. The true motives behind so-called humanitarian interventions in the past were exposed by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), set up by the Canadian Government, which at the end of 2001 issued a report entitled The Responsibility to Protect.  Iran has called the attack by the US, France and the UK a "tripartite aggression", in what appears to be a reference to the British, French and Israeli aggression against Egypt during the Suez crisis in 1956 (when the US stepped in to prevent the situation escalating). America has its nuclear and conventional weapons arsenal to rely on to enforce its will and it does not feel that it needs the protection of international law. Ireland and similar countries must always rely on these principles and should not be afraid to speak out when they are violated. The best one can say for now it that the air strikes could have been worse. The attack appeared to be carried out in a manner that sought to avoid direct confrontation with Russia and, according to the US and UK, to prevent civilian casualties. Right now, we just have allegations and counter claims, with the truth somewhere in between. Why Russia opposed an independent investigation and why the investigation under way was not given time to make a preliminary finding before the attack was launched can only be surmised.  The failure to wait for the results of the investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is deeply troubling. The clear lesson is that international law counts for little when it gets in the way of the major powers. The message for Assad and his allies is that he can continue to slaughter his own citizens - just don't use chemical weapons when doing so. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Author: Elaine Byrnes, School of Psychology Opinion: it's not enough just to have "The Talk" or leave everything to teachers who may lack training in what is a specialist subject with unique challenges As someone whose research area focusses on sexual behaviour and the communication of consent, I followed the Belfast rape trial closely. It has reiterated for me how tenuous the grasp on understanding consent really is from a behavioural perspective, particularly amongst emerging adults aged between 18 and 29. It has further reiterated my view that education in consent is required at second level as a matter of urgency.  I co-facilitate a sexual health module, being piloted with TY students at the alma-mater of my colleague, Richie Sadlier. This work has strengthened my assertion that our existing approach to sex education in this country is obsolete, inadequate and fails to meet the needs of young people. There is a requirement for review and inevitable change that goes beyond enhancing what exists. Ours is a six week module and we conduct a pre-module survey on week one. The rationale for this is to give us a baseline for the boys' understanding of sexual health. Unsurprisingly to us, it is limited. We also ask what are the three topics they would like to see covered during the module. There is remarkable consistency in this: healthy relationships, consent and contraception.  By a happy coincidence, these are the basic themes that run through the module. They want to understand what consent means in reality and how they can communicate it in relationships Feedback too has been overwhelmingly positive – from the students themselves, their parents and the school. I believe there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, from the boys perspective, our focus is on the promotion of sexual competence. There are four underpinning principles to the establishment of adolescent sexual competence in anticipation of the circumstances for first intercourse: absence of regret, willingness (not under duress), autonomy of decision (a natural follow on in the relationship, being in love, curiosity), as opposed to non-autonomous (being intoxicated or peer pressure) and reliable use of contraception.  The primary objective of the module is to encourage the boys to explore what positive sexuality means for them and others in a safe, supported environment. Its intention is also to empower them with the skills to actively and affirmatively negotiate these experiences, both for themselves and others, in sexual relationships. I see how conscious the boys are of issues related to consent. They are also acutely aware of related gendered stereotypes, culturally and societally embedded, that are invariably heteronormative, in which males are depicted as predatory and females as passive. They want to understand what consent means in reality and how they can communicate it in relationships. For me, it also involves translating what has become quite a convoluted concept down to basic respect: respect for boundaries, respect for feelings, respect for what the other person wants and needs and what they want and need for themselves. This is crucial to supporting young people in developing healthy and mutually satisfying relationships regardless of gender, sexual orientation or identity. Secondly, from the perspective of parents. While some of the boys recount open communication with their parents on matters related to sex and sexuality, most say it has been confined to "The Talk", an awkward and uncomfortable experience for all involved. This is not unique to South County Dublin! One parent recounted that their son’s participation in the module led to the unexpected and welcome opening of a dialogue at home. I readily understand that there is a certain onus of responsibility on us as parents to facilitate our children’s developing knowledge and education about relationships and sexuality. I am equally understanding of the reality that it will probably take another generation before we have matured societally in Ireland for this to happen in any meaningful way. Indeed, in countries with a more progressive approach to sex education, such as Norway and Finland, children learn through both school and home that sex and sexuality are healthy and normative components of the human experience. Thirdly, from the perspective of the school, there is confidence in and support for the delivery of a module that goes way beyond that of the existing RSE programme. I am still at a loss to understand how a topic such as sexuality is expected to be delivered in the same way as other subjects, by embarrassed teachers who lack training in what is a specialist subject with unique challenges. It is also an unfair burden to expect a Geography, History or English teacher to effectively "moonlight" as a sexual health educator. The very real benefits of a comprehensive, interactive, peer-led programme are currently only available to one year in one, single gender school In my experience, the relationship between us as facilitators and the students is very different to a teacher-student relationship. I readily understand how challenging it is for a teacher, regardless of how engaged and enthusiastic they may be in endeavouring to deliver the existing programme, to seamlessly reassume an authoritative role in the next class of their primary subject. What was at the beginning of our pilot an uncomfortable realisation has now become a source of frustration for Richie and I: the very real benefits of a comprehensive, interactive, peer-led programme are currently only available to one year in one, single gender school. It is only by implementing and ensuring consistent delivery of such a programme in each and every secondary school that we have the opportunity to develop sexual competence and protect the sexual health of young people. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Friday, 20 April 2018

Author: Eva Szegezdi, Apoptosis Research Centre Analysis: many common cancers spread initially to the bone marrow and research is underway to tackle the protection the tissue provides to these cells Cancer therapy should target cancer cells, but is this the most effective approach? New research indicates the need for a much bigger net to tackle not just cancer cells, but the tissue in which they grow. Until recently, cancer research focused on how to eliminate cancer cells and did not consider the surrounding tissue in which the cancer cells grow, known as the cancer’s microenvironment (or niche).  As cancer is caused by damaged DNA creating faulty genes, called oncogenes, it was broadly accepted that inhibiting these oncogenes would kill the cancer cells without causing much collateral damage. Consequently, a tumour has been treated as a separate entity existing and growing in the body, almost with a life of its own. However, there are many indications that this is not the case. For example, we know that when cancers spread, they favour certain tissues to set up home in. The "seed and soil" theory suggests the reason for this is that a cancer cell (the seed) is only able to take root if it finds the right kind of environment (soil). Although this theory was put forward more than a century ago, it is only in the last decade that research into the tumour’s microenvironment has really come to the fore.   When we hear about cancer patients whose disease has unfortunately spread, very often these "secondaries" or "metastases" have spread to the bone. If we consider some of the most common cancers (including breast, prostate, colorectal, pancreatic, kidney, bladder, thyroid etc.), their first choice of destination, if they spread, is the bone marrow. At the same time, leukemia, a cancer that develops in the bone marrow, rarely, if ever, forms metastases. Why is this and what is so habitable about the bone marrow?  To understand this, we must first consider the normal purpose of this tissue. The bone marrow is where our blood cells are produced. Red blood cells carry oxygen to tissues, while white blood cells serve as the immune system providing protection to the body against infections. They are all formed in the bone marrow from blood stem cells (hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells). Blood stem cells can lay dormant in the bone marrow, or multiply and develop into the different blood cells, depending on the need. Interestingly, whether a blood stem cell stays inactive or multiplies is decided by the bone marrow tissue, not by the cell itself. For example, when someone comes down with a cold, a large number of white blood cells are needed to fight the infection so all the white blood cells are released from the bone marrow into the blood to find the bacteria or virus. This "emptying" of white blood cells is detected by the bone marrow microenvironment and leads to the production of activation hormones that tells dormant blood stem cells to multiply and replenish the white blood cell pool. Cancer cells also take advantage of these survival hormones which is probably why they find the bone marrow to be the perfect location to establish a secondary tumour  Besides these activation hormones, the bone marrow produces a constant stream of survival hormones, essential to keeping the blood stem cells alive. These survival hormones are so powerful that if a blood stem cell doesn’t receive these signals, a countdown timer is activated in them that causes them to self-destruct and die within a few days. These survival hormones protect the blood stem cells from dying and also arm them against toxins and stress. Cancer cells of other tissue origin can also take advantage of these survival hormones and this is probably the reason why they often find the bone marrow microenvironment to be the perfect location to establish a secondary tumour or metastasis. Evidence so far for this includes results from a new drug that specifically targets an oncogene (called FLT3) that acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells have. It was noticed in the clinic that this drug has a very short-term effect. Laboratory investigation found that AML cells can be killed when this drug is added. However, when the same AML cells receive the survival signals produced by the bone marrow, they can fully resist the drug and do not die. So when a patient receives this therapy, it appears to work initially as the drug kills the AML cells that are circulating in the blood stream. However, the AML cells hiding in the bone marrow survive and, after treatment, they grow again and the full blown disease returns. Novel therapies are now being designed specifically to tackle the protection the bone marrow provides to cancer cells. One such approach is to coax cancer cells out of the bone marrow and into the blood stream where they are more susceptible to treatments. This can be done as AML cells regularly move between the blood and the bone marrow. A new drug called Plerixafor (currently in phase II clinical trials) has been designed to bring AML cells out of the bone marrow and prevent them from returning. Once the AML cells are in the blood stream where they don’t receive the survival signals, they can be killed with chemotherapeutic drugs. Another approach, which is underway at NUI Galway, is to make the bone marrow more hostile to cancer cells. The research group found that a specific drug changes what hormones bone marrow cells produce. By adding this drug, the bone marrow cells produce hormones that weaken, rather than protect the cancer cells, and thus making them more sensitive to chemotherapy. In the future, drugs that make cancer cells leave the bone marrow or drugs that block the production of survival hormones can be used to sensitise cancer cells to chemotherapeutics. This will make the therapy more effective with the potential to kill all cancer cells and thus preventing the return of the cancer. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Author: Professor Gary Donohoe, School of Psychology, NUI Galway Opinion: compared to adults, mental health is the single biggest health issue young people face As a researcher and a practicing clinical psychologist, it’s been wonderful to see the increased focus on mental health in the national media. So many different voices and experiences are shaping the narrative – from celebrities like Mariah Carey talking about living with bipolar disorder to Prince Harry talking about the psychological effects of grief. Nationally, individuals from the world of sports have also made important contributions, including Dublin GAA footballer Nicole Owens and Galway hurler Conor Whelan talking about coping with mental health difficulties, either one’s own or those of a family member. As these conversations happen, public understanding of mental health and mental disorders is expanding. Previously, conversations about mental health focused particularly on depression and suicide. Now, other mental health difficulties, including bipolar disorder, OCD, social phobia, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia are starting to be included for discussion. What is perhaps still not being discussed enough though is that a majority of these disorders begin in young adulthood. There is good evidence now to show that 75 percent of serious mental health difficulties start between the ages of 15 and 25. Furthermore, by comparison with older adults, for whom mental health is only one among several causes of disability (along with cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, and cancer), mental health represents THE single biggest health issue young people face. Despite this, young people and their families face enormous problems with accessing appropriate services, not just in Ireland but in other developed countries also. Some of these problems are to do with the developmental stage of the young person. On the one hand, the young man or woman is meant to be on a trajectory towards moving out of home, relying less on parents and more on their peer group. On the other hand, he or she is ill-equipped in terms of life experience to seek help or advocate for themselves. Difficulties with correctly recognising symptoms, and continuing high levels of stigma, compound this problem. However, other problems with accessing services are structural. Mental health services, like most health services, are designated as either child and adolescent services (up to aged 18 years) or adult (from 18 years onwards), creating an enormous sense of discontinuity. It positions young people aged 15 to 25 at the "edges" of both services, rather than as their target group. Many families are appalled by their experience of this gap – there is nothing worse than having a son or daughter in crisis, seeking help, and finding yourself in a waiting room full or 40 and 50 year olds. Other criticisms include an insufficient range of services, the only qualified professional you can be guaranteed to see is a medical professional and, even at that, services are often delivered by junior doctors who change positions every six months. Not a major problem if you’re having your appendix out over a couple of days, but a serious barrier if the mental health care you need is likely to take several months. It positions young people aged 15 to 25 at the "edges" of both services, rather than as their target group Last December, the National Youth Mental Health Task Force commissioned by the Irish government outlined 10 key recommendations designed to tackle the gaps in service provision. These included tackling these issues of accessibility and alignment of youth mental services. It also recommended strengthening the provision of youth mental health services in schools and third level institutions where young people are, rather than just in traditional mental health services, and strengthening community supports more broadly. It also identified the need to improve our knowledge about youth mental health and build a critical mass of researchers in this area, which has been lacking until now. Paralleling this recommendation, the Irish Health Research Board recently committed €1.5 million to fund a consortium of Irish and International researchers to carry out a series of studies tackling key questions about causes, treatments, and the delivery of services in youth mental health. Led by researchers from NUI Galway, UCD and RCSI and partnered by the HSE and JIGSAW, the YOULEAD research will last for five years, and will provide PhD level training to a group of future clinical and academic research leaders in youth mental health. The five key areas being tackled by the YOULEAD programme are: (1) adversity and outcomes – identifying preventable causes of youth mental health difficulties (led by Profs Mary Cannon and David Cotter, RCSI); (2) understanding barriers to treatment – identifying strategies to support parental help-seeking (led by Prof Eilis Hennessy and Dr Caroline Heary, UCD/NUI Galway); (3) improving participation – establishing a framework for youth participation in mental health service development and delivery (led by Dr Padraig MacNeela, NUI Galway); (4) community interventions - evaluating the effectiveness of current community based interventions (led by Prof Barbara Dooley and Dr Aileen O’Reilly, UCD/Jigsaw and (5) online social interventions – evaluate the health benefits of providing online social supports (led by Prof Gary Donohoe, NUI Galway). The questions being tackled do not have simple answers and translating any new knowledge into policy and practice will be challenging. But establishing this research network and training future leaders in youth mental health research represents one of the key steps needed in getting serious about tackling the largest health issue facing our young people. The YOULEAD program will commence in September 2018 and is currently accepting applications from prospective clinical fellows and PhD scholars. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform.  Visit here

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Author: Barry Hayes, College of Engineering and Informatics Analysis: the success or failure of the rollout of new meters will depend on the Irish consumer’s willingness to engage with the technology Smart electricity meters will soon be installed in households and businesses across Ireland. The first 250,000 smart meters will be installed in 2019 and a total of 2.3 million meters are due to be in place by 2024. The smart meter rollout is replacing the old mechanical meters with a box of electronics containing sensors which measure and record a building’s total electrical energy consumption. The meters also contain a communications module, which allows this information to be automatically transmitted to the electricity supplier via a mobile network, so no broadband connection is required. This means that estimated electricity bills and manual meter reads by an ESB technician will soon be a thing of the past.   However, all of this comes at a cost and it’s the electricity customer who will foot the bill. As with any part of our electricity network infrastructure, the cost of smart metering will be passed onto the consumer via our electricity bills. Each of us will pay €5.50 per year for 20 years in order to cover the costs of smart metering. The Commission for Energy Regulation smart metering cost-benefit analysis report indicates that these costs are expected to be more than offset by the energy savings resulting from smart metering, with a net economic benefit for the Irish consumer. But are smart meters really necessary? And what have experiences been like in other countries where smart meters have already been rolled out? Smart meters provide us with much more detailed information on our electricity usage and, in theory, greater awareness of energy usage will promote better energy management and energy efficiency in the home. Smart metering also opens up new possibilities for dynamic "time-of-use" energy pricing, where the price of electricity for consumers varies throughout the course of the day. This changing electricity price reflects the actual cost of producing electrical energy at any given time. Electricity is a unique commodity in that it is highly volatile and extremely difficult to store in large quantities. In effect, our electricity needs to be generated in the same instant that it is consumed. Electricity generation is far more expensive and carbon-intensive during times of heaviest demand on the national grid (for example, the evening peak demand on winter days), since dirty fossil fuel "peaking" generator plants need to be ramped up. On the other hand, electricity can be much cheaper to produce from renewable sources on windy days, and when overall system demand is lower. These factors are reflected as price changes in the electricity wholesale market, where huge volumes of electrical energy are traded daily. Greater awareness of energy usage will promote better energy management and energy efficiency in the home With smart meters, small users such as householders will have the opportunity to participate to some degree in the national electricity market. By adjusting their energy consumption to avoid heavy consumption during peak times, consumers will be able to avail of lower electricity prices at times when overall system demand is low and when renewable energy is plentiful. Users can adjust their energy habits in the home manually or with smart building technologies so energy savings can be achieved automatically without the user noticing any impacts. Smart meters were trialled at over 5,000 homes in Ireland in 2009 and 2010, showing a 2.5 percent reduction in overall electricity demand and a peak-time demand reduction of 8.8 percent (full results are available here). Ireland is a relative latecomer to smart metering in the developed world, but experiences from other European countries show total energy savings from smart metering in the range of two to three percent, broadly in line with the results from the Irish smart metering trials. While these headline figures for overall energy savings may not seem very impressive, this can translate into hundreds of millions of euro in savings from deferral of grid infrastructure investments and lower CO2 emissions, particularly if the peak electricity demand can be reduced. There is potential for greater benefits to be achieved in the future, as more small consumers install electric vehicles, smart home technologies and batteries, thereby increasing their ability to "flex" their energy consumption according to electricity prices. However, the last time we tried to introduce smart metering in Ireland (the ill-fated Irish Water project), the result was very little public acceptance, mass protests, aggression towards meter installation teams, and the ultimate abandonment of the entire project. Is electricity smart metering likely to be any different? Other European countries show total energy savings from smart metering in the range of two to three percent  Electricity smart meters may prove to be more publicly-acceptable, since they represent an upgrade of the existing metering technology for a service which customers are already billed for. There are also encouraging signs that the Commission for Energy Regulation have learned from the mistakes of electricity smart meter rollouts in other countries. The smart meter rollout will not be supplier-led (as it was in the UK, for example) which will result in a lower overall cost to Irish consumers and will allow customers to change their electricity suppliers easily after the smart meters are installed. The meter rollout will be phased in such a way that early adopters (consumers who are interested in having a smart meter) will be focused on first, with the aim that they will provide a positive example to others. Consumers with concerns about smart meters can opt-out and keep their "dumb" meter, but will not have access to savings or benefits from the scheme. Ultimately, the success or failure of the electricity smart metering project will depend on the Irish consumer’s willingness to engage with the technology. Smart meters are a critical part of our future energy infrastructure, but regulators face a huge task in persuading the public of the merits of the scheme. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Friday, 13 April 2018

Author: Barry Houlihan, James Hardiman Library Opinion: is George Bernard Shaw still relevant to our times? The instantly recognisable brand of George Bernard Shaw, a figure consciously self-cultivated and reinvented across the globe and through generations, is one of the central questions addressed by Fintan O’Toole in his recent study of Shaw’s life and legacy, Judging Shaw (Royal Irish Academy). It is timely for a new contemporary reassessment of just who GBS was and just why he mattered so much to the international social, political and artistic discourse of his time. But is he still relevant to our time? Is Shaw our contemporary? The answer to this can never be briefly surmised and that is what makes Shaw not just still relevant but perhaps never as important as he is today. His vast body of plays and lengthier prefaces (sometimes longer than the plays themselves) as well as his near endless tracts of writing and public commentary around his commitment to socialism, the eradication of poverty and the search for a society of fairness dominated many of his achievements; from John Bull’s Other Island to Saint Joan and from the Fabian Society to fulfilling the role of one of the world’s foremost public intellectuals. The afterlife of Shaw and our understanding of his legacies are being broadened by access to new archival material. Digital access to photographs, scripts, letters, manuscripts and ephemera at repositories around the globe such as the London School of Economics, the Harry Ransom Centre, The New York Public Library, The British Library and the Hardiman Library at NUI Galway means that, like Shaw’s global identity, the archive of Shaw is also a global entity. After Shaw died in November 1950, Irish audiences were seldom without the opportunity of seeing his plays. However, as a sign of changing tastes and theatrical movements, British playwright John Osborne dismissed GBS in 1977 as an "inept writer of Victorian melodramas". Yet new generations of Irish and British audiences attained new appreciations for Shaw’s theatre in this period through a spate of major revival productions. The ability of GBS’ work to adapt and speak to the globalising and modernising world of the 1960s and succeeding decades allowed new companies and theatres to reinvigorate Shavian theatre in terms of practice and production. At home, the initials and enduring brand of "GBS" was prominently pictured on the programme cover of a Festival of Anglo-Irish Theatre by Druid Theatre Company in Galway in 1977, in the form of a reproduction of the autograph tree at Coole Park, the home of Lady Augusta Gregory. Druid's Garry Hynes also directed Shaw plays Village Wooing and The Fascinating Foundling in 1978 and 1979. Cork-born director Mary O’Malley staged Shaw’s satire on "the Irish Question", John Bull’s Other Island, In Belfast in August 1971, the same week the British "Operation Demetrius" enforced "internment without trial" against Republican suspects. This brought Anglo-Irish relations to a perilous low, while audiences and critics signalled their emphatic approval of the play. Belfast critics commented, seemingly without irony in the backdrop to conflict, that the play has "blown the cobwebs off Shaw" and delighted in the Shaw revival having finally reached Belfast. Siobhan McKenna, the celebrated actor who was dubbed by Brian Friel as being ‘the idea of Ireland’, adapted and starred in Saint Joan. Capitalising on the still relatively recent canonisation of Joan of Arc in May 1920, Shaw brought the newly sainted Joan to the London stage through Sybil Thorndikein 1924. McKenna translated the script into Irish for a production at Galway’s Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe in 1951 and later starred as Joan to critical acclaim on Broadway in 1956. The tragedy of Shaw’s depiction of the trial of the saint-in-making, which traverses themes of myth, legend, conflict, language and identity, is that the play was deemed so necessary to the world in the wake of World War II. The idea of how to commemorate GBS, one of the world’s most well-known and celebrated literary and intellectual figures, after his death in 1950 remained to be seen. Shaw’s image and likeness was recorded, documented and appropriated throughout and after his lifetime. A pioneering photographer who was fascinated by the technology and methods of the medium, Shaw took great care to experiment with capturing his own image for posterity. Varying light, space, location and angle, these images of Shaw have become an archive of the ageing image and body of GBS, a figure as recognisable as his own initials. Shaw had complex opinions about his effigy and legacy. He discarded his birthday by deed poll and avoided celebrating his birth, telling a reporter in Scotland on the occasion of his 60th birthday that he was "not young enough to be really proud of my age and not old enough to have become really popular in England". Shaw rebuffed the idea for a commemorative plaque to be mounted on the house of his birth in Dublin's Synge Street. He said he would strictly only consent to the biographical details he himself submitted and that the plaque "must bear no inscription of opinion as to my merits and demerits and must state only the unquestionable fact that I once lived in this house." Considering his own mortality, Shaw later joked that his ghost would be "enormously amused" if his statue, cast in bronze by the sculptor Paolo Troubetzkoy, would be placed on College Green in Dublin, next to the statues of Oliver Goldsmith or Henry Grattan, figures who were both Trinity College alumni and symbolic of the formal classical education Shaw himself did not receive. Shaw’s wife, Charlotte, took great efforts to ensure that Dublin would "possess a good portrait" of her husband, leaving a portrait by John Collier to the National Gallery during his lifetime. In a filmed interview at his home in Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire, the 90-year old Shaw delighted at the cameras and those present. "Well, it's very pleasant to have seen you all here. And to think that you are my audience, and all that. Because I'm a born actor, myself. I like an audience. I'm like a child in that respect. Well, goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye all of you." Shaw regaled in having an audience. He never lost his child-like fascination with the world and people and the pursuit of ideas. It is true today that we are all still Shaw’s audience. A new exhibition Judging Shaw, produced by the Royal Irish Academy and NUI Galway will open at The Heyman Centre at Columbia University in New York next week with an event debating the question, Shaw, Our Contemporary? Participants will include Catriona Crowe, Ruth Hegarty, Barry Houlihan, Lucy McDiarmid, Adrian Paterson and Keri Walsh. Fintan O’Toole will deliver the keynote lecture entitled "GBS Versus Ireland: Bernard Shaw and Irish Nationalism." This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here  

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Author: John Cox, James Hardiman Library Opinion: it's time to change the current system which generates big profits for publishers and denies free public access to research findings On the surface, publishing science research looks uncomplicated. Researchers make discoveries and communicate their findings in journals, with important breakthroughs summarised in the news media. Communication was the focus of the first journals in 1665. This remained so until after the second World War when a major expansion in scientific research activity and funding was matched by a proliferation of new journals. Until then journals had largely been the preserve of learned societies, but commercial publishers now saw an opportunity for profit. Pergamon Press, spearheaded by the media tycoon Robert Maxwell, was a leader who cultivated prospective authors through lavish hospitality at conferences. This helped to encourage a mindset among researchers that the journal in which one published could be an important consideration. Some journals promoted exclusivity, rejecting many submissions and conferring prestige on the authors they accepted. In 1972, a measure known as the journal impact factor began to be published. This ranked journals according to how often their articles were cited in reference lists by others, bringing them to wider attention as a result. Some journals become more attractive than others as channels through which research would be more widely noticed. Like fashionable nightclubs, they became places to be seen. Researchers need to publish to be successful, so they provide their articles for free and sign away copyright in return for their inclusion in prominent journals Journal publishers were in the right place at the right time. They owned the means by which academic researchers could not only promote their work, but also advance their careers. As research funding began to tighten in the 1980s and 1990s, a greater focus on accountability and performance measurement emerged. Publications, the key currency of research, were scrutinised and the impact factor became a convenient metric for those making decisions to award funding or promotion. Ownership of journals promised even more profitability and marketplace competition resulted in consolidation among the big players. The sale of Pergamon to Elsevier in 1991 was the prime example. Profit looks inevitable when you consider the remarkable business model involved. Researchers need to publish to be successful, so they provide their articles for free and sign away copyright in return for their inclusion in prominent journals. This great giveaway furnishes researchers with "career-defining tokens of prestige" which the current research assessment system values and requires. They even serve for free as journal editors or as members of editorial boards to ensure quality control of what is published. Publishing costs are contained, thanks to freely provided intellectual capital and ease of distribution through digital channels. Perversely, the primary paying customers for publishers are the libraries of the institutions which populate their journals for free. This may be strange for the general reader to believe, but it is true! Scientific journal publishing today is reckoned to generate almost €22 billion in global revenues. Consolidation has created a premier league dominated by a small number of very large companies, with five publishers identified as responsible for over half of all papers published in 2013. Profits are high for the top players: Elsevier’s 2017 figure of over €1 billion represented a profit margin of 36.8 percent, while Informa and Wiley enjoyed similar margins, all higher than Google’s 24 percent. Much of that profit comes from the annual subscriptions publishers charge to libraries. These costs are not controlled by competition as each journal is unique and one title cannot substitute for another. Publishers can set their own prices and journal cost inflation has for decades exceeded average retail price increases. Monopolies often have unhealthy consequences. There are concerns that "impact factor mania" distorts the conduct of scientific research. It is arguedthat preference is given to articles on topics which will attract lots of citations quickly and boost a journal’s impact factor. This can cause important research to be excluded. Negative results may be wastefully replicated because they are not published. Communication of findings can be delayed as authors work through a cycle of rejection by high-impact journals. The impact factor has flaws which may be overlooked by those who rely too much on it for decision-making about grants and careers. Despite this, China, Turkey and South Korea are reportedto have incentivised researchers financially to publish in high-profile journals. The power of publishers has implications too. Their interests seem to have had undue government protection.  A study in 2006 found that just a few journals, led by Nature and Science, published almost a quarter of the most highly cited scientific papers. In addition to controlling journals, some have created concerns about a conflict of interest as they also own tools used to evaluate research quality and impact. Journal prices are high, reducing the purchasing power of libraries in other areas, including book collections. Worst of all, access to research findings is unequal and limited to those who pay or who work in institutions which can afford an annual subscription. The public is therefore denied open access to the research it largely funds. Is there any hope of changing this unsatisfactory situation? At last, this seems to be the case. The internet has always offered the potential for alternative publishing systems to provide open and free access to research papers. The Open Access Movement dates back to 2002 and its influence has increased in recent years. A 2018 analysis finds that at least 28 percent of the world’s scholarly literature is freely and legally available, with a higher figure of 45 percent for 2015 publications. Open access comes in multiple flavours. These include a delayed version, often published by libraries, after the expiry of an embargo period. Another is immediate publication on payment of a processing charge to the publisher. There is a move towards trading annual subscription fees against publisher guarantees of immediate and perpetual open access to the publications created by the buyer. Libraries in the Netherlands, Finland and Germany have been negotiating accordingly for open access. Success will increase the volume of publications freely accessible to the public and move the pricing dynamic from the publisher’s journals to the buyer’s articles. A less palatable form of open access for publishers is represented by illicit sites like Sci-Hubwhich circumvent paywalls to make publications available for free. Such "biblioleak" sites pose a threat to publishers, especially as their coverage has been estimated at 85 percent of paywalled articles. Change is in the air and the time seems ripe to challenge profiteering and paywalls and expect better value and universal open access The European Union has taken the position that all publicly funded scientific papers published in Europe should be freely available by 2020 and the European Commission is currently establishing an open access publishing platform. More than 900 universities and research funders have published open access mandates. Decision makers are being urged to review how they evaluate research and many are signing the Declaration of Research Assessment. This emphasises assessing research on its merits regardless of the journal in which it is published. Researchers are vital to achieving change. They are being mobilised to retain the copyright in their publications, withdraw from journal editorial boards (as in Germany) and to return to scientific values of advancing knowledge and serving society. Change is in the air and the time seems ripe to challenge profiteering and paywalls and expect better value and universal open access. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Monday, 23 April 2018

Author: Gerard Madden, School of Humanities Opinion: the Bishop of Galway Michael Browne's clerical career reveals much about the Catholic Church's changing influence in 20th century Ireland When considering the skyline of modern Galway, the impressive vista of Galway Cathedral looms large. Completed between 1958 and 1965, the cathedral is the most visible legacy of Michael Browne, the Bishop of Galway from 1937 to 1976. Born in 1895 into a middle-class family in Westport, Co. Mayo, Browne served as Professor of Moral Theology at St. Patrick’s Seminary, Maynooth, before being appointed bishop of the western diocese. He was an important figure in the Irish Catholic hierarchy at a time when the influence of the Catholic Church over state and society in independent Ireland was at its height. His period as bishop witnessed the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in which he participated, as well as many changes in Irish society. Yet Browne’s significance inthe Catholic Church’s role in 20th century Irish society is obscured by the popular focus on John Charles McQuaid, the Archbishop of Dublin from 1940 to 1971 While McQuaid’s biographer, John Cooney, described the Archbishop as the "ruler of Catholic Ireland", this ignores the importance of other members of the Irish hierarchy in the period, such as Cardinal D’Alton of Armagh, who was McQuaid’s ecclesiastical senior. Browne’s importance is also shrouded by McQuaid’s long shadow. The downfall of the Mother and Child Scheme in 1951 has often been identified as a clash between the Minister for Health, Dr Noël Browne (no relation of Bishop Browne) and McQuaid. A free health care measure for mothers and children proposed by the Minister for Health, it attracted strong opposition from the Catholic hierarchy, who viewed it as "socialised medicine" and argued that attempts to expand the state’s role in the area of healthcare had the potential to erode clerical control of Catholic hospitals. It eventually led to Noël Browne’s resignation as minister. But the former government minister suggested in his autobiography Against the Tide that his episcopal namesake, Michael Browne, was more important in the Scheme’s eventual failure than McQuaid, implying that Michael Browne had "manipulated" McQuaid "with much skill" into opposing the proposal. Browne was certainly a caustic opponent of the Scheme in his public pronouncements, declaring that it "reminds one of the claims put forward by Hitler and Stalin. These enemies of Christ claimed power over the bodies of their subjects and they exercised that power in their clinics and concentration camps". The bishop was memorably described by Noël Browne in Against the Tide as "a big man, well over six foot tall, his height enhancing the long black soutane with its thousand and one pea-size scarlet buttons". His outspokenness, illustrated by statements such as the one above, was noted as one of his defining characteristics. He earned the popular nickname "Cross Michael", a play on both his outspoken reputation and the traditional practice of bishops to draw a cross before their signatures. He had a deep interest in social issues. Close to Fianna Fáil, he was appointed by Éamon de Valera to chair the Commission of Vocational Organisation, set up by De Valera in 1939 to consider proposals to restructure Irish society by introducing corporatist organisations based on Catholic social principles. Under Browne, the Commission produced several reports in the early 1940s which were ultimately never implemented. In Galway itself, Browne was deeply concerned about public morality, and historian James S. Donnelly has highlighted his frequent condemnations of public drunkenness at the Galway Races and his opposition to members of both sexes bathing together in Salthill as prominent examples in this regard. He oversaw the construction of many new churches in the diocese, Galway Cathedral being the most striking example. In contrast to many of his flock, he was supportive of efforts to provide housing to members of Galway’s travelling community, strongly condemning vigilante attacks on travellers in the Rahoon and Shantalla areas of Galway City in 1969 and 1970. Browne also had a keen interest in international affairs, particularly the global expansion of communism after the second World War. During the early days of the Cold War, he joined Catholics across the world in condemning the house imprisonments of Cardinal József Mindszenty of Hungary and Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac of Yugoslavia by their countries’ respective communist governments. He defended anti-communist crusader Senator Joseph McCarthy and warned Irish Catholics in Britain to avoid the Connolly Association, a left-wing Irish organisation in Britain with communist links. The final years of Browne’s time as bishop were marked by the growth of secular and modernising forces within Irish society. Like his colleague McQuaid, he was unused to the increased questioning the Irish Catholic Church encountered from the 1960s onwards. A few months before his death, Browne, joined by dignitaries including his successor, Bishop Eamon Casey, dined privately with Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the Pope’s 1979 visit to Galway. While his period as bishop is extensively chronicled in his papers held at the Galway Diocesan Archives, Browne is an understudied figure whose clerical career reveals much about the Church’s changing influence over state and society in 20th century Ireland. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Author: Miriam Haughton, O'Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Opinion: With a new production of the playwright's On Raftery's Hill about to open, how will audiences react to the play this time around? The Abbey Theatre’s decision to produce Irish playwright Marina Carr’swork On Raftery’s Hill is a brave one, as is the decision to direct it by Caitriona McLaughlin. While Carr is internationally acclaimed as a great playwright, On Raftery’s Hill is potentially one of her most difficult pieces for audiences and critics to engage with. It asks uncomfortable questions about how Irish communities operate, resonating with some of the darkest truths of history. Co-produced by the Druid Theatre and Royal Court in 2000, the premiere production toured throughout Ireland, the UK, and the US and reactions were severe. Following the international success of Carr’s Midlands’ Trilogy, expectations were high for the next big play from Ireland’s emerging leading female playwright. Instead, On Raftery’s Hill was met with confusion, shock, resistance and even anger and disgust. Is this Ireland? Is this what we should expect from an Irish play? The underlying implication was that this isn’t in line with the traditional pastoral kitchen sink delights. Indeed, where are those comely maidens dancing at crossroads? On Raftery’s Hill is set in a kitchen on family farmland in rural Ireland but disrupts any nostalgia for cosy Irish homesteads that may be provoked on introduction to this setting. The Raftery home is a broken home and the audience act as witness to intergenerational abuse and despair that is played out in two acts. While the artistic sensibility of Carr’s dramaturgy is most often considered as influenced by Beckettian landscapes, living appears as a nightmare that will not end in this play and resonates more with James Joyce’s infamous dictum on history in Ulysses through his haunted protagonist Stephen Dedalus. The sense of imprisonment is overpowering. There are animal carcasses rotting in the surrounding fields and the living human bodies appear to be rotting inside the house. Four generations of women remain in the house, from the grandmother Shalome to the great-grandaughter Sorrel, and possibly five generations if, as hinted, Sorrel is pregnant by the end of the play and ensuring that the next generation will be as traumatised as this current one. The father Red Raftery, both villain and victim, roams the fields torturing baby animals as he tortures his own young. While those familiar with Carr’s dramaturgy will expect familial tragedy and spectacle of epic proportions, these are usually staged at a clear remove from "reality" by non-realist staging devices, such as the insertion of mythical characters and ghostly goings-on. In much of her work previous to ORH, one can say "yes, this is awful, but it is a play and not real" and often concludes on a note of hope or change. The dramatic action in ORH is more difficult to remain removed from and there is no hope, change or exit for the characters by the end of the play. The trauma is naturalistic, identifiable and clearly resonant of deeply embedded problems in Irish history and society. Specifically, the violence and abuse (sexual, physical, emotional) that is enacted by generations of the Raftery family and facilitated, if not protected, by the wider community, draws tense parallels with the exposure of systemic abuse in the main institutions of modern Irish life, such as within the family, community, school and church. In 2000, these exposures were still ongoing and raw in the national consciousness; will this be less so by 2018? Indeed, one can now add violence and abuse in the workplace to that list. Will this change how audiences and critics engage with this play? One can question why this play is so difficult to stage when popular culture is bursting with regular and often flippant portrayals of violence. Representations of violence have become normalised to varying degrees. Yet the violence and trauma enacted in this play does not provide a simplistic image of victim and perpetrator, followed by the swift rule of law to ensure justice prevails. The rape scene that concludes Act I is written to be performed centrestage, followed by a blackout and lights up on the audience for the interval. The father’s rape of his virginal daughter is chilling and brutal. The naturalistic staging of the rape on the kitchen table (stabbing the kitchen table with a knife to signal penetration) is tense and threatening. The staging of violence, torture, incest, abuse, humiliation, and despair is clear and effective. Following this, there is an interval, and the audience must make polite conversation as they queue at the theatre bar. How does one begin a conversation? As is generally the case, the trauma here is both physical and psychological. While the traumatic act of rape is committed by a single perpetrator in this scene, the crime is protected by the complicit silence staged in the dramatic world. This violation alongside the general familial and cultural complicity speaks to histories of patriarchal social structures that continue to normalise and safeguard domestic abuse that are part of the wider dramatic reality and indeed, clearly resonant with contemporary society. For the Irish audiences attending this play, the community depicted on stage is the one "we" can relate to and the one "we" continue to build. History does not provide a buffer nor protection. The only technique Carr utilises to convey some potential psychological distance between the realist social forces underpinning the narrative and its contextual cultural parameters is the questioning of the evolution of humans from animals, and the potential heredity consequences of this evolution. Carr’s play questions the nature-nurture dialectic. Consistent references to the animal kingdom suggest that the Raftery family relies on this link to defend themselves as nothing but "gorrillas swinging in the trees". This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Author: Professor Ray Murphy, Irish Centre for Human Rights School of Law Opinion: should we allow foreign donations to support the activities of Irish civil society organisations?  Civil society organisations such as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International play a vital role in promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms. One of the chief ways they do this is by holding the government to account. They are also engaged in advocacy on issues within their respective mandates.  Sometimes the campaigns adopted by such organisations may not be to everyone’s liking, especially the relevant government when its policies are subject to informed criticism. In this way, civil society organisations play a key role in a functioning democracy, especially when it comes to political accountability.  The recent controversy in relation to Amnesty International’s refusal to return a large donation it received from outside Ireland to support the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment is a case in point. In the eyes of the public, this issue and the abortion debate are conflated. This is a mistake as there are more fundamental issues at stake about the role and funding of civil society organisations in general. In January, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, the EU’s centre of human rights expertise that helps to ensure the fundamental rights of people living in the EU are protected, published an important report on the challenges facing civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU. The report provides a timely insight into the situation throughout the Union and is especially relevant to Ireland, owing to the recent controversy surrounding the interpretation of the 1997 Electoral Act as amended.  The controversy revolves around the interpretation of a 2001 amendment to the 1997 Electoral Act and its enforcement by the Standards in Public Office Commission. The legislation was originally intended to prevent political corruption and regulate political campaign funding. However, it is now being interpreted broadly and it is being applied to the ordinary work of community and voluntary organisations. Legitimate fears have been expressed that there is a real risk that these laws may be used to potentially muzzle legitimate and important voices in civil society such as community organisations, non-profits, charities and international NGOs among others. The EU Fundamental Rights Agency noted the vague wording of the 1997 Act as amended and the tendency to interpret it in an overly expansive manner. It drew particular attention to the broad definition of political purpose and its potential adverse impact on civil society organisations in Ireland and noted that funding for this sector had fallen dramatically in recent years. In addition, investigations are often triggered by complaints to the regulatory body, so enforcement can inadvertently be selectively targeted. The publicity generated by this dispute and the forthcoming referendum on abortion has distracted from the broader debate about the implications for the wider civil society sector A further problem with the Electoral Act is the ambiguous language used to define a "third party" (the mechanism used to classify the types of groups which fall under the Act’s provisions). Since 2001, the definition of what constitutes a third party includes any organisation simply seeking to influence government or public policy that has received a donation in excess of €100. This is at the heart of the current dispute between the Standards in Public Office Commission and Amnesty International Ireland. The publicity generated by this dispute and the forthcoming referendum on abortion has distracted from the broader debate about the implications for the wider civil society sector.  The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of assembly and peaceful association has drawn attention to the work of civil societies in advancing peace, development and respect for human rights. He recommended that they be able to receive funding from domestic, foreign or international sources without undue impediments. The UN Human Rights Council has repeatedly emphasised that undue restrictions of civil society space have a negative impact on implementing international human rights standards. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has also highlighted the shrinking space for human rights organisations and their important role in keeping people informed. He called for a flexible approach to funding sources and for states to refrain from imposing burdensome administrative requirements.  EU countries such as Hungary and states such as Russia, Ethiopia and Israel have sought to prevent foreign sources of funding to civil society organisations. Irish Aid has funded civil society organisations abroad.  Non governmental organisations such as Trocaire, Concern Worldwide and Christian Aid have also supported civil society organisations in the Global South. More recently, Irish Aid has stipulated that none of its aid should used for political purposes. This raises the question of how an aid agency is supposed to support a civil society organisation defending human rights against an oppressive regime or in occupied territory. Criticising such policies was fine when they applied to other countries, but now a similar situation has emerged in Ireland Supporting such activities is important and engaging local civil society actors can be the most effective and efficient use of resources. The irony is that we are now closing down similar activities in Ireland. The challenging environment for civil society is also hampered by similar rules governing the purpose and activities of charities. These constrain the nature of the activities they are permitted to undertake to obtain and maintain their charitable status.  It is not surprising that the EU Fundamental Rights Agency report highlights that it has become harder for civil society groups to support the protection and promotion of human rights due to both legal and practical restrictions on how they operate. The challenges faced vary from state to state and depend on the type and size of the organisations involved as well as the particular domestic and historical contexts.  Criticising such policies was fine when they applied to other countries, but now a similar situation has emerged in Ireland. The legislative framework needs to be reformed and civil society given the space to survive and grow. We have a very active and diverse civil society sector, and like Ireland’s non-governmental organisations, these have served us well. Anything that keeps people engaged and informed must be facilitated and promoted. Democracy is too fragile and important to leave to government or its agencies to nourish and protect.  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Author: Conor O'Byrne, School of Natural Sciences Research: knowing how bacteria sense their environment may be an Achilles heel that we can use to kill them Bacteria are small cellular life forms that are extremely good at surviving all kinds of stresses. They have been around for much longer than us: there is good evidence that they have existed on earth for four billion years or so, whereas our ancestors appeared only in the last million years. They have had therefore plenty of time to adapt to the changeable conditions on our planet. Like us, bacteria respond to stress by changing their behaviour. They can move away from the source of the stress or put up protective barriers to help them to survive. This ability to respond to stress is also present in bacterial pathogens that can infect us. When they get into our bodies, they are faced with stressful conditions (acid in the stomach for example) and they have to survive these before they can cause an infection. Once they sense that they are in a host, they protect themselves appropriately and they also switch on their virulence programme in order to begin the infection. So how do the bacteria know where they are? How do they sense their environment so that they can behave appropriately? How do they know they are in a human host? Without this information, they wouldn’t be able to survive and importantly for us they wouldn’t be able to cause disease either! PATHSENSE is an EU-funded project at the Department of Microbiology at NUI Galway which has begun to investigate this problem. The long term goal is to understand how bacteria sense their environment so that ultimately we can block this sensory system and prevent them from surviving in our food or in our bodies. Imagine that you are deprived of all your senses (vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch) and then put into a dangerous situation, such as the middle of a busy motorway. Your chances of survival would be very small. If we could do the same to bacteria, we might be able to prevent them from surviving in situations where they pose a threat to us. PATHSENSE is a €3.4 million project that involves eight different universities, a research institute and four companies spread across seven different EU countries. 13 researchers have been recruited who will move between laboratories for training and short research periods. While these researchers will tackle different aspects of how bacteria sense stress, all will be investigating a structure present in many bacteria that acts like a miniature brain for processing sensory information. The structure is called a "stressosome" because of the role it plays in allowing bacteria to sense stress. Although we know it exists we know very little about how it works. The stressosome is analogous to a brain and, like the human brain, we still have a huge amount to learn about how it works. To understand how it gives a sensory capacity to bacteria, the PATHSENSE project will try to take this structure apart and work out what each sub-unit contributes to its function. The researchers will use a range of molecular tools to investigate its structure. The long term goal is to understand how bacteria sense their environment so we can block this sensory system and prevent them from surviving in our food or bodies A big challenge will be to work out how different stresses can be sensed by the same structure. As with human senses, bacteria can sense and respond to a range of different features in their environment, including changes in temperature, acidity and light. Information about each of these things can help the bacterium to "know" where it is and to respond accordingly. Inside a human, it’s dark and acidic and the temperature is a cosy 37˚C! There are a number of food companies involved in the project, including the multinational giant Nestlé. For them the goal is to use the information we generate to help make food safer. If we could prevent bacterial pathogens from surviving in our food, a big improvement in food safety might be achievable. It might also help to extend the shelf life of food, which would be a big help to coping with global food shortages that are likely to increase as the human population continues to grow. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Author: Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Department of History Opinion: the work of early Irish scholars and astronomical experts on developing mathematical tables helped to solve the thorny problems of Easter-calculation "What could be more perverse than to say 'Rome is wrong, Jerusalem is wrong, Alexandria is wrong, Antioch is wrong — the whole world is wrong: only the Irish and British know what is right!'?" With those despairing words in 632/3 AD, Irish scholar Cummian expressed the fervour of the debate around the dating of Easter that convulsed the churches of Early Medieval Ireland and Britain during the 6th and 7th centuries. Why the controversy and why did the Irish occupy such a central part in it? Easter Sunday marks the annual commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fundamental belief shared by Christians of all denominations everywhere. But Easter was not always celebrated on a Sunday, nor did it always commemorate Christ’s Resurrection only. Because the first followers of Christ had been Jews, the practice in the earliest years of the Christian Church was to regard the "new" dispensation as a re-enactment of the Old Testament feast of Passover. That commemoration was of Christ’s Passion, not his Resurrection, and this always took place on the 14th day of the month called Nisan in the Jewish calendar, no matter what day of the week it fell on.  However, in order to decisively separate themselves from the older Jewish practice, some Christians resolved that the New Testament feast day should take place on Sunday, on the basis that the gospels recorded that Christ rose from the dead on that day. There is an irony in the fact that an older custom was replaced by a newer one and adherents of the earlier practice were condemned by later fellow-Christians as heretics ("Quartodecimans", those who celebrated on the 14th day of the moon). It was an accusation that came back to haunt the Irish long afterwards. Until the 18th century, the Synod of Nicaea in 325 AD was believed (wrongly) to have laid down the rule for Easter-reckoning that we all follow today: Easter is the first Sunday following the first full-moon after the vernal or spring equinox, with the earliest possible date being March 22 and the latest being April 25. From the third century, attempts were made to provide mathematical tables that could provide dates for Easter into the future, so that distant churches could be informed of the date in good time every year. Unfortunately, the technical abilities required to produce accurate tables were beyond the capacity of Rome and its experts and only the Alexandrian Church could draw on the necessary mathematical and astronomical expertise required for such calculations.  Many different tables were proposed and discarded over the years. By the late fourth century, the church of Alexandria was claiming that it had been designated by the Synod of Nicaea as the official provider of canonical dates. But whereas Alexandria reckoned its Easter dates in accordance with a 19-year Metonic lunisolar cycle, Rome and the rest of the western church persisted with versions of a different cycle, based on multiples of 28 years, but usually in the form of an 84-year table. By 600 AD, three different Easter tables prevailed: the 532-year cycle of Victorius of Aquitaine (which had been published in 457 AD and officially adopted by the Church of Gaul in 541 AD); the 19-year table attributed to Dionysius Exiguus that circulated from the mid-6th century and an older table variously but wrongly described as "Irish", "Celtic" or "Insular", based on a cycle of 84 years. This Irish-84 table actually originated in Gaul around 410 AD and was composed by Sulpicius Severus, biographer of St Martin. It had several distinctive features that marked it apart from previous 84-year tables and Irish computists may well have been the authors of those features. The first hint of trouble with the Irish version of Easter came in 600 AD, when the famous missionary saint Columbanus arrived on the continent. He found that Irish practices differed markedly from what was current in Gaul, not least as regards the calculation of Easter. Deciding to get his retaliation in first, he fired off a letter to Pope Gregory the Great. Equally remarkable for baroque Latinity and studied insolence, the letter roundly criticised the Pope for advocating the use of Victorius’ table, something that had been examined by Irish scholars and mathematicians and been found "more worthy of pity and ridicule than of authority". The letter would have irked a saint, but there is no record of a reply from Gregory. However, the letter clearly set off a firestorm in Rome that resulted in a frenzy of papal activity aimed at establishing the identity of this Irish upstart and ensuring that his unorthodox practices were stamped out. A papal delegation to England that passed through Gaul in 605 AD reported encountering Columbanus. "Knowing the British", they remarked undiplomatically. "we at least thought the Irish were better". To their horror, they discovered that Columbanus and the other Irish on the continent shared some of the deviant practices of the heretic British. How dare they "on the outermost fringes of the known world" and but "pimples on the face of the earth" set themselves against Mother Church everywhere in the world! Cummian’s letter reports the upshot of this flurry of papal activity. On foot of a letter from Honorius I, a synod of southern Irish ecclesiastics was convened to discuss the crisis. Despite much heated argument and learned debate, no agreement could be found so a delegation was despatched to Rome, to see what was current practice in that Chief of Cities. When the delegates returned and described their findings, Cummian reports that the southern Irish churches decided reluctantly to abandon their 84-year table and adopt the Victorian one (or a variant of it). But far from resolving the issue, the decision by Cummian’s colleagues drew down a fearsome letter of rebuke from Ségéne, Abbot of Iona, the island monastery founded off the western coast of Scotland in 563 AD by St Colum Cille, who blasted the southerners for their craven abandonment of traditional Irish ways. More than that, he clearly accused them of heresy because in his reply Cummian says starkly "shut your mouth, and don’t call us heretics!" (Silete et nolite nos heriticos vocare). That the controversy continued unabated in the Irish Church is clearly indicated by the fact that yet another papal letter from John IV-elect in 640 AD was sent to the (northern) Irish, this time accusing them of being Quartodecimans and supporters of the notorious heretic Pelagius. Whether as a result of urgings to conform with Rome or of trial and error with the rival tables, most Irish churches had apparently abandoned the old Irish practice and adopted either the Victorian or the Dionysiac Easter tables by 700 AD. Only one church held out to the last: Iona. In fact, Iona and its satellite monasteries, in western Scotland and in Ireland only abandoned their 84-year Easter tables in 716 AD, apparently persuaded to do so by the Anglo-Saxon cleric, Ecgberct of Rath Melsigi (Co. Carlow), who had retired to Iona. According to the Venerable Bede, Ecgberct had been assigned the task of bringing the Iona community, which had been "ploughing a crooked furrow", back to the correct path in its Easter practices. By a remarkable coincidence, Ecgberct died on Iona on April 24 729 AD, just after he had celebrated Easter Sunday mass on a date, as Bede pointedly remarks, that would have been impossible under the rules of the the community’s older 84-year Easter table. With the abandonment of the Irish Easter on Iona in 716 AD, the 84-year table was discarded and all trace of it was lost, until its rediscovery in 1984. The recovery of that long-lost table after more than 1200 years and its subsequent reconstruction and restoration, have enabled modern scholars to calculate the historical Easter dates of the Early Irish Church. The Irish may have lost out ultimately in the wider Easter controversy, but the surviving evidence of their engagement with the thorny problems of Easter-calculation demonstrates how advanced they were for their time in the field of technical chronology and time-reckoning. In their development of mathematical formulae and techniques in the field of computus, they made a genuine contribution to the advancement of science. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Author: Ulf Strohmayer, Department of Geography Opinion: why do questions around traffic always occupy the minds of urban citizens, planners and politicians alike when it comes to urban mobility? Urban life is inherently mobile. Urbanites commute between home and work, travel to and from airports, drop their children at schools and move between shopping and entertainment. At the same time, they complain about the lack of comfort in overcrowded buses, time lost in motorway jams, the unpredictability associated with finding a parking space or navigating street curbs while traversing a city in a wheelchair.  Questions associated with urban mobility and traffic consequently occupy the minds of urban citizens, planners and politicians alike. In fact, trading accounts about which city is worst off in terms of traffic congestion or which roads clog up at what time of the day appear to count amongst the more stable conversational practices at urban gatherings everywhere. Such singular obsessions come at a price: we tend to consider solutions to whatever traffic-related problems we identify in isolation from other issues. The moment we find ourselves stuck in traffic translates into a call for more or wider roads, while congestion at an airport sees calls for a new terminal or runway. While improving traffic-related problems in the short run, responses of this kind are often counter-productive in the medium to longer term. Traffic and especially urban types of traffic result from and, crucially, are routinised through a host of contextual influences and are not generated in a vacuum.  So why do we mostly focus on narrowly fashioned solutions? Part of the answer resides in the fact that they seem logical to most of us, resulting mostly in a reaffirmation of what we are accustomed to: car-based, locked-in systems, the-devil-we-know. But equally important is the reality that possession and use of a car is different from the ownership of most other material items. It is emotionally charged and laced with overtones of individual freedom, masculinity and, in some countries at least, job security. The recent surge in sales of SUVs may be down to a host of motives, but rational is not one of them. Urban planners ought to rise above this malaise and adopt a more holistic point of view. Many do, but many remain locked in their respective training silos. The anti-urban bias that still permeates debates and policy recommendations emanating from Dáil Éireann arguably also contributes to the absence of genuinely urban solutions to issues emanating from and attaching to city-induced mobilities.  More than 63 percent of the Irish population live in towns of 2,000 people or more and processes of urbanisation are gathering pace in Ireland and abroad. With human-induced climate change creating new realities everywhere, changes to our individual and collective mobilities should occupy a more central place in debates and planning-related practices. Knowingly or not, we are stakeholders in the mobile city The starting point for such debates must be the recognition of mobility as a socially produced side-effect of urbanisation and the largely taken-for-granted spatial divisions of labour. If the separation of socially necessary or desirable activities – sleeping, working, raising families, being active in communities, shopping, participating in leisure and sports activities etc – defines the modern city, urban traffic is perhaps its most visible "linking" consequence.  Complicating matters further is the fact that both mobility and spatial divisions of labour are embedded within and fashioned by economic practices organised around the creation of added financial value or profit. Houses in particular are bought and sold, often using creative and expansive forms of debt, and turn many of us into profit-seekers with a particular investment into the futures of our cities. Knowingly or not, we are stakeholders in the mobile city, while also purchasing our mobility using no less creative forms of finance. The rise in the number of PCP-financed cars on Irish roads over the last years speaks volumes about the complexities involved in keeping current forms of mobility literally on the road. The consequences of this are bleak and often destroy part of what we seek when deciding to live in or close to cities in the first place. The office worker who is too tired to participate in suburban community-based activities following her two-hour commute, the jogger forced to breathe air filled with nitrogen oxides and the cyclist threatened with bodily harm while riding alongside car-designed roads all form part of a system of diminishing returns. None of this is new. The European Union in particular has been proposing legislation against the most grievous of mobility-related effects, from the design of cycle paths to the lowering of exhaust emissions. But unless such measures are met with intelligent and joint-up planning at a local level, it will amount to little more than remedial tinkering.  Forward-looking responses by planners can crudely be grouped into two categories: (1) solutions oscillating around technologies of different kinds (often labelled "smart" urbanism) and (2) systemic answers that build towards changes in behaviours through urban design. The latter approach has been bundled together in the so-called Melbourne Principles of 2002, which call for more walkable, compact and sustainable cities, built around biodiverse environments and reduced ecological footprints among other things.  Combined, these two approaches hold the promise of encouraging state-led planning initiatives that are built around medium- to longer-term objectives, ideally integrating costs across ministerial portfolios. Learning from our Danish brethren and sisters would, for instance, entail the desirability of using future savings in health expenditures accruing as a result of walkable or cycling-friendly cities inducing healthier lifestyles for the construction of better cities now. The recently published National Planning Framework goes some way towards incorporating these concerns and solutions into Irish planning practice. This can be seen the stipulation that 40 per cent of all future housing ought to be built within the existing built-up areas of identified Irish cities. The question is whether good intentions and instruments that are aligned with same are enough to counter the corrosive tendencies of urban environments that remain thoroughly in the thrall of profit-orientated and car-dependent interests and practices.  While the goal of achieving higher densities may well receive a warm welcome by building companies, it will often be the core reason for planning objections by citizens concerned with protecting their investments into the housing market  Builders, by contrast, often balk at practices seeking to entice higher degrees of social inclusion or at leaving spaces vacant for communal activities that do not yield a monetary profit for anyone. Here the problem will reside less with best laid plans, but have everything to do with the enforcement of same in concrete local planning practices. Take the attempt to construct a Galway variant of Adamstown (County Dublin) at Ardaun East of the city. The published local area plan indicates a willingness to prevent a repeat of estate-led initiatives crammed with single- and detached houses that mar Galway’s western urban edge by proposing to develop an "urban village" inclusive of schools and other amenities. However, the plan still falls short of integrated planning in many aspects, crucially rendering mobility and traffic almost as afterthoughts to otherwise not affected planning for housing. Public transportation and linking pedestrian routes thus emerge if at all in the form of aspirational futures, rather than providing the backbone, the sine qua non, of urban planning. In all of this, it is well worth remembering that today’s planning for future mobilities involves uncertainties. Take self-driving cars, for example, or the ongoing change to ownership habits through the spread of shared economy practices. Combine the two and imagine a city filled with automated electric cars used in the form of subscription packages of the kind already common for music and film consumption and we are all imagining markedly different, transformed urban environments.  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Author: Miriam Haughton, O'Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Opinion: history shows us that when a public space opens up which centralises female experience and the collective voice that this does not always lead to long-term changes "Women must belong to science, or they will belong to the church": that's what French statesman Jules Ferry declared in a speech in 1870. He was referring to the power of the Roman Catholic Church in France during the late 19th century, and the competing challenges to its teachings and philosophies proposed by scientific advancements of the time. Both religious and medical teachings put forth claims regarding the root causes of female hysteria. In summary, if hysteria could be proven through scientific enquiry to have physiological determinants, then hysteria could no longer be attributed to supernatural or religious determinants, and thus, require religious management and intervention. For this brief time in history, as political, social, economic and psychological battle lines were drawn up and strengthened, women were endowed with increased visibility (though not control) as a pawn in this battle for ideological supremacy.   There is probably no need here to point out the obvious dynamic this assumes: that women are objects, owned by patriarchal ideologies which govern their fathers, husbands, politicians, priests and doctors. The power battle was not about women necessarily. Rather, it concerned which patriarchal structure was more suitable for the control of women, and by extension, children, the family, and society. Further research from the late 19th and 20th centuries suggested that women’s hysteria was often a form of PTSD However, by confirming that hysteria is a physiological condition that can be treated according to medical knowledge, these scientists and scholars underestimated the consequences of this quest. Hysteria, indeed, is a physiological condition, now considered to be triggered by PTSD. Historically, however, hysteria was believed to be a disease connected with the uterus, from whence the name "hysteria" derived, emanating from the Greek translation. According to 19th-century French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, hysteria was the disease of heredity, typically "poor" heredity, such as children born out of wedlock, or parents prone to excesses, not living in good faith or from the working classes. Further research from the late 19th and 20th centuries, particularly that advanced by Sigmund Freud among others, suggested that women’s hysteria was often a form of PTSD. This was as a result of sexual, physical and psychological abuse they suffer, largely from the domestic sphere, predominantly, at the hands of their fathers and husbands, and endemic throughout the bourgeoisie as well as the proletariat. Suddenly, the political will for scientific and medical advancement in the study of hysteria became less robust, and retreated, step by step, to the shadows of public discourse and power, wherein it largely remained until the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s. Leading US scholar and psychiatrist Judith Herman locates the starting point for this dynamic – of men listening to women - in the late 19th century, particularly in France where the activities of the large Parisian hospital, the Salpêtrière, attracted the attention of a host of young and ambitious scientists, scholars and medical professionals who sought an advanced breakthrough in the knowledge surrounding conditions of hysteria and trauma. The Salpêtrière, run by Charcot, catered to clientele including "the most wretched of the Parisian proletariat: beggars, prostitutes and the insane". Observing and categorising research findings would not be sufficient from Freud’s perspective; one must talk with these women. Herman maintains that such was the rivalry between Freud and Pierre Janet to make the breakthrough discovery that "for a brief decade, men of science listened to women with a devotion and respect unparalleled before or since. Daily meetings with hysterical patients, often lasting for hours, were not uncommon". Both Freud and Janet reached similar conclusions through talking to these women. Their conclusion of hysteria stated that it was "a condition caused by psychological trauma. Unbearable emotional reactions to traumatic events produced an altered state of consciousness, which in turn induced the hysterical symptoms". Janet called this alteration in consciousness "dissociation", while Breuer and Freud called it "double consciousness". These findings were not well received and threatened the careers of those who continued to espouse them. Thus, they diminished with time. What does this history have to do with Ireland in the 21st century? Plenty. Once more, due to a wide diversity of vested interests, a public space has opened up which centralises female experience: medical experience, professional life experience, and private life experience, with the boundaries demarcating these areas becoming increasingly porous and interconnected, not least due to social media and excesses in work-life balance. Religious and medical concerns and claims, alongside political, social, cultural and economic factors have inscribed the current debates in recent years with an urgency and fervour that cannot be contained, which may lead to a tipping point – to what kind of changes, one can only hope and dream. Will this momentum translate into changes in policy, politics, law, discriminatory practices and general social and cultural value systems? These fourth wave feminist energies are being harnessed by many individuals and groups nationally and globally. These include #MeToo, allegations of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace, the pay gap, Repeal the 8th, Women for Election, #WakingTheFeminists, Margaret Atwood literature and dramas and many more. Alongside research from organisations such as Women’s Aid, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, and the Rape Crisis Centre, these campaigns and revelations converge to tell of consistent increases in and the widespread prevalence of violence against women in everyday life. This convergence of voices has sparked a momentum that continues to gather pace and force, led by women, demanding women’s experience is listened to and believed. But will this momentum translate into measurable changes in policy, politics, the law, systemic institutional structural discriminatory practices and general social and cultural value systems? As the saying goes, when one is accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression. What will happen to the current research findings and outpourings of personal testimonies regarding women’s experience in 2018 and beyond? Ireland remains a patriarchal society, where institutional and ideological systems and networks are embedded with the rule of male privilege, which are intertwined with current practices of neoliberal capitalist economics. The visibility of token women, often placed strategically as puppets, and generalised lip service regarding equality has not altered this hugely in terms of the function and impact of the law, politics, and economics on the everyday lives of women and men. Can this current momentum, and indeed solidarity, meet these major economic and cultural hierarchies with equal force to push through major change? Or will the pressure from dominant interests, as so often happens, engender strategies led by fear and pressure to silence this growing collective voice? This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Author: Dr Malie Coyne, School of Psychology Opinion: infant mental health is an important public health issue, as research shows the quality of the early relationship builds the foundation for virtually every aspect of human development Babies are hardwired to develop a social connection with their primary caregiver, usually their mother or father. Without this relationship, they would not survive. We learn about who we are through our relationships. It is within the sacred crucible of the most important first relationship, the parent-infant bond, that our sense of self and the world develops. "Infant mental health" refers to the child’s healthy social and emotional development in the first three years of life within the context of this "attachment" relationship with the primary caregiver. This innate need for a meaningful relationship was described in John Bowlby's Attachment Theory (1969), who believed that the primary caregiver acts as a prototype for future relationships via the internal working model, which is a framework for understanding the world, the self and others. Mary Ainsworth and colleagues further developed this theory in their observational studies of individual differences in attachment, including "secure" versus "insecure" attachment styles. Put simply, a child-parent "secure" attachment refers to the availability of the caregiver to: - Provide safety and security to the baby - Attune to and respond to their needs - Provide comfort when they are upset - Share in joyful experiences - Enable the child to feel special and begin to develop a positive sense of self. Positive infant mental health is synonymous with a child’s ability to form secure relationships, to regulate their emotions, to explore their environment and to learn and develop cognitive capacities across the lifespan. Although it is a relatively new concept amongst many, it is "everyone's business" and fast becoming an important public health issue, spurred on by a growing field of research and practice. It is the quality of the early relationship which builds the foundation for virtually every aspect of human development, including emotional, physical and intellectual. Dr J Kevin Nugent, one of the world’s leading experts on early child development and director of the Brazelton Institute, referred to the revolution which has taken place in our scientific understanding of the capacity of babies and in the workings of their brains when addressing the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children in 2015. Research points to a critical window of opportunity that exists in the first three years of life, where the brain develops as much as 90 percent of its wiring, which is impacted significantly by the baby's experience of everyday interactions with their caregiver. It is this steadfast evidence for the critical importance of the early years which has sparked my passion for the area. My personal experience of primary care psychology in Ireland seldom focusing on children under three has driven my determination to change the status quo. I am not alone in this growing interest, as there are some worthy initiatives happening in Ireland, including the introduction of the internationally recognised Infant Mental Health Competency Guidelines by the Irish Association of Infant Mental Health (I-AIMH), the establishment of the Psychological Society of Ireland's Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Special Interest Group (PIMHSIG), and the presence of localised inter-disciplinary Infant Mental Health Network Groups. They highlight the message that nobody is looking for perfect; a baby just needs "good enough". A true highlight of my clinical psychology career to date has been my participation in the multi-agency Early Years Sub-Group of Galway C.Y.P.S.C(Children and Young People's Services Committee), when we were given the task of creating a four-year plan for improving the health and well-being of new borns to three year olds in Galway city. Following an extensive consultation process carried out by H.S.E. Health Promotion and Galway City Partnership with parents, professionals and local community groups, we devised the Galway City Early Years Health and Wellbeing Plan 2016-2020, with a key target area being the promotion of infant mental health. To this end, the Early Years Sub-Group will be joined by the H.S.E., Galway Healthy Cities and Galway Parent Network, to launch our "Building a Happy Baby" posters on March 7 in the Maternity Classroom at University College Hospital Galway. Derived from Unicef and the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) Baby Friendly Initiative, our plan is to display posters in every facility parents attend in an effort to promote the child-parent attachment and to dispel common myths. There are four posters in all, each containing simple evidence-based messages which feature multi-cultural babies and parents which we plan to translate into different languages. They are positively framed in emphasising humans' innate abilities to look after their babies and highlighting the message that nobody is looking for perfect, a baby just needs "good enough". Here's a breakdown of each poster. Please note that babies are referred to as "he". Poster 1: "New babies have a strong need to be close to their parents, as this helps them to feel secure and loved, like they matter in the world!" Myth: Babies become spoilt and demanding if they are given too much attention. Truth: When babies’ needs for love and comfort are met, they will be calmer and grow up to be more confident. Evidence: Close skin-to-skin body contact, postnatally and beyond, significantly improves the physical and mental health and wellbeing for both mother and baby. When babies feel secure, they release a hormone called oxytocin, which acts like a fertiliser for their growing brain, helping them to be happier and more confident as they grow older. Holding, smiling and talking to your baby also releases oxytocin in you which also has a soothing effect. Poster 2: "Holding a baby when they cry helps them to grow into a confident and trusting toddler." Myth: You should leave babies alone so that they learn to be independent. Truth: Babies left alone think they have been abandoned so become more clingy and insecure when you are around. Evidence: Early separation from those we depend can be very frightening for a baby and raise cortisol levels in the baby's brain, which shapes their developing nervous system and determines how stress is interpreted and responded to in the future. Babies who are held and soothed when in distress grow into more confident toddlers who are better able to deal with being away from their parents temporarily, rather than becoming clingy.  Poster 3: "Holding, smiling and talking to your baby releases a loving hormone in you and your baby. This makes you both feel calm and happier." Myth: Babies need lots of toys to keep them busy and help them learn. Truth: Looking at your face is the best way for babies to learn. Talking, listening and smiling helps your baby’s brain to grow. Evidence: Despite pressure to buy the latest gadget, what matters most to your baby and their sense of security is having quality time with YOU. In this "serve and return" interaction, babies naturally reach out for interaction through babbling, facial expression and gestures and adults respond with similar vocalizing and gesturing. This process is fundamental to the wiring of their brains and marks the beginning of your baby feeling understood, building a firm foundation for self-esteem.   Poster 4. "Keep your baby close to you so that you can learn how to meet their needs and read their signals for hunger or comfort". Myth: It is important to get babies into a routine as that makes your life easier. Truth: New babies are not capable of learning a routine. Responding to their needs makes them feel secure and cry less. Evidence: Keep your baby close so that you can start to recognise the signals he makes to tell you he is hungry, tired or wants a cuddle. Responding to these signals will not only support brain development but make your baby feel safe and secure. A mother rocking her crying baby saying gently "you poor little thing have a hunger pain in your tummy and I'm just going to feed you now" is helping the baby to manage their emotions now and in the future. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Monday, 12 March 2018

Author: Tina-Karen Pusse, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures The Brainstorm long read: as Angela Merkel prepares for her fourth term in power, her fellow Germans are tense, uneasy and worried The German economy is thriving. In 2017, the state posted a budget surplus of €36.6 billion and unemployment rates were at a record low. In addition to free third level education up to PhD level, crèches are now massively subsidised. Through a combination of state support for a shorter work week in core industries ("Kurzarbeitergeld") and a low percentage of house ownership (and hence an absence of bad mortgages), the German population sailed through the economic crash of 2008 relatively unharmed. The only exception to this is the negative effects of the ECB’s low interest rates and the consequences for life insurances and pension funds. But despite all of this, the atmosphere in Germany is tense. Almost six months after the 2017 elections, only a provisional government is in place. The two biggest parties are only united by knowing that the failure of their coalition will either lead to a minority government, where the right-wing AfD will try to dictate the political discourse, or to new elections, where they will likely lose even more seats to them. Regardless of Germany’s current economic strength, there is no real appetite for a re-launch of the "successful" SPD/CDU coalition.  According to a recent Forsa survey, Germans are very anxious about their future, with "poverty in old age" and "social inequality" at the top of the list. So, if everything is going so well, why are Germans so anxious? 21st century Germany is more deeply divided than it was during the Cold War. On one hand, we find spontaneous welcoming committees for refugees. Even three years after the peak of media attention, volunteers offer their homes to foster unaccompanied teenagers, or help young adults to navigate through German bureaucracy to find apprenticeships. On the other hand, police statistics count more than 2,000 attacks on refugee centres. An authoritarian nationalist party enters the Bundestag with a double digit percentage and even becomes the strongest political power in Saxony. We find stories of impressive social climbing, but we also find adjunct professors in their mid-forties who have to move back in with their parents and rely on state top-ups to even reach social welfare level. To understand how this came about, we have to go back to 2003 How could this have happened? To understand how this came about, we have to go back to 2003. This was when Germany had (repeatedly) failed the Maastricht criteria, was deeply in debt and was still struggling to economically absorb the costs of the unification. It was the "sick man of Europe" and was frowned upon for not having made the transition from an industrial to a service economy. In that year, a coalition of SPD and the Green Party (yes, the Green Party) during the last leg of their term decided to shift the narrative from a post-war and post-unification Germany (both projects of social cohesion, democratic education and solidarity) to one of global competitiveness and domestic austerity. "Fördern und Fordern" ("to support and to demand") was their slogan. This was a time that saw massive support for university graduate schools and research fellowships, infrastructural investment and an increase in the number of managers at state-organised job centres to get the long term unemployed back to work. The new possibility to combine jobseekers’ allowance with salaries below the social welfare threshold changed the German job market as we knew it. Prior to this decision, a defacto minimum wage was set slightly above social welfare level. For the following 14 years, wages in all areas were in freefall and went down in some areas to only €2 or €3 per hour. Many astonishing careers were built and companies kickstarted based on the possibility to avail of low skilled workers almost for free. Other new schemes included "mini jobs", the possibility to earn up to €450 a month tax free with a minimum employer contribution for health insurance. This initiative was targeted at the black market of domestic jobs and later resulted in a high proportion of part time workers forced into contracts that didn’t include pension contributions. And, yes, the German job market became very "dynamic" as a result. There were massive earning possibilities for those who adapted quickly to navigating the new system and who had access to start-up funding. However a society so focussed on the dynamics of a competitive market had forgotten the bigger proportion of its citizens in this equation. A dynamic that disproportionally lifts up the 30 percent that benefit from it, also produces stories of failure, regrets and resignation for the remaining 70 percent. Unlike the US, for example, the German market doesn’t really allow for failure. Insolvency law is very strict, unaccounted years on a CV will land an application in the bin and career progression is expected to be linear.  Even small tectonic shifts in a biography, such as a badly timed pregnancy or divorce, can remove individuals from a career track forever. And life in the cohort of the unlucky can be very harsh. The programme, called "Agenda 2010", was about the abolition of social welfare to be replaced by a hybrid system of neoliberal ideology and punitive paternalism. Take Hartz IV, for example, which was named after Peter Hartz, the head of the committee which presented 13 proposals for reform. After a short period on jobseekers benefit (which is paid by social insurance deductions of employees), jobseekers rely on a system comparable with Ireland’s jobseekers’ allowance. Rates increased in 2018 to €416 a month for a single person household and rent support might also be paid under very restricted circumstances. The application process for Hartz IV can take several weeks, consists of excessive paperwork and requires total transparency regarding one’s means. Only €3,900 of personal savings are protected and this includes property valued above this threshold. Before state support kicks in, houses, cars, family jewellery etc. have to be sold and the applicant has to live on his or her own means until their remaining funds have reached the threshold. This system change led to a climate of fear, especially among the self-employed, those working on temporary contracts and those employed in vulnerable sectors Bank statements have to be submitted constantly. Even birthday and Christmas presents have to be stated and might lead to deductions. Summer jobs of children in the same household are counted as income and lead to deductions. If applicants live in a houseshare, unannounced inspections will look into bedrooms, closets and bathrooms to evaluate whether the applicant lives in unstated co-habitation. Once the application is approved, jobseekers must attend courses and proposed job interviews, even if those are completely disconnected from their experience profile. If they reject a job offer or miss an appointment, they are immediately sanctioned by deductions up to their total allowance.This system change led to a general climate of fear, especially among the self-employed, those working on temporary contracts and those employed in vulnerable sectors. It is not too surprising that these are exactly the working conditions that the majority of 18 to 39 year olds currently experience. Asked in a a post-election Civey survey if they see their interests addressed in the current political debate, 83 percent of this group said "not really" or "not at all". Another specific interest of this group has also, so far, been ignored. The target for full completion of broadband has just been pushed back to 2025, resulting in vast areas of rural Germany still cut off from the opportunities offered by a digital economy for those working in areas with lower costs of living. After 15 years of life under the threat of Hartz IV, it became so internalised that German citizens woke up very late to the outrageous behaviour of state bodies towards refugees, who were reported to have been stripped of their remaining cash and valuables at registration in exchange for the most basic help. Those who were sheltered from the effects of Hartz IV were horrified by the actions of the state towards the new arrivals. Those accustomed to this treatment, however, were willing to pass on their trauma and would have considered anything else as unjust: why should "they" keep their grandfather’s watch, if I can’t? This divide in German society is marked not by income or educational background, but by the perceived risk of ever having to rely on the state. It is exactly the fear of those close to this threshold that is exploited by the AfD. Their voters are predominantly lower middle class, where people struggle daily to just stay where they are. These voters are filled with contempt for both those at the lower end and those with an income that allows them to live without fear and daily budgeting. They feel betrayed by a market that so suddenly has changed They feel betrayed by a market that so suddenly has changed and now expects them to stand out, take risks, show initiative, reinvent themselves and be mobile. Often coming from families who’ve experienced modest social climbing within three generations (grandfather: miner; father: electrician; daughter: paralegal), they expect good income prospects as a result of slow, steady progression, and work ethics as their reward for conforming to the expectations of parents, schools and the needs of the job market 20 years ago.   The leaders of the AfD themselves come from yet another cohort, which Heinz Bude, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kassel, describes as "Verbitterungsmilieu" (milieu of the embittered). These party leaders are reasonably well off and seem successful from the outside, but feel that they were missing out on opportunities they felt entitled to. Careerwise, they had to settle for being teachers rather than university professors or lawyers who didn’t become judges. Overall, their careers came to a halt just below their - and their family’s - expectations. In the current vacuum, they prey on the fears of the lower middle classes. They equate their personal resentment with theirs and channel their anger towards new arrivals in the country such as refugees, migrants, competitive international businesses, free movements of Europeans and state transfers towards Europe. The exchange and constant incitement of resentment between these two groups cannot be ignored. It cannot even be helped by another period of economic stability or growth, if this growth is not accompanied by a new era of state generosity. It will take a reinvention of a more global and inclusive version of solidarity, especially since the competition for income, careers and a stable livelihood is set to increase in a digital economy. Big employers like Local Motors for example, have closed their design departments. If they want to launch a new car design, they will hold a global competition rather than pay in-house designers for their work. BMW already outsources the design of car body panels to university competitions since 2006.  Current beneficiaries of such competitions are freelancers living in areas with great broadband connections and low costs of living in places like Mexico City, Mumbai or Budapest. Computer programmes are already better at interpreting x-rays or calculating tax returns than doctors or tax accountants. In other words, we will soon see another wave of well educated, currently settled citizens sliding towards a loss of career chances, precariarity and therefore, potential resentment. One might shrug this off as a problem that is certainly not singular to Germany One might shrug this off as a problem that is certainly not singular to Germany. After all, the country still has free third level educations and high employment rates for young adults and seems better equipped to take on these challenges. Yet in combination with an unforgiving high pressure environment at the bottom end that leads directly to humiliation and infantilisation, this is a recipe for disaster. The 2017 election could have been an opportunity to address these fears. Social Democrats could have identified and advocated for the precariously employed and the minimum wagers. A discussion around a basic citizens income could have moderated fears of failure, lifted the new class divide and made more modular thinking around career options possible. Yet this was ruled out by SPD (and CDU) right from the start. Instead, the biggest legacy of their last term in coalition was a pension reformthat allowed earlier retirement for those who completed 45 years of pension contributions prior to reaching official retirement age. Certainly, it was a nice and welcome gesture, but not one that was of any relevance to the generations who did not start working at the age of 15 and could look forward to a future of uninterrupted security, predominantly with the same employer.   On the other hand, speeding up the broadband infrastructure plans could have been an opportunity to focus on positive aspects of digitalisation. This could have allowed rural areas to participate in the digital gig economy. There are positive examples of self-employment through platforms such as DaWanda (a German version of Etsy), translation and transcription services and programming. But these depend on quick, reliable broadband which is, so far, confined to urban areas with high living cost and rentsNext week, Angela Merkel will presumably be sworn in for another term, having just about attained the necessary backing for a relaunch of the previous coalition. But a lot needs to change in the next four years so that the social divide does not become an abyss. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Author: Alina Wieczorek, School of Natural Sciences Report: a new study has found that nearly one in four Northwest Atlantic Ocean deep water fish have ingested microplastics In recent years, marine litter and microplastics in particular have been widely researched by the scientific community and gained much attention in the media. Microplastics are small plastic fragments that commonly originate from the breakdown of larger plastic items entering our oceans. Other sources may be waste water effluents carrying plastic fibres from clothing and microbeads from personal care products. While microplastics have previously been recorded in many marine environments and shown to be internalised by a variety of marine organisms,a new study by marine scientists at NUI Galway,  published today in the Frontiers in Marine Science journal, shows that even deep water fish inhabiting remote waters in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean contained microplastics in their stomachs. Out of 233 deep water fish which were collected, 73 percent had internalised microplastics, making it one of the highest numbers recorded for fish globally. The fish were collected aboard the Celtic Explorer research vessel from depths of up to 600m by the use of large fishing nets. Amongst the investigated species were the Spotted Lanternfish, Glacier Lanternfish, White-spotted Lanternfish, Rakery Beaconlamp, Stout Sawpalate and Scaly Dragonfish. While inhabiting depths of 600-1000m during the day, the fish are known to swim to the surface at night to feed on plankton. Due to their low density, most microplastics float at the surface so it is likely that this is where the fish are exposed to the microplastics. The ingestion of microplastics by marine organisms have been shown to cause internal physical damage, inflammation of intestines, reduced feeding and other effects. But what is also of concern is that many of these ingested microplastics have associated additives, such as colourants and flame retardants that are added to plastics during production process, and/or pollutants that are absorbed onto the microplastics from the sea. There is now evidence that some of these toxins on the microplastics can be transferred to animals that eat them with potential harmful effects. The identified microplastics were mostly fibres, commonly blue and black in colour. Potential sources of these fibres include the shedding of microfibers from clothes during washing. Thus, the study highlights that these seemingly remote fishes located thousands of kilometres from land several hundred meters down in our ocean are not isolated from our pollution. Indeed, it’s worrying to think that our daily activities, such as washing our synthetic clothes in our washing machines, results in billions of microplastics entering our oceans through waste water streams and may eventually end up in these deep sea fishes. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Author: Niamh O'Halloran, The Lambe Institute for Translational Research Analysis: new high impact research aims to use stem cells from patients as a method of breast reconstruction after mastectomy Breast cancer is a global healthcare challenge, with the National Cancer Registry predicting that there will be approximately 5,000 new breast cancer cases in Ireland per annum by 2020. Despite the development of more sensitive methods of diagnosis and advances in oncological treatment, surgical excision of the tumour is still a critical part of breast cancer treatment.  40 percent of breast cancer patients require a mastectomy to treat their disease. This rate is increasing due to more patients undergoing risk-reducing mastectomies after diagnosis of genetic mutations which increase their risk of developing breast cancer, as seen in the case of Angelina Jolie in 2013. Mastectomy is a disfiguring operative procedure, and can result in significant physical and psychological issues for patients. Immediate breast reconstruction has become an integral part of breast cancer care, affording psychosocial and cosmetic benefits.  Currently, breast reconstruction is carried out by two distinct methods: (1) the insertion of a silicone implant or (2) the transfer of muscle or fat tissue from another area of the body to the chest wall to recreate the removed breast. Implant reconstructions are the most common breast reconstructive procedures carried out worldwide. Unfortunately, implant breast reconstruction is not without its limitations. These include inappropriate breast reconstruction volume and texture, infection, implant rupture, extrusion of the implant through the skin, foreign body reactions creating scar tissue around the implant (i.e. capsular contracture) and the need for implant replacement every 10 to 15 years.  The principle limitation of implant-based reconstruction is capsular contracture, which is a foreign body reaction resulting in the formation of a circumferential capsule of fibrous tissue around the implant. This can cause pain, decreased shoulder mobility and poor cosmetic and quality of life for patients. It also represents a significant economic burden as treatment requires re-operation with removal of the scar tissue capsule and implant replacement. Adipose tissue engineering research focuses on the development of a new type of breast implant. This is composed of the patient’s own fat using tissue engineering strategies that will not generate the same foreign body reaction as silicone implants, thus solving the problem of capsular contracture.  Such autologous fat is thought to be a superior method of soft tissue augmentation due to a range of properties including its versatility and ability to integrate into the patient’s tissues. It is not rejected by the patient’s immune system, has similar physical properties to breast tissue and appears more natural than implants or autologous reconstructions. It also does not create a wound and scar elsewhere in the body as is necessary when harvesting large volumes of muscle and adipose tissue to recreate the breast mound in current methods of autologous breast reconstruction. Adipose tissue engineering requires a stem cell with the capacity to differentiate or transform into mature adipocytes/fat cells. Adult stem cells are found in almost all adult tissues. Stem cells extracted from adipose tissue are becoming the gold standard cell source for tissue engineering as they hold several advantages over stem cells isolated from the bone marrow. They are harvested with less invasive procedures, they have a higher cell yield per gram of tissue, they grow faster and live longer in the laboratory setting and are capable of differentiating into several different mature cells types (e.g. adipocytes, osteocytes, myocytes, cardiomyocytes). We propose to extract fat and its stem cells from patients and reinject this as a method of breast reconstruction after mastectomy.  Recreating the breast mound post-mastectomy will require long-term maintenance of larger tissue volumes in engineered grafts which will require a suitable cell-supporting scaffold. Scaffolds allow for the growth of cells in a 3D microenvironment, more accurately mimicking the native tissue. The "ideal" scaffold is one that allows for the production of "native-like tissue", with similar physical and biochemical properties of the tissue it is replacing.  My research makes use of a scaffold known as a hydrogel, which is composed of natural proteins found within the body’s tissues and water. This provides support for stem cells and mature adipocytes and the hydrogel along with the cells it is carrying can be injected into the site of mastectomy to recreate the breast mound.  Patients will have a shorter length of hospital stay and less operating time will be spent correcting complications, thus reducing the economic burden of mastectomy However, as this treatment will be utilised mostly by patients who have had a mastectomy for the treatment of breast cancer, assessment of the oncological safety of this strategy is central to my research. This is done by analysis of the cells used for the expression of genes known to be associated with breast cancer and by the analysis of the liquid media the cells and hydrogels are kept in for factors and chemicals known to be secreted by breast cancer or to be capable of promoting breast cancer growth or progression. This is high impact research, funded by Breast Cancer Research, an Irish charity who raise funds for research in the field of breast cancer in NUI Galway, which aims to develop an effective reconstruction option for mastectomy patients. It overcomes the limitations of current methods of breast reconstruction and results in reduced psychosocial disease, a higher quality of life and decreased risk of requiring further reconstructive procedures due to complications.  The most significant complications we aim to overcome through the development of a new breast implant are implant rupture and capsular contracture. With this achieved, rates of reoperation will be reduced and there will be fewer hospital admissions required. Patients will have a shorter length of hospital stay and less operating time will be spent correcting complications, thus reducing the economic burden of mastectomy.  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Author: Alison Herbert, Irish Centre for Social Gerontology Opinion: 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of some women in Ireland winning the right to vote, but there are still many obstacles to full gender empowerment In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst and her suffrage supporters established the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Britain, kick-starting the Votes for Women campaign and the "Deeds Not Words" slogan. By 1908, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, husband Francis, and Margaret Cousins had created the Irish Women's Franchise League (IWFL). Influenced by the militancy of the WSPU, these Irish suffragists pushed their ideology of "suffrage first, before all else", smashing the windows of the GPO, the Custom’s House, and Dublin Castle, for which they served jail sentences. By the time the right to vote was reluctantly granted in 1918 to women (under the restricted conditions of age, property rights and education), over 1,000 campaigning suffragists had been imprisoned, many being force-fed whilst on hunger strike. Others, like Emily Wilding Davison, had literally given their lives to the cause. It took a further ten years before all women were electorally recognised as equal to men and allowed to vote at 21 years of age. Although the suffrage campaign is considered to be the definitive first wave of feminism, it was followed by many movements throughout the 20th century calling for legislation to address gender discrimination. A number of legislative successes have been achieved, most notably around pay and contraception, however; the promised land still appears to hover tantalisingly over the horizon. So, to paraphrase Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, is it now the case that women, having secured the right to vote, are content that all battles had been won? Whilst recognising that women in first world countries like Ireland and Britain are relatively privileged in comparison to most of those in developing countries, it is notable that the first world #MeToo movement on sexual harassment is drawing momentum from a diverse demographic of whistle-blowers of all ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds. In addition to the brave body of women from our past, we can welcome a swathe of younger feminists who continue to challenge gender boundaries. These include June Eric-Udorie, instrumental in adding feminism as a subject to England’s school curriculum, and Laura Bates of the on-line Everyday Sexism project. But does this mean that women are finally experiencing empowerment 100 years on? And how would we recognise it anyway? Gender empowerment is generally considered to be a process by which women redefine and extend what is possible for them to be and do in situations where they have been restricted, compared to men. Obstacles to empowerment, including the separate norms, beliefs, customs and values that societies use to differentiate between women and men, are still widespread, although many women do make choices that go against cultural or social expectations. Empowerment is an on-going process, not a final goal, and we can only feel empowered or disempowered, relative to others or relative to ourselves at a previous time. Some literature argues that empowerment cannot be bestowed, but must be won. If we do not investigate older rural women, how are we to understand their feelings on empowerment? Thus, our government cannot dictate empowerment through legislation that it chooses to control, but should instead be led by the actions of women. What governments, agencies such as United Nations Development Fund for Women(UNIFEM), UN Women, and charities like CARE International can do is to create and sustain the kinds of socio-economic conditions that will support and allow women themselves to find their own empowerment. Everyday societal sexism and ageism, singly or combined, can be so subtle as to become unremarkable. Even the relative paucity of academic research on mid-life rural women speaks something of this cohort’s invisibility. If we do not investigate older rural women as a separate major unit of analysis, how are we to understand their feelings on empowerment? In a recent study of mid-life rural women in Ireland, almost half the participants reported feelings of empowerment at mid-life but, given the subjective interpretation of this term, a closer look at participant narrative can sometimes suggest otherwise. Thus, whilst most participants felt sufficiently "empowered" at the pivotal mid-life stage to largely ignore the dictates of fashion, and were proud to cite wisdom and experience as valued assets, most also spoke of rural societal constraints that directly influenced their quality of life. Such constraints included sitting at home of an evening rather than frequenting alone the only social outlet, the local pub. Another was the decision not to date local men for fear of having one’s private life discussed openly in the local community. Some participants spoke of partners controlling money, work or place decisions. Others spoke of the frustration at not being able to access training or education that might support their quest for empowerment. All participants spoke of their fears around a loss of autonomy and agency through physical or cognitive impairment, and the consequent possibility of institutional care. Most rural participants did not earn enough to save enough to pay for private healthcare or contribute to private pension schemes. All expressed a fear of reliance upon a volatile state pension scheme that would be unlikely to support their independence in older age. Almost no participant wanted a family member to have the "burden" of caring for them in later life (although they were prepared to care for others) and simply "hoped for the best" in the absence of an alternative. Whilst most had their own car at mid-life, participants were acutely aware of a time in later life when they may not be allowed to drive. All reported such a scenario as being highly disempowering. In summary, women felt empowered by an inner sense of experience and wisdom, but simultaneously anxious about a time ahead when they might lose control of their health and employment abilities. In addition to rural political disadvantage, these may well leave them vulnerable and exposed to social exclusion from essential services and resources in older age, and ultimately to a poorer quality of life. Older rural women are generally resilient and positive, but they cannot do it all alone. 100 years on, there is still an imperative for collaborative legislative and non-legislative interventions that favour those who are routinely exposed to sexism and/or ageism, and that encourage the means through education, training, employment, health, and rural place that enable women to empower themselves. his article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Author: Jeannine Woods, Scoil na dTeangacha, na Litríochtaí agus na gCultúr Brainstorm Lá 'le Pádraig: Léiríonn Lá 'le Pádraig gnéithe éagsúla d'fhéiniúlacht na hÉireann atá casta agus go minic frithráiteach ó laistigh agus lasmuigh den tír  Gach uile bhliain agus Lá ‘le Pádraig ag teannadh linn, bíonn cur agus cúiteamh ó thráchtairí éagsúla maidir le tábhacht chomhaimseartha na féile agus a ceiliúrtha in Éirinn. Ní gan bhunús an dearcadh gur ceiliúradh bunaithe ar an mbréagsheamrógachas atá ann, ficsean cultúrtha tógtha ar an sealbhú d’fhéile reiligiúnda, iasacht tráchtála dírithe ar chur chun cinn na turasóireachta a fheidhmíonn mar leithscéal don ró-ól agus don iompar drabhlásach trí chéile. Trí stair chultúrtha an fhéile a scagadh, áfach, tig linn athmhachnamh a dhéanamh ar na coincheapa ‘traidisiún’ agus ‘Éireannachas’,  a mhaíonn gur contanam níos mó ná briseadh le hÉireannachas ‘aiceanta’ an t-am a chuaigh thart atá le brath i gceiliúradh comhaimseartha na féile. Is fada an fhéile féin, a dhéanann comóradh ar bhás Phádraig, á ceiliúradh in Éirinn, ach mar a léiríonn Michael Cronin agus Daryl Adair ina saothar The Wearing of the Green, ceiliúradh idir reiligiúnda agus tuata a bhíodh ann chomh fada siar leis an 17ú haois. Bhíodh an ró-ól, an chaismirt agus an foiréigean mar ghnéithe coitianta den fhéile, a raibh díolúine ó staonadh an Charghais luaite léi. Bhíodh na comórtha mar chuid de thraidisiún an phátrúin, traidisiún le fréamhacha aige sa tréimhse réamh-Chríostaí. Bhíodh cuairt ar ionad naofa i gceist mar chuid den phátrún, le neart óil, ithe agus, in amanna, comórtais nó bruíonta idir baill de phobail nó de ghrúpaí éagsúla. Bhíodh an ró-ól, an chaismirt agus an foiréigean mar ghnéithe coitianta den fhéile Feiniméan is ea an pharáid cheiliúrtha a tháinig ar an bhfód a bhuíochas do stair choilíneach agus diaspórach na hÉireann. Reachtáladh na chéad pharáideanna comórtha Lá ‘le Pádraig in áiteanna éagsúla i SAM; eagraithe ag sagairt Chaitliceacha, ag cumainn charthannachta de bhunadh Protastúnach agus ag saighdiúraí Éireannacha ag déanamh seirbhís in Arm na Breataine, d’fheimigh na paráideanna céanna mar imeachtaí reiligiúnda agus mar chomóradh ar an eitneachas agus an áit dúchais faoi seach. Cothaíodh dlúthnasc in Éirinn idir Lá ‘le Pádraig, an creideamh Caitliceach agus an náisiúnachas ón 19ú haois i leith.  Díol spéise gurbh é Rialtas an tSaorstáit, a raibh dlúthghaol idir é agus an Eaglais Chaitliceach, a chuir roimhe gnéithe cráifeacha na féile a neartú trína scaradh ó cheann dá heilimintí ab fhadseasamhaí: ordaíodh go ndúnfaí ionaid faoi cheadúnas ar an lá. An t-aon eisceacht a ceadaíodh ná taispeántas bliantúil na madraí, a bhíodh ar siúl san RDS i mBaile Átha Cliath. Is cosúil go mbíodh freastal ard ar an taispeántas; de réir an tseanchais, bhíodh sé de nós ag figiúirí liteartha, leithéide Brian Ó Nualláin/Flann O’Brien, Patrick Kavanagh agus Brendan Behan madraí a fháil ar cíos nó ar iasacht don lá le go scaoilfí isteach chuig beár na mball iad. D’aithin an Stát féidearthachtaí na féile ó thaobh na turasóireachta de, agus bhí díospóireacht ag an rialtas maidir le dáta na féile a athrú go pointe níos déanaí amach sa bhliain nuair a bheadh aimsir na hÉireann níos mealltaí do lucht turasóireachta. Smaoineamh dochosanta a bhí ann ar deireadh, mar dár ndóigh bhíodh an ócáid á ceiliúradh timpeall na cruinne. Leanadh le forbairt na gceiliúrtha mar ócáid a mheallfadh turasóirí áfach, agus cuireadh tús le paráideanna ginearálta in Éirinn bunaithe ar shamhail pharáideanna SAM. Bunaíodh Féile Lá ‘le Pádraig mar fhéile náisiúnta i 1996: áit a mbíodh ceiliúrtha mórthaibhseacha faoi sheilbh sochaithe diaspóracha, chuir an fhéile roimpi Éire a chur chun tosaigh mar cheann scribe turasóireachta don ócáid, ag fógairt an deis speisialta a chruthaigh sé an tÉireannachas a cheiliúradh ar an bhfód dúchais. Feictear go bhfuil éirithe go maith leis an bhféile ar bhoinn eacnamaíoch agus chathartha araon, cé go gcáintear leibhéil an ró-óil agus na caismirte sibhialta mar smál ar na ceiliúrtha. Cuirtear a leithéid de pheirspictíochtaí in iúl go deisbhéalach ar an suíomh aorach Waterford Whispers News, ar a n-áirítear ailt ar Lá ‘le Pádraig leis na cinnteidil 28 Ministers Confirm They’re Leaving On Paddy’s Day To "Avoid The Carnage’’, 5 Stages Of Paddy’s Day Drunkenness and Local Art Head Already Preparing For Paddy’s Day 2018. Déanann an t-alt Ireland Promising Not To Judge Itself For The Next 72 Hours achoimre ar dhearcaidh choitianta i leith na féile in Éirinn: "The entire Nation has agreed to enter into a pact that will see each and every citizen resisting the urge to judge one another regarding their conduct and behaviour over the St. Patrick’s Weekend festivities.  It is also thought the general public will politely hold up the pretence that St. Patrick’s Day is all about highlighting the best Irish culture has to offer … The days surrounding St. Patrick’s Day have been long associated with civil disobedience, public urination and all round despicable displays of so-called ‘Irishness’." Is ceiliúradh é seo ar dhuine nár de bhunadh na hÉireann é ach a rinne a chuid féin den tír Cé gur aoir atá ansin, scáthánú cruinn is ea é ar an ngaol casta idir muintir na hÉireann, Lá ‘le Pádraig agus na leaganacha éagsúla den ‘Éireannachas’ lena samhlaítear an fhéile, go háirithe físeanna den fhéiniúlacht tógtha suas leis an  ‘dúchasach’/’coimhthíoch’ agus an ‘fíor-Éireannachas/’bréag-Éireannachas’ .  Ní tada nua iad na gaolta casta sin, áfach. Mar cheiliúradh ar dhuine nár de bhunadh na hÉireann é ach a rinne a chuid féin den tír, ceiliúradh a bhfuil an leagan comhaimseartha de bunaithe ar fhorbairtí i measc an diaspóra agus ar thraidisiúin reiligiúnda agus tuata, cuid díobh ag eascairt as an tréimhse réamh-Chríostaí, léiriú is ea Lá ‘le Pádraig ar réimsí féiniúlachta a bhfuil snátha iomadúla, contrárthacha lárnach ag gabháil tríothú, snátha ar de bhunadh na hÉireann agus de chríocha i gcéin araon iad. Go deimhin, d’fhéadfaí a mhaíomh gur a bhuíochas do na gnéithe ilbhreacacha, inathraitheacha sin gur ceiliúradh rífheiliúnach é Lá ‘le Pádraig ar an Éireannachas, idir stairiúil agus chomhaimseartha. (Leagan Béarla thíos) Brainstorm St Patrick's Day: St Patrick’s Day reflects an Irish identity comprising multiple, complex and often contradictory strands that issue from within and without Ireland Each year as St Patrick’s day approaches, commentators muse on the contemporary relevance of the day and its celebration in Ireland. The view that contemporary celebrations revolve around paddywhackery built around the co-option of a religious feast as a cultural fiction, a commercial import geared at the promotion of tourism that serves as an opportunity for binge drinking and anarchic behaviour, is not without justification. However, looking at the cultural history of the feast day can offer a means of rethinking the concepts of "tradition" and "Irishness". It also suggests that contemporary practices form part of a continuum rather than marking a break with an authentic Irishness of the past. Excessive drinking, civil disorder and violence were staple features of the festival The feast day itself, marking the death of Patrick, has long been celebrated in Ireland, but as Michael Cronin and Daryl Adair note in their study The Wearing of the Green, celebrations of the day were both religious and civic in nature as far back as the 17th century. Excessive drinking, civil disorder and violence were staple features of the festival, which carried an exemption from Lenten abstinence. Celebrations sat within the Irish pattern tradition, itself pre-Christian in origin, which involved a visit to a sacred site followed by eating, drinking and often involving contests or fights between members of different territories or rival groups. The marking of the occasion with a parade was the product of Ireland’s colonial and diasporic histories. The first St. Patrick’s day parades were held in various part of the US in the 17th and 18th centuries. Organised by Irish priests, Protestant-dominated charitable societies and Irish soldiers serving in the British army, these parades served variously as religious events and as celebrations of homeland and of ethnic identity. St. Patrick’s Day became more closely associated with both Catholicism and nationalism in Ireland during the 19th century and beyond. It is interesting to note that the Free State government, allied closely as it was with the Catholic Church, attempted to reinforce the religious nature of the festival and to divorce it from one of its centrally enduring features, that of alcohol consumption, by ordering that all licensed premises remain closed on the day. The marking of the occasion with a parade was the product of Ireland’s colonial and diasporic histories  The sole exemption to this law was the annual dog show, held in the RDS in Dublin. Attendance at the dog show tended to be high: Irish literary figures such as Brian Ó Nualláin/Flann O’Brien, Patrick Kavanagh and Brendan Behan are reputed to have rented or borrowed dogs each year in order to gain admission to the bar. Recognising the festival’s potential to boost Irish tourism in the 1960s, the state debated changing the date of the feast day and moving it to later in the year when the Irish weather would be more attractive to tourists. The idea proved untenable, not least because the day was marked by celebrations around the globe. However, the development of festivities as an Irish tourist attraction continued, with the establishment  of general St Patrick’s Day parades in Ireland based on the US model. The St Patrick’s Day festival was established as a national festival in 1996. While spectacular  ceremonial celebrations had been the preserve of diasporic societies, the festival sought to promote Ireland as a St. Patrick’s Day tourist destination, emphasising the special opportunity it afforded of celebrating Irishness in Ireland. The piece entitled Ireland Promising Not To Judge Itself For The Next 72 Hours sums up many contemporary attitudes to the day The festival has been deemed a major economic and civic success, though levels of drunkenness and civil disorder are often highlighted as a blight on the celebrations. Some commentators opine its spurious connection with Irish culture, viewing it as "manufactured authenticity" built on touristic visions of Irishness. Such perspectives are adroitly articulated by the satirical website Waterford Whispers News, which includes such St Patrick’s day pieces as 28 Ministers Confirm They’re Leaving On Paddy’s Day To "Avoid The Carnage’’, 5 Stages Of Paddy’s Day Drunkenness and Local Art Head Already Preparing For Paddy’s Day 2018. The piece entitled Ireland Promising Not To Judge Itself For The Next 72 Hours sums up many contemporary attitudes to the day: "The entire Nation has agreed to enter into a pact that will see each and every citizen resisting the urge to judge one another regarding their conduct and behaviour over the St. Patrick’s Weekend festivities. It is also thought the general public will politely hold up the pretence that St. Patrick’s Day is all about highlighting the best Irish culture has to offer …The days surrounding St. Patrick’s Day have been long associated with civil disobedience, public urination and all round despicable displays of so-called ‘Irishness’." It's a celebration built around a non-Irish figure who adopted Ireland as his home Though satirical, such perspectives reflect Ireland’s complicated relationship with St Patrick’s day and with the complex dynamics between the various imaginations of Irishness that it reflects, particularly between "insider"/"outsider" and "authentic"/"spurious" visions of Irish identity. However, these complex relationships are nothing new. It's a celebration built around a non-Irish figure who adopted Ireland as his home and which owes its contemporary incarnation both to developments among the diaspora and to secular and religious traditions, some of which reach back into pre-Christian times. St Patrick’s Day reflects an Irish identity comprising multiple, complex and often contradictory strands that issue from within and without Ireland. It could be argued that its multifaceted and mutable associations are the very qualities which render St. Patrick’s day as an eminently fitting celebration of historical and contemporary Irishness. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Friday, 23 March 2018

Author: Alison Herbert, Irish Centre for Social Gerontology Opinion: how we think about time can influence behaviour and decisions about work, health, relationships and especially our quality of life as we get older With the changing of our clocks comes the inescapable perception of having more or less time available. Losing or gaining time is just one example of how older rural women perceive the concept of time. Hamlet may have believed that there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so, but our thinking around time can influence our behaviour and decisions about work, health, relationships, and ultimately the quality of life enjoyed in older age. Time and temporality may be perceived as a form of power that informs us about age codes, laying down norms about what is considered a normal consequence and timing for life events such as building a career, marrying, starting a family, retiring and even dying. This means that experiences of any of these phenomena outside of the temporal norm, such as an unwanted retirement, divorce, or premature death, are likely to negatively influence quality of life. At mid-life, the concept of time with its finitude and its limitations may find people anxious to accomplish outstanding goals, something that appears to be gender sensitive. Some studies suggest that women are disadvantaged by a history of time poverty that may set a pattern for life. Working women for example may experience multiple and severe time constraints, which may impact on their leisure and social participation and make it difficult for them to stay connected with important relationships or community activities. Physical and mental health may also be impacted if multi-tasking mid-lifers cannot find the time to prepare healthy meals, attend exercise classes or even play with their own children. Time pressures, along with the very act of rushing and subsequent fatigue, are known to induce stress. Some but not all mid-life women are able to deal with time poverty by employing adaptation strategies in which they continuously prioritise in order to meet commitments – perhaps a case of robbing "father time" to appease "mother earth". One school of thought asserts that mid-life for women is a time characterised by an emerging perception of oneself as having a temporary existence, and of being dependent upon one’s body. Women become more conscious of what can be achieved within the finitude of time left, and more questioning on whether time is being spent optimally during the remainder of their lifecourse. Thus, we may witness an accelerated drive towards an expansion of the self before our ageing bodies let us down by refusing to comply with our renewed desire to take on the world. Mid-life for women has long been considered a time of review: a time to look backwards and forwards and re-evaluate the present. Quantum physicists assert that time is not linear and does not move along a continuum of past, present and future. Instead, it moves in mercurial waves that are capable of influencing past and future inter-changeably. In layperson’s terms, it appears that, as in the movies, we can not only reach our future through our past, but also our past through our future. It is generally held that many women in their forties, fifties and sixties undertake considerable naval-gazing By viewing time and ageing from a lifecourse perspective, we can at least recognise that time is contextual and includes a "plasticity" that allows us to re-shape our environments. For example, we can try to improve our physical fitness regime, our eating habit, or our attitude towards money or relationships in order to influence the quality of our lives. This argument is supported by a range of research suggesting that mid-life women from their forties onwards begin to think differently about their own lives. They consider new themes, such as achieving balance, changing direction and re-defining the self and significant relationships. Such women speak of letting go of material things in favour of spirituality and exploring the inner being, discovering that the world really is their oyster and ofpaying increased attention to our nearest and dearest. Whilst the demographics of the mid-life period are considered fluid, it is generally held that many women in their forties, fifties and sixties undertake considerable naval-gazing, casting a very cold eye over earlier life stages and adding up the debits and credits of the here and now in order to shape future time remaining. A recent study of mid-life rural women in Ireland helps to exemplify such women’s malleable approach to time. Participants speak of a desire to forge ahead and avoid time-wasting at all costs and needing another three or four lives to do all desired things. Even for those study participants who did not yet know what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives, they recognised the finitude of time and the need for an increased focus. Such hunger for surging forward may be partly explained by a perception of time acceleration, in which hours, days, weeks, months and years seem to fly by, putting some mid-life rural women under pressure to peddle faster in the hope that increased velocity will stop the wheels coming off the wagon. Juggling the needs of work, children, adult children, parents and partners takes its toll, and it is usually the mid-life woman herself who pays the toll in depleted energy and increased stress levels. But lest we think that a shortage of time is the older woman’s nemesis, we need to consider those for whom time is standing still and for whom time is a constant reminder of the emptiness of their days. These are not mythical creatures, but ordinary women whose temporality changed at some point along their lifecourse and has left them perhaps jobless, friendless, childless and husbandless. Their vision of the future is a time without end. For rural women at mid-life, time is subjective – an ally to some, a challenge to others. Some chase its coat-tails elusively, others hide from its icy grip. What is certain is that time takes no heed of us; it is us who must mould our lives around its presence. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here  

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Author: Andras Kolto, Health Promotion Research Centre Report: there has been a reduction in smoking, drinking and bullying since 1998 and an increase in fruit consumption, bonds with parents and feeling low  The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) is an international study conducted in more than 40 countries which examines young people’s health. In each country, a statistically representative number of schoolchildren are invited to fill in a questionnaire, with questions covering various aspects of their health. These include health-promoting behaviours (e.g. consumption of fruit and vegetables, toothbrushing wtc), risk behaviours (frequency of smoking and drinking), and physical and mental health outcomes (how satisfied the adolescents feel about their lives). Other questions tap into the social and environmental dimension of children’s lives, such as how much support they get from their families, how many friends they have, how safe they think their local area is, and how much they feel pressured by school work Based at the Health Promotion Research Centre of National University of Ireland Galway, the Irish branch of HBSC has been studying and analysing child health since 1994. Let's take a look at how young people’s health in Ireland changed between 1998 and 2014. Decrease in smoking and drinking The best news is that we have seen a steady decrease in some health-compromising behaviours. While 23 percent of adolescents reported being a smoker in 1998, it was just 8 percent in 2014. The earlier someone smokes their first cigarette, the more difficult it is for them to quit. Therefore, it is great to see that there has been a stunning 25 percent decrease in the proportion of children who had their cigarette at the age of 13 or younger. A similar positive trend is found in alcohol use. In 1998, a third of children reported having ever been drunk, but this was down to just a fifth in 2014. As with smoking, there was a 20 percent decrease in the number of kids who had the first alcoholic drink at the age of 13 or younger. Among the 42 countries participating in the 2014 study, Ireland was in the bottom third for both tobacco and alcohol use. Less bullying We were also glad to see that fewer children (13 percent) reported bullying others in the last couple of months in 2014 than in 1998 (25 percent). Bullying among young people from Ireland is also below the international average. Fruit consumption and toothbrushing on the rise There has been an increase in eating fruit more than once a day: in 1998, the rate was 18 percent, which went up to 23 percent in 2014. This is the fifth highest rate in international comparisons. A 10 percent increase was observed in the number of adolescents who brush their teeth more than once a day, which was reported by 69 percent in 2014, although this is just the eleventh place in international rankings. Seatbelt use In 1998, just 35 percent of young people said they always wear a seatbelt when they sit in a car. By 2014, this number was 80 percent. However, it is crucial that every kid should fasten their seatbelts even for the shortest drive. Feeling low We saw a small but significant increase in the number of young people who said that they frequently felt low in the last six months, from 23 percent in 1998 to 28 percent in 2014. Children in Ireland are more likely to feel low than the international average. Stable bonds with parents Very good news is that more and more young people report having a good relationship with their parents. In 1998, 73 percent of the kids told they find it easy to talk to their mother about things that bother them, but this rate was 82 percent by 2014. An even larger increase was found in communication with fathers (from 47 percent to 69 percent in the same period) and these numbers are above the international average. Schools are becoming better places, but children feel more pressured by school work Between 1998 and 2014, a small but significant increase was found in the number of young people who told they like school (from 68 percent to 72 percent). However, there was a rise from 33 percent to 43 percent in the number feeling pressured by school-related tasks. Unfortunately, children in Ireland are ranked high on this indicator in international comparison. A positive balance of two decades – but new issues emerge These findings show that many aspects of adolescent lives have improved during the last two decades. However, more kids felt low and pressured by school work in 2014 than in 1998. We must keep in mind that some risks will always be there for adolescents. In the forthcoming HBSC survey, which will be carried out in spring-summer 2018, we plan to ask young people many new questions - for instance, have they have tried e-cigarettes, where do they access alcohol, do they use sunbeds or are they feeling romantically attracted to someone? New risks may also emerge – we have no idea how the rapidly increasing use of social media will affect children over time. A whole package of questions will be dedicated to electronic media communication. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Friday, 16 February 2018

Author: Deirdre Walsh, School of Medicine Report: a new programme exploring ways to improve how diabetes services are delivered to young adults is doing so with the help of young adults themselves Dealing with Type 1 diabetes (T1D) requires an intensive self-management routine. This is especially challenging in times of transition, especially for young adults, when diabetes is one of many demands on time, effort and headspace.  Since 2014, the multi-disciplinary D1 Now team at the School of Medicine, NUI Galway have been working to develop a new intervention to reimagine diabetes care for young adults. The team are exploring ways to improve how diabetes services are delivered to young adults with Type 1 diabetes with the help of young adults themselves. Unfortunately, existing evidence shows a lack of high-quality, well-designed actions aimed at improving health outcomes for young adults with Type 1 diabetes. To address this issue, D1 Now aims to develop an intervention which includes young adults and other key stakeholders at all stages of the development process. The team made a commitment to ensuring that young adults are at the centre of discussion around their care and shaping the way forward. This type of research activity is sometimes referred to as Public and Patient Involvement (PPI). It is crucial for healthcare initiatives to recognise the expert knowledge of people living with the condition and to incorporate it into research. PPI is officially defined by INVOLVE (a leader in UK PPI research) as "research being carried out ‘with’ or ‘by’ members of the public rather than ‘to’, ‘about’ or ‘for’ them." With the formation of the D1 Now Young Adult Panel (YAP) the team made a commitment to PPI and ensuring that young adults are at the centre of discussion around their care and shaping the way forward. As a direct result of this, a meaningful dialogue has opened up between healthcare providers and young adults within the research team. Their involvement has led to a better understanding of what needs to be achieved in order to improve health service delivery in terms of responding to the specific needs of young adults as he panel have been active members in co-designing the action. Currently, three areas have been identified as important for self-management: (a) the young adult’s introduction to the adult diabetes services, (b) attendance at clinic appointments and informal contact between appointments and (c) building relationships between young adults and service providers.  Some factors were identified to help improve these areas. A key worker was required to introduce the young adult to the diabetes service, act as an advocate and conduct a needs and priorities assessment. An online Young Adult Service Portal would facilitate stronger connections between staff and young adults, while an agenda setting tool would allow collaborative decision making and goal setting to optimise diabetes management. These components will make up our D1 Now intervention and how these take shape will be based on feedback over the coming months from young adults, researchers and healthcare professionals. The young adults are instrumental within this feedback process. Research materials such as participant information sheets have been developed to ensure any material used by the D1 Now team is created with young adults and not just "for" young adults. The YAP have also reviewed research findings to create plain language statements so that the team’s work is framed in the most appropriate way for young adults and anyone who may wish to engage with the research. The panel have also helped develop the study website to enhance engagement between young adults and their diabetes healthcare providers.  Through engaging with the YAP, the D1 Now team wanted to push the boundaries of the regular engagement with patients and have tried to adapt existing formats to problem solve problems. An example of this is the Strength in Numbers Conference held in NUIG which sought to bring together expert knowledge from the diabetes community and exchange knowledge and experiences among stakeholders to inform and guide the development of the D1 Now intervention.  Moving forward, we want to extend our young adult panel to the east coast. If young adults between 18 and 25 years old with T1D are interested in having a say and changing care for their peers, please get in touch. An information evening for young adults will be held at the Psychological Society of Irelandoffice in Dublin on February 27.  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Author: Professor Daniel Carey, Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Opinion: the US president's responses to mass shooting incidents tell us much about America's gun control issues, but will anything change as a result? Writing about Donald Trump just before his inauguration in January 2017, I asked how he might respond to mass shootings during his presidency. We have seen three major shooting incidents during his presidency so far: Las Vegas, where 58 people were slaughtered at an open-air concert; Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 26 church-goers lost their lives on a Sunday morning and, most recently, Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and staff died in an attack on Valentine’s Day. Trump's responses to each of these incidents tell us something about him and something about the country and its great gun rights versus gun control impasse. The next question is whether anything will change as a result. After the Las Vegas massacre – a record death toll for such shootings, not to mention more than 500 injured people – the US president played for time, a standard tack of politicians on the right. It is also a standard ploy of the National Rifle Association (NRA) when such events place unfettered access to guns under the spotlight. Trump promised "we’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes by", only to drop the issue. He also remarked that it was a "miracle" how quickly the police arrived – the premise being, presumably, that it could have been worse. The tactic of distracting from the main issue became even more apparent in responding to the Texas episode which Trump characterised as a ‘mental health problem’, calling the shooter, Deven Patrick Kelly, a "very deranged individual". Such a person, standing outside the norm, ostensibly has no implications for the gun-owning community. Under the pressure of organised and vocal student-led protests following the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Trump has conceded some ground, claiming that he will use an executive order to make the "bump stock" device, that was used in Las Vegas to turn the killer’s weapon into a machine-gun, illegal. He also claimed he would raise the age at which one could buy assault rifles, the weapon used by 19 year-old Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz, from 18 to 21 years – not that this would have helped in the case of 64 year old Las Vegas perpetrator, Stephen Paddock. But Trump has also redeployed the suggestion of arming teachers as a solution and turning schools into police precincts, all in the name of protecting the "liberty" to own guns. Bizarrely, he condemned so-called "active shooter drills" as "very negative" and "crazy" at the same time. The same impulse to divert the discussion was equally in evidence, from accusations that video games and movie violence constitute a cause to slamming the performance of law enforcement at the scene, which he called "frankly disgusting". The armed school resource officer, Scot Peterson, who waited outside and failed to engage the shooter, "choked" and "didn’t have the courage" to take action.(Peterson has resigned but his lawyer denied the accusations and said he followed protocol). In a further contribution taking matters to a new level of absurdity, Trump has declared that he believed that he himself "would have run in there, even if I didn’t have a weapon". Where does this leave us? For starters, with a president who remains beholden to the NRA, which provided vast sums to support his campaign ($11m to him and $20m to attacking Hillary Clinton). Certainly, the speech by NRA head Wayne LaPierre to the Conservative Political Action Conference in the aftermath of the Florida shooting demonstrated a renewed commitment to polarising the issue. He condemed the "elites" who supposedly care nothing for school safety and "shamefully" politicise "tragedy" for their own ends. LaPierre struck fear in the audience by raising the prospect of gun seizures, branding opponents as enemies of the Second Amendment, haters of "individual freedom" and "socialist" conspirators. As if this dark vision was not enough, he closed by uttering a chilling message to "harden our schools" (a phrase also used by Trump). Apparently, the notion of a childhood spent in an unarmed school is mere utopianism. In theory, we should now be able to dispose of the "good guy with a gun" argument, since the armed on-site employee in Florida did nothing to prevent the deaths. Then again, maybe he just wasn’t "good enough". In fact, this is mere fantasy, refuted by the evidence of mass shootings on army and navy bases, where well-trained, heavily armed personnel could not stop the homicides. Nor is there any merit in Trump’s preposterous idea that cowardly shooters would somehow be discouraged from attacking schools since they would encounter heavily armed individuals. As Anthony Swofford pointed out in a New York Times opinion piece, "assailants in such cases aren’t typically worried about losing their lives in the process. Usually, losing their lives is part of the plan." Are we to believe that a disappointed would-be attacker, deterred from entering a school by a heavy armed presence, would think better of it all and remain at home? Or would they perhaps find some less patrolled-installation such as a mall or a cinema or park or any other gathering to unleash their violence? The gun advocates appear willing to militarise the society to a staggering extent in the name of liberty, compromising the most basic freedoms to buttress this one inviolable privilege. It remains to be seen whether students and parents will succeed in maintaining pressure on politicians to act in defence of child safety. Perhaps, like the #metoo movement, this event will galvanise public sentiment and transform opinion. Maybe it will represent a turning point where reason prevails. While 17 year old Cameron Kasky's public rebuke to Florida senator Marco Rubio gives one hope, there is a long and hostile road ahead. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Author: Professor Paolo Bartoloni, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures Opinion: despite a well documented colourful and controversial past, just why are many Italians happy to continue to support and indulge Silvio Berlusconi?  An examination of the return of Silvio Berlusconi to a central role and potential success at next month’s election in Italy, despite his colourful past, could start by stating that political longevity in Italy is a norm rather than an oddity. Despite accusations of collusion, corruption and nepotism, Italian political leaders over the last century have endured with remarkable obstinacy so why would Berlusconi be any different?  For a start because he entered the political scene proclaiming his difference and presenting himself as the anti-politician par excellence. He was the man against the establishment, the new face of a new wave of politics that would defy politics from within by, for instance, signing contracts with the electorate(literally signed on TV, in front of millions of Italians), similar to the one you would sign with a bank for a personal loan.  Since 1994, the year he entered politics and had his first stint as Italian prime minister, Berlusconi has flaunted his otherness vis-à-vis institutionalised politics and politicians. Yet Berlusconi has been prime minister three times and absolute leader of his political party since the word go - doesn’t that make him a politician? Well, not really. Strangely enough, countless Italians still think of him as a successful businessman rather than a beleaguered politician who, not unlike many other politicians before him, has been accused of tax fraud, placed at the centre of claims of collusion with criminal organisations, and involved in sex scandals over underage prostitution. In the case of Berlusconi, what counts is not so much "political longevity" but simply and more passionately "longevity", which he has decided to pair, by his own choice, money and influence, with politics. Like his passion for soccer (until recently Berlusconi was the owner of AC Milan), politics has propped up his longevity, ensuring him visibility, prime time TV appearances, biographies, books and articles such as this one.  What Berlusconi has always wanted and still desires is more time. More time to impress, more time to seduce, not only women, but also the average Italian with his smile and his love for singing and jokes. Is it an accident that Berlusconi started his business career as an entertainer on cruise ships? Is it surprising that when he was attacked by a protester who hit him with a miniature of the Milan Cathedral, photos showed Berlusconi with a candid expression of shock and disbelief that one would associate with the random harassment of cinema stars than that of politicians in disarray? He has been spectacularly successful in his fight against time because he has managed to persuade us to suspend our disbelief. He has moulded himself on the characters of fiction and fantasy for which his TV and publishing industry is so celebrated and famous. It doesn’t matter how impossibly complicated the situations he finds himself in are, the number of attackers who surround him with their daggers drawn, the ferocious beasts and the blood thirsty revenants that are about to bite him. In the next scene, Berlusconi will reappear intact, smiling and in control of the situation. Of course, very little is said about what happened in the meantime to attackers, beasts and zombies. They are irrelevant in their own right and soon forgotten. The temporality that Berlusconi lives in is self-constructed and self-perpetuating. It is nurtured by fantasy and reliant on our willingness to suspend judgment.  So why have Italians accepted him as a fictional character in a story they appear to be unwilling to let go? Is it enough to state that Berlusconi is rich, powerful and influential, characteristics that tend to attract people and turn the owner into quasi-idols and icons of fame and glamour?  He has been spectacularly successful in his fight against time because he has managed to persuade us to suspend our disbelief Intriguingly enough, a simple identity or image does not come to mind when one utters the name Berlusconi. Instead, the name Berlusconi conjures up several identities and images. It is almost a category of life and experience. Similar to Flaubert’s Bouvarism, from the character Madame Bovary in the eponymous novel, we now have Berlusconism, the age of Berlusconi, Berlusconi’s Italy. Berlusconi is gradually turning into a concept and idea that constructs stories and creates templates for states of mind. Not unlike Kafka’s castle, the eerie essence of which doesn’t reside so much in its physical presence as in its imagined and feared existence, Berlusconi’s identity and persona are not so much based on matter as on a projected collective imagination which sees things as on a screen, and cannot bring itself to separate day-to-day life from fiction. Calling the result of the next Italian political election on March 4th and whether Berlusconi will come out on top and at the expense of who and which party verges on the impossible. What we are left with is an intriguing spectacle - and the question of whether or not people will continue to suspend their disbelief. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Author: Alison Herbert, Irish Centre for Social Gerontology Opinion: our views on who constitutes a healthy role model tends to evolve as people and society change Role models are those we believe to be somewhat similar to ourselves in terms of attitudes, behaviours, goals, or status, but who crucially already have the skills or attributes that we admire or strive after. We are motivated to mirror these individuals through observation, learning and emulation, helping us to better understand ourselves and our environments. But do we need role models - and are they good for us? Only as far as we allow them to impact our own lives. If we deem them to be stratospherically out of our reach, they become more like invisible friends who we check in with every now and then for an inspirational chat. However, if we believe ourselves to be a mere weekend acting/singing/dancing/cooking/business course away from being just like them, then we could be setting ourselves up for continuous disappointment and failure, as can be witnessed weekly in the proliferation of reality competition TV shows. Clearly not everyone is destined to become the new kid on the block, so what happens when you feel you can no longer become your role model? And what service is the unattainable celebrity role model providing? One photographic exhibition of "successful businesswomen" in the cosmetics industry portrayed Helena Rubinstein, Estee Lauder and Elizabeth Arden as being ambivalent role models, with their success having been achieved from an arguably flawed limitation of feminine beauty. But what is the job spec for a healthy role model? Views are temporal and tend to evolve as we do, and as society does. A young girl may equally view her schoolteacher or mother as the most important role model in her micro world. Teenage girls tend to imitate role models a little older than themselves, who could be family members, but are just as likely to be celebrities who remain "pseudo-nubile" (think Ariana Grande). Like food choices, some role models are healthier than others. Beauty has always been equated with youth, and in western societies which are currently experiencing an explosion in obesity, youth and thinness remain the "ideal", regrettably leading to countless cases of poor self-esteem amongst females. In her twenties, a young woman’s cognitive and social net may be cast wider, trawling in bigger fish, possibly a sporting hero such as Katie Taylor or young female political activist like Malala Yousafzai. A decade or so on from that, and juggling work commitments and childcare, our woman may cite those "inspirational" women who seem to have it all, do it all, say it all, and look good too (hello Amal Alamuddin-Clooney) as role models. Leaping forward to middle age (a nebulous "anywhere" from 45 to 65 years) and we may hear mid-life women, who currently form almost a quarter of Ireland’s population, take a deep exhalation of breath as they seize the first opportunity to review their lives to date and assess what they really want before they hit the ever-ascending retirement age. So who might be the role models be for these older women? Do women at mid-life turn off the computer, the telly, the boss, the partner, the children, and leg it to the nearest spiritual retreat in the hope of divine inspiration? Or do they take a closer look at their own environments to see what’s going on, who’s making it happen and ask if there is anything to be learned here? When it’s a case of "nothing to see here, move on", today’s mid-life woman may well seek her role models outside of her own social environment (for instance, from celebrity stars of the big and small screens. The visibility of youthful older people in celebrity culture and the profligate notion that old age can be held at bay indefinitely by technologies and the right attitude has resulted in new and alarming "realities". Botox, steroids, and cosmetic surgery appear to point the way to a brave new world where mature adulthood is seen primarily in chronological, biological and medical terms. A healthy role model for the Connemara mid-life woman is as likely to be found in the back field as the West Wing It’s not hard to understand how any of us would be inspired by queen bees like Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey as examples of lightning rods for societal change. But for many women at the pivotal mid-lifecourse stage, it’s often the "drones", the ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things, who flame our creative thought and become our role models. A recent study of mid-life rural women in Ireland reports positive role models to be mostly mothers, grandmothers, older employers and fellow community members. The role model status was attained as a result of diverse, but somewhat prosaic activities: feeding, clothing, and educating children; turning jaded communities into vibrant villages and carrying out heavy manual work every day, despite diminishing health. These role models were admired for their resilience and ability to carry out tasks that enhanced the lives of others rather than for how they looked. Rural mid-life women often display great resilience in the face of cumulative disadvantage resulting from the maldistribution of socio-economic resources. When you are living with limited employment and training opportunities, pared-back gendered-health support services and coping with skeleton public transport, diminishing social amenities and temperamental technological connectivity, a healthy role model for the Connemara mid-life woman is as likely to be found in the back field as the West Wing. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Vist here

Friday, 9 February 2018

Author: Siddhi Joshi, School of Geography and Archaeology Report: all you ever wanted to know about the unique seabed habitats known as maёrl beaches  "The Coral Strand too is silvery, glimmery, moon-pale, and it crunches underfoot pleasantly; pick up a handful of its beach and you see it is composed of tiny twiglike bits of something like unglazed pottery, white, cream-coloured, pale green or faintly violet-flushed. This is not strictly coral, but fragments broken off a coraline alga." by Tim Robinson from Connemara - The Last Pool of Darkness Maёrl debris beaches are some of the most unique, rarest and least understood environments in the world. Known incorrectly as "Coral Strand", these rare biogenic gravel beaches are made of branched free-living coralline algal gravels known as maërl. French naturalist Madame Lemoine first coined the Breton term maërl in 1910. Maërl has been studied in the west of Ireland for more than a century, when Arthur Disbrowe Cotton took part in the Clare Island survey. Unlike coral, maërl or "rhodolith" is a plant rather than an animal and is restricted to the depth of light penetratio when alive. Sub-tidally, living maërl forms a range of complex 3-D biogenic microhabitats for a range of invertebrates including brittle stars, bivalves, sea cucumbers and an important nursery areas for juvenile species of fish. These unique seabed habitats are found in many regions including Scotland, Cornwall, France, Spain, Malta, Norway, the Arctic, Mexico and notably off the Brazilian coast (a 22,000 square km area the size of El Salvador) and are protected under the EU Habitats Directive as Special Areas of Conservation(SACs). This rare and diverse seabed habitat is of great conservation significance and one of the oldest marine plants in Europe. Historically when fishermen in Brittany would land maërl, they would be able to use it on their soil as fertiliser, ensuring a fertile harvest and making maërl a prized commodity. Commercial extraction no longer occurs in Brittany, where it is banned, but there is a cultural festival, Fête du Maërl, which happens every four years. I became fascinated by maërl by going to the beach and seeing how it was carried, mobilised and transported by almost every wave. In 2014 during my PhD research on maërl sediment dynamics, I found myself meeting many professors and knowledgeable experts studying maërl. Realising the need to document their extensive knowledge, I decided to a short documentary together about maërl. Little did I know that this would turn out to be a hour-long scientific documentary entirely about maërl! This documentary explored a diverse range of multidisciplinary research areas related to maërl, including marine botany, zoology, ecology, conservation management to geology, hydrographic surveying and geophysics. Featuring nine interviews with experts on maërl and the seabed, it explores the threat of anthropogenic activity on maërl, including extraction and dredging, salmon farming and trawling beds. It also contains numerous solutions suggested by leading experts, some of whom have studied maërl for twenty to forty years. Marine science documentaries can inspire, educate and transform the science and serve to be informative tools in science communication. We hope this documentary will be one step towards educating the next generation of scientists, policy makers, for stakeholder management and the threats faced by exploitation of this vulnerable benthic habitat.  Our scientific understanding of the behaviour of maёrl beaches and beds is very limited, especially when it comes to the results climate change (such as increased storminess and ocean acidification). Furthermore, the current suite of morphodynamic models used to predict shoreline change have been developed and tested on beaches composed dominantly of lithogenic surface sediments. These have very different mineral compositions, particle shapes and porosity characteristics to calcareous maёrl deposits. It is not known how these differences are manifested in the hydraulic properties of the sediment and, subsequently, how they impact the dynamics of maёrl debris beaches and offshore maёrl deposits. New research with Eugene Farrell of NUI Galway's School of Geography is underway to develop, test and validate the first ever process-response morphodynamic model for maёrl beaches and beds and quantify the impacts of storminess on these beaches. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Vist here

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Author: Dr Nick Tosh, Philosophy Opinion: Artificial intelligence has come a long way since World War Two, but general purpose machine intelligence remains a distant prospect Multiplying large numbers is difficult. It takes time, you have to concentrate, and if you can do it in your head people will think you are a genius. Electronic computers were invented in World War Two to automate this sort of heavy-duty thinking and they were spectacularly successful: the US Army’s ENIACcould calculate artillery trajectories thousands of times faster than a human mathematician, while Britain’s Colossus played a crucial role in breaking German codes.  Not surprisingly, early computer scientists were optimistic about the broader potential of their machines. "The brain will carry out mathematical research", Maurice Wilkes told a Daily Mail journalist in 1947. "It may make sensational discoveries in engineering, astronomy, and atomic physics. It may even solve economic and philosophic problems too complicated for the human mind. There are millions of vital questions we wish to put to it."  Wilkes was referring to Cambridge University’s EDSAC, a device vastly outclassed in raw computing power by modern dishwashers. By 1952, it was able to play Tic-Tac-Toe, but the sensational scientific discoveries were not forthcoming. And the "philosophic" problems? Well, suffice to say that computers still cannot converse at the level of a four-year-old. "The main lesson of 35 years of AI research", wrote psychologist Steven Pinker in 1994, "is that the hard problems are easy and the easy problems are hard." Arithmetic is hard for humans but easy for computers - so easy that we are no longer impressed by mere calculators. Freewheeling conversation lies at the other extreme: trivial for us, but exceptionally difficult for computers.  Building a machine that can master this trick is often seen as the holy grail of AI research. It is a fair bet that if it were accomplished, artificial scientists and philosophers – and Wilkes’s "sensational discoveries" – would not be far behind. Justification: if human-level general intelligence can be simulated at all, it can likely be simulated at scale – millions of interacting agents – and at speed.  Few believe this goal is near. Thus, the traditional subfields of AI focus on more specific "easy for us, hard for computers" tasks. Some involve natural language – for example, detecting the grammatical structure of a sentence, or conversing about a narrowly defined topic. Others have to do with learning from experience – for example, learning to recognise cats by looking at pictures of cats. One reason why it is difficult to program computers to do these things is that it is difficult to describe how we do them. When we do a multiplication problem, we consciously follow rules. It is a simple matter to articulate those rules and pass them to a computer. When we understand an English sentence, or learn to spot cats, we do not consciously follow rules.  So how should the AI researcher who wishes to automate these abilities proceed? She might guess that we unconsciously follow rules. The idea here is not that the relevant brain processes obey the laws of chemistry and physics - that goes without saying. Rather, the idea is that at some high (but nevertheless unconscious) functional level, far removed from the messy details of neuron physiology, the brain manipulates symbols that correspond (somehow) to ordinary concepts, and that it does so according to rules that are not drastically unlike the kind we follow consciously when we do arithmetic or solve a logic problem. It became clear that tasks such as translation, speech recognition and normal conversation require an enormous amount of general knowledge If this guess is right, the AI researcher’s best bet is probably to attempt to reverse-engineer the brain’s high-level symbolic computations. She might turn to cognitive scientists and psychologists for help. She won’t bother neuroscientists, because she doesn’t need to know how the brain’s symbol-juggling routines are implemented at the physiological level. The approach just described – "symbolic" or "Good Old Fashioned" AI – was dominant until the mid 1980s. It had some significant successes. Chess programs began to defeat club-level human players in the late 1960s. Around the same time, Terry Winograd’s SHRDLU demonstrated a limited ability to converse about a simple virtual world of blocks and pyramids. Chess programs continued to improve (they now outclass even the strongest human players), but progress on the linguistic front soon ran out of steam. It became clear that tasks such as translation, speech recognition and normal conversation require an enormous amount of general knowledge. In practice and perhaps also in principle, human programmers cannot codify this knowledge as lists of high-level rules. Symbolic AI had even less success with visual processing and object-identification tasks; the basic obstacle seemed to be the same. Ideally, an AI system that needed a lot of general knowledge would acquire it the way humans do – by learning from experience in an open-ended and flexible way. No one knew how to make a symbolic AI program do that. However from the earliest days of AI, some researchers had favoured a radically different approach. Rather than trying to emulate human conceptual abilities directly, they took their cue from the physiology of the brain. They built systems in which many simple units ("neurons") were interconnected to form complex – and highly adaptable – networks. Early neural networks couldn’t do very much, but they acquired their limited abilities through experience.  For example, if a researcher wished to build a neural network to calculate the AND function, she could begin with a generic do-nothing network, and present it with a few dozen examples of correctly evaluated ANDs. By using a general-purpose training algorithm to update the connection weights in response to each example, she would quickly teach the network to calculate the desired function. The hope was that larger neural networks would eventually be able to perform much more impressive tricks: translate a Russian sentence into English; reliably take dictation; judge whether a photograph depicts a cat. In the internet age, no research project will stall for lack of cat pictures But training large neural networks is not easy. It is computationally expensive, and you need a lot of data - tens or hundreds of thousands of training examples. These were prohibitive drawbacks in the 1960s and 1970s.  Since then, computers have become vastly more powerful, and data more plentiful. In the internet age, no research project will stall for lack of cat pictures. Multi-layer neural networks now drive state-of-the-art systems in image classification, speech recognition, machine translation and many other fields. Deep learning is the hottest thing in tech.  Still, it is important not to overstate what has been achieved. Artificial general intelligence is not just a few years away. Chatbots are still very unconvincing. And if we are ever to build a system that can reason about cats as well as recognise them, we will almost certainly have to integrate some of the methods of Good Old Fashioned, symbolic AI. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Opinion: over 60,000 people are providing informal care to people with dementia in Ireland living in the community and formal supports are required to assist them in their role People are living longer in Ireland, which is to be celebrated. But with longer life expectancy comes an older population which brings health problems and a greater dependence on informal carers. While Ireland has a relatively well-developed health and social care system for older people, informal care provided mainly by families is a very important source of care, particularly for those who are living at home in the community.  Informal care is defined as the unpaid support that many people around the country provide to disabled or elderly family, friends and neighbours. It's provided in all care settings, but it is the key to many dependent older people remaining at home for longer than might otherwise be expected. The economic cost of dementia in Ireland is estimated to be approximately €2 billion per year, half of which is attributable to informal care, and a recent report estimated that over 60,000 people are providing informal care to people with dementia in Ireland living in the community.    In economics, there are two methods used to measure the value of informal care: the opportunity cost method and the replacement cost method. The opportunity cost method places a value on the time the individual spends providing unpaid care relative to what they could have earned in paid employment elsewhere if they were not providing care. It can also put a monetary value on leisure time foregone as a result of caring.  The replacement cost method measures informal care using the equivalent market price of having to pay an alternative person to provide the care. In Ireland this is typically taken at the market wage of a healthcare assistant. Arguably, there are difficulties with both methods but, as our pool of potential informal carers decline, the replacement cost methods increasingly resembles reality.  Many carers providing care for people with dementia don’t think of themselves as informal carers. Many identify as a mother or father' husband, wife or life partner; son or daughter; niece or nephew; friend or neighbour. Informal carers provide care for many reasons. Sometimes, care is provided out of necessity. Mostly, it is provided with love and a strong sense of duty and responsibility. However, regardless of how carers self-identify or the reasons why people care, it is important they are supported in their role by the state. While most carers gain satisfaction from caring for someone close to them, the job can be stressful. Carer burden is a measure of the physical and emotional burden felt by carers which can have real health implications resulting from increased levels of stress. The impact of carer burden goes beyond health impacts, with additional implications from a financial perspective. The implications of carer burden have the potential, therefore, to be substantial for carers, families the taxpayer and society. Many studies have highlighted the importance of formal supports for informal carers to assist them in the caring role. Respite care, for example, can reduce carer burden. Psychosocial and educational supports for carers can also be valuable. Practical information on how to care is very important, as well as opportunities to meet other carers. Enhanced and personalised formal care provision for the person with dementia can also help to reduce the caring load on family carers  On average, the cost of HSE-funded formal home care to a person with dementia with moderate levels of dependence is about €150 per week. This includes home help, meals-on-wheels, Public Health Nurse and allied health services such as an occupational therapist or a physiotherapist, a range which is to be welcomed. The problem is that current government provision for people with dementia is generally considered to be unsatisfactory. Despite recent progress emanating from the National Dementia Strategy, services for people with dementia living at home do not currently meet existing levels of need. Family carers pick up the slack in relation to care for people with dementia and without them the care system would be in a much weaker position. In dementia care, the rights of the person with dementia are increasingly and correctly acknowledged as being at the core of decision-making. However, as this important shift occurs, it is vital that the rights of the informal carer are not overlooked. The two should no longer be viewed in isolation but complementary to each other, both equally valuable and worthy of consideration. This would refocus how care is both planned for and how care-effectiveness is measured in economic terms. It would involve a move away from examining the effects of supports, services or interventions to the person receiving the care in isolation, to including the health impacts and the quality of life gains of the carer and the cared-for in tandem.  The country is entering a crucial phase in progressing effective dementia supports and services, as part of the roll out of the National Dementia Strategy. New investment in dementia care must reflect the preferences and needs of both the person with dementia and their informal carer. Carers require more tangible and practical supports to allow them do the job that most love doing. The consequences of not supporting them will be significant for people with dementia and for society. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Author: Justin Tonra, School of Humanities Opinion: the history of book storage is not as straightforward as you might think  I am rearranging my library. Yes, I am. The scene described at the outset of Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay, "Unpacking My Library," arose from his peripatetic lifestyle, not from a bout of home décor. We join the German writer as he unpacks crates of books which have been sealed for two years and witness his meandering thoughts on book collecting, all prompted by the stacks of volumes awaiting their places on the shelves, "not yet touched by the mild boredom of order."  An entirely different motivation has prompted a new trend in book arrangement which has gained traction on social media in recent months, and received perplexed newspaper coverage in the last week: the backwards book. The origin of the craze, widely interpreted as yet another sign of humanity’s monumental folly and impending demise, has been traced to an Instagram post by design blog Apartment Therapy, which counselled afflicted readers whose books did not match their décor: "don't fret. The incredibly easy solution? Flip them for a perfectly coordinated look." The comments on the post - which begin with "you monsters" and continue in that fashion - represent the general thrust of the internet’s response as the trend has gathered momentum and social media has become clogged with images of books’ protruding fore-edges. Why such anger? There are two main reasons. First of all, the practical: a shelf of reversed spines presents an obvious challenge to finding any book. The second, graver reason relates to the cultural capital of the book, which remains instinctive and strong even in the digital age. Anyone who uses books for decorative purposes, we imagine, must be foolish, shallow or illiterate. The phenomenon is not new as evidenced by the many book-filled nooks of every faux-Irish pub or the opportunity to buy books by the metre. Book abuse of this kind has a long history of aggravating the bookish: poet Robert Southey complained of the Regency-period trend of treating books as "rather fashionable articles of furniture" and reported scornfully of an acquaintance "who gives his bookseller no other instructions than the widthof his shelves." More recently, filmmaker John Waters issued a severe cautionagainst sleeping with a person whose house contains no books. What, then, is the appropriate response to a person whose books are displayed spine inwards? At least, the method is a definitive means of imposing uniform order on the chaos inherent in any individual’s collection of books. What might be more surprising is that this apparently unbearable token of vacuous chic has the firm weight of history behind it. There was an identical convention for displaying books in this manner in the Renaissance period, though this may not have been the precedent that Apartment Therapy had in mind. Bookshelves began to appear in libraries in the 16th century, superseding the unsatisfactory system of the lectern adopted from monasteries. Book production had been hastened by the recent invention of the printing press, and placing books flat and side-by-side on a sloping lectern was an uneconomical use of space. Thus, the idea of storing books vertically on bookcases became common in libraries. At this point, a bookcase was frequently known as a press - a fact which will surely be appreciated by the Irish, whose continued use of the word as a synonym for cupboard is often met with blank stares in international company. But this in itself does not explain why the books in such institutions would be customarily stored with the spine inwards. The reason for this was twofold: first, the practice of adding the title and author’s name to the spine of a book did not begin in earnest until the mid-16th century and was not common until the 17th century. If a book’s spine held no information, there was no reason for it to be seen. Moreover, the spine of the book was viewed as its "back": a means of holding the leaves together that was functional, not presentable. What, then, is the appropriate response to a person whose books are displayed spine inwards? The second, less familiar reason, is that these books would ordinarily be chained to their bookcase and the best location for a chain to be attached to a vertical book was opposite the spine, at the cover’s fore-edge. Chaining was a development that accompanied the medieval and middle-ages system of displaying books on lecterns, which itself superseded the practice of keeping books in closed chests called armaria. The purpose of the iron chain was to ensure that the book was not removed from the lectern where it was intended to be read. Though chains began to be abandoned as a mean of securing books at Cambridge libraries after 1626, many Oxford libraries and colleges preserved their use well into the eighteenth century: the last college to unchain its books was Magdalen in 1799. But the problem of finding a particular book without any identifying marks attached - also voiced by detractors of the current specimen of #BackwardsBooks - remained. To resolve this, chained libraries often posted a "table of contents" on the end of the bookcase, as in the library of Hereford Cathedral, which to this day preserves its fifteen hundred volumes chained to their seventeenth century book presses. Even when the practice of adding the title and author name to the spine of a book was adopted, a period of around a century followed where old books were shelved with their fore-edges out and new books with their spines on view—either segregated or commingled on the shelves. And the habit was preserved for longer periods, in some cases: books in the library of El Escorial, the historical residence of the King of Spain, were still shelved with their fore-edges out in the late twentieth century. However, the practice largely disappeared in the hundred or so years after the mid-17th century. Two editions of a textbook by Czech theologian, John Amos Comenius, illustrate the change to the modern convention. Orbis Sensualium Pictus, first published in 1658, featured an illustration of a bookseller’s shop where books were shelved with their fore-edges facing out. However, in an edition of the book published in 1777, the spines of the books on the shop’s shelves are visible in an updated illustration. A broader history of the storage of books can be found in Henry Petroski’s The Book on the Bookshelf (to which this article in indebted). Aside from providing authority for the unwitting emulators of Renaissance style in today’s interior design, the book reflects on questions about storage that are, literally, immaterial in our digital age. A committed bibliophile, Petroski concludes his book with an appendix which describes 25 separate systems for organising a library: from the mundane order by title or by author name to more esoterically by enjoyment or by sentimental value. One of the last offers advice to a married couple who are ready to make that altogether more serious commitment: intermingling their books. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Author: Dr Martin Glavin, College of Engineering and Informatics Opinion: while we may not see fully autonomous vehicles on Irish roads in 2018, the technology could be put to use immediately to reduce the numbers killed or injured in road traffic accidents Mention 9/11 to anyone who lived through that day in 2001 and images of burning buildings and people dying on live TV immediately spring to mind. Almost 3,000 innocent, hard-working people died in the most brutal circumstances and it’s an event which will live forever in the minds of those who witnessed it in person or on TV. While the motives behind 9/11 were a significant part of the story, the shock of such a tragic loss of life on such a large scale was one of the key elements that imprinted that date on everyone’s memory.  But yesterday, today, tomorrow and every day of every week of the coming year, more than 3,000 people are killed on the roads of the world due to vehicle accidents. Just like New York in September 2001, these are innocent, hard-working individuals who set out on an average day to do their routine things and lose their lives on the roads of the world. The statistics also indicate that there are 40 to 50 more people injured, some seriously and others maybe less so, for every person killed on the road. The numbers are staggering: according to the World Health Organisation, approximately 1.25 million people lose their lives on the roads of the world every year with a further 50 to 70 million injured. While 2017 was the lowest year for road deaths in Ireland, a total of 158 people still lost their lives on our roads with186 lives lost in 2016. In-car technology could significantly impact on those road safety statistics While we may hear, see or read news reports, most of us don’t give it a second glance unless tragedy affects us directly. We have become immune to the slaughter on our roads that has claimed more lives in the last 100 years than the two world wars combined. It has been estimated that road traffic injuries will become the seventh leading cause of death globally by 2030 unless something is done to stop this trend. Now, in-car technology is emerging that could significantly impact on those road safety statistics. However, it’s not being showcased as potential life-saving technology, but as the must-have expensive toy, the autonomous vehicle. In many ways, everything that is needed to make a car drive autonomously already exists as we have a plethora of sensors, high powered computers and increasingly capable software. The problem is making the technology robust enough so that an autonomous car can safely deal with the huge variety of scenarios it is likely to encounter during its lifetime. While we’re still a few years away from the vehicle without a steering wheel, we currently have sensors on cars to detect pedestrians and support the drivier by braking automatically if a pedestrian is deemed to be in danger. We have technology that can read road-signs and warn the driver of speeding. We have automatic cruise control that can ensure that we maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front. We have lane-keeping assistance that can warn us of drifting out of lane. We’ve blind-spot detection that can warn us if we try to move into the path of a vehicle that we can’t see. We have sensors in the cockpit that monitor us in case we fall asleep at the wheel. The autonomous vehicle is ultimately going to be a powerful computer that reads these sensors and replaces the human being with artificial intelligence that will do the thinking for us. These are life-saving features which might reduce our insurance costs and reduce our likelihood of either being the victim or the cause of a road accident The thing is, though, we’re in the driving seat now and a substantial portion of the population will be there for many years to come. However, we have technology that could assist us with our driving, and make the roads safer, long before we ever see even the first fully autonomous vehicle on Irish roads. If you go to the car forecourts, you’ll see vehicles with all these options. But when you look at the price list, you’ll see that it can cost several thousand euros to add these extra "features" to our cars. These are life-saving features which might reduce our insurance costs and reduce our likelihood of either being the victim or the cause of a road accident, but we have to pay thousands of euros to get our hands on them. If the government are serious about improving road safety, they should incentivise the car-buying public by removing VAT and VRT from these life-saving advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). We should be legislating to make life-saving essential features a core part of every car that is bought from 2018 onwards With a simple stroke of a pen, the Government could dramatically reduce the cost of these technologies and encourage more people to take these options. It would result in long-term savings for the government. At present, many people can’t afford these technologies due to cost so the VAT and VRT losses would not be significant. The major savings would come with fewer fatalities on the roads, fewer injuries, fewer hospital beds taken up, fewer operations required and fewer families experiencing the stress and trauma of having a member injured or killed on the road. The car-buying public is often focused on the glamour of high-end sports cars, the efficiency of the electric vehicle, the utility of the SUV and the huge expectations (and fears) that come with self-driving vehicles. But we should be legislating to make life-saving essential features a core part of every car that is bought from 2018 onwards, and not penalising those who choose them. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Author: Dr David McNamara, College of Science Report: how a marine expedition off the coast of New Zealand allowed a geologist to find out more about slow-slip earthquakes  I’m a structural geologist which means I study cracks in the earth. I do this because these cracks influence important geological processes like the creation of natural resources and the movement of tectonic plates which can cause earthquakes. My work has taken me from the Italian Alps to the geothermal fields of New Zealand, and now, a marine expedition onboard the JOIDES Resolution research ship in the Pacific Ocean off the east coast of New Zealand.  In December, I joined the ship for part of a six week International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), an international research collaboration that co-ordinates seagoing expeditions to explore the Earth's history by studying sediments and rocks beneath the seafloor. The scientific drillship, JOIDES Resolution, is part of this program and hosts international, collaborative research expeditions throughout the year. Important components of the JOIDES Resolution's expeditions include education and outreach designed to engage communities around the world in the activities of the IODP, JOIDES Resolution, and each individual expedition's research.  A key aspect of this outreach are live ship-to-shore broadcast events hosted by each expedition's education and outreach officer(s). These events are open to anyone - students, the general public, and other groups - around the world, and are customised for each group depending on needs, interests, and education level. The live events are a great opportunity to engage your students and community in international scientific exploration and inspire future generations to pursue STEM careers.  It’s my first time on a marine expedition. I’ve never been at sea longer than it takes to go from Larne to Stranraer before and I was pretty worried in the beginning about sea sickness and cabin fever. Nearly four weeks in, I’m more concerned about running out of good coffee and keeping pace with analysing the fantastic datasets we’re collecting. So, what is a geologist who studies cracks in rocks doing floating around in the ocean? Well, the JOIDES Resolution is a research vessel capable of drilling beneath the seafloor, where it collects samples and other data on the rocks there. It does this in order to answer geological questions at the global scale, and our expedition, 372 (#EXP372), led by Dr Philip Barnes (NIWA), and Professor Ingo Pecher (University of Auckland), is no different. We have two scientific queries: (i) do gas hydrates play a role in submarine landslides activity? and (ii) why do slow-slip earthquakes occur in subduction zones? I could geek out about these images for ages, but I’ll hold back for now The east coast of the north island of New Zealand is a rare spot on the globe that provides excellent examples of both these geological phenomena for study, which is why it was selected as an expedition site. But while the submarine landslides are a fascinating topic of study, it is the slow slip earthquakes that really captured my interest.  New Zealand’s north island sits atop a tectonic plate boundary, where the Pacific plate is being forced under the Australian plate, creating what is known as a subduction zone. This generates a lot of geological activity, including both short, fast earthquakes like the ones we are all familiar with, and slow-slip, or "silent", earthquakes. Basically, fast movement on a fault-line defines a normal earthquake, whereas slow or "creeping" movement defines these odd slow-slip earthquakes.  For the last couple of years, I’ve worked with scientists in New Zealand to measure the forces that drive the plate movements along New Zealand’s east coast. We believe variations in these forces in different areas of the subduction zone may have something to do with why different types of earthquakes occur in different areas. Slow-slip earthquakes have been documented around the globe, but nowhere better than New Zealand, where they seem to be focused in the shallow, northern part of the subduction zone. When I heard IODP was collecting drilling data from this region, I had to sign up.  The particular dataset I am helping to collect and interpret at sea are borehole images, essentially pictures of what the inside of the well looks like. As we drill a well, a special tool attached above the drill measures the changing electrical responses of the various rock layers and structures to make images of the inside of the well.  Using these images, I can visualise and measure faults, fractures, and stress related features, all of which allow me perform calculations of the earth’s tectonic forces. I could geek out about these images for ages, but I’ll hold back for now! I’m hoping the new data I get from this scientific endeavour will help me understand subduction zone behaviour and that my research will assist others in studying the hazard risks posed by the different earthquake types in this region, and around the globe. Scientist spots on each IODP voyage are limited to around 30 or so people and are competed for by researchers from all over the world, so I feel honoured to be here representing Irish science. In fact, Ireland is doubly blessed on this expedition as I am one of two Irish researchers invited to join expedition 372. Dr Aggie Georgiopoulou from UCD is also on board assisting with the submarine landslide research, an analogue to her own research on landslides in the Rockall Trough off the west coast of Ireland. It is thanks to the Geological Survey of Ireland that we are both able to be here as they maintain Ireland’s membership with IODP and the globally important research they do. Being able to work with scientists from all over the world in this miniature melting pot of cultures, exchanging ideas and expertise, has been a rare privilege. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Friday, 5 January 2018

Author: Professor Daniel Carey, Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Opinion: the man who wrote Gulliver's Travels got involved in a spat over the introduction of copper halfpence and farthing coins There are many reasons why we remember Jonathan Swift today. His ferocious satirical imagination made him a difficult contemporary, but he has survived in the national affection, not merely as the author of Gulliver’s Travels (1726) – still a staple of the school curriculum – but as a defender of Irish interests in a lopsided relationship with Britain.  One of the interventions that made him famous in his time and a national hero came in the struggle over a now-obscure issue: resistance to a base-money currency introduced by English ironmonger and ironmaster William Wood. Swift attacked the monetary scheme in a series of pieces known as the Drapier’s Letters (1724–25), as they were signed "M.B. Drapier" under the guise of a Dublin trader in textiles. These seven texts were designed to discredit and block the introduction of Wood’s halfpence and farthing coins fabricated in copper, courtesy of a patent awarded to Wood in July 1722 by George I.  Why was this issue such a concern? The first of Swift’s objections to the coinage was the excessive quantity of the issue. He estimated this at ninety thousand pounds in copper coins. In fact the patent made provisions for a total issue of £100,800. Using a number of calculations characteristic of political arithmetic (associated with Sir William Petty), Swift maintained that only £25,000 worth of such small coins was needed in order to drive trade. In other words, he was not unaware that Ireland required such a currency, only that the excessive volume would, presumably, cause inflation. Swift does not always spell out his economic assumptions so a certain amount of expansion of the argument is required.  The second problem was the poor quality of the coins in question. They were of variable weight and Swift dismissed a reassurance from Master of the Mint Sir Isaac Newton that an assay demonstrated the coinage was consistent with what government required. Swift’s continual disparagement of Wood plays off of the "trash" he imposes on Ireland, but the economic issue is that the variable weight would encourage people to remove full weight coins from circulation and for others to bring in lightweight coin to realise a premium. The underlying premise was that of Gresham’s Law, that bad money drives out good. Perhaps his most fundamental point of principle came in his objection to the fact that the market value of the metal in the coin was drastically below its face value. A surplus of some amount between the face value and market price was obviously essential in order to discourage people from melting down coins and realising the difference, but the copper coinage proffered by Wood constituted something else altogether.  Swift embeds these concerns in a larger political argument. He insists that the English crown and parliament cannot impose this currency precisely because it is not money and only the precious metals of silver and gold enjoy this status. In short, it could not constitute legal tender and the Irish people therefore have a legitimate right to resist and refuse the currency.  Issues of sovereignty and Ireland’s status inform the discussion in ways that make the Drapier’s Letters a dangerous contribution. Swift composed these writings in the aftermath of the Declaratory Act of 1719 which settled the question of the right to legislate decisively in favour of the English crown. This explains why he cannot arrogate the entitlement to the Irish parliament, but instead adopts a definitional approach which enables him to make his case without (ostensibly) offending the law or British authority. At the same time, Swift lamented the lack of an Irish mint. Such a mint could have guaranteed the quality of the coinage and determined the amounts required. We also have the shadow of gun money, to adapt a phrase from Sean O’Casey, in Swift’s account. During the Williamite War from 1689–91, James II had notoriously introduced a base metal currency in Ireland derived in part from melted down weaponry, consisting of copper, brass, and pewter, in order to fund his army among other obligations (albeit in larger denominations compared to Wood’s halfpence and farthing issue). The idea was to redeem the currency for silver after the war was over, but the victory of William of Orange put paid to that.  An alternative vision for Irish currency was set out by Bishop George Berkeley, Swift’s contemporary and fellow Church of Ireland cleric. His major economic work, The Querist, appeared between 1735 and 1737, and reaffirmed the chronic need for small change. In responding to the situation, Berkeley famously regarded money as a "ticket or counter". This made him open to paper money as the solution to the need for an adequate circulating medium. For him, Ireland’s distinctive economic problems required the provision of a mint, the formation of "a national bank, and plenty of small cash". Berkeley still understood the monetary system as requiring land as a form of securitization, so he was not yet in the world of fiat currency. Nonetheless he had departed significantly from the focus on "intrinsic value" that characterized Swift and so many others, including John Locke. In part Berkeley’s approach depended on privileging the needs and interests of an island nation, solving its problems according to internal needs.  From the perspective of later monetary theory, Swift lives in the world of Bretton Woods. The point for him was the convertibility conferred by operating with precious metals possessing their own independent value. Berkeley is more in tune with Irish currency as it developed in the 20th century: Irish bank notes contained no promise to pay the bearer on demand which survives to this day on British bills. The Euro has also abandoned this nicety. The post Bretton Woods era inaugurated by President Nixon in 1971 is therefore closer to Berkeley’s vision, while Swift is more in tune with a globalised, interdependent system of currencies.  In honour of Swift’s 350th birthday, the Central Bank has issued a silver coin commemorating the occasion. Wisely, they have struck it in silver alloy (0.925 sterling). The dean of St Patrick's Cathedral would certainly have approved. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Author: Dr Anne O'Connor, School of Languages, Literatures and Culture Opinion: 13 percent of the Irish population are now multilingual which means implications and challenges for Irish society and culture Ireland’s multilingualism is a new and developing phenomenon that has received little institutional and public attention. It is remarkable how dramatically the linguistic landscape has changed in the country over the last 20 years. According to the 2016 Census, there are presently 612,018 people in Ireland, or 13 percent of the overall population, who are multilingual, speaking a language other than Irish or English at home.  There are 72 different languages listed and each of these languages has at least 500 speakers living in Ireland. The census includes 135,895 Polish speakers, 54,948 French speakers, 36,683 Romanian speakers, 35,362 Lithuanian speakers, 32,405 Spanish speakers, 28,331 German speakers, 21,707 Russian speakers, 20,833 Portuguese speakers, 17,584 Chinese speakers, 16,072 Arabic speakers and 14,505 Italian speakers. These figures mean that three children in every classroom, one person in every small business and eight people who travel on a bus every day nationally speak a language other than English or Irish at home on a daily basis.  These linguistic changes give rise to many questions. How does Ireland value multilingualism? Are migrants supported in their language needs? How does Irish society deal with hybrid identities and linguistic diversity? How often do we hear and listen to these new voices? Along with my colleague Dr Andrea Ciribuco at NUI Galway and the Immigrant Council of Ireland, I have been researching Ireland’s changing linguistic landscape and our findings are published in the Language and Migration in Ireland report.  This report looks at the implications of linguistic diversity for Ireland and questions whether Irish policies for language teaching, interpreting and integration take account of Ireland’s growing multilingualism. The research focused not just on how migrants interact linguistically with their new environment, but also looked at the creative output of migrant artists and writers in a new language.  Various areas of concern emerged: many migrants have had negative experiences with Irish institutions based on a lack of linguistic and cultural understanding. The interpreting services provided by the Irish state are haphazard both in terms of provision and quality, leaving migrants in a very vulnerable position. Based on our research, we recommend that interpreting services in Ireland be professionalised, tested and monitored.  Three children in every classroom, one person in every small business and eight people who travel on a bus speak a language other than English or Irish at home daily There is also a pressing need to provide accessible English language classes for all levels and in all educational contexts. It is concerning, for example, that the Department of Education and Skills does not know how much time and resources are put into the teaching of English in schools. These provisions need to be monitored and revised based on the requirements of the children enrolled in the schools. The presence of multilingual children in every classroom means that English-language supports are crucial for successful learning outcomes and integration.  One of the central recommendations of the report is that multilingualism should be viewed as an asset to Ireland and that the use of more than one language should always be encouraged. In this regard it is important to support "heritage" languages so that the children of migrants do not lose their multilingual abilities. It is crucial that Irish-born children can access the heritage and culture of their parents and grandparents. Learning English should not be at the expense of other languages.  Last month, the Department of Education and Skills launched its Strategy for Foreign Languages in Education (Languages Connect). A long overdue and welcome document, it correctly emphasises the importance of supporting the teaching of a multiplicity of languages in Ireland.  Brexit will result in a changing linguistic reality for Ireland and it will be of huge benefit to the country if we are able build on the existing multilingualism and forge new connections with different linguistic groups. In a post-Brexit Europe, there will be many challenges and opportunities for Ireland. If we cannot communicate in the different languages of Europe, the risk of marginalisation is very real. The language skills of migrants and their families living in Ireland are, in this context, an important resource which should be valued and embedded in the educational system.  When interviewing multilingual artists and writers who live in Ireland, it became clear that greater cultural space needs to be given to the expression of multilingual experiences. Diversity in the arts and culture needs to be encouraged and we believe that it would be valuable to support cultural ambassadors. These artistic practitioners work between languages and cultures and represent Ireland from a different perspective and provide new expressive opportunities. Post Brexit, if we cannot communicate in the different languages of Europe, the risk of marginalisation is very real. The multilingual population in Ireland increased by 19 percent from 2011 to 2016 and Irish society needs to acknowledge and adapt to this changing reality. Brian Killoran, CEO of the Immigrant Council of Ireland said that "people often don’t realise the level of diversity in Ireland and the sheer number of nationalities and languages being used. Working with immigrants we see the challenges which arise when people aren’t able to communicate effectively. Not only does can this create barriers accessing basic rights including healthcare, education and jobs, it also robs Irish society of the enrichment brought by diversity." Ireland in 2017 is a multilingual country, something that is not always recognised, valued or discussed. The greater awareness there is of this diversity, the sooner Ireland will become a society which is accepting and supportive of multilingualism. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Author: Professor Paolo Bartoloni, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures The Brainstorm long read: from Florence to Galway, Renaissance art continues to connect high culture and popular culture to form and transform identity A colleague from London visiting Galway for a conference pointed out the mural in Sally Long’s pub. Commissioned in 2007 by publican Noel O’Dwyer and was executed by Ciaran Dunlevy, it is divided into three vertical panels celebrating the history and protagonists of rock and pop music, including Elvis, Bono, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Freddie Mercury, Jim Morrison, Blondie, Bob Marley, Johnny Cash and many others, together with a somewhat out of place Marilyn Monroe. The story it tells may be read as a kind of ascension or hierarchy of contemporary music with Elvis residing at the top right in Paradise. But it’s not only the quasi Dantesque-like partition of contemporary heroes, who seems to inhabit different grades of greatness as they revolve around the ultimate centre of goodness, that makes one think of the Renaissance. Its resemblance to Leonardo’s Last Supper (1494, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan) and especially Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement (1536-1541, Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums, Rome) is more explicit. Here, then, is one of the reasons for the centrality of the Renaissance: in one broad and all encompassing look, you can partake in the glory of music and its glamour by association with a visual experience embedded in the global collective imagination. The significance of this mural in Galway will be recognised by virtually everybody regardless of where they are from because our cultural roots are deeply connected to the Renaissance. The Renaissance is important because it makes and continues to provide meanings for both the past and present. We know the present better and we come to appreciate it more through its cultural contamination with the past. The Renaissance offers that vital gel or glue, connecting high culture and popular culture, and forming and transforming identity. Let’s now move from Galway to Florence, one of the indisputable centres of Renaissance art. If Galway celebrates music in association with Michelangelo and Leonardo, Florence promotes contemporary cultural and artistic practices through its historical heritage. Two of the main stakeholders in the promotion and articulation of cultural and tourist activities in Florence, the Strozzi Foundation and MUS.E (the Civic Museums of Florence), have devised a program of events that bring renowned international artists like Jeff Koons, Bill Viola, Ai WeiWei and Jan Fabre to Florence. What connects these events, and makes them singular, is the association of the works of contemporary artists and those of the Renaissance. And like Galway, this encounter takes place for the most part in the streets and squares of Florence. Piazza della Signoria is a case in point. It’s the secular centre of Florentine Renaissance, interspersed with some of the most iconic works by Donatello(Judith and Holofern, 1464, original in Palazzo Vecchio), Michelangelo (David, 1504, original in the Museum of the Accademia), Bandinelli (Hercules and Cacos, 1534), Giambologna (The Rape of the Sabines, 1583 and the equestrian statue of Cosimo I, 1594), and Ammannati (The Fountain of Neptune, 1574). Now imagine Piazza della Signoria as a performative space, arranged according to principles of harmony, symmetry and beauty dating back to the Renaissance. Figure this place transversed and intruded by large scale contemporary sculptures, some in golden stainless steel (Koons’ Pluto and Proserpina, 2013) and other in a lucid and refracting golden bronze (Fabre’s Searching for Utopia, 2016). If you cannot do so, neither did many locals who filled the pages of the press with scandalised comments about the incongruity and mindlessness of the match. They wanted the contemporary out of the square and Piazza della Signoria returned to a pristine and immaculate past, which can be observed as a time capsule. Whichever angle one favours, this is an issue worth debating as it goes to the heart of how contemporary cities, including Galway (especially Galway on the eve of becoming the Capital of European Culture 2020), intend and wish to promote their cultural heritage while also attending to tourism interests. The Renaissance is without question a recognisable global brand which sells. Do we need to count the millions of euros in merchandise that are made through replicas of Michelangelo’s David, Leonardo’s Mona Lisa or Botticelli’sVenus on aprons, mugs, advertising material and other art works (for instance, Warhol’s psychedelic take on Botticelli’s Venus, 1984)? Maybe we do just to get a sense of the widespread and diffused global fascination and continuous love affair with the Renaissance. We are still so attracted to elegance, dignity, harmony and beauty that we imitate, replicate and digest these renaissance aesthetic categories as soon as we can. We also love to poke fun at them and see just how far we can go at teasing the Renaissance for the sake of a self-congratulating laugh or simply tempering the seriousness of it all. The fact is that we cannot do without it. And why should we? Claiming the Renaissance is also a way of reclaiming its history and meaning, not only as the cradle of Western civilisation but also as the centre point of a misplaced sense of cultural superiority that has been employed to justify acts of colonisation, spoliation, and conquest. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s clever and effective display of several rubber rafts on the façade of Palazzo Strozzi in Florence as part of his large exhibition (2016), is a reminder that the Renaissance is not immune from the plight of hundreds of thousands of people who risk death in the hope of a better life. The Florentine curator Sergio Risaliti’s remake of the David, this time black and lying on the floor of Piazza della Repubblica in Florence (2016), is testimony that iconic symbols of the Renaissance play an ethical and social role and not only and exclusively an aesthetic one. In response to questions about the reasons for the inclusion of contemporary art works in Florence, the mayor Dario Nardella, stressed that the ambition of the city is to bring about a project of renewal by accepting the cultural risk that politics must confront. He argued that Florence has an appetite for contemporary art because a static idealisation produces false beliefs based on an anti-historic and ideological idea of the Renaissance that is not true to the essence of the Renaissance, which was itself the result of small and large revolutions, rapid changes and risky experimentations. He also emphasised that the presence of contemporary art amongst the works of the Renaissance generates new interest, produces images that circulate globally and places Florence as the capital of contemporary art once again. The contemporary, in the words of Nardella, is not merely the mark of artists who live and work today, but the dialogue that these artists have with the past and which is experienced daily in the squares and streets of the city. The city, Nardella seems to indicate, cannot be a museum. It is a living place in which contemporary life is the measure of transtemporal and transcultural encounters. Most locals remain unconvinced and look at their "renewed" city with scepticism, possibly wishing that modernity and postmodernity had never happened. Yet there are also those who have come to appreciate this odd and provocative contamination. While Fabre’s giant Searching for Utopia turtle dominated the square, a retired security guard put a whistle around his neck and warned passers-by not to sit on the sculpture or consume their ice-creams too close to the bronze. Apparently, he didn’t consult the local authorities, but Fabre’s friendly patting on the shoulder was enough to confirm his self-granted status of protector of contemporary art. Is this really what the Renaissance has come to? A mural celebrating contemporary music or a conglomeration of incongruous objects of art? But Renaissance art, and especially Italian Renaissance art, made its impact in the world and continues to be a household name because of the contribution and engagement of people outside Italy. The classical example is Jacob Burckhardt, a Swiss art historian whose 1860 book, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, revived interest in the Renaissance. Here’s a passage from the introduction to the English translation of the book by Irene Gordon. Citing one of the greatest scenes from Orson Welles’ movie The Third Man, where Harry Lime compares the political brutality of Italy and its artistic achievements to the peaceful Swiss democracy and its claim to fame, the cuckoo clock, Gordon says: "but Switzerland also produced Jacob Burckhardt, and it was Jacob Burckhardt who made the Renaissance." Perhaps what makes history is not simply the past but the ways in which the past is constantly reinterpreted, experienced and possibly transformed by a much larger community than that of a city, region or state. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Author: Dr Malie Coyne, School of Psychology Opinion: rather than panic and problem-solving, the parents of a child facing bullies need to project a sense of calm, connection and understanding No matter how much you try to protect your child, they will cross paths with someone who bullies. Humans are a social species with an evolutionary drive towards finding their positions within a pecking order which can often involve conflict, be it in a playground, online or at the office. As a clinician encountering concerned parents, raising awareness about how bullying can affect children is hugely important, especially given how pervasive and devastating it can be. It affects the child’s sense of belonging which is one of the most basic human needs. Who doesn’t want to belong? What makes it more damaging is a child’s natural preoccupation with what others think of them, which impacts their already vulnerable and developing sense of selves. Low self-esteem and feeling alone in your struggles is the perfect storm for emerging mental health issues.  At its very core, bullying is an abuse of power. This need to feel powerful starts from a very young age and, if children do not have access to power in healthy ways, they are more likely to abuse it. Children who are hurting inside often hurt other children. Children don’t find it easy to tell their parents they are being bullied as they may be afraid that it will make things worse. For this reason, parents need to be alert to some tell-tale signs. These include withdrawn behaviour, bouts of crying or irritability, anxiety or reluctance about going certain places, loss of self-confidence, change in sleep patterns or appetite, reluctance to talk, unexplained damage to or loss of possessions and unexplained injuries or bruises. The common rhetoric around bullying nowadays centres on "bully-proofing" children, also defined as "making resistant to bullying". My fear with this emphasis is that it misses out on the prerequisite step which must take place before you introduce problem-solving strategies with your child. This step relates to the importance of truly validating your child’s feelings in the context of a meaningful child-parent connection and a secure attachment relationship. This crucial step of "being" versus "doing" is brilliantly illustrated in this clip of neuropsychiatrist Dan Siegel explaining "when a child is upset, logic often won’t work until we have responded to the right brain’s emotional needs" When their right brain is overwhelmed by emotion, a child cannot compute left side logic. Once they "feel felt", it is then possible to redirect their left side logical brain into problem-solving. This is called "connect and redirect" and is one of many ground-breaking concepts found in Siegel’s The Whole Brain Child (2011). With this in mind, what steps can you take when you suspect your child is being bullied? Express your concern about what you have noticed and let them know that you are there for them even if now is not the right time to talk. In this way, you are opening up the channels of communication for when they are ready to talk. Once they are ready, listen carefully to what they have to say without interrupting. Remain calm, don’t get angry or go into "problem-solving mode". They just need you to listen, validate their feelings and show them empathy (e.g. "so she laughs at what you are wearing, and it makes you feel embarrassed and sad. That sounds really tough. Tell me more about that...")  By truly listening to your child, you can explore with them what they think would be most helpful as a plan going forward. It may go against your natural instincts to protect your child, but don’t act too quickly as you could be doing more damage than good if you storm into the school red-faced with anger! If it’s occuring in school, agree with your child that you will have a chat with their teacher or principal to see if there is anything that can be done to help. You may have to speak to the other child’s parents, which can be a difficult thing to do. But as long as it is done calmly and in a "wondering" rather than "accusatory" stance, I have found that it can really help. Unfortunately, other children prey on kids whom they perceive as vulnerable, so try to help your child in building their assertiveness skills and self-esteem. Practice some ways of responding with your child (e.g. roleplay looking the other child in the eye and saying "stop that! I chose my clothes because I like them"; count to ten and stay calm; walk away to find a friend or a teacher etc). You may have to speak to the other child’s parents, which can be a difficult thing to do Given the technical age we live in, it is important for you to be aware of your child’s online usage and to discuss with them what appropriate and inappropriate online behaviour is. If you aren’t familiar with the platforms they use, become a "digital detective" by asking them to show you what they are using and by tracking how their online activities relate to their mood, energy levels and well-being. Encourage your child to build a network of supportive friends as they are hugely protective. Your child may need professional help and a space to heal. Whilst exposure to bullying is an unfortunate part of life, its lasting negative effects need not be. Rather than putting energy into panic and problem-solving, what your child needs most from you is a sense of calm, connection and feeling understood. It’s about "being" before "doing".

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Author: Dr Aamir Hameed, CÚRAM Centre for Research in Medical Devices Opinion: from identifying clinical needs to finding solutions, medical advancements requires team effort from all sides, including doctors and scientists English poet and playwright John Dryden once said that "there is a pleasure in madness which only but a mad man knows". I would rephrase it as "there is a pleasure in being a doctor which only but a doctor knows".  The tough (or fun) part of being a doctor is the need to keep yourself abreast of the latest knowledge, meaning never ending study. I know many of my non-medic friends would be rolling their eyes reading this. Let me assure you I definitely do not mean to undermine the importance of any other profession or struggles of other professionals! It is just that one has to be vigilant and on his or her toes in the field of medicine as a doctor directly deals with human lives.  We have witnessed huge advancements in the field of medicine over the years and it is still evolving. Take the example of the treatment options for heart attack caused by a blockage in any of the artery that supply blood to the heart. Two decades ago, the only effective surgical option was extensive open heart surgery to bypass the blocked artery. Now, it can also be opened by placing a stent without giving any incision on the body. Scientists are carrying it to the next level by trying to regenerate the dead part of the heart muscle which was previously thought to be impossible.  We may soon see an end to the long standing donor issue for organ transplantation with a patient-specific 3-D bio-printed organ Tissue engineering or regenerative medicine research is continuing to revolutionise the field of medicine. It combines the art of engineering and life sciences to develop biological substitutes to restore, maintain or improve the function of damaged tissue inside the human body. We have seen its applicability in various disease entities, from mending broken hearts to healing the broken bones and joints.  Tissue-engineered biomaterials coupled with a minimally invasive delivery system could contribute in structural improvement and function of repaired tissues and organs and hence may provide revolutionary therapeutic opportunities. The use of 3-D bio-printing technology is also rapidly establishing its role in medicine. We may soon see an end to the long standing donor issue for organ transplantation with a patient-specific 3-D bio-printed organ.  From identifying an unmet clinical need to inception of a solution to materialisation, the whole process requires team effort with close interaction between scientists, clinicians, people at the helm of regulatory affairs and marketers. However, a clinician’s role is very important as he or she will be the end user of the product so a clinician’s input is also important. Needless to say, a clinician needs to be active in research in his or her chosen speciality.   My quest for exploring the horizon of cutting edge research started during my surgery residency. While attending the adrenaline pumped cardiothoracic surgeries, I realised and admired the efforts of the giants in this area. The likes of Michael DeBakey, Denton A. Cooley and many more revolutionised cardiothoracic surgery with their innovative discoveries and surgeries. For example, DeBackey devised the roller pump that became an integral part of the cardiopulmonary bypass machine which is used for open heart surgeries. There are countless such examples of the influence of clinician scientists in every specialty of medicine.  We have witnessed huge advancements in the field of medicine over the years and it is still evolving I joined the Tissue Engineering Research Group (TERG) at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) after completing my basic surgical training. It was a huge transition for me, but I instantly started liking it. Not because I no more had to attend the morning rounds at 7am and did not have to answer the unstoppable pager beeps! I was intrigued by the amount of work researchers do in the various research groups. Coming up with a novel idea, designing and executing the experiments and re-doing the experiments if the required results are not achieved, it all requires a lot of work. Your brain is continuously at work as a researcher.  Research outcomes in terms of high impact publications and translation of research to patients at bedside are important indicators of quality research. In 2017, TERG, RCSI won the Research Laboratory of the Year award in recognition of demonstrating excellence, best practice and innovation. We are lucky here in Ireland because there are very good third level research oriented institutions.  To complement this, Ireland is a hub of medical device companies. Academia-industry relationship is very important when it comes to the translational research. The Centre for Research in Medical Devices (CÚRAM) is a very good example of such a relationship which has recently won the top award for academic contribution to MedTech by the Irish Medtech Association, the IBEC group.  Another good example of academia-industry relationship is the BioInnovate Fellowship programme which is currently led by an interventional cardiologist. It facilitates the collaboration between academia, clinicians and industry to develop novel medical technologies. No wonder Ireland is now the seventh most innovative country in the world per the Global Innovation Index 2016. Your brain is continuously at work as a researcher With such a good base for research in the country, there are opportunities to engage in cutting edge research at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Medical students are encouraged to take part in research activities while there are possibilities for the medical graduates and specialty trainees to undertake doctorate level research in their chosen area of interest. Many medical schools in USA offer a combined medical degree and doctorate degree programme in order to train the Clinician Scientists and NUI Galwayhas started such a combined programme. It seems a long route, but it is something worth considering. Who knows, you may have your own research lab and a team contributing to the ever evolving and rewarding field of medicine.  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Author: Dr Martin O'Donoghue, School of Humanities Opinion: 1918 was a year of civic action, the end of war in Europe, women voting for the first time and a groundbreaking election result 2018 will mark the anniversary of a number of major events with far-reaching consequences as we enter the second phase of the decade of centenaries. This year’s centenaries focus our minds on civic actions, the end of war and a major democratic landmark in our history as women voted for the first time. However, just as the Easter Rising is best understood in the context of the first World War, little that we commemorate this year will make sense without engaging with wider social and political shifts taking place around the globe. Post-Rising Ireland As 1918 opened and franchise legislation received Royal Assent on 6 February, the Irish Convention, called to settle the home rule question, was coming towards to its conclusion. Like other efforts since 1912, it would fail to find a solution to the opposing wishes of nationalists and unionists. Amidst the Convention’s final meetings, its most significant advocate and Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) leader John Redmond passed away on March 6. The leader of Irish nationalism since 1900, Redmond had enjoyed a long and successful political career, but left behind a party battling a revitalised Sinn Féin. April saw the British government attempt to extend compulsory military service to Ireland. Such a move was swiftly opposed by the IPP, Sinn Féin, Cumann na mBan, labour groups and the Catholic Church. Rallies were held around the country from rural villages to major urban centres as Irishmen and Irishwomen demonstrated defiant opposition to the measure.  A general nationwide strike was called for April 23 and women’s groups organised "Lá na mBan" for June 9. The significance of this movement cannot be understated and almost a century later, it serves to highlight the power of organised civic action. The government ultimately abandoned the proposals. The IPP, having endorsed voluntary military service in 1914, gained no credit for opposing forced service as Sinn Féin gathered momentum. With just eleven days to go until Christmas in 1918, voters across Ireland and Britain went to the polls. It was a momentous election by any measure, as the franchise was extended for the first time to women aged 30 and older with property qualifications and to all men aged 21. In Ireland, it also signified a major changing of the political guard as Sinn Féin swept to victory over the Irish Parliamentary Party. An end to war The German spring offensive, which prompted the British to consider conscription in Ireland, receded and war finally ended with the Armistice signed on November 11. As detailed in the recent efforts to reassert the centrality of Irish war involvement in the historical narrative, the conflict exercised a heavy toll on many Irish families that lost loved ones at the front, while thousands others returned to a changed country. As war ended, nationalists around the world clamoured for recognition and even Herbert Asquith "recanted" his previous opposition to women’s suffrage, citing their wartime contribution. The ideas of US President Woodrow Wilson energised people across Europe and beyond, as he promised self-determination for small nations and extended voting rights in a world to be "made safe for democracy". Women on the home front As historians such as Margaret Ward and Senia Pašeta have pointed out, Irish women had played active roles in the Ladies’ Land League and had been instrumental, along with counterparts in Britain, in the campaign for suffrage. However, although individual members had been favourable to women’s suffrage, the IPP had been unwilling to force the issue on the British Liberal government before the war.  In 1918, women contributed to the campaigns of Sinn Féin, the IPP and the Unionist Party by organising, canvassing, and updating electoral registers Yet the IPP lagged behind the other two parties in its engagement of women activists. It fielded no female candidates while Sinn Féin put forward two women: Constance Markievicz, who was victorious in the Dublin St Patrick’s constituency and the first woman elected to the British parliament, and Winifred Carney, who represented Sinn Féin in Belfast Victoria. The 1918 election While the IPP’s role in the development of political culture in Ireland remains significant, it had been displaced by 1918 by Sinn Féin as the voice of nationalism. The party clearly lacked its opponent’s dynamism and Eileen Davitt scoffed at the idea that the IPP carried on the work of her father’s generation. Its organisation had decayed during the war and it was unused to facing contests in many constituencies.  Fatally undermined by the failure to achieve home rule, it was reduced to just six MPs in Ireland. Although it still retained support, the IPP was ruthlessly punished under the first-past-the-post electoral system. Only one of its successes was outside Ulster; its survival there was aided by an electoral pact brokered to avoid splitting the nationalist vote in unionist areas. As Labour stood side, Sinn Féin won spectacularly and took 73 seats. It set its eyes on the Paris Peace Conference and would abstain from Westminster, instead establishing the first Dáil on 21 January 1919. In 1918, Ireland was very much part of a global mood of excitement and change after the destruction of the previous four years; as future centenaries should note, it would not be alone in facing violence in the years which followed either. However, in the hopeful first months of a post-war world, for many of the men and women who voted on 14 December, Sinn Féin had emerged as the Irish face of self-determination. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Author: Dr Michelle Queally, J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics Opinion: the objective of the forthcoming tax is to reduce rates of childhood and adult obesity, but we don't have established evidence for the effect of such a tax in the long term  The coverage around the tax on sugary drinks in Ireland would have one think that the only recommendation from the Government Obesity Policy and Action Plan (2016-2025) was the implementation of a tax levy on sugary drinks. But in fact, the recommendation to develop a levy on sugar sweetened drinks (SSDs), due to come into effect in April 2018, was one of ten policies described in the action plan aimed at preventing overweight and obesity in Ireland. This is not to say that the concerns raised by opponents of the tax are invalid. Some of these describe the lack of evidence to prove that the tax will reduce obesity, the likelihood that the tax will hit the poorest the hardest and the "substitution effect" where consumers will simply opt for another sugary food instead of the newly high priced drink. However, the core issues ought not to be about the effectiveness or otherwise of the sugar tax, but rather its ability to function as one component of an overall action plan towards obesity prevention. The causes of obesity are established as multifaceted and we now also need to accept obesity prevention policies to be multifaceted in nature.  The objective of the tax is to reduce rates of childhood and adult obesity in Ireland by reducing the consumption of SSDs as a contributor to health and dental deterioration, particularly among young people. We know that consumption of SSD is associated with obesity. We know that well designed taxes can be effective in discouraging consumption of these drinks. In Ireland one study predicted a 10 percent tax on sugary sweetened drinks would have a small but meaningful effect on obesity, in which the tax was predicted to reduce the obese adult population by 1.3 percent. What we do not have is an established evidence base for is the effect of a SSD tax on obesity levels in the long term because the relative newness of these taxes internationally limits the existence of this data. Moreover, the scientific means to examine the direct effect of taxing SSD on obesity levels does not exist. Obesity is a complex problem with numerous causes and contributing factors at an individual and societal level. It can therefore be difficult to disentangle the effect of any single obesity prevention intervention. However, some experts have urged that we evoke the "precautionary principle" and apply the intervention on the grounds that it is likely to have desirable effects and unlikely to do harm. It's a concept that is not unheard of, as seen in a recent ruling in Scotland regarding alcohol minimum unit pricing (MUP). The Scottish Whiskey Association contested MUP on the basis of a lack of empirical evidence that MUP reduced alcohol consumption. The court, though, ruled that there was no requirement on the Scottish Government to provide an evidence base for MUP. If the tax would make a beverage 10 cents more expensive per can, consumers were only charged an average of four more cents per can Consumer behavioural responses may fall into three broad categories: (i) he/she reduces consumption of SSD, producing desirable effects on health; or (ii) he/she increases the consumption of other sugar free soft drinks (fruit juices and dairy products are to be excluded from the tax on the grounds that they offers nutritional value) or (iii) he/she increases the consumption of alternative sugary foods or drinks. Manufacturers can also respond in one of three ways: (i) they can recoup costs by passing higher prices on to the consumer; (ii) they can reduce the sugar content in their products or (iii) they can increase production and promotion of less sugary drinks. A US study examined the extent to which a tax on SSDs was passed onto consumers in the form of higher prices. It found that retailers only passed on about 43 percent of the SSD tax to consumers on average. If the tax would make a beverage 10 cents more expensive per can, consumers were only charged an average of four more cents per can.  If this tax is the "stick", we also need the "carrot" No-one enjoys paying taxes and no politician relishes raising them. The SSD tax is likely to be regressive and take a larger percentage from low-income earners than from high-income earners as low-income earners tend to spend a greater proportion of their overall expenditure on SSDs. However, it does not seem logical to argue that because lower income earners consume more of something than higher income earners, we shouldn’t tax that consumption. That said, if this tax is the "stick", we also need the "carrot". In this case, this will come in the form of measures to encourage consumers to substitute taxed drinks with healthy alternatives and potentially reduce the regressive effects of the tax. Ultimately, the effectiveness of the SSD tax will depend on how both consumers and manufacturers change their behaviour in response to the tax. Careful, evidence-based design and a clear understanding of the role of sugar taxes alongside other initiatives will help contribute to the design of effective policies in this area. This tax forms part of an overall multidimensional obesity action plan in Ireland and is just one measure in a suite of measures needed to tackle obesity prevention. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Monday, 18 December 2017

Report: how do you make a seasonal visit to Santa work for children with attentional or sensory difficulties? By Dr Clodagh Murray & Dr Jennifer Holloway, School of Psychology, NUI Galway Visiting Santa is something that most families take for granted. For children with attentional or sensory difficulties, however, it can be difficult for them to see Santa in shopping centres and other venues because of the noise and long queues.  Earlier this month, the School of Psychology at NUI Galway hosted a sensory-friendly Santa’s grotto for children with autism or other additional needs along with the children’s parents and siblings. It was organised by a team from the School’s MSc programme in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), who were on hand dressed as elves to ensure the 36 families had the best possible Santa experience.  With some small environmental changes, we were able to ensure that each child with additional needs was able to interact with Santa and to have a family photograph taken. The feedback on the day was so positive that we decided to share our strategy for anyone who would like to organise a similar event in the future.  No queues. If it is really tough for any young child to wait in a queue, it's especially difficult for those who may have attention difficulties or who don’t understand why they have to wait! We assigned times to parents in advance in ten minute slots so that a queue never formed and nobody had to wait for very long.  Distraction. In the event of having to wait for a few minutes, we had toys in our lobby to keep children busy. We had some Duplo blocks, colouring materials and a small variety of toys such as cars and dolls. This really helped to maintain a calm atmosphere throughout the whole process. We even had some families that stayed afterwards to play with the toys and we were delighted to facilitate this. Minimise noise. We had some music playing in the grotto, but it was kept very low. Santa and the elves maintained nice, calm voices. Only having a few families on site at any one time meant that it never became loud or overwhelming. Space. We set up the grotto in a nice, big room. This meant that children could come in to the room but approach Santa slowly. Some of them liked to run around a bit first. They checked out the tree, threw a few giant cotton wool snowballs and then came to say hello to Santa. The lobby was spacious; there were no narrow corridors at any point. Time Children were allowed to enter the room and approach Santa in their own time. If children are nervous, they usually come around and approach Santa when given time to do so. Some children were in and out in three minutes while others took around 15 minutes. It all evens out! There was no time pressure impacting on families as the scheduling was arranged in such a way to ensure there was enough time to allow for this. Parents appreciated this reassurance as much as children. Bubbles, balloons and the aforementioned giant snowballs are great ice-breakers and allow the children to settle.  Interaction. The child is in control of whether he/she wants to engage with Santa. Santa was relaxed and let the child approach him. He talked to the other siblings and gave them a present. The children loved when Santa threw a snowball at one of the family and often threw one back. If the child didn’t want to approach, they could wave at Santa and then give him a high-5 at their own pace. For the family photo, the child didn’t have to be right next to Santa and could be in a parents arms if they preferred. Present. We ordered presents from Thinking Toys who were really helpful and efficient. We chose a menu of toys and had parents select suitable items in advance. Just try to keep in mind the kind of things your target audience might like. The "cosmic ray wand" (€5) was a great hit. Avoid toys that have parts that can be pulled off and eaten. We had age appropriate toys for siblings that were generic in nature – it’s the thought that counts! Support We were really lucky to have a team of "elves" that are experienced in working with children with additional needs through their clinical training on the MSc in ABA . It’s important to have someone welcoming children on arrival, someone to help support the child to settle with toys, if they will need to wait a few minutes. Santa needs a helper to hand him presents. We had one person to manage the schedule to keep things moving and let Santa know who’s coming next. The more hands on deck the better, but each with a designated role. Siblings We made sure that Santa and the elves were just as interested in siblings as the child with additional needs. We made a big fuss of them and made sure that this was a really inclusive family affair. Dr Clodagh Murray is a lecturer in Applied Behaviour Analysis at the School of Psychology, NUI Galway. Dr Jennifer Holloway is the director of the PhD and MSc programmes in Applied Behaviour Analysis at School of Psychology, NUI Galway This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here  

Monday, 11 December 2017

Opinion: there are advantages and disadvantages to today's introduction of mandatory reporting in Ireland of children who have been harmed or who are at risk of harm By Professor Caroline McGregor and Joe Mooney, NUI Galway Mandatory reporting comes into effect in Ireland today (December 11). Internationally, it had its origins in an American study in 1962, which focussed on 302 children in 71 hospitals who were shown to have been intentionally injured by their parents. The study came up with the term "battered child syndrome", which is now referred to as physical child abuse. This led to a call for people to report cases they knew about to the authorities. The first mandatory reporting laws were introduced in the United States in 1963 and, within four years, all fifty states in the US had adopted mandatory reporting legislation Mandatory reporting in Ireland While mandatory reporting has been talked about at various times in the past and Ireland has had specific Children First guidelines since 1999, it is going to come into law for the first time now. Part 3 of the Children First Act 2015 details the reporting requirements placed upon "Mandated Persons" in Ireland and Schedule 2 provides a comprehensive list of those who will be deemed mandated persons including such professional as social workers, nurses and teachers amongst others. The worry is that this will place a huge burden on what are already strained services Under Section 14(1), a Mandated Person who knows, believes or has reasonable grounds to suspect, on the basis of information he or she has acquired, received or becomes aware of in the course of his or her employment as a mandated person, that a child has been harmed, is being harmed, or is at risk of being harmed, they must report this to the agency as soon as practicable. Under Section 14(2) where a child discloses such a belief or information to a mandated person, this must also be reported to Tusla. The act also precludes the reporting of sexual activity between minors, aged 15 years and above, under certain strict criteria. Disadvantages It’s the disadvantages of mandatory reporting which have attracted most attention when you look at responses elsewhere. The biggest disadvantage people consider is that this will increase the number of referrals made to child protection services by legally enforcing professionals, and the public in some cases, to report suspicions of abuse. The worry is that this will place a huge burden on what are already strained services. The dangerous knock-on effect of this for child protection social workers is that the amount of time being used to assess new referrals will have to be diverted from current cases dealing with children known to be at risk. A system of mandatory reporting did bring more cases of abuse and neglect to the surface, which is a good thing Another concern about making it a law is that while certain abuse must be reported (i.e. if it meets a certain threshold), it will ignore other types of harm that are not listed as "reportable", such as psychological harm. Advantages One of the possible advantages of mandatory reporting is the fact that with increased referrals comes an increase in the discovery of actual cases of abuse and this allows child protection services to help more children in the long term. In 1999, the referral rates in New South Wales and Western Australia in 1999-2000 were compared. At the time, Western Australia did not have a system of mandatory reporting in place, while New South Wales did. The figures suggested that the referrals in New South Wales were more than eleven times that of Western Australia and "substantiated Investigations" in Western Australia stood at 44.2 percent, twice that of New South Wales. This means that despite the increase in referrals, including unsubstantiated ones, it would seem that a system of mandatory reporting did bring more cases of abuse and neglect to the surface, which is a good thing. The administrative burden and caseload implications of this must be viewed as a policy and resource difficulties and not a social work issue. The main argument against it seems to come down to resources, which will be an important issue in Ireland where the system is already under-resourced The Irish model There are some particular features of the Irish model that require some attention. Given that the Children First Act 2015 and associated guidelines, Children First 2017, set two different "standards" for reporting - mandated and non-mandated – we can predict in the first instance that this may cause some confusion in the community and amongst referrers. Furthermore, we have low levels of public awareness of child protection systems in Ireland. Tusla recently released a publicly-available online training portal regarding the introduction of the new Children First Act and related policy. Looking to the future, the greater the public awareness and public understanding of child protection policy and procedures, the better the same public can respond to concerns about child abuse and neglect. Finally, we do need to return to the main factor that is mostly likely to impact on the implementation of Children First 2015, which is the adequacy of resources and support provided in line with the additional level of referral anticipated into 2018. A good thing On balance, we believe mandatory reporting is a good thing. It increases the chances of child abuse or neglect being reported and hopefully responded to. The main argument against it seems to come down to resources which will be an important issue in Ireland where the system is already under-resourced. For those involved with children, it also emphasises a shared responsibility for child protection and reporting concerns about child welfare. Professor Caroline McGregor is Director of Social Work at NUI Galway. Joe Mooney, is Doctoral Fellow with the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here  

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Author: Dr John Cullinan, JE Cairnes School of Business and Economics Opinion: while the extra costs associated with living with a disability are largely hidden, research suggests that these can average over €10,000 per year December 3rd marks the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities and various events worldwide seek to highlight issues that affect disabled people. A recurring theme concerns the difficulties this group have in playing a full and inclusive role in society. One important aspect of social inclusion concerns the economic well-being of people living with a disability and their families. However, policies seeking to address the economic well-being of disabled people tend to ignore one key factor: the hidden cost of disability. According to the 2016 Census, 13.5 percent of the Irish population, or 643,131 people, have a disability. This refers to a range of long-lasting conditions and functional limitations, such as intellectual impairment or age-related mobility issues, and can range from mild to severe.  People living with disabilities face extra spending needs in their day-to-day lives that the rest of society doesn’t face Research consistently shows that disabled people have lower levels of educational attainment and are less likely to participate in the labour market. Moreover, if you are disabled and participating in the labour market, you are relatively more likely to be unemployed and, if employed, more likely to be working part-time and/or earning less. In short, disabled people face considerable economic disadvantage and this is very evident in our official statistics, which show rates of poverty and deprivation for people with disabilities that are way above the national average. Economic disadvantages Unfortunately, this is only part of the story. There is a further economic cost that remains excluded from the official statistics and from much of the research and analysis undertaken in this area and these are the hidden extra costs of living with a disability. According to Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winning economist famous for his work examining well-being and social justice, the economic disadvantage associated with these hidden costs may be even more detrimental than the economic disadvantage resulting from poorer educational and employment outcomes. So what exactly are the extra costs of living with a disability? People living with disabilities face extra spending needs in their day-to-day lives that the rest of society doesn’t face. These include items used exclusively by people with disabilities such as disability aids, home adaptations, therapeutic supports and specialised care services.  They also include items used by everyone but which can cost more if you have a disability, such as insurance, specialised clothing and footwear. Finally, there are extra costs incurred on items used by everyone but which people with disabilities often use more, such as extra taxi journeys due to a shortage of accessible public transport or extra energy costs because of a greater need to stay warm when not mobile. The upshot is that disabled people divert a significant percentage of their income to goods and services they would not otherwise choose to purchase. This is at the expense of goods and services that are typically associated with economic well-being, which they are forced to forego. Why do these costs remain hidden? Part of the reason why these costs remain hidden is the difficulties associated with estimating such costs. While it might seem straightforward to just ask disabled people what the extra costs are, the task is complicated by a number of factors. For example, it can be difficult to report in surveys just what extra spending needs you face, since it is usually not easy to envisage what you would spend if you were not disabled. Secondly, and more problematically, is the fact that an individual’s disability-related spending is constrained by their income, which we know tends to be negatively impacted by disability. For example, while I might be only spending a small amount on disability-related goods and services, this might be because I have a low level of disposable income. Indeed, earlier studies that adopted this approach tended to generate unrealistically low estimates of costs, perhaps giving the impression there was no real problem. Doing the maths Overall, the methodological issues with this direct survey approach have forced researchers to develop new and innovative methods for estimating the economic cost of disability. One of the best methods is the so-called standard of living approach, which asks how much extra income an individual living with a disability requires to have the same standard of living as an otherwise similar person without a disability. Using household-level data and statistical techniques, it is possible to derive an answer to this question. That answer, it turns out, has major implications for the economic well-being and social inclusion of disabled persons in Ireland. The most convincing research suggests that a conservative estimate of these extra costs of disability average around €200 per week (or over €10,000 per year) for a person with a disability in a household at the median level of income. As this is an average, the amount is considerably less for some individuals not overly impacted by their disability, while it can be considerably more for those severely impacted.  The research has major implications for the economic well-being and social inclusion of disabled persons in Ireland This is a significant finding. It suggests that disabled households divert a very high proportion of their income to disability-related goods and services at a significant cost to their standard of living. It also means that we are likely to significantly underestimate the amount of poverty actually experienced by disabled people when we measure poverty on the basis of falling below some reference income level. In response to this new evidence, disability advocates are now making a strong case for a range of interventions to tackle the problem. These include the introduction of a cost of disability payment, assistive technologies, better services and improved accessibility. One positive immediate step in this regard would be to consider the establishment of a Cost of Disability Commission. There would be no better date to get the ball rolling on this than December 3rd. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Monday, 4 December 2017

Author: Dr Tomás Finn, History Department Opinion: having survived the recent Justice crisis, what can Leo Varadkar learn about handling political messes from previous Irish leaders? Based on the profile of past Taoisigh, Leo Varadkar is perhaps an unlikely leader of an Irish government. A TD for only ten years prior to becoming Taoiseach, Varadkar was also unusual for the speed of his rise but then this might not have been nearly as remarkable as his fall could have been towards the end of 2017.  Futhermore, Éamon de Valera and Seán Lemass, two Fianna Fáil Taoisigh, appear to be unlikely people for a Fine Gael Taoiseach to admire. But having avoided an early general election a mere six months after being elected Taoiseach, Varadkar’s comment on de Valera at the launch of the most recent book by historian and broadcaster, David McCullagh, appear to have been prescient as to his own personality. Varadkar identified de Valiera’s "single-minded determination" and a "stubborn refusal to back down even when his position seemed hopeless" as the first Taoiseach’s greatest strength but also his greatest weakness. Could the same be same be said of the current Taoiseach?   In the past, Varadkar has been praised for his candour, youth and being an effective communicator, but more recently his judgement has been questioned and he has been criticised as naïve and politically inexperienced. What do his view of previous Taoisigh and his handling of the most recent political crisis in Justice say about the Taoiseach? And as a student of Irish political history, what could Varadkar learn not only from de Valera and Lemass, whose portrait is behind the Taoiseach’s desk, but other Taoisigh and how they handled different political crises?  All Taoisigh inherit the legacies of their predecessors and draw what lessons they can from their experiences. The need to be in possession of all the information, to share this with those whose support your government is reliant on and to be decisive is obviously crucial. This and a sureness of political touch as well as an ability to read the direction of the political wind can hopefully prevent crisis from being created in the first place.  As a student of Irish political history, what could Varadkar learn from other Taoisigh and how they handled different political crises?  Even then, the reality of day to day politics can and often does intervene. This is only heightened by the difficulty of managing different personalities in cabinet and government, while your every action and reaction are scrutinised by an increasingly vigilant media. More than this, the legal profession and politicians are still coming to terms with new politics. The two major political parties having almost equal power along with various establishment and anti-establishment parties and independents is highly unusual, at least, in an Irish setting.  Using Brian Farrell’s classic description, Fine Gael Taoisigh have generally adopted a consensual approach. John A. Costello, Liam Cosgrave and Garret FitzGerald have acted as chairmen who sought agreement. On the other hand, Charles Haughey and Albert Reynolds were closer to the more decisive chief or boss model favoured by their party and de Valera and Lemass when faced by political crisis. But the style Taoisigh have adopted is often determined by whether their party is united or not, the nature of the government and whether the government has the support of a majority of TDs or is a minority, is in government on its own or as part of a coalition. Costello, Cosgrave and FitzGerald were each faced with coalition governments with cabinet meetings under FitzGerald, in particular, lasting for hours.  The perceived need to find a consensus is something common to all Taoisigh. A more effective time management style and better relations with his partners in government prevented Cosgrave’s government from disintegrating, as those led by Costello and FitzGerald did. Despite mishandling Patrick Donergan’s 1976 "thundering disgrace" description of then President of Ireland Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, Cosgrave was able to call a general election at a time of his choosing.  On the other hand, the governments led by Costello and FitzGerald were both destabilised by personality clashes between these Taoisigh and different members of government. Costello was on a different side to his Minister for Health, Clann na Poblachta’s Noel Browne, on the Mother and Child scheme in the first inter-party government (1948-’51), while FitzGerald had a difficult working relationship with Dick Spring, the then Labour party leader, particularly on the proposed inclusion of a tax on Children shoes in the 1982 budget.  "Boring" articles While it was the FitzGerald government’s economic policy which Leo Varadkar had in mind in his criticism in 2010 of FitzGerald’s subsequent premiership (1982-’87), Varadkar’s comment on FitzGerald’s "boring" articles in The Irish Times suggests a more conservative financial and social outlook. Whether the current Taoiseach also had in mind their different styles as Taoisigh is an open question, but his praise has been reserved for Lemass, Jack Lynch and John Bruton.  Common to Lemass and Lynch’s approach as Taoisigh was a determination to maintain party unity. Following de Valera’s long cabinet meetings designed to achieve unanimity among ministers, an understandable readiness to make decisions was especially evident with Lemass. The truth of the matter is that other issues such as the make-up of the government are more likely to be causes of instability than the question of who leads the government While more hesitating and with a deliberative style which evoked that of de Valera more than Lemass, Lynch too was decisive, dismissing two ministers, Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney, with a third, Micheál Ó Moráin resigning in protest. Lynch responded when Haughey and Blaney’s role in the arms crisis (for which they were later acquitted at the arms trial in May 1970) threatened the Taoiseach’s authority and the institutions of state. Not only did his government survive but Lynch remained as leader of Fianna Fáil for a further nine years and as Taoiseach for five of that period. Later, in effectively managing a coalition with Labour from 1992-94, Bruton perhaps learnt from Lynch but even more so from Haughey and Albert Reynolds, his immediate Fianna Fáil predecessors in office, as well as FitzGerald.  Following the defeat of the 1982 budget and FitzGerald’s government at the subsequent general election, Haughey’s second government in 1982 was convulsed with the GUBU scandal, after a murder suspect was found in the home of the unsuspecting Attorney General. Using Haughey’s own description of these events, "grotesque, unprecedented, bizarre and unprecedented", Conor Cruise O’Brien named this the Gubu government, which facilitated the fall of that Haughey government at what would be the third election in 18 months. Nevertheless, Haughey survived as leader of his party for almost another ten years and was re-elected as Taoiseach in 1987. However, further revelations in 1992 by Seán Doherty, the Minister for Justice in Haughey’s 1982 government, would lead to the then Taosieach’s final resignation from both government as well as leader of Fianna Fáil.  Justice would again play a prominent role in a crisis in the following government, led by Albert Reynolds (1992-’94). As Taoiseach, Reynolds decided to appoint the then Attorney General, Harry Whelehan, as President of the High Court despite objections to the appointment from his coalition partners Labour. They were critical of Whelehan’s failure as Attorney General for seven months to deal with a request for the extradition of the Norbertine Priest, Brendan Smyth. The way Reynolds handled this issue exacerbated already difficult relations with Labour. Following further revelations, Labour left the government prior to forming part of John Bruton’s Rainbow coalition.  Having survived his own Justice crisis, the present Taoiseach can take heart from past political crisis which have often been no real indicator of failure or success or ability in the long-term. Varadkar could learn from his recent experience and be elected as Taoiseach or even mirror Lynch or Haughey’s achievements, who survived as leaders of their party and returned as Taoisigh. The truth of the matter is that other issues such as the make-up of the government are more likely to be causes of instability than the question of who leads the government. Obviously the Taoiseach does influence who becimes a minister, but is constrained as to who he or she can choose. This goes to the core of how a Taoiseach operates. Whether a Taoiseach is chairman or chief influences the nature of politics and can determine the extent to which his or her government may or may not be viewed as making Ireland a better country.  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Vist here

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Author: Dr John Morrissey, School of Geography and Archaeology The Brainstorm long read: there are many reasons for the United States' long-term military presence in the Middle East and many of these have as much to do with economics as security. It was January 1983. Ronald Reagan was in the White House and his administration had just initiated United States Central Command (CENTCOM) at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. With little fanfare, one of the most far-reaching developments in international relations in the late 20th century happened and the most important military command in the world was established in an obscure US air force base.  The new military command was "to plan, jointly train, exercise and be prepared to deploy and employ designated forces in response to contingencies threatening US vital interests in the Middle East". This directive set in motion a security mission whose legacies and ongoing wars we are still witnessing today.  In 1983, the US military possessed no military bases anywhere in the Middle East. By the mid-2000s, CENTCOM had built up a military footprint of over 125 bases across the region. Since its initiation, the command has spearheaded every major US military intervention overseas, from the Tanker War in the Persian Gulf in the 1980s to the Gulf War in the 1990s to the war on terror in recent decades. Its mission has always been straightforward and unambiguous and has always received bi-partisan support in Washington: the military shaping of the most energy-rich region on earth. CENTCOM’s initiation signalled a new era of US global ambition in the aftermath of the failure of the Vietnam War, and solidified a new focus of US foreign policy on the Middle East. In no other region has the US military established more bases, lost more troops, spent more money, or facilitated the investment of more capital in the last 30 years.  We sometimes forget that the US now possesses more overseas military bases than any nation in history  The long war From its inception, the command was tasked with an interlinked military and economic security mission that centrally involves the policing of a pivotal yet precarious space in the broader global economy. CENTCOM calls this mission its "long war" and, for the last 30 years, it has taken place in CENTCOM’s Area of Responsibility as designated by the Pentagon. The command calls this vast area the "Central Region" and it has established 128 forward operating bases, along with hundreds more logistics sites, access points, pre-positioning locations and mobile offshore capabilities within this region. It is a comprehensive military presence enabling what the US military terms "full spectrum dominance". For CENTCOM, the region is "central" in three key ways: it is central to the global economy, central to energy assets and ultimately central to global security. In examining CENTCOM’s strategy papers, posture statements and extensive press briefings from the outset, what becomes clear are the enmeshed military and economic logics that have been consistently deployed to justify its security mission to the US government, and more broadly the Western political world. The rationale for CENTCOM’s very existence recalls all of the hallmarks of the most common imperial representation of the past: the identification of threat and volatility, with the simultaneous signalling of liberal correction and universalist special mission. As CENTCOM advisors pronounced in the early 1990s, the Middle East needs to be "secured from itself", echoing the very essence of the liberal imperial interventionary urge of history. CENTCOM's mission, as so frequently cited by its commanders in Washington, is for "the good of the global economy" In the late 1990s, CENTCOM published an influential strategy paper, Shaping the Central Region for the 21st Century. Even from the title, there are three telling elements that divulge the command’s continuance of an imperial history that is far from past, to paraphrase William Faulkner. First, the word "shaping" divulges a long-established imperial ambition to configure the political and economic spaces of the periphery for the vital interests of the metropole. Since 1983, CENTCOM’s shaping has been underpinned by simplified, strategic and ultimately Orientalist depictions of the Middle East that have been instrumental in driving US foreign policy in the region.  Secondly, the title reprises the imperial tactic of renaming vast regions and reductively scripting a diversity of people and places from a hegemonically Western perspective. Finally, the temporal signalling of CENTCOM’s mission "for the 21st Century" recalls the providential promise of Western imperial interventions through history. Long before the September 11th attacks in 2001, CENTCOM was openly planning for the long haul in the Middle East and the perennial need for intervention. The back story In many ways, CENTCOM’s emergence can be traced back to former US President Jimmy Carter’s State of the Union address in January 1980. Then, he declared that "any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force". Two months later, the establishment of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force marked the first formal commitment of US military force to the Middle East and, with CENTCOM’s succession in 1983 as a full regional command, the US government had fully committed to the Carter Doctrine.  At this juncture, the US had no military bases in the vast region of the Middle East and Central Asia. This prompted the pursuit of alternative objectives to secure strategic capabilities in the region, including the stationing of "prepositioning ships" as "floating warehouses" with combat and support equipment for use by arriving forces. In addition, the US government set about initiating joint military training exercises with partner nations such as Egypt. It also pursued a policy of securing access rights for its armed forces with several countries. By the late 1980s, it had developed significant basing capabilities in Saudi Arabia, in particular, which ultimately enabled the rapid response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent launch of Operation Desert Storm. Six months prior to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, CENTCOM Commander-in-Chief General Norman Schwarzkopf outlined his command’s raison d’être to the US Congress: "the greatest threat to US interests in the area is the spillover of regional conflict which could endanger American lives, threaten US interests in the area or interrupt the flow of oil, thereby requiring the commitment of US combat forces". Given its clear, military-economic mission to protect US vital interests in the Persian Gulf, the command was compelled to militarily intervene in early 1991. The swift success of the CENTCOM-led war further crystallised its military-economic grand strategy and solidified its basing structure and capacity in the region. After the Gulf War, a substantial contingent of CENTCOM forces remained in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other support countries as part of a new US deterrence grand strategy in the Persian Gulf. Throughout the 1990s, this deterrence strategy was enabled via an extensive naval, air and ground presence. It was a mission convincingly presented to the US Congress each year by CENTCOM commanders as vital to securing both the US and world economy.  The interested parties served by CENTCOM's mission are not just those in the US military-industrial complex...CENTCOM serves as a security blanket for a raft of Western companies in the region.  By the mid-2000s, this universalist rationale for a seemingly permanent US presence in the region had become so accepted that it was effectively unchallenged politically. At this point, CENTCOM had also extended its basing structure and land prepositioning programme to countries such as Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. As noted by the US Overseas Basing Commission, the endgame of such developments was clear-cut: "US strategy toward the region centers on the uninterrupted flow of Arabian Gulf oil, security of coalition partners and allies, regional peace and security and access to commercial markets". Neoliberal empire We sometimes forget that the US now possesses more overseas military bases than any nation in history. Even after the military success of the Gulf War, CENTCOM commanders preferred to maintain an over-the-horizon presence in the Persian Gulf region, rather than mount a large-scale military presence in any one area.  This all changes in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001 and the subsequent large-scale invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. While acknowledging the undeniable aggressive military interventionism pursued by the Bush administration in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks – which many commentators have termed "neoconservative empire" – what has been less considered about the national security strategy of George W. Bush is that it also bore all of the hallmarks of "neoliberal empire" commonly attributed to the previous administration of Bill Clinton and subsequent administration of Barack Obama, both Democrats.  Little-discussed, for example, is Bush’s economic liberalisation project in the Middle East and Central Asia, which built upon Clinton’s earlier efforts to close the gaps of an open neoliberal economy in the region. In the 2006 US National Security Strategy, four of its nine chapters address issues of economic integration and globalization. An integral aspect of Bush’s national security strategy involved an expressly economic policy of securing free trade agreements, which the US signed with Bahrain in 2004 and Oman in 2005. Both of these served to secure significant markets for oil and gas companies like Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Totalfina Elf. From its first forward deployment in reflagging Kuwaiti oil tankers with American ensigns during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, CENTCOM’s mission has centrally involved a political economic function and has served elite economic interests. The interested parties served by CENTCOM’s mission are not just those in the US military-industrial complex. Operating as "guardians of the Gulf" by patrolling vital assets, key access points and pivotal transportation networks, CENTCOM serves as a security blanket for a raft of Western companies in the region.  In an age of transnational global capitalism, many of the companies availing of the commercial opportunities have a distinctly multinational hue. However, CENTCOM’s self-fashioned "world policeman" universalist role has meant that its mission continues to be justified by conflating US and global economic security concerns. Its mission, as so frequently cited by CENTCOM commanders in Washington circles, is "for the good of the global economy". The human worlds of interventionism Since 1983, successive CENTCOM commanders have annually affirmed to the US Congress the essential military-economic vital interests at the heart of US national security strategy in the Middle East. The command’s most recent posture statement underlines yet again what will continue to keep the US in the region: "oil and energy resources that fuel the global economy".  We need to document the historical and contemporary consequences of the US military presence in the region In seeking to understand the Middle East today, it is imperative to recognise the military and geopolitical history of CENTCOM. Its prevailing representation of the Middle East has consistently positioned the command as guarding, regulating and enabling the broader global economy. As we have seen more broadly in recent years in our so-called post-truth world, if you selectively script something often enough and crucially at influential platforms, it becomes the dominant narrative. CENTCOM’s annual mission statements to Congress certainly have this attribute, and are rarely contested politically. Many have pointed out the selective and repetitious nature of imperial discourse throughout history, in which vast regions and peoples are depicted as requiring a civilizing, corrective mission. Such representations are unfortunately not confined to the imperial past. Today, as much as ever, we need to render visible the human worlds of Western interventionism. A key challenge lies in calling out the reductive and strategic nature of dominant forms of national security discourse that appeal to liberal and neoliberal notions of interventionism and simultaneously remove from view the brutal consequences of repeated violence. CENTCOM’s dominant national security discourse on the Middle East serves to both position legitimised military action against the threat of geopolitical instability and present the US as the guardian of both the regional and broader global economy. We need to document the historical and contemporary consequences of the US military presence in the region in terms of the inevitable cycles of conflict and violence we continue to sadly witness. In the face of unremitting imperial rationales for ongoing military interventions, the task of insisting upon the human worlds where they take place remains vital. This piece is based upon Dr John Morrissey's book "The Long War: CENTCOM, Grand Strategy, and Global Security" (University of Georgia Press, 2017) This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here  

Friday, 15 December 2017

Author: Dr Charlotte McIvor, O'Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Opinion: we may pride ourselves on our artistic and cultural exploits, but how aware and supportive are we of the work of migrant artists in Ireland?  As Monday is International Migrants Day, it's an opportunity to reflect on migrants’ experiences in Ireland and the arts are a powerful vantage point from which to start. Ireland’s long-term and large-scale demographic social change since the mid-1990s is well-documented. It has outlived the Celtic Tiger’s demise, ongoing austerity and our uncertain economic recovery in the shadow of Brexit. As the 2016 Census shows, 17.3 percent of those living in Ireland were born abroad and 11.6 percent of us are "non-Irish nationals." But how are migrant artists’ voices represented across the arts forms that we supposedly excel in as a nation? Where are the migrant voices in our literature, poetry, theatre, dance, film and visual arts practices? While migrant artists have been active across multiple arts forms in Ireland for many years, how well are Irish-born audiences and funders listening to or supporting this work? To what extent have we followed through on the Arts Council’s 2010 Cultural Diversity and the Arts Policy and Strategy? With Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pledging this past week to "double expenditure on culture, arts and sport" over the next ten years on the back of the Creative Ireland Programme, it is a good time to be asking these questions. Roddy Doyle’s short stories on migrant experiences, The Deportees, which were developed through his partnership with Ireland’s first multicultural newspaper, Metro Eireann, may be familiar to many. But Ifedinma Dimbo’s She Was Foolish? (2012) and Ebun Akpoveta’s Trapped: Prison Without Walls(2013), novels featuring Nigerian female protagonists living in Ireland, do not seem to have received as wide a readership or critical reception. The wide-ranging journeys of these novel’s protagonists - both Nigerian but coming to live in Ireland from very different life circumstances - are not centred on the question of what inward-migration means for Ireland’s majority population. Instead, Dimbo and Akpoveta focus on their protagonist’s lives and transformations at the intersection of multiple identities and social pressures Nigerian, Irish and uniquely Nigerian-Irish.  Similarly, the controversy surrounding Doyle and Bisi Adigun’s collaboration on Playboy of the Western World: A New Version which premiered at the Abbey in 2007 and featured a Nigerian "playboy" lead romantic interest, remained in the headlines for years, due to a prolonged legal battle over the terms of the collaboration between Adigun and the Abbey/Doyle. But the history and ongoing work of Adigun’s Arambe Productions, Ireland’s first African-Irish theatre company, is less well-known. It's a similar fate for other migrant-led theatre companies and artists who have made work in Ireland over the last 20 years including Polish Theatre Ireland, Outlandish Theatre Platform, George Seremba, Kunle Animashaun and Mirjana Rendulic among others.  Filmmaker Jijo Sebastian Palatty creates what he terms "accented intercultural third cinema" in collaboration with other members of the Malayalam-speaking Indian community living in Dublin. Palatty began making films out of "boredom" with other initially unemployed husbands of Indian nurses soon after emigrating to Ireland. What began for Palatty as a community-led and amateur film practice out of necessity due to lack of any experience has remained community-focused and collaboratively led out of both aesthethics and conviction. His most recent short film Box (2017) asks what happens when we put migrant "communities" in boxes based on their identity through exploring the rebellious act of an Indian Pentecostal teenage girl on her 18th birthday.  Within the visual arts, Vukasin Nedeljkovic’s Asylum Archive is a searing photographic exposition of the interior and exterior settings of Ireland’s more than 100 direct provision centres. It is also an ongoing archive of testimony, images and research on direct provision in Ireland that serves as an activist hub and body of evidence in the campaign to abolish this system, including Nedeljkovic’s work as well as the contributions of others. Began as a "coping mechanism" for himself while living within the system, Nedeljkovic and his contributors use the act of photography and the gathering of documentary evidence as a practice of resistance that reasserts agency and communal possibilities for individuals living within these conditions as part of the campaign to abolish direct provision. Also emerging from an arts-led and activist context are multiple initatives led from within Dublin-based Migrant Rights Centre over the last two decades. These include Young, Paperless and Powerful and Opening Doors: Migrant Domestic Workers Speak Through Art which have used photography, public art, spoken word, documentary film, theatre and other art forms as part of their social justice campaigns.  In Galway, Blessing Moyo has iniatiated One World Tapestry as a pop-up series of events focused around "food, music, poetry and fashion" that bring people from Irish-born and migrant backgrounds together. It's a project that grew out of her own experience of social isolation over six years living in direct provision centres.  The Irish migrant artists and migrant-led arts projects named listed here only represent the tip of the iceberg of the arts practice that exists in professional and community contexts. And just as there isn’t one Irish story, there cannot be only one migrant story. As a very privileged migrant myself from the United States, born to an Irish father and moving here as an adult secure in my right to citizenship, this perspective influences the stories I seek out and the stories I try to tell in my research.  The resistance to migrants’ art reflects a bigger problem where migrants are restricted to the margins and only brought in when we want to address migrant issues As author Ebun Akpoveta says, "we are grappling with whose voice is allowed to tell the stories, what stories does Ireland feel its migrant community have a right to tell and what counts as authentic Irish art."  We need to lean into and seek out rather than sidestep this challenge. Theatre-maker Kunle Animashaun stresses that there is nothing to lose and much to gain here: "presenting Ireland as a culturally diverse society" through the arts has to the potential to solidify our international reputation as a "a place to be and a forward-looking society - a global leader." Taking inspiration from the grassroots origins of International Migrant’s Day, it’s time for all of us, migrant or Irish-born, to take a more careful view of whose stories are being told and where in the Irish arts landscape.  Spaces for migrant artists’ stories and structures for their continued development as artists must be more securely embedded if the Irish arts landscape is ever to be truly inclusive of the nation’s residents as a whole and all our stories.   Akpoveta argues that "the resistance to migrants’ art reflects a bigger societal problem where migrants are restricted to the margins and only brought in when we want to address migrant issues." This push to the margins needs to be challenged. Just because you haven’t come across a story easily doesn’t mean that no one has attempted to tell it, maybe even in a theatre or gallery near you. And just because you might think your story might not fit in Ireland doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Author: Dr Liam Lillis Ó Laoire, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures Opinion: from candles in the window and Nollaig na mBan to turkeys and mummers, Christmas traditions in Ireland have a long lineage Christmas is a festival with ancient roots that continue to inform its development and progress. In the past, the festive season began only a short time before the day itself with little of the commercial hype that accompanies today’s celebrations.  December 8th marked the preparations with shopping for provisions being carried out on that day. Fish was often eaten before turkey became a standard item on the menu, and if fowl was consumed, it was more likely to be goose for the better off and chicken for others.  Folk accounts state that it was desirable for everyone to be at home on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. A sense of quiet and stillness is also prevalent in folk accounts on Duchas. The Christmas Candle or Candles were important, symbols of welcome for strangers and especially for Mary and her child,Jesus, as they passed. St. Stephen’s Day was the day for visiting. The Wren Boys were a common sight and continue in many areas to this very day, Dingle being a well-known example. Mummers occupied this niche in other areas and performed a play with stock characters such as Jack Straw, St. George, St. Patrick and others and adapting the lines to the houses the frequented. Gathering money in each house, the pooled the donations and enjoyed a big night at the end of the season.  The date on which the feast fell according to the Julian Calendar, January 6th, remains a more important marker than December 25th As a solstice festival, Christmas carries associations similar to other calendar events with luck and good fortune being central desires. For example, people were careful not to pay out money for any outstanding bills during the Christmas season as that would set a bad trend in motion that might result in continuing losses for the coming year.  Sporting events took place as well and hurling matches were played on beaches and other open spaces. Participants hoped for bright frosty weather which made the playing conditions more appealing. Before the GAA’s reorganisation, these affairs could be marked by violence as rival factions settled scores with their opponents.  The date on which the feast fell according to the Julian Calendar, January 6th, remains a more important marker than December 25th. Some districts designated January 6th as Little Christmas, whereas Lá Nollag Beag in other areas was New Year’s Day, also known as Lá Caille or Coille. A belief that this date of the Wedding at Cana made it necessary to have all the water in the house before nightfall, as the well water was changed into wine at nightfall.   A common custom saw each member of the household lighting a candle that stood symbolically for their life span January 6th was called Nollaig na mBan mainly in Munster and the poet Seán Ó Ríordáin’s famous poem Oíche Nollag na mBan records a stormy transition from festivity to ordinary time accompanied by the poet’s characteristic psychic turbulence.  Some areas designated January 6th as Lá Chinn an Dá Lá Dhéag, the last of the twelve days. A common custom saw each member of the household lighting a candle that stood symbolically for their life span. Whichever candle went out first indicated the first of the assembled company who would die. This custom forms the basis for Pádraig Breathnach’s classic short story Na Déithe Luachmhara Deiridh (The Last Precious Gods).  After Christmas the Shrove season set the tone for matchmaking and weddings, with couples wishing to conclude the proceedings before the extreme privations imposed by the arrival of Lent.  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Vist here

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Author: Barry Houlihan, James Hardiman Library The Brainstorm long read: JP Donleavy is best known for The Ginger Man, but the problems with the stage adaptation of the novel in 1959 showed the cultural censorship at work in Ireland at that time The late J.P. Donleavy was one of the great writers of the modern era. Part of a literary coterie of bohemian Dublin of the 1950s and 1960s, Donleavy’s circle included such remarkable figures as Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh, Edna O’Brien, John Ryan and many others. Roaming from watering holes like Davy Byrnes to the Palace bar, this meeting of minds produced great literary works in prose, fiction, drama and poetry which shape and reflect upon modern Ireland.  Donleavy, or Mike as he was more widely known to those around him, passed away this year at the age of 91. Born in Brooklyn in April 1926 and educated at Trinity College between 1946 and 1949, he was the writer of over twenty books on Ireland and its people and places.  He is most frequently remembered for one novel in particular. The Ginger Man was published in 1955, without the prior consent of the author, as part of a semi-pornographic imprint (the Traveller’s Compendium) from a Paris-based publishing house, Olympia Press, which was run by Maurice Girodias. Long and lengthy legal battles followed between Donleavy and Girodias to release the publishing rights for the work. In one of the great literary coups, Donleavy successfully (but anonymously at the time) bought the publishing house itself when it was for sale in 1970. This meant that Donleavy was therefore suing himself so the case was quickly dropped. In giving us Sebastian Dangerfield and The Ginger Man, Donleavy gave us both one of the great literary characters and one of the great Dublin novels. Straight from the Joycean playbook, Dangerfield roves Dublin as a rogue Bloom-like figure, presenting a Dublin that is hyperbole but only just. It is peppered by real-life figures, from Brendan Behan to Gainor Crist, the "Ginger Man" himself.  But like James Joyce, Sean O’Casey and Samuel Beckett, Ireland rejected the work of genius. Threatened by the stage adaptation of the play, the overpowering influence of the Catholic Church hierarchy (notably Archbishop John Charles McQuaid) saw that The Ginger Man the play would be cancelled after just three performances at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre in 1959.  Cultural censorship It was and still is one of the most overtly blatant examples of cultural censorship in Ireland. It later prompted Donleavy to publish the script of the play with a preface entitled What They Did in Dublin to the Ginger Man – A Play in 1961. It became difficult to separate the on-stage action from the off-stage dramatics. No official or legislated censorship was in operation in Ireland at this time, compared to the United Kingdom, where all plays were submitted prior to production to the Office of the Lord Chamberlain for approval. Yet the 1950s earned an accurate reputation as a depressing and frustrating time for Irish writers, dramatic producers and playwrights.  The Ginger Man was a watershed moment in Irish theatre Irish theatre, in the form of its national theatre at least, was losing touch with a passing older and more conservative generation and also failing to reinvent itself and connect with the emerging and worldlier younger generation. Director at the Abbey Theatre, Hugh Hunt, who did bring reformist influences in direction and management, notes this particular spiritual and artistic malaise at the Abbey Theatre in 1951. "Not only has the Abbey grown estranged from its oldest and best friends", he said, "but more grievously it has failed to win the respect of a younger generation who had deserted to other theatres." The closure of plays like The Ginger Man was a watershed moment in Irish theatre. The play was designed to be deliberately provocative to the Irish state and its people and set out to be an Irish Look Back in Anger, John Osborne’s play that ushered in the "angry young men" movement. As censorship began to tighten its grip on Irish theatre, literature and magazines, a distinct diatribe developed between Archbishop McQuaid and Irish theatre audiences. Plays like The Bishop's Bonfire by Sean O'Casey in 1955 were roundly attacked in conservative press such as The Standard and the Irish Press for their moral ineptitude. The play still attracted record audiences, with over 2,000 people crowding outside the theatre seeking admission on one occasion. It was an example of the mutual confrontation between Church opinion and audience desire. A large number of Irish novels were adapted for the stage at this time, including the work of such censored writers as Joyce, John McGahern and Frank O'Connor. This was in itself an act of artistic subversion and a flouting in a perfectly legitimate way of the pervasive and erratic censorship of literature in Ireland. One reason for this level of effort by the Catholic Church to maintain the system of censorship through State channels was to remove literature which was critical of the entrenched and conservative Catholicism of Ireland, especially from the reading consumption of Irish youth.  "A heaven beyond heaven" In 1953, Donleavy was based in New York where he was restless and eager to return to Ireland, where he had only recently left with his wife and children. "For all its impoverished liberties and encrustations of crut that one had railed against", Ireland for Donleavy "now loomed as a heaven beyond heaven." In 1956 Donleavy began experimenting with writing for dramatic and theatrical production. A public call issued from the BBC's Excellence in Radio Drama prompted the writer to begin work in earnest on a piece of drama. He dramatised the opening scenes of a new play, then entitled Helen, a play set in New York. Though not completed to a full-length piece for some years, it would also be the beginning for Donleavy's 1973 novel, Fairy Tale of New York. The short play, Helen, was shortlisted by the BBC for broadcast and this experience was a defining moment in his theatrical development. He describes how he "soon was to find [him]self amid actors and listening carefully as [his] words ethereally floated out over load-speakers to an English public still listening to the radio." In the Irish Times, further debate ensued about the indecency and vulgarity of Donleavy's play The Ginger Man was first performed in London’s Fortune Theatre in September 1959, not long after Brendan Behan’s own success with The Hostage. Publicity surrounding both these plays in London would struggle to separate the renegade talent of both writers and friends. Behan was in fact the first person to read the manuscript of The Ginger Man and also makes a cameo appearance in the novel as the wild Barney Berry. Harold Hobson, theatre critic at The Sunday Times, warmly paired Donleavy’s play with Behan’s as the "two modern plays in London through which blows the winds of genius".  The play was scheduled to transfer to Dublin from London in October 1959 with Richard Harris in the leading role of Dangerfield. The adaption of the Ginger Man and its branding transcended popular culture and the poster for the Dublin run at the Gaiety Theatre featured Harris prominently in its design. The positioning of Harris as the embodiment of what the book and the character of Dangerfield represented would be a further stick with which to beat the play. Harris was fast earning a reputation as a noted actor, socialite and sex symbol in London and his playboy standing would add to the play's attraction to a curious Dublin audience, drawn to this new play coming direct from a London première.  In the Irish Times, 2 November 1959, further debate ensued about the indecency and vulgarity of Donleavy's play. At the Wexford Festival Forum, a wide-ranging discussion on aspects of contemporary Irish culture and theatre was held and it was uniformly agreed that official censorship of the theatre in Ireland was not a desirable thing to aspire to.  Chairman of CIE (Coras Íompar Éireann) Dr. C.S. Andrews noted that "twice in Dublin recently [he had] seen public opinion outraged and it was deplorable that such plays should be staged." When asked if he was referring to Sive or The Ginger Man, Andrews replied that he had not seen Sive but that The Ginger Man went far beyond the bounds of decency. "It is one of the worst things I have ever seen on the stage. There is not much difference between it and the strip-tease in the Windmill in London." Enter Dangerfield The play begins in the rented and dilapidated flat of the Dangerfields, situated at 1 Mohammed Road, Dublin. The opening stage directions describe in detail the interior of the flat, located in a south suburb of Dublin city. It is a chaotic mess. Implements and signs of navigation and exploration are scattered about the stage. Dangerfield "sits on a stuffy armchair. He watches three chairs in front of him on which are signs: twelve o'clock, three o'clock, six o'clock. A large celestial telescope stands lonely at the window. On an orange box sits an old gramophone. On the wall are three pictures of ships in distress"  The world outside the flat is in perpetual motion. The stasis of Dangerfield's interior world is at odds with the increasingly growing fast pace of both urban and suburban Dublin life. When the exterior threatens to enter and intervene in the interior and private world, Dangerfield panics and seeks to hide, unsure how to reconcile the private with the public.  "If the Archbishop had seen the play it might have been different" Dangerfield and his only friend Kenneth O’Keefe are a duo of lost and disillusioned young men who expect more than what society and opportunity has afforded them. Instead they live week-to-week on the allowance afforded them under the G.I. Bill: O'Keefe: "These guys at Trinity thank all American's are loaded with dough and I'm starving. You get your check yet?" The opening scene sets the tone and subversive message of the play by presenting a deliberate criticism on Irish Church and State, the shallow advancement of the Irish middle-classes and the exploitation and inequality of Ireland, both domestically and publicly, towards women.  Dangerfield is a crass, drunken, violent, manipulative self-promoter while O'Keefe is a weak, uncommitted and unconfident loner. The latter is dazzled by the bravado and performative life of extravagance portrayed by Dangerfield, as he constantly seeks the impossible goal of a comfortable middle-class existence and sexual gratification to match his desires.  The play attacks the myth that Ireland was an uniformly economically vibrant country at this time following the election of Seán Lemass to the office of Taoiseach and the publication of the T.K. Whitaker's Programme for Economic Expansion. O'Keefe bears out the frustration of many of those who did not see or be part of economic progression: "I'm hounded through streets, beaten to the wall, scratching up pennies and for the first time in months I've got a few beans to have a bath and a haircut and get out, you come and push me to the wall again...nothing new. Same damn pattern. Despair, frustration, misery". What O'Keefe aspires to, and what Donleavy challenges through this play, is the comfortable and shallow middle-class life. The new Holy Trinity, as far as O'Keefe is concerned, is chiefly money, food and sex. Donleavy's play highlighted important issues to Irish audiences and readers. One such case was the rejection of Noel Browne's "Mother and Child Scheme"in 1951, which was branded as "anti-family" when the outlook was more evidently anti-woman. Marion, Dangerfield's long-suffering wife, vocalises these institutional rejections of female equality. "I want to be free instead of hiding behind these walls", she cries. The status of women was under debate in Dáil Éireann at the time. A debate on the decision to lift the marriage ban on female teachers was held in the Dáil on 20th and 27th February 1958, with the Minister for Education not committing to any decision. It would be over a decade later before the Commission on the Status of Women would bring an interim report for discussion in the Seanad and Dáil in 1972 with the final report coming in 1973. Bringing the motion then before the Seanad in July 1973, then senator and future president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, moved the motion in support of the report to the Seanad "with real pleasure because I regard this report as the most important social document in recent Irish history." By its third performance, The Ginger Man had made the front page of the Irish Times. "Gaiety Play Withdrawn" ran the headline on the story on 29 October 1959 signalling the end of Donleavy's play. "The theatre was half-full last night and the audience repeatedly applauded portions of the play. A few people left at the end of the second act and did not return". Harris sought the forgiveness of the archbishop for any offence to "our religion" in performing in the play The review of the play from the Irish Times, some two days earlier noted "the mingled love and loathing of Dublin, expressed in words that glitter and cut like a welding torch is not a pastiche of Joyce, but a recreation...Mr. Donleavy almost achieves his ambition of turning Dangerfield into a latter-day Hamlet. Last night's production brought only a few shouts from the audience...Philip Wiseman's production is brilliant." On the day after the play was cancelled, Richard Harris wrote directly to the archbishop on letterhead from Jury's Hotel, College Green, Dublin. In an openly apologetic and likely tongue-in-cheek manner, Harris sought the forgiveness of the archbishop for any offence to "our religion" in performing in the play. Harris also outlines that he accepts responsibility for his part in supporting the play performed in in unexpurged form and in not agreeing to the cuts as suggested by a representative of McQuaid (likely to have been Fr Gerard Nolan S.J.). Harris wrote that "[he] approached the part [of Dangerfield] as a Catholic, found from the sentiments and theme of the play that though it was without the façade of purity, it was honest and most artistic in its taste". Following the opening night, the Gaeity Theatre’s manager Louis Elliman immediately demanded Donleavy and Wiseman make cuts to the text. After the second night's performance, Elliman issued an ultimatum that the cuts must be made to the passages "objectionable and offensive to taste and opinion here". Elliman now was at risk of having his bluff called. He reverted to his previous ultimatum of 'cuts or closure' and took the decision at that moment to close the play or risk legal proceedings for breach of contract. He called the playwright and director or their supposed breach before they had a chance to even draw their weapon. It was an unfair duel. The play was over before it had fully begun. Donleavy left Ireland for England the day after the closure of the play and spoke of the disappointment of the episode. He also hit out at McQuaid and the Catholic Church's policy of enforcing censorship upon works of deemed moral indecency, saying: "if the Archbishop had seen the play it might have been different." The play attacks the myth that Ireland was an uniformly economically vibrant country at this time The personal toll was also evident on the playwright, as Donleavy admitted to be "shattered and shocked" but not surprised that Ireland's conservative Catholic Church outlook on artistic criticism would ferment closure of the play on grounds of blasphemy: "There is a terrible amount of confusion between the cast, myself and the management...I thought there might be trouble with the play in Dublin but I did not think it would lead to this." The Ginger Man was a watershed moment in Irish theatre. It proved to be a clear statement of artistic defiance against Irish traditional orthodoxies and opened a door for more progressive works of the new wave of Irish drama and dramatists in the 1960s. The loss to all readers earlier this year on the passing of Donleavy was keenly felt. But the loss of Donleavy to Irish theatre was first felt over half a century ago. God’s mercy on the wild Ginger Man. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Author: Professor Daniel Carey, Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Opinion: mass shootings in the United States have sadly become all too common in recent times yet measures to address this malaise are rarely enacted. Just how did we get to this point? We have been here many times before: America convulsed by a mass shooting in which innocents (young and old, men, women and children) have lost their lives as a lone gunman tears a murderous path through an ordinary day. In Sutherland Springs, Texas in November 2017, it was at a Sunday church service. In Las Vegas in October 2017, in an attack that set a new record for death toll, the location was an open-air concert. We have seen bloodbaths at schools (in Sandy Hook and Columbine), at universities (Virginia Tech), at nightclubs (Orlando), at fast food restaurants (San Diego), at community centres (Kansas City), in movie theatres (Aurora, Colorado), public meetings (Tucson, Arizona), and too many other locations to keep track of. Each time the grief, lamentations, and dismay recede and the United States resumes its pace of life. Then, another event shocks us into public discussion, editorials, vigils, outcries, argument and despair. Gun control has become one of the great intractables, where no matter how much discussion takes place, no progress occurs. I grew up in the US and all my family live there. Like so many others, I keep asking myself how did we get to this point? One factor obviously remains the National Rifle Association, a highly effective manufacturers’ interest group that masquerades as a grassroots organisation. In autumn 2016, the NRA launched its own streaming service, NRATV, with a strap line "The Truth is Under Fire", identifying itself with conservative causes, Trumpian rhetoric and (white) populism. In short, they position gun ownership as a political identity, sanctified by the second amendment to the constitution. The episode in Las Vegas represented a temporary setback to the NRA’s message, given the scale of the slaughter and the killer’s use of a bump stock to accelerate the firing of rounds to machinegun rate. But any pressure on the organisation has been relieved by the episode in Texas. Here, a gun-owning neighbour, Stephen Willeford, heard the shots in the church and returned fire with his own rifle. He then flagged down a passing pickup truck to give chase, the classic "good guy with a gun" taking on a "bad guy with a gun". NRATV duly interviewed him in a 50 minute broadcast, under the banner of NRA member and hero. "Personal protection" constitutes the major rationale cited by proponents of owning handguns. But the argument falls apart in the face of the evidence. The story of Willeford’s response is compelling in its own way, but the telling of it misses the point. Entrusting law enforcement to random, armed citizens is hardly a solution, and the fact remains that 26 people were killed in that Texas church, including a pregnant woman. Instead, it speaks of a desire to change the subject. Attention has now shifted to the failure of the Air Force to forward information on Deven Patrick Kelley’s 2012 conviction for assault on his wife and young son to national databases. This would theoretically have prevented him from purchasing the weapon used in the attack (a Ruger AR-556 rifle; he also had two handguns in his car). The other classic move is to change the discussion to matters of mental health, as President Trump promptly did, calling Kelly a "deranged individual". The same shift of attention happened in Virginia Tech in 2007 with the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho. In the case of the Las Vegas massacre, the search was for Stephen Paddock’s "motive" in the absence of obvious signs of mental illness. But even if such an illness could be established, surely the problem is that ill people have access to weapons enabling them to destroy lives on a massive scale (one of President Trump’s first acts in office was to rescind regulations that made it more difficult for mentally ill people to buy guns). The simple fact is that the overwhelming number of mass shootings, regardless of the psychiatric history of the perpetrators, have been performed with weapons obtained legally. Something else is going on. We have perpetuated our own system of terror, placing citizens at risk of random attack. The president underscores the national hypocrisy by demanding extreme vetting for immigrants, in the wake of the Halloween attack in New York City, while pandering to the NRA agenda by upholding unfettered access to guns (they backed his presidential campaign heavily). What this tells us is that societies have acceptable levels of violence, and that, ultimately, no amount of carnage is enough to galvanize political action in the US. Why is this so? Part of the problem lies, I suspect, in the size of the country. As an entity, the US is too large for these episodes to have sufficient impact to demand national action. They can be absorbed emotionally because they belong, ultimately, to a locality. The contrast in the UK after the Dunblane massacre is instructive: action had to be taken after the fatal shooting of 16 school children and a teacher in 1996. I was living in the UK at the time, and Dunblane felt immediate, close and urgent to address. Entrusting law enforcement to random, armed citizens is hardly a solution. Instead, it speaks of a desire to change the subject. In a geographically dispersed America, the scene is always distant – Sutherland Springs is too far away. So is Blacksburg, site of Virginia Tech. So is Charleston in South Carolina, site of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Dylann Roof took the lives of nine people. So is Newtown, Connecticut, site of Sandy Hook Elementary School. So is Denver, Colorado, site of Columbine High School. And on it goes. For many Americans, gun ownership represents a "freedom". Any threat to what they understand as a right leads them to resist efforts to legislate in order to make background checks more stringent, to restrict sales at gun shows and between private individuals and to limit the availability of the most destructive weapons. But this ostensible freedom only exists by abridging other liberties. What freedom do people experience when warnings of "live shooters" routinely shut down public spaces, schools, campuses, and other venues? Should it really be necessary to install metal detectors in schools? Does it make the country more or less free when you need to arm people in churches, movie houses, and classrooms as a prophylactic measure against the possible appearance of a random shooter? America has simply chosen as a nation to rank the right to bear arms above any other right. Meanwhile the "good guy" argument thrives as a fantasy in which the virtuous will protect the public against those intent on doing harm. This is achieved by furnishing teachers, guards, and others with sidearms to ensure our safety at every turn. The massive escalation of weaponry that such a system would require is too obscene to contemplate, but it fails even the first test of experience. If such an approach works, how did Major Nidal Hasan succeed in killing 13 people at the US army base in Fort Hood, Texas in 2009? Or Aaron Alexis murder 12 at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013, in the midst of a concentration of trained and armed personnel? "Personal protection" constitutes the major rationale cited by proponents of owning handguns. But the argument falls apart in the face of the evidence. An article in the Annals of Internal Medicine published in 2014, examining a range of prior investigations, concluded: "all studies found significantly higher odds of homicide victimization among participants who had access to a firearm than among those who did not". The truth of the matter is that more guns result in more shootings and more deaths. Those who imagine defending themselves with a firearm might want to take note of some stark figures. The FBI reported a total of 499 "justifiable homicides" by private citizens in the US in 2014 and 2015, mainly performed with firearms. Over the same period, about 25,000 people died in gun homicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (leaving out suicide, a popular use for personal weapons). But we remain trapped in a circular logic in which the proliferation of guns fuels the fear of attack and the purchase of yet more weapons. Statistics on gun ownership indicate the high percentage of white males among those who keep weapons.[7] NRATV cultivates this audience, as does the widely circulated Guns & Ammo magazine, judging from the photography and video on its website. Hunting enthusiasts, ex-military and law enforcement no doubt form a significant part of its wide readership, but one comes away with a strong sense that a major source of its appeal stems from supporting threatened masculinity. A current article by Richard Nance in Guns & Ammo on "Off Body Carry" does helpfully note that "for women, carrying a concealed handgun in their purse is a natural choice. After all, women typically carry purses anyway, and it’s a lot easier to add a gun to the mix than redesign a wardrobe to accommodate carrying a handgun in a belt-mounted holster." (He goes on to offer sensible tips on accessing the weapon quickly, advising women to zip their weapon in a dedicated pocket and to keep the pocket free from an "eyebrow brush or an ink pen" lest such items work their way into the triggerguard, a "recipe for disaster".) Of course, the great obstacle to progress on gun control has been the Second Amendment with its guarantee of the right of the individual to bear arms, leading one recent commentator to call for its repeal. The amendment’s wording is at best ambiguous: "a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Do we take the final declarative phrase as definitive, or accept that it is radically modified by the preceding clauses? If the intention was not to modify it, then why include them? Americans sacralise the Constitution and the wishes of the Framers, as they understand them, even as the lethal power of weapons has long since overtaken the orginators’ intentions. My own view is that literalists should accept the force of the opening clause and require gun owners to enlist in the military if they wish to bear arms, not that this would have spared us from Deven Kelly or Maj. Hasan. In a geographically dispersed America, the scene is always distant – Sutherland Springs is too far away. So is Blacksburg, site of Virginia Tech. So is Charleston in South Carolina The American fixation with guns has entered the territory of the grotesque and self-parodic, promoting the likes of Dana Loesch to prominence as a ferocious spokesperson for the NRA. Anyone who needs a reminder of what it all comes down to should spare a moment to visit the site of Aftermath, which specialises in "Trauma Cleaning & Biohazard Removal". Their thoughtful review of relevant statistics prefaces an invitation to hire them to provide a professional service to sort out the mess. They remark: "In the unfortunate and tragic event that someone is accidentally shot and injured or killed, there will likely be a substantial amount of blood loss that needs to be cleaned up. This cleanup is the responsibility of the property owner, and it comes with risks." Indeed, like the American romance with the gun itself. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Opinion: in addition to events and festivals like Science Week and the Young Scientist Exhibition, informal science education is a fantastic way to disseminate science to the public By Sarah Carroll, Dr Claudia Fracchiolla and Dr Muriel Grenon, NUI Galway Science weeks have become increasingly popular in recent years across Europe in an effort to inform the public about the role of STEM on the economy and society. The one just coming to a close in Ireland, which has been co-ordinated by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), featured over 900 events, such as family open days, school outreach events and public talks. All events share the common aim of engaging the public in STEM activities and bridging the gap between citizens, science and society. In Ireland, disseminating science to the public also serves as an opportunity for young people to see what opportunities STEM subjects offer in a career. This aligns with the goals of most EU countries to increase the number and diversity of students who choose STEM subjects as a career, contributing to a science literate society and the sustainability of a knowledge economy. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number and diversity of activities developed to achieve such goals. This is partly thanks to the recent increase in governmental funding directed to informal learning environments. For example, the Discover Science funding programme under SFI spend €2.8m in 2016, 1.5 percent of its programme budget, to fund activities contributing to informal science education, which support education, culture, and access to science. What is informal science education? According to the Centre for Advancement of Informal Science Education, Informal Science Education (ISE) is defined as continuous learning of all STEM disciplines that takes places across diverse settings and experiences outside of formal learning environments. Throughout our lifespan, we spend more time outside of formal learning environments than in it. These activities include watching science TV programmes, navigating science related websites, engaging with social media or listening to radio or podcasts. It may also be attending a science museum, exhibits at science festival, participating in a science camp or engaging with scientists. The benefits of ISE may be greater than we are currently aware of Benefits to young people participating The benefits of ISE may be greater than we are currently aware of, especially in shaping interest in and opinions on science for young people. Different studies conducted over the years about the impact of informal science programmes show that participation in these programmes increases both students’ interest and enthusiasm towards science and students’ science knowledge. These programmes often offer children and young people the opportunity to engage in hands-on science and conduct science experiments, aspects limited in the formal school setting due to curriculum overload and constraints in time and resources. These opportunities are very influential in increasing children’s understanding and interest in science. Additionally, ISE activities delivered by STEM scientist role models improve young people’s perceptions of scientists, moving from "boring" and "clever" to approachable "normal" people involved in a range of possible careers, making them realise that science might also be for them. This is important in particular to increase participation of women and minorities in STEM subjects and careers. Informal science education in Ireland Ireland boasts a particularly active informal science education sector operative all year around as well as during Science weeks. The sector is described in a recent report on STEM Education in Ireland, but has not been fully documented yet. The activities range from those delivered by discovery centres such as Atlantaquaria or Blackrock Castle Observatory to national initiatives like STEPS Engineering, Smart Futures and Coder Dojo. There is also outreach from higher education institututions such as Spectroscopy in a Suitcase and Cell EXPLORERS, private organisations (such as Anyone 4 Science and STEAM Ireland) and one-person shows like Scientific Sue and Dr How’s Science Wows. Benefits to scientist’s facilitators Some models of ISE programmes involve higher education students and active researchers. These programmes are often referred as outreach or public engagement and are based in research centres or Higher Education institutions. The benefits for scientists involved in ISE are many, from the gain of communication skills to researcher’s personal and professional development. Preliminary research shows that involvement in ISE programmes could have a positive effect on facilitators’ confidence, their perception of science and sense of belonging to a particular community. More specifically, some studies in the United States have shown that participation in informal science programmes has a greater effect on women and other minorities and could be even linked to a diminishing of minority students’ attrition and dropouts in STEM disciplines. Investing in informal science education for the future Teaching and communicating about science to non-expert audiences in informal settings has been a hallmark of the scientific community. Informal programmes have a variety of goals and a wide range of content, audiences, facilitators, and medium. These goals are highly complementary to the ones of formal education. However, in Ireland, research is lacking to understand what makes individual informal science programs successful and whether investments in informal-learning strategies have impact. Disseminating science to the public serves as an opportunity for young people to see what opportunities STEM subjects offer in a career The realisation of proposed actions published in the Report on STEM Education in Ireland could lead to full development of the social and economic benefits of the ISE sector in Ireland. Two key actions include to link action of formal and informal science education providers under a national initiative and the establishment of STEM education research as a national research priority with appropriate funding commitment. A further action required would be the commitment of higher education institutions to fully commit, outside of the punctual involvement during science week, to the establishment and support of these programmes and their associated research. Sarah Carroll is PhD Student in Biochemistry, specialising in Informal Science Education. Dr Claudia Fracchiolla is an informal science education postdoctoral researcher. Dr Muriel Grenon is a lecturer, All three are based at the School of Natural Sciences, NUI Galway and form the coordinating team of the Cell EXPLORERS programme.   This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here  

Friday, 24 November 2017

Opinion: this year's 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign focuses on education and that also means looking at what's happening in Irish schools and third-level institutions By Stacey Scriver and Lindsey Bacigal, NUI Galway The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign began at Rutgers University in 1991 as an annual international campaign to communicate the message that gender-based violence is a violation of fundamental human rights. This campaign brings together activists, government leaders, students, academia and the private sector across the world to demand an end to gender-based violence. The 2017 theme is "‘Together We Can End GBV in Education" and it aims to build awareness and advocate for an end to all forms of gender-based violence in education. Gender-based violence is any form of physical, sexual or psychological violence directed towards an individual on the basis of stereotypes, norms or roles associated with sexual or gendered identity. Gender-based violence in education is a global issue affecting all states, cultures and regions, all genders, and in all levels of education. It can manifest in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to, sexual harassment and assault, bullying of LGBTQI+ individuals, dating violence, and unfair and unequal treatment of students due to their gender or sexual identity. Perpetrators include teachers, lecturers and other staff, students, partners and acquaintances of students, and non-affiliated persons who target those in education, for instance while they travel to and from school. Such experiences are common. A multi-country study led by NUI Galway’s Global Women’s Studies programme on the economic and social costs of violence found that 51 percent of adult women surveyed in Ghana who had attended an educational institute in the last 12 months had experienced some form of educational violence. In South Sudan and Pakistan, figures were 82 percent and 18 percent respectively. Another study in Peru found that almost 50 percent of female students had experienced some form of violence by their partner in the past 12 months. Experiences of gender-based violence have serious and often long-term impacts, including psychological, physical, social and educational impacts The Irish experience Violence in education is not only a problem for the global south. Evidence shows that men and women in Ireland are also impacted by violence in and around educational institutes. A recent USI survey of students at third-level institutes in Ireland found that nearly one in five women surveyed experienced some form of unwanted sexual experience during their time at college. A survey of 4,000 young people in the LGBTQI+ community found that 70 percent disagreed that schools were safe places. Furthermore, one in five stated that they had been harassed and bullied in public areas, including schools. Experiences of gender-based violence have serious and often long-term impacts, including psychological, physical, social and educational impacts. In interviews conducted as part of the Rape and Justice in Ireland project, survivors in third level education described the impact on their studies: missed classes due to the presence of perpetrators (other students), fear of becoming distressed during class, lost concentration, and, for some, dropping out of courses. Similar evidence was found in Peru where students who had experienced violence had higher rates of presenteeism and absenteeism, higher rates of course failure and were more likely to consider dropping out. These impacts result in reduced future opportunities, meaning that the negative impact of gender-based violence in education spreads through the economy and society. Education is a human right and essential to achieving goals of equality, development and peace and governments and institutions have an obligation to ensure a safe environment for students. Across the world there have been innovative attempts to address this issue. The What Works to Prevent Violence Program, supports and evaluates interventions to identify the most effective means to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls. On the agenda Projects include the Right to Play Intervention in Pakistan, a schools-based sport and play programme which trains teachers to challenge the acceptability of violence against women and girls and to work with children to shift social norms that perpetuate and condone violence. In Kenya, the Women and Girls Empowerment and Boys Transformation Program to Prevent VAWG targets school aged children to prevent sexual violence. In Ireland’s third level sector, initiatives have been developed to reduce sexual violence by building a deeper understanding of consent in relationships. For instance, NUI Galway is piloting ‘Smart Consent’ workshops and leading on this training, working with other higher education institutes to roll it out nationally. Gender-based violence in education is a global issue affecting all states, cultures and regions, all genders, and in all levels of education Raising awareness and knowing the problem is an important step to addressing it. Towards this end, the the Centre for Global Women's Studies at NUI Galway is organising a series of events during the 16 days of the campaign. The events include a social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook, a talk on sexual violence in Irish educational institutions on November 29 and a guided walk that brings participants through the campus, to highlight various issues regarding gender-based violence in education on December 6. This latter event will be held on the anniversary of the "Montreal Massacre", where 14 female students were murdered at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, and will culminate in a ceremonial lighting of the Quadrangle as part of "Orange the World" initiative. NUI Galway President, Dr. James Brown, VP for Equality and Diversity, Professor Anne Scott and Prof. Niamh Reilly, one of the originators of the 16 Days Campaign at Rutgers University, will provide addresses. We all have a role to play in ending gender-based violence in education. Participating in the 16 Days of Activism campaign and developing understanding and awareness of how this issue affects young men and women globally and locally is one small, but significant, way to contribute. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Analysis: Fontanelle, the soft spot in an infant’s skull, opens up a new window into the brain activity of newborns. By James Blackwell, Niall Colgan and Michel Destrade, NUI Galway In a world first, a team of French and Swiss researchers have obtained real-time functional 3D images of newborn babies’ brains. They’ve done this by placing an ultra-fast ultrasound probe on the baby’s fontanelle, the soft spot opening in the skull of infants. Functional imaging allows the assessment of the oxygenated blood flow in the brain. Some newborns, especially premature babies, have an increased risk of brain lesion and it is very important to monitor their brain activity during their first weeks. This is usually done by EEG (Electroencephalography), which records electric changes, but does not provide the location of abnormal activity. Alternatively, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) can provide high-resolution pictures using blood oxygen level dependency as a measure of the brain’s activity. The patient must lie perfectly still for a long duration, but it’s hard to convince a newborn baby to do just that However, there are a number of drawbacks to the latter technique that make it unsuitable for babies. It uses standard MRI scanners and the patient must lie perfectly still for a long duration for accurate measurements, but it’s hard to convince a newborn baby to do just that. The scan itself is lengthy and can be accompanied by a heating effect that newborns may not be able to regulate. Finally, MRI also requires moving an infant from a sterile maternity environment into the general hospital, which is impractical and costly for newborns. By contrast, ultrasound imaging is routinely used in pregnancy and is fast and painless. One of its limitations is that it cannot penetrate bone so the main use of ultrasound in brain imaging for accurate measurements has been limited to neurosurgery, once a part of the skull has been removed.  A newborn’s skull is not fully fused and two spaces between the bones of an infant's skull called fontanelles exist for about six months However, a newborn’s skull is not fully fused and two spaces between the bones of an infant's skull called fontanelles exist for about six months where the sutures intersect. They are covered by tough membranes that protect the underlying soft tissues and brain, but are soft enough to allow the ultrasound to penetrate. A team of researchers from the Institut Langevin at the Robert Debré University Hospital in Paris and the Children’s University Hospital of Genevahave devised an ultrasound probe capable of recording 10,000 images per seconds through the fontanelle. In fact, they were able to determine the resting metabolic activity of babies at the bedside using the blood oxygen levels as a contrast.   The researchers managed to see tiny veins and slow blood flows in the brains of about ten infants. They believe this technique will allow pediatric doctors to monitor infant brain activity and link it (or not) to early-life events such as blood pressure drop, seizures or the taking of medical drugs. Their findingshave just appeared in the journal Science-Translational Medicine. Neuroscientists need improved, non-invasive methods to inform medical decisions and treatments According to the World Health Organization, more than one in ten babies are born prematurely each year. Given that the chances of severe disability increase with the level of prematurity, neuroscientists need improved, non-invasive methods to inform medical decisions and treatments. Chief physicist Brendan Tuohy has referred to "functional ultrasound as a major advancement in neuroimaging" and that it will "allow for convenient continual monitoring of the activity and resting state in paediatric practice, providing new insights into neurodevelopment, neuroprotection and repair of the developing brain" Ultrasound scanning provides a more cost-effective and widely available method of determining brain activity at a fraction of the cost of MRI. Using safe repeatable brain imaging to determine the structure, function, and metabolic function of the brain during illness and early days of life could provide key insights into the role and development of the newborns.   James Blackwell, is studying Applied Physics at NUI Galway. Niall Colganis a Lecturer in Medical Physics at NUI Galway and a Clinical Medical Physicist at University Hospital Galway. Michel Destrade, is Chair of Applied Mathematics at NUI Galway. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here  

Friday, 17 November 2017

News: a NUI Galway film about people living with with Parkinson's disease has won a New York film festival award Feats Of Modest Valour is an award-winning documentary chronicling the lives of three people managing the physical reality of living with Parkinson’s disease. Produced by CÚRAM, the Centre for Research in Medical Devices at NUI Galway and directed by Mia Mullarkey and Alice McDowell for Ishka Films, it won the Scientist Award at the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York for portraying the life of a scientist in an accurate and inventive way.  The film features Co Mayo farmer Brian Carney, Croatian second World War survivor Milena Lulic and Irish actor Tom Hickey talking about how they deal with the disease. We also meet researchers from CÚRAM, led by Dr Eilís Dowd, working on a therapeutic approach which they hope will revolutionise treatment of the condition. This is done by delving into the brain of someone with Parkinson’s disease and showing how dying cells can be replaced by stem cells supported by a natural biomaterial scaffold.  "This is a film about science and medicine, about scientists and patients, about art and music, but most of all, about hope", explained Dr Dowd. "It was a genuine privilege to work on this project with such talented filmmakers and such inspirational patients."  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Monday, 13 November 2017

Analysis: from poetry and sports to history, dancing and storytelling, there's an abundance of ways to teach maths in a creative manner By Mary Scahill, Dr Cornelia Connolly, Dr Aisling McCluskey and Dr Tony Hall, NUI Galway (1) Think poetry Take your favourite poem or rhyme and try to notice the mathematics hidden within it. Maybe it’s a imerick or haiku or villanelle or even the spooky prophetic rhyming of the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Like all great songs, these hold a mesmerising, ordered quality which comes from the basic mathematics behind their design. Have a go at writing your own haiku. The formula is simple: the first line of your poem should contain five syllables, the second line seven syllables, and the third line five syllables. (2) Google the Calculus Wars Learn how one of the most important and fascinating developments in mathematical history, calculus, was jointly invented by Gottfried Leibniz and Isaac Newton, two of the most famous and brilliant minds in history. While at the time both mathematicians and their friends contested and claimed the original discovery, there is a consensus today that both Newton and Leibniz independently invented the calculus, which allows us to measure change, a very important function of maths in today’s complex and fast-moving world. (3) Some 19th century future thinking Computational thinking (or CT for short) is one of the big new ideas in computer science, mathematics and STEM education. As well as enabling us to do so many new activities which were previously unimaginable, computers are changing fundamentally how we think and learn. But computational thinking was first originated in the 19th century by Countess Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the great Romantic poet, Lord Byron. Countess Lovelace was the world’s first computer programmer - or, as she called it, "poetical scientist" - and she devised a sophisticated algorithm to compute Bernoulli Numbers. What she innovated in the 1840s is what we try to do today with computational thinking when we try to come up with systematic strategies for understanding a range of problems and challenges, and then use computers to provide or simulate solutions. Pick one of your favourite activities (such as making a cup of tea or hitting a sliotar with a hurley) and break it down into its basic, constituent activities and parts. Take away any unnecessary detail and try to notice patterns that can be repeated. There are many great and free computer applications, which you can use to program (simulate) your algorithm. Use the online version of Scratch to create a simple computer program to implement your algorithm. (4) Tune up with Pythagoras Best known for his eponymous theorem (you know the one: for any right-angled triangle, the square of the length of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides), Pythagoras also made remarkable contributions to the mathematical theory of music. The Greek philosopher noticed that vibrating strings produce harmonious tones when the ratios of the lengths of the strings are whole numbers and that these ratios could be extended to other musical instruments. Discovery of the chromatic, diatonic and enharmonic scales are said to be the work of Pythagoras. The next time you witness someone tuning a musical instrument, reflect on the mathematical link and if the musician is using Pythagorean tuning to get ready. The probability of a particular athlete or team winning is just mathematics (5) Telling stories Storytelling is regarded as one of the most powerful formational processes in education. According to the late educational psychologist Jerome Bruner, storytelling is a uniquely human activity that serves as a key foundation for all our learning and development. It allows us to structure and make sense of our world, while also playing a very important dual role in mediating and inspiring our imagination. Oral storytelling can transform the abstract, objective, deductive mathematics experiences in the classroom into a subject imbued with narrative, subjective feelings and meanings. Many different stories can be wrapped around mathematics, including science fiction, history, stories of adventure, fairy tales and detective stories. Similarly, different types of mathematics such as arithmetic, measurement, statistics, and algebra can be embedded in the oral narrative through problem solving, algorithms, concepts and communication. Literature and storytelling can enrich mathematics education. Why not design your own whodunit, or fictional quest, where answering mathematical problems and questions allows the sleuth to decode answers to solve the mystery? (6) You dancing? You asking? There are many cross-curricular possibilities with mathematics and dance. Students can discover topological ideas while learning different dancing positions in salsa. They can use maypole dancing to investigate geometric patterns or folk dancing links with group theory and permutations. There are multiple possibilities and permutations to connect ideas and patterns in mathematics with dance. Here’s a way for students to learn about patterns and geometry through the medium of dance. Groups make up different clapping patterns which can then be combined to create a unique rhythm. Each group then creates a simple dance, to form a geometric shape of their own choosing. To follow on from this, the groups perform a mathematical transformation through dance. For example, one group performs a translation, by using dance moves to glide across the floor, whilst maintaining their geometric shape. A second group performs a rotation and a third, performs a reflection, again choreographed with dance moves. Finally, all the choreography is brought together as groups perform their mathematical transformations and their clapping rhythms simultaneously. Developing spatial awareness, collecting data and recognising mathematics in daily life is invaluable. (7) Maths and sports Statistics and probability play an important role in sports. In basketball, mathematics is used to calculate average points a player scores in a game, while mathematics is used in bowling to find out how many points were scored in each frame. The importance of player statistics is becoming more central in GAA, football and rugby. The probability of a particular athlete or team winning is just mathematics. (8) The arts’ equation   Mathematical tools are used in an essential way in the creation of art, architecture and in design. A simple example, that also connects art and mathematics, is where children can use partially completed diagrams to come up with the formula for the numbers to populate Pascal’s triangle. The activity can then be developed further through the medium of art with groups of children participating in a "colour by numbers" activity to create four Pascal’s Triangles, which when joined together form the image of a 3-D cube. A follow-on activity could involve students in discovering the many hidden number patterns that lie within Pascal’s triangle, again through the medium of art. (9) Maths in nature The Fibonacci sequence is where each number in the sequence is found by adding up the two numbers before it (ie the sequence of numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 etc). Students could be introduced to the Fibonacci sequence by connecting mathematics and nature. The Fibonacci numbers are evident in some patterns, which occur naturally in nature. Many plants and trees replicate the Fibonacci sequence in their growth patterns. In some plants, the arrangement of leaves around a stem follows the Fibonacci sequence, while many trees exhibit the Fibonacci sequence in their growth points where branches are formed. Using craftwork to create a tree, which reflects the Fibonacci sequence, allows students to express their creativity while learning mathematics. Encourage children to work in groups, to figure out the Fibonacci sequence for themselves, given only a set of cards containing the relevant numbers. The children can develop their knowledge by participating in an arts and crafts activity during which they each design a leaf or a flower to create a "Fibonacci Tree" (see below). In assembling the tree, the students should ensure that the growing patterns of both the branches and leaves follow the Fibonacci sequence. (10) Vroom vroom The three concepts of distance, speed and time bring together mathematics and science. Developing spatial awareness, collecting data and recognising mathematics in daily life is invaluable. As an example of this, children are introduced to the concepts of distance, speed and time in class and for the follow-on activity 1m strips of cardboard are covered in a variety of different materials such as cooking foil, cotton and cloth. Children use a dinky car and a smartphone to calculate the speed of the car over the different surfaces and record their findings. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Author: Dr John Walsh, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures Opinion: this week's Oireachtas na Gaeilge festival will highlight the diversity and creativity of the Irish language community, but the presence of many new speakers and younger enthusiasts is just as noteworthy   Thousands of Irish speakers will be in Killarney this weekend for the Irish language literary and cultural festival Oireachtas na Gaeilge. The annual highlight in the Irish language social calendar, the Oireachtas has grown significantly in recent years, particularly among young people, though it is largely ignored by the mainstream national English language media, who can be so quick to stereotype Irish speakers or trot out familiar tropes of Irish as a "dead language". Were such commentators to come to the Oireachtas, they would witness an incredible diversity and creativity, already familiar to Irish speakers but largely unknown in wider society. The Oireachtas is a microcosm of the entire Irish language community, that amorphous concept unfamiliar to most Irish people even if they are well disposed towards Irish and want it to survive. There will be a strong showing from every Gaeltacht area, particularly in the traditional sean-nós singing and dancing competitions. Fluent speakers of Irish from all over the country and abroad will also be present, some to attend events or to compete in competitions, others just to catch up with friends. Irish language organisations will hold meetings and launch initiatives and publishers and media organisations will be out in force.  A noticeable change in recent years has been the increase in the numbers of students of Irish attending the festival, often at the initiative of the Cumann Gaelach in their university. Some of those who have attended the festival for years complain that the increase in students has also led to an upsurge in the amount of English spoken. It might be that the Oireachtas has become the victim of its own success, as word spreads in universities that a great weekend will be had by all. New speakers are the product of the same education system that is much maligned for its perceived failure to revive Irish It is difficult to avoid conversations about the state of health of Irish at the Oireachtas, and the revival of the language will be the subject of this year’s annual seminar on Saturday. Inevitably, questions will be asked about the future of the Gaeltacht, the direction of government policy and the status of the language in schools.  The Oireachtas is a showcase for the vitality of traditional Irish language culture in the Gaeltacht, much of it involving young people. However, academic studies have confirmed that language shift to English is progressing rapidly in the small number of remaining Irish-speaking areas and that the future of Irish as a community language is in doubt. As happens in all languages, younger generations of Gaeltacht people are not speaking the same Irish as their parents or grandparents, but there is the additional concern that many children are not acquiring Irish at all or are abandoning it as teenagers or young adults.  The Oireachtas provides a meeting point for "new speakers", regular and fluent speakers who were not raised with Irish in the Gaeltacht but have adopted the language Strategic interventions in favour of Irish are known in the academic literature as "language planning". The government’s language planning process has rightly been rejected by many Gaeltacht groups because of the paltry funding awarded to it. Many Gaeltacht people attempting to raise their children in Irish feel a sense of betrayal by the state which is supposedly committed to the revival of their language. Who could blame them when so many basic services are not available in Irish? Or when many parts of the state apparatus even appear hostile to Irish, despite almost a century of language policy supposedly to promote the language?  However, the Oireachtas also provides a meeting point for what we call "new speakers", regular and fluent speakers who were not raised with Irish in the Gaeltacht but have adopted the language. Despite the shortfalls in the policies of successive governments, such new speakers are themselves the product of the same education system that is much maligned for its perceived failure to revive Irish.  Some new speakers may have strong connections to a Gaeltacht area and have acquired a local dialect, with varying degrees of success. Others do not consider Gaeltacht varieties to be appropriate linguistic models for