Archive for Politics

University News

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , , , on April 28, 2019 by telescoper

As we stagger towards Week 11 of this twice-interrupted Semester I’m back in the office preparing stuff for another set of lectures. This term seems to have gone on forever, largely because of the two breaks (one at half-term around St Patrick’s Day, and other other for Easter). Now, though, the end is in sight. Or at least the examination period is: there are just two more weeks of lectures, ending on 10th May then a short break, then examinations start (on 17th May). Then, of course, there is marking, checking, conflating exam grades with coursework marks, examination boards, and all the other stuff that go on behind the scenes.

I noticed that this weekend’s edition of the Irish Times included a hard copy of a report called Delivering for Ireland: The Impact of Irish Universities which was produced by the Irish Universities Association. In fact the thing given away with the paper is just a summary report (you can download it in PDF format here). The full report (all 86 pages of it) can be downloaded here.

The report is full of interesting information, including this (which I didn’t know before):

The report was produced with the aim of making the case for further investment in Ireland’s universities. It remains to be seen whether the current Irish government will be persuaded. I’m not holding my breath. right-wing governments never seem to be interested in investing in the future. I think the best we can hope for is that Ireland does not continue its policy of slavishly copying English Higher Education policy, especially with the introduction of student loans and high tuition fees.

And talking of the idiocies of the English University system, there is a story going around that the UK Government is planning to make EU students pay full `Overseas’ fees after Brexit. Actually, Higher Education policy is a devolved matter so this can only be directly enforced on English universities. It will, however, be hard for Scottish Welsh and Northern Irish institutions to resist the consequences.

In fact I’ve long felt that the existing system – in which Home and EU students have to be treated the same way as a matter of law but non-EU students can be charged different (i.e. higher) fees is completely immoral. Once at university students are all taught the same way so why should some be charged more than others because they happen to come from China? What would you think of a shop that tried to charge people different prices for the same goods depending on the nationality of the customer?

This decision is of course an inevitable consequence of Theresa May’s interpretation of the EU referendum result as a mandate for policies of extreme xenophobia, as is the withdrawal from Erasmus. It is just another symptom of the UK’s descent into narrow-minded insularity. The message this decision sends out is that Britain hates foreigners but it likes their money so the rich ones who can pay extortionate fees will be graciously allowed to come here to get fleeced. Does the government really think that EU citizens are daft enough to come to a country that identifies itself in such a way? I don’t think they are. They’ll just find somewhere else to go, and the consequence for UK universities will be severe. I am confident this will push more than one UK higher education institution into bankruptcy.

Anyway, even if the the Irish university continues to be under-resourced, it will at least continue to welcome students from the EU on the same basis as before. So if you’re a European student who was thinking about studying in England, why not come to Ireland instead? It’s far cheaper, and we even have the same weather…

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Brexit: What’s the Indicative Mood?

Posted in Pedantry, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 27, 2019 by telescoper

If you are confused about today’s `Indicative Votes’ in Parliament on Brexit let me provide some helpful information about the indicative mood, and how it relates to Brexit.

The English word “exit” is derived from the third person singular of the present tense in the indicative mood in the active voice of the Latin verb “exire” (“to go out”) i.e. it means “he/she/it leaves”, though the noun form it usually has in English derives from the supine form “exitus”. I feel it is important that we all get used to the grammar of Brexit, so here is a fairly complete list of the parts of the verb `Brexire’ in the active voice of the indicative mood, some or all of which may be relevant in the forthcoming debates, complete with accents to assist punctuation. At least these may prove useful in following any contributions from Jacob Rees-Mogg.

First let’s start with the basics:

Infinitive: Brexīre
Present participle: Brexiēns; Brexiéntis
Future participle: Brexītúrus
Gerund: Brexeúndum
Gerundive: Brexeúndus

And now here are representative examples of the conjugation of the verb Brexire in various tenses of the Indicative Mood in the order: first, second and third person singular followed by first, second and third person plural:

Present:

Brexeō,
Brexīs
Brexit
Brexīmus
Brexītis
Brexeunt

Past Imperfect

Brexībam
Brexībās
Brexībat
Brexībāmus
Brexībātis
Brexībant

Past Perfect

Brexiī
Brexīstī
Brexiit
Brexíimus
Brexīstis
Brexiḗrunt

Pluperfect

Brexíeram
Brexierās
Brexíerat
Brexierāmus
Brexierātis
Brexierant

Future Simple

Brexībō
Brexībis
Brexībit
Brexībimus
Brexībitis
Brexībunt

Future Perfect

Brexíerō
Brexíeris
Brexíerit
Brexiérimus
Brexieritis
Brexierint

The last tense here is not really relevant, but I’ve included it anyway.

No doubt when the Indicative votes are over, the House of Commons will proceed to the Subjunctive Mood – or even directly to the Imperative – but I shall leave these to a future post.

A Very British March

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , , on March 24, 2019 by telescoper

I’m back in Maynooth now after yesterday’s wonderful demonstration in London. Sources are claiming that about 1.4M people attended. I met filk from all round the country, many of whom had never been on a march before. It’s also worth saying according to the Metropolitan Police that there was not a single incident that they had to deal with.

I’m not very good in big crowds (to say the least) so I stood for a while a little distance from the main body of the demonstration as it assembled in Park Lane. I was astonished to see how many people were joining. It was certainly larger than the previous one, last year.

I eventually joined in when it started moving (very slowly). The people were very friendly and despite the numbers I didn’t get at all panicky. It struck me as being a quintessentially British demonstration, in that it was basically just some very nice polite people waiting politely in a very long queue..

The march was due to start at 12 noon but i didn’t get going until well after 2pm. I had to leave at 4pm, by which I had only got halfway along Piccadilly. Instead of going all the way to Parliament Square I headed back to my hotel, picked up the bag I had left there and took a packed tube to Heathrow. I made it just in time. The plane began boarding just as I ckeated the security checks.

I didn’t take many pictures of the march, but here are a few:

Hyde Park, the Statue of Achilles

Philosopher A. C. Grayling and I..

Beards against Brexit!

It was a wonderful experience to be in the company of so many extremely nice people and I was sad I couldn’t make it all the way to the end!

P. S. The petition on revoking Article 50 has reached almost reached 5 million signatures.

Put it to the People!

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on March 23, 2019 by telescoper

Well, that was a very enjoyable and informative couple of days in London celebrating the 60th Birthday of Alan Heavens, but my trip to London is not yet over. Before going to Heathrow Airport for the flight back to Dublin this evening, I am taking part in a demonstration in Central London demanding a referendum as a last chance to avert the calamity of Brexit, halt Britain’s descent into nationalistic xenophobia, and prevent the social and economic harm being done by the ongoing madness. I have a feeling that Theresa May’s toxic speech on Wednesday evening in which she blamed everyone but herself for the mess that she has created will have galvanized many more than me into action.

I’m not sure whether this march – even if it is huge – will make much difference or even that it will be properly reported in the media, but one has to do something. Despite the short delay to the Brexit date agreed by the EU, I still think the most likely outcome of this shambles is that the UK leaves without a proper withdrawal agreement and thus begins a new life as a pariah state run by incompetent deadheads who know nothing other than the empty slogans that they regurgitate instead of answering real questions.

The only sensible response to the present impasse is to `Put it to the People’, but there is no time to organize a new referendum – a proper one, informed by facts as we now know them and without the wholesale unlawful behavior of the Leave campaign in the last one. I dismiss entirely any argument that a new referendum would be undemocratic in any way. Only those terminally gripped by Brexit insanity would argue that voting can be anti-democratic, especially since there is strong evidence from opinion polls that having seen the mess the Government has created a clear majority wishes to remain. If there isn’t time for a new referendum before the deadline – and further extensions by the EU are unlikely – then the best plan is to revoke the Article 50 notification to stop the clock.

I know I’m not alone in thinking this. An official petition demanding the Government revoke Article 50 has passed 4,000,000 signatures in just a few days. I’ve signed it and encourage you to do likewise, which you can do here.

And if you’re tempted to agree with the Prime Minister’s claim that people are just tired of Brexit and just want it to be over, then please bear in mind that the Withdrawal Agreement – which has taken two years to get nowhere – is only the start of the process. The UK is set for years of further negotiations on the terms of its future relationship not only with the European Union but also all the other agreements that will be terminated by the UK’s self-imposed isolation.

If Brexit does go ahead, which I’m afraid I think will be the case, then my participation in today’s march will not have been a waste – it seems a fitting way to say goodbye to the land of my birth, a country to which I no longer belong.

Anyway, I may be able to add a few pictures of the march in due course but, until then, here is an excerpt from Private Eye that made me laugh.

A Suspension of Hostilities

Posted in History, Politics with tags , , , , on November 11, 2018 by telescoper

Among all the images produced during this weekend’s commemorations of the centenary of Armistice Day, this image of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron struck me as particularly moving.

Part of the reasons is that it reminded me of this photograph, of President Mitterand and Chancellor Kohl, taken in 1984:

Exactly one hundred years after the truce that effectively ended the First World War, these images remind us how much suffering took place before Europe reached a point at which war between France and Germany became unthinkable. That peace now looks increasingly fragile as the forces of nationalism, spurred on by populist demagogues, and funded by greedy disaster capitalists, threaten to tear apart the institutions that have brought Europe together in a spirit of mutual cooperation for so long. All that has been achieved could so easily be lost.

As Fintan O’Toole has written in a long article in this weekend’s Irish Times, the First World War is, in many ways, still being fought. The Second World War was certainly very much a continuation of the First, after a break of just over twenty years, to which the short-sightedness of Western governments in their treatment of Germany was a contributing factor. The end of the First World War saw not only the disintegration of the German Empire (and the abdication of the Kaiser), but also the collapse of Tsarist Russia, and the end of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires to boot. We are still living with the consequences of that upheaval.

All this reminds us – or should remind us – that the word `armistice’ means `a truce’ or `a suspension of hostilities’ rather than a lasting peace, and it is by no means impossible we could be sleepwalking to disaster once more. As President Macron put it in his speech today

Les démons anciens resurgissent : des idéologies nouvelles manipulent des religions, l’Histoire menace de reprendre son cours tragique. Faisons une fois de plus ce serment des Nations de placer la paix plus haut que tout, car nous en connaissons le prix.

Frankly, I fear very much for the future and take solace only in the fact that I am no longer young.

I have found the pomp and ceremony of this year’s official Armistice commemorations very difficult to endure. Perhaps there are some people, including some in high places, who have learned the lessons of history, but it is also clear that there are very many who have not.

Which brings me to the poppy. I have written quite a few pieces on this blog, around the time of Remembrance Sunday, about the wearing of a poppy, the last being in 2016. I have worn a poppy at this time of year for most of my adult life, but I decided last year to stop.

For one thing, there is no pressure to wear a poppy here in Ireland. Indeed, many Irish people see the poppy mainly as a symbol of British militarism and colonial oppression. Even at Friday’s concert to mark the Armistice I saw only a few audience members wearing a poppy, and most of them were the shamrock version commemorating the sacrifice of Irish soldiers during the Great War.

But I don’t think I’ve ever really been that susceptible to peer pressure, so that’s not the main reason for my not wearing a poppy. The main reason is that over the past couple of years the poppy has been appropriated by the likes of racist thug, career criminal and founder-member of the EDL, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (also known as Tommy Robinson):

I simply cannot bring myself to wear the same badge as this creature, nor can I stand the hypocrisy of those politicians who make a show of wearing it while happily encouraging the rise of nationalism. Enough is enough. The message of the poppy is supposed to be `Lest We Forget’. I’m afraid far too many have already forgotten.

Presidential Election Time

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on September 29, 2018 by telescoper

This week the deadline passed for nominations of candidates for the post of President of Ireland (Uachtarán na hÉireann). The rather peculiar nomination process has left voters with a choice of six, including the incumbent Michael D Higgins. As a relative newcomer to Ireland, even I know that the post of President doesn’t have any real power associated with it and is largely ceremonial. Surprisingly, some of the people who put themselves forward didn’t seem to understand that but, fortunately, some of the more obvious fruitcakes who put themselves forward failed to get nominated. On the other hand, three of the candidates are businessmen best known for having appeared on the Irish version of the TV show Dragon’s Den. There’s ample evidence that the products of reality TV shows do not make good presidents.

The election takes place precisely four weeks from now, on Friday 26th October 2018, and the term of the presidency is 7 years – the last such election took place in 2011.

Naturally, given the vital importance of the office of the Presidency and the need to treat the forthcoming election with the appropriate gravitas, my first thought was to look at the betting odds on Paddy Power. Here is the full SP:

  1. Michael D. Higgins (Incumbent) 1/5
  2. Sean Gallagher  5/1
  3. Gavin Duffy 14/1
  4. Joan Freeman 25/1
  5. Liadh Ni Riada  33/1
  6. Peter Casey 66/1

Obviously Michael D Higgins is a strong favourite. I think he’s carried out his duties in a very dignified and diligent way for seven years, so he will probably get my vote. Candidates 2, 3 and 6 are the Dragon’s Den people. Joan Freeman is a  journalist by trade (and an Independent member of the Seanad Éireann) and Liadh Ni Riada is the official candidate of Sinn Féin. Neither of the two biggest parties in the Dáil Éireann, Fine Gael and Fianna Fianna Fáil, nominated a candidate, preferring to back the incumbent.

It seems likely that Michael D. Higgins will win and serve another seven years, but it’s hard to be confident about anything in politics these days so we’ll just have to wait and see..

 

 

The Days of the Double Bind

Posted in Biographical, Literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on December 5, 2017 by telescoper

The last few days I’ve been trying to deal with the sort of apparently insoluble problem usually called a double bind, similar to the logical paradox which provided the central plot device of Joseph Heller’s classic novel Catch-22. I’ve seen this particular double bind happen to so many colleagues from abroad wanting to work in the United Kingdom that in a sense it’s quite reassuring that the same thing happens in much the same way in other countries too, specifically Ireland.

The problem facing me is that I need to find somewhere to rent temporarily in Maynooth until I can find longer-term accommodation (i.e. by buying a house). As convenient as St Patrick’s College is as a short-term residence, it’s not somewhere I would want to live for weeks and months. The trouble is that in order to secure private rented accommodation you need to prove that you are able to pay the rent, which generally means having a bank account. On the other hand, in order to open a bank account you need to have proof of an address. No address, no bank account and no bank account, no address.

This is not exactly the same as Heller’s Catch-22 (which is basically that an airman can’t be discharged from military service on grounds of being insane because his wanting to be discharged from military service means that he can’t actually be insane), but it belongs to the same broad class of logical quandaries where there appears to be no solution.

Although it’s quite intimidating to be put in a seemingly impossible position, Robert M. Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance offers a way out: you just need to `unask the question’, and proceed in a way that denies the (binary) premises on which the conundrum is based. Engaging in a bit of lateral thinking, calling on the assistance of influential bodies, and employing a bit of gentle persuasion you often find that what look initially like hard rules turn out to have a surprising degree of flexibility.  Anyway, to cut a long story short, and with fingers crossed, I should have my bank account and place of residence both sorted out before I return to Cardiff on Thursday.

For me of course this isn’t anything like a life-or-death situation. I have been around long enough not to let bureaucracy get to me. Things like this seem very serious at the time, but there’s always a way to resolve the, usually because there are still some reasonable people in the world. And I am lucky. I can cope with the uncertainty and frustration of being in a double bind as I have resources to fall back on if there are problems. It would no doubt have been more difficult had I just arrived in the country as a recent graduate with no savings. I’ve seen many others at all kinds of stages in their career go through a similar impasse and, though it’s troublesome, such things invariably sort themselves out in time. Still, it’s nice to get such things settled sooner rather than later.

Thinking about this as I listened to the radio this morning, I was struck by another, much larger, more important, and slightly more complex, paradox. That is the inability of the UK government to find a solution to the Irish border problem in the Brexit negotiations. In essence, the nature of this pickle is that the EU insists (as it always said it would) that there should be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That is possible if the UK leaves the EU but seems to require that Northern Ireland  remains in  the Single Market and Customs Union in some form. However, the PM has insisted that the United Kingdom must leave the Single Market and Customs Union. Moreover, the Democratic Unionist Party, which is propping up the Conservative government, insists (as it always said it would) that Northern Ireland should not be treated differently from the rest of the UK. If cast in these terms, there seems to be no solution to the problem.

Incidentally, and I now digress, here is a map showing the Four Provinces of Ireland, together with the current border:

These are historical divisions and nowadays have no political or administrative role, but I think the map is interesting because it shows, if you didn’t know it before, that: (a) the current Irish border does not coincide with the boundary of Ulster; and (b) the most northerly point of the island of Ireland (Malin Head  on the Inishowen Peninsula, in County Donegal)  is in the Irish Republic, not in Northern Ireland. Maynooth, incidentally, is in Leinster.

Anyway, I think the current stalemate over the Irish Border is the inevitable outcome of one of Theresa May’s `red lines’ which seem to me to make a negotiated settlement impossible a priori. The only option for the Prime Minister seems to me to be to frame the problem another way. One way of making progress would be to abandon the red line on SM and CU membership. I don’t think that will happen as it would look too much like an admission of failure. Another way to do it would be to use gentle persuasion to get the DUP to shift its position. That is more likely, but will prove costly in both political and financial terms.  The best way to unask this particular question is, of course, to abandon the Brexit project altogether. I’m not going to quote odds, but the possibility of the United Kingdom remaining in the European Union is increasing by the day. That won’t affect me directly very much, as I’ll be remaining in the EU come what may.