Anti-austerity campaigners to picket Barroso conferring

Critics say UCC is endorsing austerity but others say honorary award will help university access vital EU funds

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

Wed, Mar 5, 2014, 14:35

Anti austerity campaigners plan to picket University College Cork this afternoon in protest over the university’s decision to award an honorary doctorate to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

Members of the Anti-AusterityAlliance plan to protest at the university with a member of Cork City Council, Cllr Mick Barry of the Socialist Party denouncing the decision by UCC to honour Mr Barroso as an insult to those who have suffered from austerity measures.

“UCC should not be awarding an honorary to Mr Barroso who is one of the key architects of austerity policies which have devastated the lives of millions across Europe and by awarding him this honorary doctorate, UCC will be seen to be endorsing these policies,” he said.

Security is to tightened up at UCC this afternoon with much of the campus to be closed off from early afternoon and access to the ceremony which takes place at 6pm at the Aula Maxima being limited to invited guests.

UCC’s decision to honour Mr Barroso, a former prime minister of Portugal, has also been criticised by Ireland South Labour MEP Phil Prendergast who described it as “misguided” and says it does a disservice to UCC and previous recipients of such awards.

Ms Prendergast said that Mr Barroso, a member of the centre-right, Social Democratic Party in Portugal, rose to the leadership of the European Commission thanks to a conservative majority of Member States and in the European Parliament.

“In staying true to the conservative priorities of his political family, he did great harm to the European project and to the welfare of its citizens throughout the crisis ... he has become the champion of their austerity agenda,” she said.

Sinn Fein Euro South candidate, Liadh Ni Riada was similarly critical of UCC’s decision to honour Mr Barroso who first entered politics as a member of an underground Maoist party during the corporatist authoritarian regime that ruled in Portugal in the 1960s.

“I think it is a poor decision and it sends out the wrong message ... The people of this country, not least third level students, have suffered a great deal because of the policy of austerity being pushed from the EU under Mr Barroso’s commission.”

“And Mr Barroso is no friend to the people this state. He refuses to engage with any idea of the Irish people getting a fair deal from Europe regarding the €65 billion we have pumped into the banks in order to help prevent contagion and salvage the Eurozone project.”

However Fine Gael Euro South candidate, Senator Deirdre Clune defended UCC’s decision and expressed dismay at the comments by Ms Prendergast and others which focus on the past and ignore the opportunities offered by Mr Barosso’s visit.

“Phil Prendergast is completely missing the point in her regressive criticism of the decision by UCC to give Jose Manuel Barroso an honorary doctorate ... she should embrace the opportunity to position UCC as a forward thinking university that is worth investing in.

Ms Clune says that UCC needs to be top of the list when it comes to the distribution of over €70 billion under Horizon 2020, the EU ‘s new programme for Research and Innovation and this would Cork and the wider region as well help produce high quality graduates.

“I congratulate UCC on its decision to recognise the vital role the EU has played in supporting our third level institutions and, in particular, the investment in research and development,” she said, adding both UCC and the local economy had benefited hugely.

“Moving as we are into a post crisis position, we need to move forward. We cannot spend our time looking backwards. Key players in Europe are important to our continued recovery and Mr Barroso’s visit to Cork should be welcomed and harnessed to benefit our recovery.

UCC president Dr Michael Murphy in announcing the decision to honour Mr Barroso said the university was acknowledging the vision and commitment that Mr Barroso has demonstrated at the helm of the European Commission since 2004.

“In honouring him, we also recognise the role that the European Union has played in the transformation of Irish universities, including University College Cork, over the past 20 years,” said Dr Murphy.

Meanwhile it’s emerged that Mr Barroso will tell the invited audience at UCC that the EU has opened markets for Irish business, created jobs for Irish citizens and given the country financial assistance.

Over the past seven years alone, Ireland has received nearly €14 billion in European Union budget support, for agriculture but also for social and infrastructure investment as well as research, he will say.