The return of Prof Dolores Cahill to Dublin in 2003 was regarded as a coup for the Irish scientific community.
At the time it was reported the academic was being "tempted back" from her senior position in the prestigious Max Planck Institute in Germany while the chief of Science Foundation Ireland referred to her as a "superstar" of Irish scientific research.
There was good reason for such praise. Even then, Cahill (54) was regarded as one of the world’s leading scientists in the area of proteomics (the large-scale study of proteins). Her work has been cited almost 6,000 times in academic studies and she has been involved in a bewildering array of scientific boards, councils and taskforces.
Eighteen years later, the immunology professor has become one of the leading purveyors of Covid-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories, not just in Ireland but around the world.
The impressive resume of the UCD professor, along with her many appearances on conspiracy theory podcasts and YouTube channels, means her views are now frequently cited as proof that Covid-19 is simply an overblown version of the flu and that preventative measures such as face masks and vaccines are just not ineffective but dangerous. But for most of her academic career, there was little indication the professor had any interest in politics or public advocacy.
Prior to 2019, Cahill’s colleagues regarded her as a research-focused academic who kept a relatively low profile in UCD’s school of medicine.
Irish Freedom Party
In fact, her decision to run as an Independent candidate in the 2019 European elections (receiving less than 2 per cent of the vote in the South constituency) was the first time she appeared on the radar of many of her fellow academics, according to UCD colleagues who spoke to The Irish Times.
Cahill did not respond to requests for interview but in her many video postings to social media she says she first decided to get involved in public life because she saw Ireland as a “country in decline” and because society was “not so well served” if scientists were not involved in public discussion.
She decided to join the hard-right Irish Freedom Party (IFP) because it was the first party that said it wanted to leave the European Union entirely, Cahill said. Her views on immigration and criticism of issues such as "cultural Marxism" and gender quotas in academia also tallied with the party's general outlook.
Cahill’s entry into politics seems to have occurred sometime after her prolific research output came to an end. According to UCD’s website, Cahill’s last published research was in 2015 (the site does not mention a study she co-authored in 2017 in the journal Rheumatology which has since been retracted “due to the discovery of significant errors”).
She ran as an IFP candidate for Tipperary in the February 2020 general election, garnering 521 first preferences. It was only after the election, and with the arrival of the pandemic in Ireland, that the professor launched herself into the public arena in earnest.
Cahill began an interview circuit of conspiratorial but increasingly popular media outlets in Europe and America.
In her initial appearances regarding Covid-19, Cahill promoted false theories about vitamins preventing the virus and how social distancing doesn't work. She also travelled widely, addressing anti-lockdown events in Denmark, Germany, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Switzerland. In September, she addressed a massive anti-lockdown demonstration on London's Trafalgar Square which saw 32 people being arrested.
Cahill has co-founded several organisations with an international reach. These include the World Freedom Alliance, the Custodeans (sic) and the Happen Network, a production company which created a viral and widely debunked, documentary on Covid-19.
These initiatives share two common themes: they promote Covid-19 misinformation and they ask people to sign up for paid memberships.
Cahill is also a member of the World Doctors Alliance, which was founded last year by Dr Mohammad Adil, a UK surgeon who has since been suspended from practice after claiming Covid-19 is a hoax.
Perhaps Cahill's most prominent endeavour is the Freedom Airway and Freedom Travel Alliance (Fafta), a travel company which claims to be able to allow holidaymakers evade coronavirus restrictions. How it will do this is not clear, but Cahill has previously said she plans to have a hotline manned by lawyers who will help travellers to evade restrictions and she hopes Fafta will eventually own its own aircraft and terminals. Potential customers can sign up for a $100 (€85) annual membership which will buy them an invitation to a Zoom call with the management team.
As well as her international ventures, Cahill has been involved in organising several of the most prominent anti-lockdown protests which have taken place in Ireland over the last year. This includes the event in Ballsbridge on St Patrick's Day, billed as a "day for mental health".
‘Easier to manipulate’
From a bandstand in Herbert Park, Cahill told the several hundred attendees that their children will have lower IQs due to oxygen deprivations from wearing face masks and that "globalists" want people to wear masks "because oxygen-starved people are easier to manipulate".
Her endeavours, and in particular her St Patrick’s Day comments, have created a significant headache for Cahill’s employer. To date, UCD has deflected calls to censor Cahill by pointing to the principle of academic freedom, while also distancing itself from her views on the pandemic.
The university's president Andrew Deeks addressed the issue in his weekly bulletin to staff on Tuesday by stressing that the principle of academic freedom prevented the university "treating academics less favourably because of their opinions".
There was an “obligation” on other academics to challenge colleagues’ statements, so that society understands “where the balance of academic opinion lies”, he said, without naming Cahill.
One colleague in the school of medicine said there was “widespread frustration” over her comments and that public statements from senior professors challenging her misinformation had been “sorely lacking”.
Internally, Cahill has also been moved from her role in co-ordinating the first-year medicine class, “Science, Medicine and Society”, and currently holds no teaching position.
Although still employed by UCD, Cahill's comments have resulted in some professional setbacks. Last May, she was forced off the scientific committee of the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a partnership to promote new drugs between industry and the European Commission, as her views on Covid-19 were "not compatible with the scientific foundations" of the organisation.
On Monday, Cahill announced her resignation as chairperson of the Irish Freedom Party. The exact reason for her departure is unclear but members of the IFP, which has no seats at national or local level, have said they were unhappy with her comments on St Patrick’s Day.
Cahill said in a video this week she has had “differences of opinions on policy” with the party for some time and that she wants to create a “more inclusive” new path.
Among the events she has planned for the near future is a seminar for "Irish business families" in April which will be catered by "an Irish Michelin Star chef".
Her activities in recent years mean if she does want to start a new political party, Cahill likely has the base to at least get it off the ground. She also probably has the capital.
In 2019, she bought White's Castle, a 3,500ft, 15th-century property in Athy, Co Kildare. A year later she availed of a €14,883 "community monuments fund" from the Government for the Castle's upkeep.
Through her research, Cahill also holds multiple patents and has founded several medical companies including Protagen AG. Cahill was a shareholder in the German company until 2019 when it was sold to a rival for more than €4.5 million.