Customs expert graduates with PhD aged 80

Former Waterford hurler Tom Walsh helped set up customs regimes in Europe and Africa

UCC: It’s not every day that a university finds itself awarding a PhD to a student who has written one of the standard texts on their course.

UCC: It’s not every day that a university finds itself awarding a PhD to a student who has written one of the standard texts on their course.

 

It’s not every day that a university finds itself awarding a PhD to a student who has written one of the standard texts on their course but that’s exactly the position that academics in University College Cork found themselves in this week when awarding a doctorate to 80 year old Tom Walsh.

Tom, or Doc Walsh as he’s been known ever since playing a doctor in a school play as a ten year old in his native Waterford, is a leading authority on international customs law and now he has just graduated with a PhD in the field after successfully completing his doctorate in just two years.

His supervisor at UCC, Professor Owen McIntyre acknowledged Walsh’s international expertise on customs law and practice, pointing out that his seminal publication “The Customs Code of the European Union” is widely regarded as one of the standard references on EU customs law.

“Tom’s immense life-long contribution to the field of customs law, and his continuing commitment to advancing and improving this specialist area of legal practice, should be an inspiration to legal scholars and practitioners everywhere” said Prof McIntyre.

Tom Walsh successful obtained his PhD - 35 years after getting his LLM
Tom Walsh successful obtained his PhD - 35 years after getting his LLM

Mr Walsh has just been awarded a PhD for his thesis, “The Identification, Elaboration and Legislative Implementation of the Principles of Customs Law: National, Regional and Global Experience” and Prof McIntyre hailed it as a significant addition to the literature on customs law.

“I was privileged to work with Tom, from whom I have learned a great deal, on this ground-breaking doctoral research project. It is fitting that UCC School of Law should have this opportunity to acknowledge and honour Tom’s outstanding role in the evolution of customs law globally,” Prof McIntyre said.

Gaining a PhD is but the latest string to Mr Walsh’s bow - growing up in Waterford city, he played hurling and football with Waterford in the early 1960s, coming up against such hurling legends as Christy Ring, John Doyle and Jimmy Doyle and football greats such as Mick O’Connell and Mick O’Dwyer.

Africa

But his GAA career took a back seat after he joined the Customs and Excise Service, especially when, in 1968, he was seconded to Zambia where he spent three years helping set up their customs and excise regime for the newly independent African state under president Kenneth Kaunda.

That experience helped him years later when he again headed to Africa and helped set up a customs regime for the African equivalent of the European Union - Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), an alliance of some 21 countries with a population of 500 million.

By then, Mr Walsh had not only completed a BCL and an LLM at UCC while holding down a full time job in Customs, he had also worked as a consultant for both PwC and KPMG as well as drawing up a customs “neighbourhood agreement” between the EU and Russia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine.

“In 1996, I wrote an 1,800 page volume, The European Customs Code and it sold in 18 countries and in 2015, I wrote a modern edition of it and when UCC opened a new course - PhD by prior publication, I began working on that and used it as the basis for my thesis,” said Mr Walsh.

“Nobody really understood customs law because there aren’t a lot of court cases and it’s not really taught in any Irish university so I went back to 1200 to establish the DNA of customs law and how it came into existence as a control system,” he explained.

“I looked then at economist Adam Smith who identified four principles of taxation in his Wealth of Nations in 1776 - fairness, certainty, convenience and efficiency. Smith, who was a collector of Customs and Excise, didn’t invent those principles, he simply identified and formulated them.

“But by formulating those principles, anyone looking at law should be able to see why it’s there and it’s much easier to interpret and understand and apply to new situations so that’s what I based my doctorate on - I always liked law so studying it was never a chore, it was a pleasure.”

Successfully defending his doctorate at a viva before his Internal Examiner, Dr Bénédicte Sage-Fuller of the UCC School of Law and before his External Examiner, Prof Dr Hans-Michael Wolffgang of the University of Münster in Germany, Mr Walsh successful obtained his PhD - 35 years after getting his LLM.

Hoping to celebrate with his son, former Munster rugby player, Brian and his daughter, Christine and their families when lockdown eases, widower Tom, who lost his wife, Betty nine years ago, said age should never be a deterrent to study as he encouraged others to consider further education.

“You don’t have to be a ‘book worm’ to start a course of study. My old teacher in Mount Sion, Br O Cathain used to say, when it came to asking the question that everyone in the class was afraid to ask, that it was ‘better to be a fool for one minute of your life, than a fool all your life’.”