NUIM defends Ahern appointment


NUI Maynooth has defended its decision to appoint former taoiseach Bertie Ahern as a visiting professor to the college, after more than 1,200 students and a number of academics signed a petition to protest at the appointment.

Mr Ahern was appointed an honorary adjunct professor by the School of Business and Law and is expected to give his inaugural lecture soon. No date has yet been set, however, and the students organising the petition said it appeared the matter was now "the best-kept secret on campus".

The petition organised by Free Education for Everyone, a lobby group set up to oppose education cuts, and Labour Youth, was presented to president of the college Prof John Hughes today. The organisers said it was separate to a a letter of protest sent to Prof Hughes last week by 36 members of academic staff.

The organisers claim the petition was signed by over 1,200 students and by a number of academics. They said about 200 people turned out today to witness the hand-over of the petition.

The college said in a statement it was "entirely appropriate" for it to acknowledge the former taoiseach’s mediation skills "and benefit from his unique experience in the context of the work he did, in particular on the Nice treaty and in bringing peace to Northern Ireland".

Representatives of Free Education for Everyone said, however, Mr Ahern’s appointment to the role was “completely inappropriate”.

Spokesman Garret Fitzpatrick said those who signed the petition were opposing Mr Ahern’s appointment on three grounds: that he had led the governments which had put in place policies responsible for the current crisis, that he was a sitting TD who had voted for education cuts, and that he still had “questions to answer” in relation to his personal finances.

Mr Fitzpatrick said there had been a good response to the petition, with students volunteering to circulate it amongst their classmates. A number of academics at the college had also signed it, he said.

The petition delivered to college president Prof John Hughes today was separate to the letter of protest sent to the president last week by 36 members of the academic staff, yet it shared many of its concerns, the group said.

“We would agree completely with the staff letter of complaint for example in its argument that ‘the political track record of Mr Ahern is one that, on balance, renders him unworthy of the prestigious position that he has been afforded’,” FEE said in a statement.

The group also objected to Prof Hughes’s statement as reported in The Irish Timeslast week that the arguments against Mr Ahern’s appointment were “irrelevant and prejudicial”.

It said such a statement was “an insult to members of the student body who have highlighted their concern in such numbers”.

“We feel history will view Ahern in the same light as other Fianna Fáil figures like Ray Burke and Charles Haughey, and such an 'honouring' can, in the long term, only have a negative effect on the reputation of this fine institution.

“These are not merely guest lectures, this is the awarding of a honorary position to a man with not alone a hugely questionable political track record, but a seat in the Dáil with a party which is pursuing a hugely damaging programme of cuts to make the most vulnerable in society pay for the crisis of a wealthy minority,” the statement said.

In a statement, the college said: "Among the courses offered by the School of Business and Law are the Diploma and the Masters programmes in Mediation and Conflict Intervention.

"The former taoiseach is one of a number of individuals including the chief of staff of the Defence Forces and chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission who have been invited to work with the department, for the benefit of students, in the development of a Centre for Mediation and Conflict Intervention because of their personal experience in this area.

"This appointment, which is unpaid, was approved by both the University’s professorial board, and academic council which contains over 60 senior academics of the university. It is entirely appropriate for NUI Maynooth to acknowledge the former Taoiseach’s mediation skills and [to] benefit from his unique experience in the context of the work he did, in particular on the Nice treaty and in bringing peace to Northern Ireland."

Free Education for Everyone (FEE) is a student campaign group established at UCD during the last academic year, but it now claims a presence in all seven Irish universities. Its original objective was “to build a mass movement to combat the potential re-introduction of third level fees”.

Last year, it staged a number of sit-in protests to highlight opposition to the proposed reintroduction of third level fees, including protests at the Department of Finance and the office of Green Party TD Paul Gogarty.