An honorary doctorate for Brian Cowen


Sir, – Missing from your opinion debate (Letters, July 28th and 29th) is the question of how and why NUI awards honorary doctorates in the first place.

Chancellors of NUI have been political persons serving lengthy terms: the incumbent Maurice Manning, his predecessor Garret FitzGerald, his predecessor the very public retired civil servant TK Whittaker, Éamon de Valera who ruled from 1921 to 1975 and before him the only generally acceptable politician we had at the time, William Walsh, Archbishop of Dublin.

There was studied restraint in the awarding of honorary doctorates in the first 70 years or so of NUI. Less so in the past 40 when too many, including students and staff who have done well but without a doctorate degree, have been awarded it honoris causa. It has become devalued, though NUI is by no means alone in this modern university government and commercial please-help-me-fund-me atmosphere.

Most bizarre, is the awarding of an honorary doctorate to someone who already had a real one, Edward Walsh of University of Limerick who is now in dudgeon with Brian Cowen’s award and wants to give his back: he did not need to accept his NUI honorary doctorate in the first place.

It is scarcely an accident that the decision of the NUI to award Brian Cowen an honorary doctorate (of Laws) more than six years after his departure occurred on the same day as its decision in favour of Enda Kenny a mere month after his departure.

Enda Kenny would do the NUI, the Republic and his historical reputation a favour if he declined. He leaves with enough honours, a parliamentarian many times elected by the people, a taoiseach twice elected by his peers. He does not need pseud-academic honours. Nor did Brian Cowen, though as one of our finest Foreign Ministers he was worth it for that alone. – Yours, etc,


(PhD NUI),

Dalkey, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I spent a large part of my adult life trying to oust Fianna Fáil democratically but was repeatedly rejected by the electorate. The people are sovereign and have the right to be wrong. Voodoo economics are not new in Ireland – Éamon de Valera and the economic war in the 1930s, Lynch in 1977, Haughey in 1981. Ahern’s government was urged by the opposition to spend more and not less – with Richard Bruton an honourable exception. NUI did right by Brian Cowen as a former taoiseach.

NUI gave me the greatest honour of my life last year – an earned DMed, but only honorary degrees are listed on the NUI website. I won’t be handing back my prized possession. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 11.

Sir, – Full marks to Brian Cowen for an unbelievable thick neck in lambasting the EU for the manner in which they came to our assistance after he and Bertie Ahern had mismanaged the Irish economy into a state of absolute disaster. They should both withdraw from public life (don’t hold your breath) and join a monastery, if any would have them.

Full marks to Ed Walsh for taking a dignified, principled stance and renouncing his honorary doctorate (July 29th). Such an honour is now of no value. Will any other recipients of honorary doctorates from the NUI do likewise? – Yours, etc,


Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.

Sir, – I wish to congratulate and laud the NUI for conferring an honorary doctorate on Brian Cowen.

  I have watched many of those architects of our economic downfall being lauded, praised, elevated and rewarded by those of their peers; expecting some retribution I have watched as some of those architects have benefited from either no prosecution or botched prosecutions.

Over the years I have seen many young people from my area emigrate for work; I have also seen young careers as apprentice electricians, carpenters and plumbers were suddenly let go in 2008 with no chance of resuming their apprenticeships during the past eight years.

By its action the NUI has given confirmation that far from seeing any justice for the incompetence and recklessness at the very top of Irish life, all I or any taxpayer will get from those at the top like the NUI is a kick in the teeth. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 7.

Sir, – Miriam Lord has built her reputation on ridiculing politicians both for their politics, policies, public and private utterances. But her reference to Brian Cowen as Dr Biffo is a new low in political journalism. (“Dr Biffo gets it off his chest as he collects his doctorate,” July 27th).

We all know that the term “Biffo” applied to Mr Cowen is not exactly a term of endearment! It is intended as a term of ridicule and could even be interpreted as abusive. There is a place for humour in reporting events but derogatory comment dressed up in the guise of humour is just not acceptable as fair comment. Is it any wonder that members of the public are disillusioned with politics and politicians?

I hope Irish Times readers can look forward to better in the future. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 24.

Sir, – Your cartoonist Martyn Turner may, as he claims, live in the middle of a field in Co Kildare but his pinpoint depiction on July 28th of the hubris of the Cowen doctorate encapsulates the reaction of the saner part of the nation to the latest blatant attempt at revisionism and indulgence in moral blindness. If there is anyone due a deserved honorarium it is surely Mr T. – Yours, etc,


Naas, Co Kildare.

Sir, – Why not award honorary degrees to the chairmen of all the banks at the time and make it a full house? – Yours, etc,


Dunshaughlin, Co Meath.


Yours, etc,


Stepaside, Dublin 18.

Sir, – Thank God that we do not have an honours list. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 13.