Irish higher education and the Soldiers of Destiny

In the light and aftermath of the Mahon Tribunal of Inquiry Report (the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments), it will probably be some time if ever before Fianna Fail, the party that for so long dominated Irish politics, will be able to play a leading role in Ireland again. Tainted by the strong whiff of corruption as a result of the Tribunal report, it was already  being blamed for economic mismanagement over its final period in office.

For all that, it seems to me to be worth pointing out that its role in developing higher education over the past two decades has been significant. It initiated the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI – admittedly at the instigation of and with the support of funds from Irish-American philanthropist Chuck Feeney), it established Science Foundation Ireland (which became a game changer for high value foreign direct investment and for internationally competitive science research), it modernised the university system through granting university status to Dublin City University and the University of Limerick, and it brought about a significant expansion of student numbers, thereby broadening access to higher education.

Right now Fianna Fail’s destiny may well be oblivion, and I cannot easily see them taking power again in my lifetime. But when its history is written, the story will not be all bad. Not all bad.

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29 Comments on “Irish higher education and the Soldiers of Destiny”

  1. Don Says:

    Oh yeah, sure. Like when history was written about some of the most recent catastrophic events due to human greed/error/whatever, the readers will be diverted from such catastrophes to something like: ‘Well, Hitler wasn’t all that bad – he faithfully remembered his mother’s birthday’s’, or, ‘he paid his taxes’. Look, keep the focus: the Fianna Fail Government has been found out by the Mahon Tribunal: its greed culture, its stroke pulling, its denunciation of the Mahon Tribunal itself; Bertie’s and Charlie’s pure selfishness has a cast a shadow over Irish public life, left the Irish nation/people in hock, and sentenced the next generation to pure misery. I don’t give a fig for their ‘granting university status to DCU and UL’; who knows, perhaps they were achieved through some form of political chicanery and back-handers to loyal local TDs – I don’t FF at all. The fact that something god has come from such handouts to DCU and UL is pure luck, not design. Don’t forget, the Fianna Fail mantra is: ‘Party First, Country Second’…


    • I don’t think this is a sensible analysis. First, the Hitler argument stuff: use the Nazis as an analogy, and you lose the argument by definition. Secondly, what is described in the Mahon report was the national culture, of which FF was simply, in these contexts, a manifestation. And amidst the petty and less petty corruption, there were also some imaginative decisions and good policies. Ireland, notwithstanding everything, is a better place now than it was in the 1950s.

      That doesn’t mean I am defending FF more generally. The culture of corruption and misuse of power, which mind you was not unique to FF, was inexcusable. It is my view that the party should be wound up.

      • Don Says:

        I wasn’t referring to the Nazis – In fact, I was taking one of the most evil, reprehensible and genocidal characters in world history to illustrate that, on some fronts, even such men can show a degree of humanity some of the time (assuming he did remember his mother’s birthdays – heck, even Hitler had a mother…) And becasue he does, we should let his other evil actions kinda balance it all out? I don’t think so! I used such an extreme example of this man as an analogy to that of an organisation, the FF government you refer to. You’re almost trying to say that FF’s financial genocide of the Irish Economy isn’t all that bad – sure, didn’t they introduce free travel for the elderly, and give DCU a dig-out…

        In relation to your comment that ‘…notwithstanding everything, [Ireland] is a better place now than it was in the 1950s’, people I know who lived as adults through the ’50s would beg to differ – these are opinions, of course. But, you’re saying ‘in spite of everything’ …EVERYTHING…we’re better off? How can that be? The ’50s were bad, I’m sure, but we had our sovereignty at least (not now), we had our pride (not now) and we had a vision and a self-determination to work our way out of those dark days (I don’t see it now, perhaps later), but the Troika will temper that vision to suit the aims of the major powers in the EC. Better off now? materially perhaps, for many (not all), but at the cost of our soul, which FF sold for a shilling (sorry, Euro).

  2. Vince Says:

    You know the very real racial split which places the Gaelic Irish solidly in the FF camp. Their existence will not vanish simply because FF does. And these people will never join with FG. Or Labour, they are too far left for that lot.
    But you are correct, FF might vanish. And good riddance to most of them, they thought the survival of the officer corp was the reason for FF’s existence. This you could see when Ahern threw that woman -Gráinne Carruth- to the tribunal attack dogs.

  3. Rob Cosgrave Says:

    You overlook the opportunity cost issues. Years of plenty were mismanaged, and years of lean will damage much of what was built. Handing out the title of ‘University’ is a meaningless, some of the world finest institutions are ‘Institutes of Technology’. The labours of FF have left out Tertiary sector poorly prepared for the rapid evolution of Higher Education over the next twenty years. You may wax lyrical for the delights of being the Taoiseach’s University, but there is little real evidence HE’s advances under FF as being anything more than mediocre compared to plausible alternative scenarios.


    • Rob, I should perhaps say I am not entering a general plea of mitigation for Fianna Fail. In fact, my view is that they should wind up the party. But FF were not some island of malfeasance in an otherwise blameless country; they were not a stain on its culture, they were representative of it. Fintan O’Toole in today’s Irish Times gets that about right.

      In terms of HE, I believe you are quite wrong. There are things that could have been done differently or better (but would not have been by other parties either), but overall recent FF administrations left the HE sector in a much stronger position. Of course third level, like everything else, is suffering from the economic collapse, but that’s another story.

  4. Ernie Ball Says:

    And Hitler gave us the Volkswagen.


    • There’s a well established convention that anyone who uses Hitler or the Nazis as an analogy in a debate loses the argument. Surely you can be more imaginative than this, Ernie.

      • Ernie Ball Says:

        I have my own well-established convention that anyone who invokes Godwin’s Law in order to cheaply and lazily discount an analogy to the nazis that they don’t like loses the argument.

        Imaginative enough for you?

        • Vince Says:

          Ernie, of all of them FF are the least fascist. At least they tried at points in their history to stand up to Maynooth where the others most certainly did not.
          And the Constitution of 1937 has still not been activated properly. It was envisioned that the Citizen would have his Sovereignty upheld by by the Supreme Court, by an active Supreme Court. Not what we’ve got now, one that is passive in the English common law tradition. This was why the provision to protect the income of the judges. Since why on earth would you need to protect the judges in what they’ve been up to for the last 75 years. Those were distinct FF provisions driven through in the teeth of objectors that wanted a carbon copy of the then Polish Constitution.
          Of course circumstances changed. But now if FF can think big they just might recover.

          • Dan Says:

            Ernie, I usually find your comments interesting and usefully fiercely defensive of the classic role of both universities and academics. However, you’ve lost me this time. Can you please explain to me why FF, for which people that I respect worked all their lives, was like the Nazis and their leaders similar to Adolf Hitler?

  5. Eddie Says:

    I am not aware of this convention that using Hitler or Nazis as an analogy loses an argument. The analogy about Nazi scoundrels using the argument that “they followed the orders”, is a very valid analogy. used these days when some one is accused of wrong-doing or even activities bordering criminality, and that person evoking the above argument. BTW, Hitler and Nazis is the top topic for selection by pupils in the GCSE History exams here in Britain.

  6. Anna Notaro Says:

    On the misuse of the Nazi analogy:

    Godwin’s law (also known as Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies is a humorous observation made by Mike Godwin in 1990 that has become an Internet adage. It states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, Godwin observed that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably criticizes some point made in the discussion by comparing it to beliefs held by Hitler and the Nazis. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law)

    Similarly see also the ‘Reductio ad Hitlerum’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_Hitlerum

    However my favorite humorous take on the misuse of the nazi analogy is by Jon Stewart http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n75RzstjUhs&feature=related

  7. Eddie Says:

    @Ernie Ball. Agree 100%!

    BTW, a good article in Der Speigel recently:

    “The Role Ex-Nazis Played in Early West Germany”
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,810207,00.html.

  8. Ernie Ball Says:

    No analogy to the Nazis or Hitler is ever as lazy as the ritual invocation of Godwin’s Law in order to silence others. Indeed, treating it like it’s some sort of serious “moral law” (“Never make analogies to nazis!”) is idiotic on two counts: 1) It was originally a joke; 2) even as a joke, it only described what was likely to happen; it didn’t prescribe anything at all.

    In short, it’s silly to invoke this “law” as if it were really a law.

    As for the comparison to the nazis itself: look, Fianna Fail were not nazis, they were gangsters, and Bertie wasn’t Hitler, he was Tony Soprano. So much the worse for those who “worked all their lives” for them. But the exercise of looking for mitigating “good works” done by an administration that was unremittingly awful in (almost!) every way and that has destroyed a country led me to search for similarly abominable rationalisations. So I trotted out the most abominable one I could find.

    • Anna Notaro Says:

      Since you have no sense of humor to appreciate the ‘seriousness’ behind the Godwin’s law, which indeed is not to be considered as a *law*, here is why the nazi analogy is inappropriate: I happen to believe that it is utterly *reprehensible* to make casual comparisons to a period in history when six million Jews were executed in concentration camps, unspeakable acts of brutality and cruelty were committed against many more and a savage dictator attempted to form an Aryan empire. Is that good enough for you?


    • Anna has answered this point precisely. Whether the analogy is lazy is totally beside the point: it is wholly inappropriate, whatever it is you are talking about, and trivialises some of the most horrific crimes in human history.

      It is simply appalling to suggest that there might be some analogy between an analysis of Fianna Fail’s pursuit of science-intensive R&D, set against the leading politicians’ corruption, and Hitler’s championing of the Volkswagen seen against the backdrop of the Holocaust. As it happens that *is* a lazy argument, but much more importantly, it is obscene.

      • Ernie Ball Says:

        As a Jew, I’m afraid I don’t share any of your squeamishness about analogies that aren’t either endorsing (obviously) or even trivialising the butchery of my ancestors. I know no Jews who share your prissiness. Consider this joke from Woody Allen:

        And I bummed around for a long time, and I met my wife, and we got married against my parents’ wishes, we were married in Long Island, in New York, we were married by a reformed rabbi in Long Island, a very reformed rabbi, a nazi.

        Cue the humourless Anna Notaro: You’re trivialising the memory of 6 million Jews!

        Being lectured about this by someone whose ancestors’ experience of the conflict was, er, somewhat different than mine is, I can assure you, exceedingly droll.


        • Sorry Ernie, nobody ‘owns’ this piece of history. We are all obliged to understand its horrific implications, whatever our backgrounds. Your family origins don’t trump this principle.

          Also, there is a *huge* difference between including Nazi references in humour, for which, when done properly, there is a substantial pedigree, and trivialising genocide through inappropriate analogies.

          • Ernie Ball Says:

            So, let me see if I have this straight: analogies to nazis are OK and are even funny in jokes because there’s a “substantial pedigree,” meaning nothing but that the prigs like Ferdinand and Anna didn’t carry the day when the first such jokes were made. But analogies to nazis are not OK in arguments (there they are “obscene” and “reprehensible”). Huge difference! The former don’t trivialise the suffering of 6 million Jews but the latter do. Do I have that right?

            How about in jokey arguments: are they OK or obscene?

            By the way, far from trivialising the memory of the Holocaust, the analogy with the nazis only works if one views that event as of the utmost gravity. It depends on that view in order to work as an analogy at all. Someone who didn’t think the Holocaust was awful wouldn’t find the analogy persuasive or even understand it. It is precisely because the Holocaust was abominable that analogies with nazis (sometimes) carry the day. What trivialises the Holocaust, to my mind, is the insistence that we should do away with such analogies, an insistence that amounts to forbidding that one even allude to how very horrible the Holocaust was (except in jokes!), effectively brushing it under the rug. I don’t share that priggishness.

            But one wonders whose sensitivities you are all trying to protect. My point in bringing up my own background is not to claim I “own” history. Indeed, I have a dream that one day on the Green hills of Ireland the sons of those massacred and the sons of those doing the massacring will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. (Don’t tell me: now I’m being insensitive to the memory of black slavery!) My point was that if I, as a Jew–i.e., as a member of the very group whose sensitivities you are (or would be if you really gave a shit about any of this, which I seriously doubt) trying to protect–don’t find analogies with nazis to be offensive, with what right do you? Whose sensitivities are you trying to protect? Those of Jews or those of Nazis? “Oh, no, don’t talk about that! It’s so distasteful!” Distasteful to whom?

            I already know your answer: “to humanity.” Maybe you want to think that one through before you give it.

  9. Anna Notaro Says:

    It’s all about You Ernie, You have a dream, You know that the others, to quote your elegant phrase, ‘don’t give a shit about any of this’, (You are the only one who does, of course), You already know the answers the others might give to your own questions.
    (The World according to Ernie)

    Being called a *prig* really made me laugh, thanks! :)

    • Don Says:

      Ernie, if I may: Anna, Ernie has a right to espouse the world as he sees it, so do you. We can all reasonably see the world through our own life existence, whether by experience, learning, whatever. Whenever we post a comment here, Anna, it is, in effect, the (world)view according to me/you/Ernie – so what’s wrong with that? We all have a World (view). It was me who introduced Hitler into the argument very early on, as I attempted to clarify on the 26th inst. It was the originator of this blog who introduced to nazism in response to my post – why? That’s the real question. Ferdinand?


      • Don, I’m not sure I understand your question. Are you saying Hitler had nothing to do with Nazism?

        • Don Says:

          Of course not. However, in the context of this discussion, I referred to the person of Adolf Hitler to focus the mind on the argument that because he may have demonstrated some acceptably human qualities (flowers to his mother, etc) and civic contribution (paying taxes, etc), that these, somehow, could be used as mitigating factors to be set against his policy of genocide (inter alia). This was all in an attempt to expose your argument that FF weren’t all that bad, as complete tosh. Just ‘cos they did some good things, history will say they weren’t all that bad.

          The thing is, you jumped in with Nazism which, and I accept that blogs of this type can go where they go, diverted us (mostly) from the substantive issue of FF’s disastrous management of this country. Let the DCU issue (elevation to university status) be for another day, but for now, as in 1945 and years thereafter, we don’t need to be informed that FF/Hitler were not all that bad…

      • Anna Notaro Says:

        Don, by writing ‘the world according to Ernie’ I was simply hinting at a worldview so self-centered that it makes it impossible to have a true *exchange* of opinions and/or a disagreement. The type of worldview that in order to confirm his own opinions and pre-empt debate provides answers to questions which the other has not even asked yet! I believe there is a subtle but important difference between such self-serving worldview and being passionate about one’s own beliefs…

        • Ernie Ball Says:

          Right. While you were so busy looking for signs of my self-centeredness (of which you presented none, other than the fact that I used the pronoun “I”) you didn’t bother to engage with any of my substantive points. That is the only obstacle to an exchange of views: you’re not holding up your end, preferring to make this about me.


          • I don’t at all want to raise the temperature here, so maybe time to let all this go. But Ernie, you did throw around insults very liberally yourself. For example, on what basis do you say that I don’t ‘give a shit’ about genocide? I’m not offended or anything – I never am – but you’re not immune to the conditions you criticise :). Anyway, enough. Peace.

  10. Ernie Ball Says:

    I didn’t say you didn’t give a shit about genocide. I said you don’t give a shit about all this, by which I meant this ridiculous debate, Godwin’s Law and my use of nazi analogies.

  11. Don Says:

    Anyway, my first car was a 1963 Beetle, and very good it was too. Mind you, it did blow a lot of hot air ;-)


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