Author Archive

Universities might stop slipping if they did what they are supposed to

October 5th, 2015 Comments off


Oh dear Trinity, you have slipped. The august college in the centre of Dublin is now rated only 160 in the world, according to the latest league table compiled by the Times Higher Education organisation, publisher of the famous Supplement.

UCD is improving, but still lurks at no 176, while NUI Galway lies in the 251-300 group, and University College Cork, embarrassingly, is only in the 351-400 cohort.

These league rankings obsess the managers of Irish third-level institutions, but clearly to little effect. Even though the THE emphasises teaching and transfer knowledge, that doesn’t appear to have transferred to third-level management.

So what does this mean for the much-vaunted claim that Ireland has a young, energetic and well-educated population? The first two are true, largely. But the third …

What’s wrong with Irish universities? As someone’s who’s both taught and studied at third-level institutions here in the past few years, my answer is that nobody cares much about the students.

The “student experience”, as one long-time staffer said sadly to me this week, is the last thing on management’s mind. Read more…

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Corbyn’s in the frame – so watch out

October 1st, 2015 Comments off

PETER MANDELSON didn’t like the question.

It was 2010, and he’d come to Dublin to plug a book, and consented to a public interview at the concert hall.

“Lord Mandelson, do you think conviction politics have come to an end in Britain?”

A fair enough question from the audience, but touching a deeper and more serious place than the interview – a fluffy thing featuring probing posers such as “do you like wearing the ermine cloak of a Lord?” – which preceded question time.

Snarling ever so slightly, the Prince of Darkness dismissed the idea as tedious and irrelevant.

And now, there’s Jeremy Corbyn!

I strive to be heard above all the sniggering and horrified intakes of breath. A man of priniciple, someone who has stuck to the hard road of old-fashioned socialism, who has kept the red flag flying in his heart: not really one of the political class of the 21st century, is he?

Since Corbyn crushed the other identikit centrist candidates for leadership of the British Labour Party on September 12, there have been all sorts of agitated ripples from that mighty stone being chucked in the pool.

The heirs to the shameful legacy of Tony Blair – just so you know where I’m coming from – in Labour are only now coming out of goldfish mode and recovering the powers of speech.

The Tories, somehow not perceiving that this is probably actually a good thing for them, are having multiple orgasms of horror/delight. The Spectator magazine has been particularly entertaining in this regard, as columnists and contributors from both right and left line up to choke on their porridge and explain that this is The Worst Thing That Has Ever Happened in British politics.

Okay, so Corbyn is a humourless old trout, but it is as refreshing, as bracing, as a shower in a mountain waterfall, to see one of his ilk centre-stage in mainstream politics. Read more…

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Want a lolly? Hop on an Aussie bus.

September 21st, 2015 Comments off


I’ve been back in the Australia homeland for a month or so, and impressed with the old place – especially the ditching of the loathsome Tony Abbott as prime minister, although his “self-made all-round genius” successor Malcolm Turnbull may not be a massive improvement.

People are generally nice – polite and considerate – more than in the dirty old Anglo-Celtic capitals of the northern hemisphere, Donald Rumsfeld’s “Old Europe”. The locals, of course, do an exercise in mouth-wrinkling and sotto voce scoffing when I offer this opinion.

On a Melbourne suburban train, when another middle-aged lady and I were the first passengers into a well-populated carriage, two teenage school students in uniform rose immediately from their seats and moved aside for us. Could have knocked me down with a feather. The only young person who ever gave up a seat for me in Dublin was a young Travelller boy, some years ago. The privileged sprogs of the south county Dublin bourgeoisie lounge around comfortably, with their schoolbags providing an insurmountable obstacle course.

In Sydney, on a crowded late-afternoon bus, an elderly gentleman asked the father of a toddler, as they settled in their seats, if it would be okay to offer the little boy lollies [sweets]. “Thank you, but no, too much sugar and he gets hyper,” the father declined with a smile. You don’t see such exchanges on the 46A in Dublin or the no 29 in London.

Getting lost in Melbourne, a couple of girls walking their dogs fished out their mobile phones and Googled my destination – not a bother.

And most remarkably of all, when I was wandering lonely as a cloud along a central Melbourne railway station, looking for the airport bus, a rail employee actually approached me and asked if I needed help!! He nearly had to pick me up off the floor. Read more…

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The Notorious and the Voice of an Angel: ultimate odd couple

July 24th, 2015 Comments off

Weird, wonderful but weird – and maybe wrong?

Conor McGregor tattoo

The championship fight of Conor “The Notorious” McGregor in Las Vegas on July 12, spiked as it was with a heart-rending performance by Sinead O’Connor, studded as it was with Irish flags and chants of “Ole, ole ole ole”, was one of those pinch-me experiences for the witness.

Surely many Irish citizens watching, either payTV, online or subsequently on landline TV, winced at the unabashed depiction of the fighting Irish. Plucky, dangerous lot who lead with their fists, if not their knucklehead. Violence solves everything and is supreme. Don’t mess with us, boyo, ye British jackbooted … etc etc.

It’s disgusting – but also tempting, cleansing, as with any atavistic ritual that does play to feellings deep inside the person, or the collective consciousness.
So maybe that’s why tickets to the event cost €350 and yet there was an overwhelming, obvious take-up by Irish fans. An estimated 11,000 Irish fans made their presence dominant in the vast arena.

Read more…

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2015 Gallipoli evacuation was one big mess

May 12th, 2015 Comments off


AND so to Gallipoli, for the centenary of the disastrous first World War campaign, in the company of An Uachtarain Michael D Higgins of Ireland.

That’s slightly gilding the poppy, as your correspondent wasn’t in the President’s party, but on the same plane, in steerage rather than the glamour of first-class.

Turkish Airlines are a pleasant carrier, but even the president’s presence didn’t mean we got into the air on time at Dublin.

However that was a minor transport consideration compared to what lay ahead. Read more…

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