SPIRe Irish Times articles

No better time than Summer Term to look back and reflect on the events of the past year.  Below is a selection of articles with a middle-eastern focus written by SPIRe’s Dr. Vincent Durac, and published in the Irish Times  between December 2014 and May 2015.

– ‘Charlie Hebdo: colonial history, foreign policy make France a target’, Irish Times, January 08 2015: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/charlie-hebdo-colonial-history-foreign-policy-make-france-a-target-1.2059424

– ‘Middle East Solutions Must Come From Within’, Irish Times, December 27 2014: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/middle-east/review-of-2014-middle-east-solutions-must-come-from-within-1.2044098

– ‘Islamic State Killings Challenge Fragile Democratic Transition in Tunisia’, Irish Times, March 22 2015 at: ‘ http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/islamic-state-killings-challenge-fragile-democratic-transition-in-tunisia-1.2147631

– ‘Islamic State and the Battle for Iraq’, Irish Times, May 23 : http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/middle-east/islamic-state-and-the-battle-for-iraq-1.2222284

Dr. Vincent Durac portrait

Dr. Vincent Durac lectures in Politics of Development; Middle East Politics; the International Politics of the Middle East ;and Political Islam in the UCD School of Politics and International Relations. His research is focused on a number of aspects of contemporary Middle East Politics, including political reform, the role of civil society the impact of external actors in the region, and Yemeni political dynamics. He is a visiting lecturer in Middle East Politics in Bethlehem University in Palestine. He is a Council member of the Council of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) and of the European Association for Middle Eastern Studies (EURAMES).

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Berkeley tragedy

A message from Ben Tonra, Head of UCD School of Politics and International Relations (SPIRe):

Everyone at UCD SPIRe is profoundly saddened and shocked by the tragic accident in Berkeley, San Francisco.  Six Irish students lost their lives, three were from our UCD community and one from our own UCD SPIRe family.   On behalf of the entire School, staff, students and alumni, I wish to extend our deepest condolences to the families and friends of Niccolai Schuster, 2nd year BA History and Politics, Eimear Walsh and Lorcán Miller, both 3rd year Medicine.  We also send our sympathies to the families of Eoghan Culligan, Olivia Burke and Ashley Donohoe.

For students in the Berkeley area, the University of California Berkeley’s Counselling Services are available from 10.00am to 5.00pm, Monday to Friday at the Tang Centre, 3rd Floor, 2222 Bancroft Way, Berkeley.  (T: 001-510-642-9494).

We know that many of you are working and travelling overseas at the moment and may be feeling deeply upset at this tragedy.  UCD has opened an online book of condolence on the website www.ucd.ie where you can extend your sympathies, offer your thoughts and share your feelings.

For students who are currently in Ireland, you may wish to take note of the following events and supports in UCD over the coming days:

  1. For those who would welcome the opportunity to come together, the UCD chaplaincy is open today Thursday (18th June) from 12.00-6.00pm.  You are very welcome to call in individually or in groups during this time.  Student advisors and other staff will be there for you.
  2. The UCD counselling team are available to any student or staff member who wishes to avail of their service.  You can make an appointment by calling 01 7163134.
  3. With the Students’ Union, UCD will host an interfaith prayer service in Belfield Church on Friday 19th June at 1.00pm.  All staff and students as well as families and friends are welcome to attend.  There will be refreshments afterwards in the Student Centre.

During these days close to this very sad event we all try to provide as much practical and emotional support as possible.   We are also aware of the longer term needs of those who have been affected by this event and UCD student support services along with the academic staff of this School and the wider university will be available to work with students when they return to campus in September.

Take care of yourselves and others.

Ben Tonra,
Head of UCD School of Politics and International Relations (SPIRe)

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Video: Prof. Ben Tonra on EU Foreign Policy

Ben Tonra portrait

UCD SPIRe’s Head of School Prof. Ben Tonra delivers the first guest lecture on EU Foreign Policy as part of the Erasmus Antero project at Maastricht University.

The ANTERO Jean Monnet Network is designed to strengthen the interaction between EU foreign policy research and innovative, research-led teaching.

   Erasmus Antero logo

Click on the link below to watch in full:



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Coming soon: SPIRe one-day workshop on Leadership and Democracy

SPIRe one-day workshop on Leadership and Democracy

Monday 8th June 2015, 10:00-17:30


Richard Bellamy  (UCL/EUI), Cara Nine (UCC), John WIlliam Devine (KCL)
and David Archard (QUB) 

  • What are the ethical challenges of leadership in a modern democracy?
  • Is political leadership inherently at odds with democracy?
  • Does real world politics require leaders to act in ways that run contrary to moral values and undermine their moral character?
  • What does it mean for a political leader to be trustworthy?
  • What is the role of compromise in politics?

These questions concerning the ethics of ‘leadership’ have been neglected within much contemporary liberal democratic theorising. While significant strides have been made in developing an account of liberal values and the shape of liberal institutions, normative questions surrounding the agents responsible for pursuing those values and leading those institutions have received comparatively little attention.

As a result, our understanding of ethics in public office is impoverished. In the practical arena, it is often either conflated with personal morality or reduced to conflict of interest and financial propriety. At the theoretical level, in the absence of a comprehensive theory of leadership, our liberal democratic theory of politics remains incomplete.

This one-day workshop will explore the ethics of leadership in modern liberal democracies. It will examine the tension between leadership and democracy, and the possible conflict between politics and morality, addressing issues of trust, compromise, and character.

Time: 10.00-17.30


Prof. David Archard (Queen’s University Belfast),

Philosophy and the Moral Character of Real World Politics

Dr. John William Devine (King’s College London)

Trust and Political Leadership

Dr. Cara Nine (University College Cork)

Compromise and Original Acquisition

Prof. Richard Bellamy (European University Institute and University College London)

The Paradox of the Democratic Prince: Machiavelli and the Nature of Leadership in Modern Democracy

***Participation is free, but places are strictly limited and registration is required.***

Organisers: John William Devine (johnwilliam.devine@kcl.ac.uk) and Iseult Honohan (iseult.honohan@ucd.ie).

Organised with the support of the UCD Schools of Politics and International Relations and Philosophy, and in association with the UCD interdisciplinary research group on ‘Ethics, government, and public affairs

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Washington Ireland Program: all politics students need apply!

Guest post by Ciara McConnell

ciara mcconnell

The Washington Ireland Program was a name that I had heard mentioned before in passing and that I had stumbled upon during a brief Google search of ‘politics internships’, yet it was not until June 2014 that I properly sat up and took notice of this phenomenal program. I had just begun my summer internship with Women for Election, an Irish organisation dedicated to ensuring gender parity in Irish politics, and I was working at an event in the Mansion House for newly elected female Councillors. I was working alongside another Women for Election volunteer and supporter, Rachel Breslin, who not only is a fellow UCD student but was also the former UCD Student’s Union President. We began chatting and she mentioned (in her typically modest way) in passing that she was going to Washington DC in a few weeks time as part of the Class of 2014 of the Washington Ireland Program. She explained to me that the Washington Ireland Program (WIP) was an initiative set up in 1995 to support peace and reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Every year it selects a class of 30 students from across Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain, who have demonstrated a passion for both service and leadership, to participate in a 12-month program of professional and personal development.

Rachel then went on to tell me about the 8 weeks during the summer that every class spend in Washington D.C., which grabbed my attention straight away. An integral part of the program is an 8-week internship in D.C.. Previous interns were placed in the offices of [then] Senator Hilary Clinton and Senator Barack O’Bama, with interns more recently working for Senator John McCain. As a politics student, the idea of interning in the offices of such high-profile and dynamic American politicians and being exposed to the environment of Capitol Hill, was beyond exciting! It became clear from chatting with Rachel that the Washington Ireland Program would not only open doors that might politics stremain closed to you otherwise, but that it would introduce you to an array of incredible and inspiring people.

The program is focused on developing leadership skills amongst the program participants and as a result the internship is a crucial aspect, however, there is another equally important element and that is the host-family. WIP has a phenomenal community of families in DC who, for 8 weeks every summer, open their homes and their families to WIP students. This allows WIP students to become truly immersed in  American culture, and for many of the students, they gain a second family in the process!

After quizzing and interrogating Rachel, I went straight home and spent too many hours than I care to admit to, researching everything to do with the Washington Ireland Program. Excitement and optimism levels were high until I came across the ‘bios’ of students accepted for the Class of 2014. These thirty people, to me, were superhuman; many had been involved in inspirational projects, some had founded their own charities and companies, others had held incredible leadership positions and all were thoroughly impressive and intimidating. I did not think I had a hope of ever matching up. However, my boss at Women for Election, another truly inspiring individual, Niamh Gallagher was determined that I did not allow intimidation and a lack of confidence, things that I had struggled with previously, prevent me from applying and encouraged me to at least submit the initial online application. Rachel Breslin and another prominent UCD student and WIP participant, Mícheál Gallagher were extremely giving with their time, offering advice and tips and reading application drafts until the November 1 deadline rolled around and I finally submitted it. Receiving the invitation to interview was surprising and I was filled with a mixture of fear and excitement. The interview passed in a bit of a blur and I was unsure as to whether it had gone well or not .When I got the email letting me know that I had got a place for the Class of 2015, I initially thought that there had been a technical error and that I was on the wrong mailing list!

Having had our class orientation weekend a few weeks ago, the entire thing is starting to feel more real. I will be finding out soon where I will be placed for my internship, but I have decided that I do not mind where exactly I will be working, just to live and work in the political environment of DC is more than enough to satisfy my political appetite! I have been told that I am in for the summer of a lifetime, yet with final exams looming I am trying to limit my levels of excitement until I can afford to spend hours on end googling Washington DC and reading countless guidebooks.

I really can’t recommend enough that fellow UCD politics students apply. I very nearly did not apply due to something as silly as a feeling of inadequacy and although I still struggle to fully understand the reasons I was selected for the program, my situation demonstrates that you may have skills and abilities that you are not able to objectively recognise, but that the Washington Ireland Program can, and will, recognise. Applying for the Washington Ireland Program is a case of nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain.

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Lessons from Minnesota and Dixie for the Fate of the Eurozone

Sam BrazysThe current iteration of the Greek debt crisis, and the possibility of a “Grexit”, has elicited numerous policy proposals, ranging from the German creditors saying “nein” to any new arrangement, to calls for debt forgiveness, to proposals in between. Yet, the most obvious, equitable, and legal remedy is conspicuously absent from most discussions: fiscal transfer.

I am a Minnesotan, of German heritage, living in Ireland, and as such should be poised to say a few things about debt, credit and fiscal transfer. Minnesota is not well-known abroad, but it is the land of 10,000 lakes, the land of 10,000,000 mosquitos (midges, only worse), the land of Minnesnowta. As shown by The Economist, Minnesota is also one of the biggest net-contributors to the US federal system, transferring nearly 200% of its annual GDP to the federal pot between 1990 and 2009. A state of just over five million people transferred in excess of $500 billion dollars, net, to the federal coffers over 20 years, a sum almost 1.5 times the total Greek debt. Where did Minnesota’s money go? It went to Mississippi and Alabama, two of the largest net recipients of federal transfer over the same period. But this wasn’t cash being handed out in the streets. It wasn’t a credit into some Southern bank. It wasn’t a padding of public salaries.   That is not what fiscal transfer means. Fiscal transfer means motorways that meet the same standards in Mississippi as Minnesota. Fiscal transfer means the same baseline of health care for the poor or elderly, despite the state abbreviation on their address. Fiscal transfer means Coast Guard stations that can function effectively on all shores. Fiscal transfer means jobs and spending and stimulus in Mississippi associated with all of the above. Fiscal transfer is a harmonising force across a political union.

Minnesota contributes $5,000 per capita, per year, to the federal budget. Over the 15 years of the Eurozone, Germany would have needed to transfer just $300 per person, per year, to wipe out the Greek debt. Not a crippling amount. Not an unfair amount to ensure infrastructure, social protection and human dignity. The analogy is obvious. Germany is to Minnesota as Greece is to Mississippi.   The difference is that Minnesotans recognize the obligations inherent in the social pact of a political and monetary union.

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Women: pure, wholesome caregivers or agents of change in social contract theory?

Picture Charlotte AmroucheThis is the fourth in a series of blogposts on the film 2014 Russian film, Leviathan, written by students in the Politics module, Individuals and the State, who were asked to reflect on the connections between the film and the ideas of Hobbes or other social contract theories. 

Charlotte Amrouche writes:

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film portrays the struggles of a working-class family in remote Russia against the powerful, belligerent mayor, as he extends his power over them to buy their land. Within this context it is easy to distinguish elements of the power-play which contractarians such as Hobbes and Locke outlined in their social contract theories. However what is most interesting to focus on is how the power of women is played out in Leviathan. Do they stick to the roles and notions of women in social contract as outlined by Hobbes and Locke?

In analysing any society within social contract theories it is first necessary to inspect what notions of individuals exist in the society. Much of the time individuals are idealised and reduced in order to be able to create a social contract theory – disregarding the vast array of individuals and the accordingly different relationships they hold within society. Although Hobbes and Locke do go into detail about what elements create the free man, what rights and what faculties he has, what is often excluded, or skimmed over, is the nature of women in social contract theory. Therefore we cannot begin to look at Leviathan and how this society reflects on these theories without assessing how the role of women in the film may differ from the expected roles as elaborated by Hobbes or Locke.

Much of the work by Hobbes and Locke describe women as integral part of the marriage contract, a supporting role to that of the men who run and rule the societies and sovereignties. Within Leviathan the leading woman, Lilya, is seen at the beginning to have an integral yet silent role to the wellbeing of the family. Through her job at the fish farm, to how much less she drank in comparison to her husband, to the care of the child in the home, all portray her as a caring, responsible, motherly figure. And to begin with her role starts and ends here. In the work of Hobbes and Locke this is also where their explanation of women in the social contract ends.

These themes of subordination to the men of the society continue throughout, from the representation of women in Church as silent witnesses: covered and modest. Even in their role within government and in power they may be called “sweetheart”, a vocal way men continue to assert their control over women. However I would argue that, although these issues of subordination are apparent and relevant to the story of women in social contract, it is not the full story. What classical contractarianism fails to recognise is that women are agents of control and power in society. Despite the continuous attempt to subordinate women they will continuously prove to not be silent witnesses to men as they carry out and control social life, but instead active agents of their own destinies, and the destiny of their society and its members. The decisions that Lilya made throughout the film led to the destruction of her husband. Simplistically we can suggest that in her role as caregiver in the family domain she maintained an importance balance in the lives of the other family members. When this balance was removed destruction ensued. This approach continues to place the main role of women as caregivers within the social contract. However unlike Hobbes and Locke who end their role for women here, we see in Leviathan that the role of women expands and that without them the men become shells of their powerful active roles. After Lilya’s death her husband becomes easy to manipulate by the authorities of corrupt power, which is where on the outset the power appears to lie. However the subtle power of Lilya, and women like her, should not easily be forgotten or dismissed.

What is fascinating throughout this evaluation of women in social contract is how women are idealised. The notions of emphasised femininity which have been fed through Western media and society can easily be mirrored in the Leviathan’s society. When Lilya’s best friend exclaims that “[all men] think that you’re pretty and then want to kill you” we see how men’s violence against women can cross cultures and societal systems with no regard to any other social differences. The manipulation by the state of Lilya’s death show how even in death women are not seen as individuals, instead as objects to use in the path to one’s own objective.

These themes of subordination, power and exclusion of women all run throughout the work of Hobbes and Locke. And we can plainly see through this film and in our own society today that these are sadly parts of women’s lives today. However what we can see from films such as Leviathan is that the story does not end here. Despite the excluding depiction of women in social contract by Hobbes and Locke, reality shows that women rise above and outside of these exclusions. Like any individual you cannot assume one role, one image, one norm of women, but instead must be ready for any multitude of representations.

I am currently in second year studying Sociology and Politics & International Relations. My main areas of interests in this degree are social justice, human rights, feminism and gender studies. On completing this degree at UCD I hope to continue studying gender studies.

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How does Andrey Zvyaginstev’s Leviathan interpret social contract theory in Vladimir Putin’s Russia?

Aonghus O DonnchuThis is the third in a series of blogposts on the film 2014 Russian film, Leviathan, written by students in the Politics module, Individuals and the State, who were asked to reflect on the connections between the film and the ideas of Hobbes or other social contract theories. 

Aonghus Ó Donnchú writes:

Andrey Zvyaginstev’s Leviathan (2014) depicts a brutish example of Hobbesian social contract theory in which Locke’s views are forced aside; in the words of Observer film critic Mark Kermode it ‘is a tale of big themes and little people’.  The protagonist, Kolya, battles alongside his old friend Dmitri for his supposed Lockean right to property which Dmitri claims is enshrined in Russian law.  This falls short of the actuality of the situation whereby the local mayor, Vadim, fights for his right to take Kolya’s property.  This reflects a Hobbesian state of affairs in which man sacrifices his rights in return for the protection of the state.

The film reflects the Hobbesian nature of Russia’s social contract very well.  Hobbes sees the social contract as a safeguard against the anarchy of the state of nature he describes.  This anarchy can be seen simmering under the surface from beginning to end with hatred growing, violence and betrayal between friends and corruption within the authorities as every man looks after himself.  Ironically it is the crooked government of Vadim that stops this anarchy from coming to a boil.  The fact that the movie frequently alludes to Russia’s wider power structures, Vadim often referencing power brokers in Moscow, the picture of Putin in his office and even the shooting of portraits of previous Russian and Soviet leaders at a birthday get-together, proves that this outlook on the social contract is not just in play in this town, but across Russia as a whole.  This, however, does not mean that this rural, seaside town under Vadim’s control lives under a peaceful social contract whereby the people make sacrifices and in return Vadim protects them.

A key motif of Leviathan, clearly tangible throughout, is the failure of Russia’s social contract under current leader Vladimir Putin, whose portrait hangs centrally in the corrupt Vadim’s office. None of the protection the state owes its individuals is provided to the main characters in this film.  This is palpable in Dmitri’s beating to the brink of death at the hands of Vadim’s bodyguards, Lilya’s suicide and Kolya’s biased trial which judges the innocent man guilty.  However, there is no starker case of Government failure to uphold the social contract than the case of Kolya’s son Roma, who is left alone for roughly five days after the arrest of his father, and after that is saved by his father’s accusers rather than be left to the implied misery of state care.  Failure to adequately care for the weakest in society, children under eighteen years of age, is a clear depiction of Vadim’s, and through him, Putin’s, failure to uphold the totalitarian Hobbesian contract that appears to be favourable to the corrupt mayor Vadim.

Hobbes acknowledged that the state of war as depicted before the social contract came to exist does, after its creation, become existent on a higher level as those in power have no sovereign powers to bow down to.  A microcosm of this can be seen in Leviathan in Vadim’s leadership.  There is of course a higher power here, in the form of the Moscow power base, but they seem disinterested for the most part provided Vadim proves to be no trouble for them.  The only other power that can be expected to outweigh that of Vadim is that of God and the Russian Orthodox Church, a strong recurring organisation in the film.  Vadim clearly respects the power of the Church with frequent visits to priests in the church; however the church is constantly committed to Vadim.  Its unwavering support grants him heavenly support to do as he wishes.  Of course the favour is returned when Vadim builds a church on Kolya’s land.  This is clearly seen to be no more than a power grab by Vadim, however, at the end when the poor majority are barely visible in the midst of the power players driving expensive cars to this church.  Not even the church was above Vadim.  Once he was granted the power of the social contract the world became his in his eyes.

The view of the social contract portrayed in Leviathan would be a horror to the civil rights based contracts of Locke or Rousseau, however it is too similar to Hobbes’, whose book of course shares the film’s title, to dismiss.  Even this version of the social contract is visibly coming apart at the seams, but a strong ruler remains who does, for the most part, provide protection, if rather limited, in return for the loss of certain rights.

Kermode, M. (2014) ‘Leviathan review – Andrew Zvyaginstev’s outstanding tale of the epic and the everyday.’  Guardian available from http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/nov/09/leviathan-review-andrey-zvyagintsev-epic-everyday [last accessed on 24 November 2014]

I am a 2nd year history, politics and international relations student in UCD.  I was born and raised in Ballyboden in South Dublin.  In politics my main interest would be international relations, while in history I prefer military history.  Thankfully there is quite a lot of overlap between these two fields of research.  I hope to continue studying history after my degree and attain a masters.

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