Inaugural SPIRe Seminar: Dr. Caroline McEvoy (UCD)

For this week’s SPIRe seminar will have Dr. Caroline McEvoy (UCD) introducing her new project entitled:

Representative, Deliberative or Stealth Democrats:
Exploring the Congruence Gap  
between Citizens’ Conceptions of Democracy
and the Democratic Experience in Europe. 

The seminar takes place in Room G316 Arts (Newman Building) from 12-2pm today, Thursday 10/09/2015. The abstract for the presentation and project is below.

This is the inaugural seminar in the seminar series this year and we look forward to seeing you all there!

Representative, Deliberative or Stealth Democrats: Exploring the Congruence Gap between Citizens’ Conceptions of Democracy and the Democratic Experience in Europe

21st century politics has been marked by a steady decline in public trust for political institutions; a decline in voter turnout at elections; and a collapse in party membership lists, prompting scholars to raise concerns about the ongoing viability of representative democracy. For example, Mair (2005, 2008,2011) argues that citizens and elites have mutually withdrawn from electoral politics resulting in the ‘hollowing out’ of democracy while Flinders (2013, 2) and Stoker (2006, 127) argue that voters have gone from having a healthy skepticism of democratic processes towards a corrosive cynicism towards the regime.

Moreover, since the onset of the economic crisis in 2008, debates about democratic reform been mobilized by the public and political elites alike.

This project poses a series of important, but rarely asked questions about why citizens are turning away from democratic politics, namely what do citizens expect from democracy, what democratic values do they prioritize, how well do institutions meet these expectations and does the (in)congruence between expectations and how democracy functions in practice, influence public trust, voter turnout and levels of party membership? Utilizing an innovative dataset from the European Social Survey (2012), the project conducts a cross national quantitative analysis of 29 European states, exploring the gaps between voter expectations of democracy e.g. more participation, greater freedom of the press, protection against poverty etc, and what democracy actually delivers. It explores this congruence as both dependent and independent variable. The findings advance the scholarship’s understanding of voter attitudes and are an important contribution to the literature since they provide empirical support to political theory, which argues that a voters perception of the fairness in the political process is at least as important for generating support for democracy as the tangible benefits that they derive from the system are.

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Fallout from Syrian conflict sweeps across Middle East and Europe

Dr. Vincent Durac portrait

by Dr. Vincent Durac

Four million people have fled Syria while 12 million inside the country are in need of humanitarian assistance

The beheading earlier this week of Khaled al-Asaad, an 83-year-old archaeologist, by Islamic State militants in the Syrian city of Palmyra brings into focus the level of brutality that four years of conflict has brought upon that country. One of the clearest consequences of this is an unprecedented population movement within and beyond Syria’s borders, which has led to the largest refugee crisis the world has witnessed since the second World War.

According to a statement earlier this week by Germany’s interior minister, up to 800,000 people may request asylum in the country by the end of this year.

The number of refugees and asylum seekers entering Europe or poised to do so is reaching unprecedented levels. Some 225,000 refugees have arrived in Europe since the start of this year, more than half of these entering Greece.

Meanwhile, according to the EU’s border agency, Frontex, the number of aspirant migrants on the borders of the union reached a record high of 107,500 last month. The response of mmber states to the crisis has, to say the least, been highly variable.

Although the EU as a whole agreed in June to resettle 60,000 asylum seekers over the next two years, the distribution of the burden has been uneven and has reflected very different, sometimes disturbing, responses to the crisis.

In the UK, where the summer months have witnessed an increasingly hysterical media response to the presence of some 3,000 migrants camped in Calais in the apparent hope of gaining entry to Britain, refugees and asylum seekers amounted to 0.24 per cent of the total population at the end of 2014, according to UN figures.

Nonetheless, faced with what prime minister David Cameroncharacterised last month as a “swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean seeking a better life”, the UK refused to participate in the EU’s relocation plan for refugees. Under that deal, Ireland agreed to take 600 asylum seekers over the next two years, in addition to plans for the resettlement of 520 Syrians by the end of next year.

Elsewhere, the picture is mixed. Slovakia, for instance, has announced that it will accept 200 refugees – so long as they are Christian. In the words of a spokesman for the interior ministry: “In Slovakia, we don’t have any mosques.”

Meanwhile, Hungary is preparing to build a 13-foot wall along its 109-mile border withSerbia to keep refugees out.

While the number of those arriving in Europe, or to its borders, includes those fleeing locations in sub-Saharan Africa and West Asia, increasingly it is refugees seeking to escape the conflict in Syria that predominate.

Population movement

Four years of conflict in Syria have led to population movement on a scale that has not been seen since the second World War. Out of a total population of 23 million, more than four million have fled Syria’s borders and another 7.6 million are displaced internally.

By last June, more than 300,000 Syrians had applied for asylum in Europe – just under half of these were in Germany and Sweden alone. However, the challenge faced by the countries of the EU is dwarfed by that with which Syria’s neighbours must contend.

As the UN Refugee Agency points out, 86 per cent of the world’s refugees are in developing countries. The Syrian case is no exception – 94 per cent of Syrian refugees are in neighbouring countries in the Middle East, which already face significant political and economic problems. These are dramatically exacerbated by the influx of new arrivals.

Turkey has the highest number of Syrian refugees at 1.8 million, followed by Lebanonwith 1.17 million. There are more than one million more in Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. The case of Lebanon is particularly acute. The balance of the population, Christian, Sunni and Shia, is so delicate that no government has conducted a census since independence in 1946. Refugees now comprise 25 per cent of the total population straining the country’s resources and its political stability to the utmost.

The scale of the Syrian refugee crisis reflects the devastating consequences of four years of fighting in the country involving a myriad of actors.

What began as an uprising against the dictatorial regime of Bashar al-Assad, inspired by the remarkable uprisings across the region in the spring of 2011, has long been transformed into a brutal conflict that has devastated the infrastructure of the country, leaving 12 million Syrians inside the country in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN, and prompting the mass movement of people that has been witnessed over the past four years.

The crisis has been fuelled by the failure of regional and international actors to agree on how to resolve it. Indeed, the conflict in Syria quickly became a vehicle for the pursuit of very different interests on the part of regional powers.

For Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states, the removal of the Shia regime of Assad is a core objective. Not only would it remove a regime despised by the Saudis, it would represent a serious blow to their Iranian rivals for regional hegemony. Turkey, once a close ally of the Syrian regime, changed its position and lent its support to radical Islamist groups opposed to Assad. Regime change quickly became a central objective of US and European policy towards Syria also. The official EU position, as restated earlier this year, is to favour a “Syrian-led” process of transition which would see the departure of Assad from office.

However, outside support for radical Islamist groups in Syria has aided the rise of Islamic State and prompted the beginnings of a rethink of policy in the West, at least.

Nuclear programme

For some, the recent rapprochement between Iran and the United States, which culminated in the signing of a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme last month, offers hope that both sides might be open to exploring agreement on the future of Syria.

Following conclusion of the deal, Barack Obama spoke of the need for “agreement among the major powers that are interested in Syria”. This appeared clearly to signal a willingness to talk to Tehran. However, whether the US and Iran could agree on the shape of a Syrian regime without Assad is to be doubted, and even if such agreement were possible, any closer coming together of the two countries would set off alarm bells across the region – among the Arab allies of the US, as well as in Israel.

In the meantime, the Syrian conflict persists and, despite appearances to the contrary, the suffering it causes is largely inflicted on the people of the Middle East and not Europe.

Dr Vincent Durac lectures in Middle East politics in the School of Politics and International Relations in University College Dublin. He is co-author with Francesco Cavatorta of Politics and Governance in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan, July 2015)

Originally published in The Irish Times, 22nd August 2015


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Don’t fear the Grexit (Unless you’re Greek)

Sam BrazysOver a month ago I declared that the Grexit was a fait accompli. As soon as Chancellor Merkel publicly declared it was a possibility it was the only end game. Why? Because Greek debt is (and has been) unsustainable and there were ever only two finishes to the crisis: debt-relief or Grexit. The former would be a nice thing to do in a world devoid of political reality, but, for several reasons, it is never going to happen. First, the overwhelming sense of many important creditor nations (and several peripheral ones) was that Greek debt has been a result of Greek profligacy, and those countries can’t ask their tax payers to foot the bill for early Greek retirement. Second, even if these leaders could summon the “statesmanship” necessary to face down their own electorates, relieving Greek debt would create an incredible moral hazard for the other Eurozone debtor nations. If Greece is worthy of a debt write down than surely Ireland? or Portugal? or Spain? How could the ECB, IMF or European Governments refuse? 250 billion € can be managed (heck, Quantitative Easing has printed that much already), a trillion+ would be a bit more challenging. Finally, while it has certainly been bad in Greece, many parts of the EU (and EMU) are still far poorer. As this chart shows, per capita spending on pensions of the Baltic states is significantly less than half that in Greece. Other social spending shows similar relationships. Those invoking the “morality” of debt relief in Greece must think that the Greek elderly are somehow more deserving than their Lithuanian counterparts. The Slovakian finance minister recently made clear that nominal debt relief is a “red line”.

So Grexit it is. But Grexit need not be feared. The political argument against Grexit is weak, but the economic argument is weaker still. The EU is a political project. The EMU is primarily an economic project. Yes, it is not an optimal currency unit and has had its trials and tribulations, but that is largely because it contains states like Greece, who incidentally cooked their books to join. The exit of a suboptimal member out of a currency unit doesn’t make it weaker – it makes it stronger. Even if contagion spreads, which looks increasingly unlikely, and a few other suboptimal dominoes fall, say Portugal, this still isn’t fatal to the currency.  An exchange rate is a price, based on supply and demand of and for a currency, which is driven, to a large extent, by the strength of the economy behind the currency. When an economy that is in the midst of a depression not seen since the 1930s leaves the fold how can markets do anything but cheer?

The refrain that the Euro is a “political project” is only partly true. Britain’s tensions with the EU have little to do with its maintenance of Sterling. Denmark is as much Europe as Belgium. Sweden has chosen an indefinite, de facto, opt out despite a legal obligation to join, and yet remains integral to the European project. Polish plumbers can live and work in France as easily as the Irish. These states all illustrate that EMU membership is NOT a necessary component of being part of the European political project. Many of the states out of the Euro are there because they do not feel the currency fits their macroeconomic goals. The Euro does not fit Greece’s macroeconomic goals and the prudent move is joining the outsiders. For most of the remaining “Eurozone 18” the Euro will continue to work, backed by the 4th, 6th, 8th, 14th and 17th largest economies in the world.

Grexit will be a painful adjustment for Greece, as outlined today in the WSJ, though probably no more than continued austerity and with at least some prospect of eventual recovery (and perhaps even readmission). Germany is right to (finally) call for humanitarian assistance which is vitally necessary as the Greeks rebuild the social safety nets while adjusting to the new Drachma reality. However, Grexit is not a boogeyman that will destroy the European project. Instead it is a sensible and effective separation that will ultimately leave both parties better off.

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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:

– ‘Middle East Solutions Must Come From Within’, Irish Times, December 27 2014:

– ‘Islamic State Killings Challenge Fragile Democratic Transition in Tunisia’, Irish Times, March 22 2015 at: ‘

– ‘Islamic State and the Battle for Iraq’, Irish Times, May 23 :

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 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 ( and Iseult Honohan (

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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