The UCD School of Politics and International Relations ran a session at the 2017 UCD summer school earlier this week. A group of 5th year students, from schools across the length and breadth of the country, were in attendance. For part of the session we met in the Garret FitzGerald debating chamber at the UCD student centre where there was a student-led debate on the direction that Fine Gael’s newly elected leader should take his party and the country. While hardly a representative sample, the ‘Leo manifesto’ is instructive in showing the direction some of our younger citizens would like to see our prospective new Taoiseach go.
Three key themes were foremost in the students’ list of priorities. It’s no surprise that top of the list were social and housing issues. There were calls for more investment in infrastructure. There were impassioned pleas to take better account of the needs of rural communities (and how to do so would have knock-on benefits for urban communities).
There was also a lot of emphasis on the need for a more assertive foreign policy. In particular the students wanted clearer policies on how to deal with Brexit and Trump’s USA, and a more coherent immigration policy.
A third main theme was focused on how Leo should make a virtue of his own personal identity as young, gay and of mixed background, that he should expressly embrace these features so as to help promote an image of an Ireland that is young, inclusive, and one that is trending towards greater secularization.
To sum it up, this ‘manifesto for Leo’ lays emphasis on a vision for Ireland that makes a virtue of social equality, is more assertive in foreign policy, and promotes a more modern outlook.
This conference in honour of Iseult Honohan’s work on the occasion of her retirement from UCD SPIRe brought together political theorists from all over Ireland and Europe to discuss papers on central themes of her work. Over the two days of the conference frequent reference was made to Iseult Honohan’s article Friends, strangers or countrymen? The ties between citizens as colleagues and we who are so fortunate as to be her colleagues thoroughly enjoyed taking her powerful vision of active citizenship as a starting point for addressing the normative challenges of our current political world.
This world – even in the narrow frame of the so-called West – is much more divided than many of us were aware of. The divisions that recently emerged between Trump and Hillary voters, between Brexiters and Remainers, between those responding to the so-called European Migration Crisis with a culture of welcoming and those who build walls and fences, and between those who argue for austerity and those campaigning for pan-European solidarity and debt-release in view of the Euro Crisis often seem so deep that it raises severe questions as to what still unites us as citizens of particular countries or the EU. When we developed the theme for this conference – relationships and responsibilities – we were not yet fully aware of just how topical Iseult’s work would be today. What kind of relationship should we strive for as fellow members of any particular political unit? And which responsibilities follow from this relationship? How then should we best understand the purpose and the scope of our different polities? How should we think about understanding, granting, and/or limiting membership for each of them? And how should we balance their potentially competing demands?
Four panels each spearheaded by a renowned keynote speaker discussed different aspects of these questions. The panel on Attachment and Values included a keynote by Cécile Laborde on Cosmopolitan Patriotism as a Civic Ideal with a response by Attracta Ingram as well as papers by Cillian McBride (A Critical Theory of Domination), Suzanne Whitten (Recognition, Religious Offence, and Public Reasons), and Andrew Shorten (Domination and the Accommodation of Religious Diversity). The panel on Migration and Citizenship saw a keynote by Dora Kostakopoulou on Who is my Neighbour and Fellow Citizen? with a commentary by Graham Finlay as well as presentations from Kieran Oberman (‘Foreigners need not apply’ – Immigration Restrictions as Employment Discrimination), Rutger Birnie (Does Deportation Dominate?), and Ashwini Vasanthakumar (The Problem of Multiple Political Allegiances). The panel on Republican Obligation started with a keynote lecture by John Horton on Civic Republicanism and Associative Political Obligations with a response by Peter Stone. It also included papers by Jonathan Seglow (Citizen’s Duties), Sergi Morales Gálvez (Why Majority Groups Should Learn Minority Languages), and Jennifer Todd (Constitutional Moments and the Prospects of Everyday Emancipation). The final panel on Democracy and Leadership heard a keynote by Rainer Bauböck on ‘We and the People – Is there a Republican Response to Populism?’ to which Iseult Honohan herself responded. Presenters in this session were John William Devine (Private Lives and Public Office), Maeve Cooke (Non-Authoritarian Authority: Legitimacy at its Best), and Guy Aitchison (Republicanism, Popular Resistance, and the Idea of Rights.
We hope that this conference provided her with some food for thought and allows Iseult to start her “retirement” with a busy research agenda. We also hope to continue SPIRe’s proud tradition as Ireland’s centre for normative political theory and are hoping for the opportunity to discuss the results of all this inspiration in the Dublin Political Theory Workshop someday soon.
We are grateful for the generous support from UCD SPIRe and the PSAI making this event possible.
North Korea essentially has two international images: the bellicose nuclear provocateur run by a mad dictator, and the impoverished country in dire need of humanitarian aid. At the moment, both faces are on depressing display.
North Korea recently conducted its fifth nuclear test. As on previous occasions, talk of how to resolve the nuclear crisis ensued, with debates about sanctions, regional co-operation, and the rationality (or irrationality) of the Kim Jong-Un government.
This is of course a matter of huge international concern. But another major event hit North Korea around the same time as the nuclear test: Typhoon Lionrock caused widespread flooding that put over 140,000 North Koreans in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. International organisations and NGOs stepped in to provide aid. The Kim government acknowledged “great suffering” and deployed labour teams to assist affected communities.
These events evoke the famine of the mid-1990s, during which somewhere between 600,000 and 1m people died. As then, the irony of recent events wasn’t lost on outsiders: as North Korea’s people struggle, their government expends vast resources on a nuclear program that only isolates them further.
How do we navigate between these two images of North Korea? Is the country a serious threat to global security, or a weak state unable even to care for its population – or both?
On the move, slowly
North Korea often gets only sporadic Western attention, usually in the aftermath of a military advance or humanitarian crisis. Other noteworthy developments crucial for understanding the country, meanwhile, are overlooked.
Avoiding nuclear catastrophe in East Asia (and beyond) is essential and urgent appeals for aid are necessary and laudable. But between these extremes, North Korean society is changing, with serious implications for the country’s politics.
For example, North Korea’s economic system is far more market-basedthan the country’s communist political structures suggest. The mid-1990s famine shattered the state’s centralised rationing system, and most North Koreans have spent the 20 years since participating in one way or another in the country’s various (and often illegal) markets.
Time will tell what political impacts these processes will have. But what’s clear is that there are a number of vested interests that stand to gain from marketisation. Illicit trade along the border with China and even Russia has a big impact on the North Koreans living in those areas, and can help alleviate chronic shortages – in turn relieving a little pressure on the regime.
Political science research on sanctions shows that their record of actually achieving political goals (such as forcing authoritarian governments to liberalise) is spotty at best. As an alternative, perhaps the West should start coming up with another plan – such as finding a way to harness China’s economic success as a means to help ordinary North Koreans prosper.
After all, North Korea is well-known among Western governments for being the “land of lousy options”. If the economic equation changed substantially, a process border trade might speed up, better new pathways to dealing with the country could open up.
From the outside in
There’s another force with the potential to change the balance. The mid-1990s famine and its aftermath led tens of thousands of North Koreans to take the decision to leave their country. High-level defections like that of the deputy ambassador to the UK justifiably receive international attention, but it’s generally less well-known that there are now more than 27,000 North Koreans living in South Korea.
While the South Korean government offers some support to new settlers, many northerners still face serious challenges, among them the onerous task of adjusting to a new society, psychological distress, and unemployment.
But North Koreans living abroad can still influence the politics of their home country. They can speak out through memoirs, form civil society organisations in the South, and share their knowledge about North Korean society with researchers and journalists. Many can also communicate with family members who remain in the North, and send them information they would struggle to obtain in a highly restrictive and propaganda-rich country.
Nuclear and non-nuclear developments in North Korea are very much intertwined, and the outside world needs to understand the latter if it wants to take an informed approach to dealing with the Kim regime.
It’s not that issues between the extremes of a nuclear North Korea and a poverty-stricken one are entirely overlooked. To be sure, there are numerous journalists and academics who provide valuable insights into North Korea, even if rumour still muddies the water and concrete information remains scarce. Rather, the challenge for those who hope to change North Korea is to understand the social developments already underway and connect them with opportunities for political progress.
Many people are already thinking along the right lines, but there are many others still trying to understand the country principally in terms of nuclear machinations and domestic disasters. They need to update their thinking.
Alison Coyne is a UCD Law with Politics student. The best book reviews written as part of the course requirements for POL30080 Irish Politics and Policy are posted here to let UCD students contribute to critical reflection on key issues in Irish political and social life.
Susan McKay, Sophia’s Story (2004). Dublin: Gill and Macmillan
Sophia’s Story is the autobiography of Sophia McColgan, a woman with a harrowing story of her childhood in a household full of abuse and horror. Sophia bravely tells the story of life as the daughter of Joseph McColgan, a brutal man who raped and abused his family. A book full of torment, tears, terror and turmoil, Sophia’s Story is a must-read; it will leave you questioning the Irish system for child abuse, and perplexed as to how such unspeakable events could occur in modern society. Continue reading →
Daniel O’Toole is a UCD Law with European Studies student. The best book reviews written as part of the course requirements for POL30080 Irish Politics and Policy are posted here to let UCD students contribute to critical reflection on key issues in Irish political and social life.
McDonald, Frank & Sheridan, Kathy (2009) The Builders: How a Small Group of Property Developers Fuelled the Building Boom and Transformed Ireland. London: Penguin.
Who were the main people responsible for the astounding rise and subsequent demise of the Irish property sector during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years? The Builders comprises a series of articles by Irish Times journalists Frank McDonald and Kathy Sheridan, and details the journeys of several high-profile property developers involved in the Irish construction boom of the mid-1990s to mid-2000s. Continue reading →
Jack Power is a UCD History Joint Major student. The best book reviews written as part of the course requirements for POL30080 Irish Politics and Policy are posted here to let UCD students contribute to critical reflection on key issues in Irish political and social life.
Gilmore, Éamon (2015) Inside the Room: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Crisis Government, Dublin, Merrion Press.
Eamon Gilmore’s memoir Inside the Room, despite its several shortcomings, provides an interesting read for any politico. The book was penned by Gilmore presumably in an attempt to justify the Labour Party’s efforts in government with the public. It offers a look behind both the doors of the coalition government and into the Labour Party backroom, and if one can cut through the haze of Gilmore’s own political spin, the book can go a long way to explaining the Labour Party’s fall from grace. Continue reading →
Katie Rabasca is a Study Abroad Engineering student at UCD. The best book reviews written as part of the course requirements for POL30080 Irish Politics and Policy are posted here to let UCD students contribute to critical reflection on key issues in Irish political and social life.
Healy, Gráinne, Sheehan, Brian & Whelan, Noel (2015) Ireland Says Yes: The Inside Story of How the Vote for Marriage Equality Was Won, Dublin, Irish Academic Press/ Merrion Press.
On May 23, 2015, twenty-two years after homosexuality was decriminalized, Irish citizens voted to amend their constitution so that same-sex marriage would be recognized. In Ireland Says Yes, Gráinne Healy, Brian Sheehan, and Noel Whelan, insiders and activists, record the journey of the Yes Equality campaign towards the Marriage Equality Referendum in 2015. They take us through the campaign from the Constitutional Convention in April 2013, where advocates for marriage equality convinced the delegates to request a constitutional amendment from the government to include same sex marriage, through to the dramatic outcome of the count on May 23, 2015. The narrative is based on a series of personal anecdotes from campaign workers and volunteers, as well as their reactions to major events. The book had an incredibly fast turnaround: it was published on November 30 2015, only five months after the referendum was passed. It has some signs of having been written very quickly, but despite this Ireland says Yes is an insightful and personal look at the Yes side of the campaign. Continue reading →
Natasha Gamboa is a Politics and International Relations student. The best book reviews written as part of the course requirements for POL30080 Irish Politics and Policy are posted here to let UCD students contribute to critical reflection on key issues in Irish political and social life.
O’Toole, Fintan (2010) Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger, London, Faber and Faber.
Ireland became the envy of the world with the advent of the ‘Celtic Tiger’. Ireland quickly went from being one of the poorest countries with one of the slowest growing economies in the European Union to having a national income that was (on paper at least) triple that of the European average in 2004. However, this all came to a magnificent crash when the Irish property bubble burst. Ship of Fools – How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger sets out to explain all of this in a clear and concise way. The chapters are written as individual essays, each exploring a different topic or a different aspect of the story of the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger. O’Toole exposes the bad decisions that were made during this time, and provides revelation after revelation of the corruption, greed, and sheer foolishness that caused the Celtic Tiger to sink. Continue reading →