Irish Times Front Page Piece (26/11/2009)
A GROUP of academics and students at NUI Maynooth has called on the university to suspend its appointment of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern as a visiting professor pending the outcome of the Mahon tribunal.
Campaigners said up to 1,000 signatures opposing the appointment had been collected among the student body and a public meeting on the issue took place last week.
Some 36 academics, including professors and senior lecturers, have written to NUIM president, Prof John Hughes, expressing “profound opposition” to Mr Ahern’s presence on campus, in light of the tribunal evidence over his finances.
Prof Hughes described these arguments as “irrelevant and prejudicial”, adding that, “in Ireland as elsewhere, people are innocent until proven guilty”.
Mr Ahern is expected to give his inaugural lecture shortly but the university said no date had been set. The appointment, which is unpaid, was originally announced in March.
A spokeswoman for NUIM said last night it was “entirely appropriate” to appoint Mr Ahern as honorary adjunct professor of mediation and conflict intervention in the school of business and law, whose courses include a diploma and master’s degree in mediation and conflict intervention. She said the professorship acknowledged the former taoiseach’s “mediation skills” and his “unique experience” in the context of the Nice Treaty and the Northern Ireland peace process.
In a letter dated June 12th, prior to the summer break, the group of academics from a range of faculties wrote to Prof Hughes expressing “profound opposition” to the appointment. Their main objection arose from the “continuing ambiguity surrounding Mr Ahern’s financial affairs, and the implications of these financial affairs for his conduct while in public office”.
In a reply marked “Strictly Private Confidential” on June 17th, Prof Hughes wrote: “A strong case was put to me by the head of business and law based on the extensive experience and reputation of this individual in conflict resolution and mediation, and his potential contribution to the new diploma and master’s programmes in this area.”
A further letter from the objectors states that “the political track record of Mr Ahern is one that, on balance, renders him unworthy of the prestigious position that he has been afforded”. In addition, the letter states that, “given the pivotal role of Mr Ahern in squandering the unanticipated riches of the Celtic Tiger era, the decision of NUI Maynooth [to appoint him] as an honorary professor simply beggars belief”.
Efforts to contact Mr Ahern for comment last night were unsuccessful.
(Article by DEAGLÁN de BRÉADÚN, Irish Times Political Correspondent)