University founder sends back doctorate in protest

Dr Edward Walsh Taoiseach Brian Cowen honorary doctorate protest
Former Taoiseach Berti Ahern and Brian Cowen. Photo: Sam Boal/

The founding president of Ireland’s University of Limerick (UL) – the first new university established by the Republic of Ireland (originally called the National Institute of Higher Education) – has said he will hand back his honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland (NUI) in disgust at its decision to honour former Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Dr Edward Walsh, who joined NIHE in 1970, saw its transformation into a University in 1989 and retired in 1998, wrote to the NUI this week to express his “amazement” at the decision.

He said he was sending back the honorary doctorate he received in 1998. Mr Cowen’s predecessor as Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, under whom Mr Cowen served as Finance Minister, was one of many Fianna Fail luminaries present at the degree ceremony at Dublin Castle.

In his letter of protest to the NUI Dr Walsh wrote: “Ahern and Cowen inherited an Ireland which, in 2000, had full employment, was the fifth most competitive in the world and, after Luxembourg, had the lowest debt in Europe.

Dr Edward Walsh Taoiseach Brian Cowen honorary doctorate protest
Dr Edward Walsh

“Through their inept stewardship, they brought Ireland to its knees and caused much hardship to its citizens. In other jurisdictions, such people would find themselves held to account by society and suffer consequences.

“The NUI has inverted such norms and lowered its own standing to that of those it has so imprudently honoured.”

The NUI said it’s a longstanding tradition dating back many decades to honour past holders of the office of Taoiseach with an honorary doctorate.

NUI senate

The decision to grant the award to Mr Cowen was made by the NUI’s 38-person senate, which includes senior academics as well as members nominated by the Government.

It followed a recommendation from the body’s honorary degrees committee, which is chaired by the NUI’s chancellor, Maurice Manning.

Mr Cowen’s successor as Taoiseach Enda Kenny is to receive his doctorate later this year.

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