Letter to the University of Galway Management Team (UMT) about our growing concern with the situation in Gaza

The following is the text of a letter signed by numerous academics and staff from the University of Galway – myself included – and forwarded to the University’s Management Team (UMT) about our growing concern with the situation in Gaza.

Dear UMT, 

Like many others in Ireland and further afield, we have been deeply affected by the intolerable suffering of the people of Gaza over the past three months. The University made a statement on the conflict on the 18th of October, rightly acknowledging the suffering of both the people of Gaza and Israel. Since then, however, it has been reported that over 25,000 Palestinians have now been killed in Gaza, with thousands more missing or still buried under rubble. This figure of 25,000 includes more than 10,000 children. Countless more children and babies have been maimed or orphaned, leading to the coining of a new abbreviation used by humanitarian organisations, WCNSF, or ‘wounded child, no surviving family’, and to UNICEF spokesperson James Elder declaring it a ‘war on children’. Millions of Palestinians have been displaced from their homes, and several international humanitarian organisations such as the United Nations have warned of the escalating risks of starvation and death by disease due to the conditions that have been created. Taking into account statements of Israeli leaders and the relentless bombardment of civilians and civilian infrastructure which appears intended to create conditions that are incompatible with human life, the South African government has brought a case to the International Court of Justice alleging that the attacks by Israel against Gaza amount to a campaign of genocide. This is a claim supported by many international human rights scholars.

Of particular relevance to the University of Galway is the fact that all of the universities in Gaza have now been destroyed and many leading academics in Gaza appear to have been killed deliberately in targeted strikes. Attacking civilian infrastructure is a war crime unless the infrastructure is in active use by combatants, which has clearly not been the case, given that controlled explosions have been used to destroy university buildings. As we know, a university is more than just a building, it is a place that symbolises growth, creativity and nurturing of life and learning within a community. As a national SDG champion and a member of the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), the University has committed itself to the promotion and protection of human rights, access to education, sustainability, and conflict resolution. These attacks on Gazan universities and academics place particular demands of solidarity on us as a university community and entreat us to uphold our responsibilities as an SDG champion and UNAI member, and to embody those principles. Indeed, the ceaseless attacks on healthcare facilities and healthcare staff also demand particular solidarity from those of us who work in the health sciences, as does the destruction of Gazan museums, culture, and artefacts of cultural significance to our colleagues within the arts. We also have a duty of care to our Palestinian students and a responsibility to offer recognition and support consistent with the recognition and support rightly offered to Ukrainian students, in particular. For clarity, we also categorically condemn the abduction and killing of Israeli civilians by Hamas on October 7th and wish for an immediate safe release of all remaining hostages; however, these atrocities do not justify the appalling actions of the Israeli government. We also echo the concerns of our University of Galway Students Union and wholeheartedly support their recent statement condemning antisemitism and highlighting the importance of support for our Jewish community at this time. We, the undersigned, therefore request that the University make a strong statement condemning unequivocally the destruction of universities in Gaza and the apparent targeting of academics as well as attacks directed at healthcare facilities and healthcare workers, calling for the release of all hostages and demanding an immediate ceasefire.


Submission to An Coimisiún Toghcháin on its Research Programme and Research Priorities

As a Lecturer and Researcher at the School of Political Science & Sociology, the University of Galway, I am strongly supportive of the need for new and significant research on electoral policy and procedures to help bolster and support democracy in Ireland and add to our overall body understanding in these domains. While the Irish public is evidently optimistic about our democracy and the democratic process, this should not be taken for granted, and, as evident from across Europe and elsewhere, conditions can change swiftly and markedly to impearl our democratic system and undermine our institutions. We must seek to collect as much data and information as possible on the electoral trends in attitudes in Ireland, which will provide deeper insight into how social and political processes have changed over the recent past and whether these have been positive or negative in terms of our democracy. Such research and analysis will help policymakers and civil society better understand what conditions lead to positive political and societal changes and perceptions of fairness, political efficacy, and trust in such political and societal systems.

I am strongly supportive of the guiding principles for such research: independence and impartiality; inclusivity and fairness; the advancement of scholarship and debate; and peer review and scrutiny. Of particular interest is the advancement of scholarship and debate as Ireland lags behind other nations in our understanding of the distinctive attitudes, motivations, and practices underpinning electoral policy and procedures in the country. There is a need for much more research, public debate, and scrutiny on what makes our democracy thrive and the potential challenges and pressures that undermine our democratic processes. The five proposed thematic research strands will require substantive data and research to be realised and such research will need to be appropriately funded and resourced. Longitudinal studies will allow for a more accurate analysis of attitudes, motivations, and electoral practices over time, and these are to be welcomed as empirical evidence will be needed to underpin any electoral reform that may be deemed necessary over the coming years.

While strongly supportive of the Commission and the need for such research, I do wish to add the following supportive recommendations and remarks:

  1. All commissioned research should have a clear and transparent application process in which all organisations, groups, and individuals across society have a reasonable chance of applying for and successfully competing for
  2. All commissioned research must be properly and sufficiently funded and resourced, and the Commission must fully support the dissemination of results through its communication channels and mechanisms
  3. Of particular concern at this moment in time is the rise in online dis/misinformation amplifying bad actors and allowing manipulative individuals and groups, both internal and external, to have oversized influence and sway over our democracy. Therefore, the Commission should strive to understand how such dis/misinformation emerges, the actors involved in creating and disseminating such dis/misinformation, and its impact on democracy in Ireland through a series of robust research calls
  4. All collected data from all research projects funded by the Commission should be freely available to academics, organisations, groups, and interested individuals to allow for the production of new analyses and understandings through secondary data analysis
  5. The Commission should provide a central online repository to house the updated Electoral Register, past electoral and referendum results from all constituencies, and all conducted research, results, and associated data
  6. The Commission should facilitate communicative processes on the state of democracy in Ireland through a series of public events, conferences, and community engagements throughout the country
  7. The Commission should strive to promote its work and associated research through bespoke and audience-specific communicative processes to all sections of society in Ireland: school children, teenagers, young adults, mid-life adults, and elderly citizens.

Friday 12th January 2024