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‘Absolutely farcical’: DCU faces backlash over honorary doctorate for Bertie Ahern

Former taoiseach will be honoured alongside Professor Monica McWilliams, a signatory of the Good Friday Agreement


Bertie Ahern recently rejoined Fianna Fáil after more than a decade in the wilderness

Bertie Ahern recently rejoined Fianna Fáil after more than a decade in the wilderness

Bertie Ahern recently rejoined Fianna Fáil after more than a decade in the wilderness

Students and staff at Dublin City University (DCU), past and present, have reacted angrily to the news that former taoiseach Bertie Ahern is to receive an honorary doctorate at the university next month.

The university will confer the award of Doctor of Philosophy on the former taoiseach. Also due to be conferred is Professor Monica McWilliams, a campaigner for peace and a signatory of the Good Friday Agreement on behalf of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition.

However, shortly after the announcement, people took to the university’s social media page to voice their anger.

One former student and employee of DCU, described the decision as “absolutely farcical”. He said: “You’re embarrassing yourselves, next year it’s awarding one to Netanyahu for preserving Palestinian rights.”

Another former DCU student said: “I take this as a personal insult, you are condoning cronyism. Give the award to someone who has served their community, local clubs or sports.”

Another critic, Peter Melrose, said: “I strongly disagree with this. The rehab of Bertie continues as he eyes the Áras, eh?” He added: “I’d like an investigation into who suggested and authorised this.”

When contacted by the Sunday Independent this weekend, a spokesperson for DCU confirmed they were going ahead with the conferral on March 2.

“The awarding of these doctorates recognises their outstanding services to civil society and the public good, through the extraordinary contribution made by both Prof McWilliams and Mr Ahern to the peace process. These awards are being made ahead of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April.”

The spokesperson said DCU has previously conferred honorary doctorates on peace process architects Seamus Mallon, David Trimble, John Hume and Senator George Mitchell, and to former US President Bill Clinton.

However, the university failed to address the adverse reaction to its plans, when asked for comment. 

The ceremony will take place in The Helix on DCU’s Glasnevin campus, just several weeks before the 25th anniversary of the 1998 signing of the Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement.

Elected taoiseach in 1997, Ahern inherited the peace process from his predecessors. He then committed himself to the process and was a key negotiator at the table.

On the night before the Good Friday Agreement was signed, it seemed as though it was going to be a failure when, at the final hour, Sinn Féin produced a list of 15 demands. While others might have given up, Ahern worked on it point after point, getting Sinn Féin across the line.

The news comes days after it emerged Ahern has rejoined Fianna Fáil over a decade after quitting.

Back in 2012, Micheál Martin threatened to expel Mr Ahern from Fianna Fáil over findings in the Mahon Tribunal that raised serious questions about Mr Ahern’s finances.

The tribunal, a report into corruption in Ireland’s planning process, had found Mr Ahern failed to truthfully account for payments of IR£165,000 made to accounts connected to him. It did not make a corruption finding against him.

Asked at a Fianna Fáil event in Dublin last week, after it emerged he had rejoined the party, if he had any intention of seeking elected office again, Mr Ahern said: “I have no intention of going back into my old job [taoiseach].”

Asked about the presidency, Mr Ahern (71) said: “Listen, my main job is staying alive that long. It doesn’t come up for a long, long time, but I’m an ordinary member of the party.”

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