Angry students protested in NUI Maynooth today over former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s appointment as visiting professor in mediation and conflict studies.
About 1,200 people, including lecturers, signed a petition opposing the university’s decision to invite Mr Ahern to take up the honorary, unpaid role.
“This demonstration cannot be ignored,” a spokesman for the Free Education for Everyone (FEE) campaign said.
“Students and staff have made it perfectly clear they do not want Bertie Ahern awarded an Honorary Adjunct Professorship on our campus.”
But NUI Maynooth defended the appointment insisting it was a reflection of the work Mr Ahern did in the North and on the European Union’s Nice Treaty.
“It is entirely appropriate for NUI Maynooth to acknowledge the former Taoiseach’s mediation skills and benefit from his unique experience in the context of the work he did, in particular on the Nice Treaty and in bringing peace to Northern Ireland,” a university spokesperson said.
FEE spokesman Donal Fallon spearheaded the NUI Maynooth campaign and attacked the appointment of Mr Ahern over his stewardship of the economy and investigation by the planning tribunal.
He said 250 people marched on President Professor John Hughes’ office to deliver the petition.
“If hundreds of students will show up merely to hand in a petition, how many will protest Bertie’s physical presence here?” he said.
Mr Fallon added: “Our campus is not a place for Fianna Fáil photoshoots, it is an academic institution.
“Bertie Ahern being awarded an Honorary Adjunct Professorship would be an insult to all those who have been awarded such positions in the past from third level institutions.”
NUI Maynooth students’ union is not supporting the action after representatives voted against it.
He was appointed Honorary Adjunct Professor to the School of Business and Law at NUI Maynooth in March. He will give an inaugural lecture but no date has been set.
Mr Ahern was invited to bring personal experience to the post along with Defence Forces Chief of Staff Dermot Earley and Labour Relations Commission chief executive Kieran Mulvey.
In an interview last weekend, Mr Ahern said critics who blame the Government for the economic crisis should “dig the garden or grow bluebells or do something useful”.
NUI Maynooth said the appointment was approved by both the Professorial Board and Academic Council which contains more than 60 senior academics.
Despite this, 36 lecturers and staff have also issued a letter of protest.
A leaked letter from NUI Maynooth president Professor John Hughes in response last June supported Mr Ahern’s appointment based on his extensive experience and reputation in conflict resolution and mediation.
Prof Hughes said history will judge the former Taoiseach.
“No other political leader of any party, or of any country, was gifted with the foresight to take steps to avoid the current global economic crisis,” the Prof wrote.
“The arguments regarding future tribunal judgments are irrelevant and prejudicial in that, in Ireland as elsewhere, people are innocent until proven guilty.”