News: In Brief

Senior academics in hot water over pension top-ups

James Wilson 

Staff Writer

Hundreds of Irish academics have been awarded pension tops-ups worth “tens of millions of euro”, according to The Sunday Independent.

Staff who retire without having paid into the system for 40 years are entitled to, in recognition of the further study they completed as postgraduates, top-up allowances, in some cases amounting one quarter of the staff member’s total pension.

A considerable number of academic staff and other senior figures in Irish universities took advantage of a special entitlement that allowed them to obtain the maximum possible pension allowed under public service rules

The revelation comes at a time of falling public expenditure and despite government cuts having reduced spending on third-level education from €1.85 billion to €1.53 billion since 2010 – a cut of over 15%.

Each payout was requested by the academics in question’s employers and personally approved by minister for education, Ruairi Quinn, and minister for public expenditure, Brendan Howlin, and has a resulted in a request from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for both ministers to  appear before them and account for the practise.

Nationwide, Trinity is the biggest user of the scheme and 147 staff members have taken advantage of the scheme since 2010, with 44 having been awarded top-ups in 2013 alone.

A spokesperson from the College issued a statement that there were three public service pension schemes used by Trinity employees and that any adjustments are made “strictly in accordance with the provisions of the scheme rules”.

Trinity FBI hacker calls for more privacy

James Wilson and Johnny Byrne 

Staff Writers

Citizens should be able to choose what they want to share, Donncha O’Cearbhaill, the third year medicinal chemistry and famous hacker, said last Wednesday at the College Historical Society (Hist) debate on government surveillance. The technological revolution has led to a revolution in spying and even the Irish government refuses to divulge what information it looked at, he said.

O’Cearbhaill was questioned by Gardai in 2011 over the hacking of the Fine Gael party’s website. He was later arrested in Halls in 2012 following the leaking of details of a confidential call between the FBI and Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency.

O’Cearbhaill was speaking against the Hist motion that, “This house believes it is justified for the government to spy on its citizens”.

The first speaker to propose the motion, student Stephen Barr, opened the case with an appeal for the audience to think of the greater good. He underlined state efforts to combat crimes perpetrated by the mafia and pedophiles as justification for spying. In his view, spying could be justified because its use often prevented ordinary citizens becoming the victims of heinous crimes.

The next speaker, Nick Clairmont, began by stating that freedom of speech was a fundamental right and that the use of spying by governments was hugely damaging to this concept. He added that he did not believe that extra surveillance would protect society from terrorism and warned that people were becoming too complacent about spying, before invoking the name of the late US Senator Joseph McCarthy who made a name for himself publically interrogating citizens with alleged communist sympathies.

Rollo Montgomery Konig-Brock, a junior freshman student, conceded that while spying does threaten the right to privacy it was sometimes necessary to maintain an open society. He advocated its use in situations where large companies act fraudulently and against such illicit organisations as the Ku Klux Klan.

Jack McGrath sought to clarify the terms of the debate by acknowledging a need for Governments for spy on individuals know to be dangerous but rejected any attempts to justify the mass surveillance of society as a whole. He cited the example of an NSA employee’s spying on an ex-boyfriend as proof as to why citizens should be wary of given such organisations too much power.

The final proposition speaker, Adam Moneghan, called the concept of privacy a myth and informed the audience they had all signed their right to it away when they opened Facebook accounts. Spying, he continued, was “just a collection of data.”

The final speaker, Frank Bannister, invoked George Orwell in his speech, telling the crowd that the technology he envisaged in 1984 was not available then but was being used now. He informed listeners that he was afraid of the current government, but cautioned that future administrations would not be so benevolent. He finished by rhetorically calling for the audience to reject the motion and confine it to “the dustbin of paranoia where it belongs.”

The motion was put to the floor and defeated by a majority of audience members gathered in the Graduate Memorial Building (GMB).


Sponsored swim for former Cumann Gaelach auditor

James Wilson 

Staff Writer

The friends of a former Trinity student who was gravely injured last summer are organising a fundraising swim to help meet the costs of his care. Pádraig Schäler studied Modern Irish and History TSM from 2009 to 2013 and was highly active in College’s Irish language community, becoming auditor of the Cumann Gaelach in his third year.

Following an accident in America last summer in which he was knocked off his bicycle, Pádraig was transferred from Cape Cod hospital to Dublin’s Beaumont, followed a few months ago by a move to a specialist neuro-rehabilitation facility in Germany.

Speaking to The Herald, Pádraig’s father, Reinhard said that, “He is still in a coma, but over the last month or two there have been signs that he is getting slightly better.”

In order to contribute to the significant cost that his care has incurred, and in recognition of his great love of swimming, his friends have organised Snámh Phádraig (Pádraig’s Swim).

Participants are aiming to raise a minimum of €250 each and will leave Dublin on 12th April for a two day trip during which they will take a swim in the sea off of each of Ireland’s 17 coastal counties.

His friends in the Cumann Gaelach are also organising a Concert for Pádraig, which is due to take place in Workman’s Club on the Wednesday of Éigse na Tríonóide,Trinity’s Irish language week. All profits from the ticket sales will go to help fund his medical treatment.

Amongst the acts playing will be the Trinitones, Kíla and Seo Linn, whose rendition as Gaeilge of Avicii’s Wake Me Up went viral last summer.