Rebranding socialism as humane and socially responsible capitalism

Thirty years ago Desmond Fennell observed that socialist thought in Ireland was “virtually non-existent”. James Connolly “is still the chief reference source of Irish socialism, with no other Irish thinker intervening” since.

That summation still holds good, as does Fennell’s conclusion that “socialist activism has been confined to the margins”. Since the foundation of the State, the s-word has been a turn-off for the electorate.

In the 1969 general election, the Labour Party campaigned under the slogan “the seventies will be socialist” and it promptly lost four seats. The IRA’s promise to deliver, by violence, a “32-county socialist republic” did little to help the left-wing brand. And while the electorally successful Bertie Ahern proclaimed to be “one of the few socialists left in Irish politics”, voters – understandably – took this as a joke.

Today, socialism continues to play badly at the ballot box. Those politicians who used to canvass under the socialist tag now go by the name Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit, presumably because they copped on the Irish are more likely to vote against austerity than for an “ism”.  Continue reading


Stop kidding yourself, you have no human rights

Next time you bleat about your right to something think about what’s being done in your name in the Mediterranean

My opinion piece published by The Irish Times today:

“The conception of human rights based upon the assumed existence of a human being as such broke down at the very moment when those who professed to believe in it were for the first time confronted with people who had indeed lost all other qualities and specific relationships – except that they were still human. The world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human.”

When the political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote these words in ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ in 1951 she was making no abstract claim.  Continue reading

The other Richard: Why Feynman not Dawkins provides a template for inter-faith dialogue

In an opinion piece in The Irish Times yesterday, I wrote about what I perceive to be a counterproductive and unnecessarily hostile tone to the debate between atheists and Christians, citing the recent discussions on the role of religion in education.

I’ve previously written about the question of school patronage in Ireland, and why the Catholic Church should abandon its “Catholic first” admissions policy not just on humanist grounds but on Christian grounds.

To clarify a few points, the article yesterday was not prescriptive – and nor was it designed to be – regarding the best approach to school divestment or patronage reform. It was a commentary on the nature of this, and similar discussions, where atheists and Catholics have clashed over issues of public concern.  Continue reading

Are science and religion really in conflict? The Unthinkable debate

Unthinkable took to the road this month for a debate, “Are science and religion really in conflict?”


(Left to right: William Reville, Siobhán Garrigan, Joe Humphreys, Cathy Barry, Kevin Mitchell. Pics: Alan Betson/IrishTimes)

Who won? Was there a knock-down argument to resolve this vexed question?

Judge for yourself. It’s remixed here as a three-minute Socratic dialogue (with apologies to Plato):

The Republic of Unthinkable

I went down to the Science Gallery in Dublin with William Reville (WR), emeritus professor of biochemistry at UCC; Dr Siobhán Garrigan (SG), chair of Catholic theology, TCD; Dr Kevin Mitchell (KM), neuroscientist and blogger at; and Cathy Barry (CB), philosophy graduate and blogger at, to talk about gods.


WR: “I am a scientist and I accept everything that science has discovered and will discover, but I am also a Christian. It is my belief that science and religion occupy separate domains and there is no necessary conflict between science and religion once each remains in its own domain.”  Continue reading

Unthinkable… the book!

Unthinkable cover backup

‘Unthinkable: Great Ideas for Now’ from Irish Times Books

New thinking is needed to tackle the problems of a rapidly-changing world.

Irish Times journalist and author Joe Humphreys tracks down leading thinkers to answer some of the most pressing questions facing humanity. Drawn from his absorbing columns in The Irish Times, Unthinkable seeks to road-test your reasoning, and raise the quality of public debate.

He speaks to 70 philosophers and scientists who put forward ideas capable of changing not just your mind but the world for the better.

– How do you eat ethically?

– Why should men care about gender equality?

– Can atheists tolerate God?

– Who’s in charge, you or your brain?

– How should we deal with disagreement?

In Unthinkable no question in out of bounds and no idea too radical to dismiss outright.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.” – Albert Einstein

Unthink front and back cover

You may not Like this article – if you’re fond of clickbait and ‘popular culture’

The Irish Times, OpEd, Aug 21st 2015, Joe Humphreys writes:

There was once a time when popularity was viewed as suspect. “Popular culture”, for example, was what you called stuff that people liked but was generally rubbish. It was distinguished from actual culture, which people had to learn to appreciate and which could be measured by objective standards.

Similarly, popular – or populist – governments were what you called jingoistic if not dangerously nationalistic entities which pandered to citizens’ basest instincts. The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire captured some of the wariness of a previous generation of populism when he said: “The multitude is always in the wrong.”

For more read:

Philosophy: the subject that improves children’s literacy, numeracy and conduct

The Irish Times, feature, Sat Aug 15th:

We’re only about 2,500 years behind the Greeks but Philosophy is finally making it on to the school curriculum. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is drafting plans for a short course in the subject to be introduced as part of the new Junior Cycle curriculum.

It comes as a fresh wave of research highlights the benefits of philosophy for children (or “P4C”). A study at Durham University of 3,000 pupils in 48 state primary schools published last month associated P4C with significant gains in children’s literacy and maths scores, and even improved conduct.

For more read: