Doctoral Theses

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    Developing indicators of the social sustainability of farming using the Teagasc National Farm Survey
    (University College Cork, 2022) Brennan, Mary; Hennessy, Thia; Dillon, Emma; Teagasc
    The emergence of agricultural and food sustainability as a major societal objective has resulted in a considerable shift in the focus and design of EU policy relating to agriculture, food, and rural development. As such, the dimensions of sustainability (economic, environmental and social) are reflected in the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) 2023-2027. The monitoring and evaluation of policy is a key element of the new CAP and consequently, there exists a need for harmonised multidimensional indicators to gauge progress towards specific sustainability targets. Moreover, the transition of the Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN) to the Farm Sustainability Data Network (FSDN) reflects the commitment of the European Commission to enhancing sustainable farming practices, and this necessitates an expansion of existing farm level indicators to improve policy monitoring and evaluation, particularly with regard to social and environmental metrics. In response to this policy need, this thesis aims to contribute to the ongoing development of sustainability metrics at the farm level, cognisant of evolving policy themes and drivers impacting Irish and European agriculture, and focuses on social indicators of sustainability. Indicators to assess the economic, and more recently, environmental sustainability of agricultural systems have dominated much of the sustainability discourse to date, with little on the assessment of social sustainability. The broad nature of social sustainability does not lend itself readily to measurement by conventional, quantitative means. An extensive review of the literature suggests that agricultural social sustainability can be considered as either ‘internal’ (relating to farmer wellbeing) and ‘external’ (at societal level)’, encompassing animal welfare and community wellbeing. Expanding on this ‘internal’ and ‘external’ classification, and following consultation with stakeholders, this thesis categorises social sustainability into dimensions reflecting farmer, animal and community wellbeing, and identifies relevant indicators for each dimension. Farmer wellbeing incorporates elements relating to quality of life (i.e. working hours, stress etc.), animal wellbeing consolidates herd level welfare data, while community wellbeing examines indicators measuring multifunctionality, service accessibility and heritage and culture (including generational renewal). Statistical analysis of data collected through a special survey, in addition to supporting socio-demographic data from the Teagasc National Farm Survey (NFS) relayed key information on the social sustainability of Irish farms. From a farmer wellbeing perspective, this research finds that dairy farmers are more likely to experience farm related stress relative to operators of cattle, sheep or tillage systems. In addition to a stress assessment, this thesis assessed farmer wellbeing levels through the development of a composite index, the Farmer Sustainability Index (FSI), comprising indicators which reflect farm continuity, community and social connections, and farmer comfort. The FSI indicates that farmers working in the cattle sector, of older age profile, and residing in more peripheral regions experience relatively lower levels of wellbeing. Indicators assessing community wellbeing reveal regional variation, with communities in the Border and West performing less well in terms of wellbeing compared to other regions. In terms of farm continuity, a higher proportion of dairy farmers have identified a successor. Moreover, in terms of animal wellbeing, representative data from the NFS finds that welfare on dairy farms has remained relatively stable during an expansionary phase following EU milk quota abolition in 2015. These findings indicate that farm level social sustainability varies considerably by farm system and subsequently region. Variations in the FSI scores and those of its components reveal the extent to which farm heterogeneity influences wellbeing levels. Additionally, the underlying farm economic and socio-demographic attributes are influential. This serves to highlight difficulties in applying a common policy approach in the pursuit of improved social sustainability across farm systems with differing wellbeing needs. As the FADN expands its remit to better encapsulate sustainability through the FSDN, it is imperative that additional social sustainability indicators are developed. This thesis finds that, with modifications, the FADN framework retains the ability to effectively assess and collect social sustainability metrics for European farms. Indeed the Teagasc National Farm Survey has been at the forefront in this regard, devising a bank of social sustainability indicators and providing a roadmap for data collection and analysis. This research contributes to the discourse on agricultural social sustainability measurement, through the development of a range of indicators reflective of farmer, animal and community wellbeing dimensions. Recommendations for future data collection and research are also provided.
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    An exploratory study of the financial and non-financial performance impacts of interactions between ecosystem actors of the FinTech revolution
    (University College Cork, 2022) Browne, Oliver; Hutchinson, Mark; O'Reilly, Philip
    FinTech is an abbreviation of financial technology, characterised by start-ups and emerging technologies that have the potential to transform traditional financial services by making transactions and processes less expensive, more convenient, and more secure. This thesis conducts three studies on FinTech firms at various corporate life cycle stages. These studies explore the financial and non-financial impacts of interactions between incumbents, new entrants, and regulators as key FinTech ecosystem actors. The first study seeks to understand the barriers to technology adoption for an incumbent multinational systemically important financial institution. This study explores emerging financial technologies as a potential solution to issues of historic myopic investment in information technology. Second, this thesis examines new FinTech ventures and their decision-making process around accelerator programmes, exploring whether high-quality ventures choose to participate in accelerators and their impact on performance and external capital. Third, this thesis seeks to understand the relationship between board diversity and performance for a sample of private FinTech firms. Incumbent FS firms encounter legacy information system (LIS) issues and competing priorities for the provision of internal investment resources. Many incumbents’ labyrinth of legacy systems are prone to lacking documentation, poor data quality and manual processes. At the same time, routine rigidity persists due to fears of system downtime affecting core customers. The first study in this thesis describes the design and development of a novel ontology-based framework to illustrate how ontologies can interface with existing distributed data sources. The framework is then tested using a survey instrument and an integrated research model of user satisfaction and technology acceptance. The results reveal a significant reduction in manual processes, increased data quality, and improved data aggregation from employing the framework. In contrast to incumbents, new ventures often have limited resources and may seek external investment to survive. However, private firms face significant competition for scarce resources and information asymmetries between investors and new entrants. To reduce information asymmetry, new entrants may seek certification from accelerators as a signal of venture quality. The second study in this thesis uses a handcollected dataset of 1,253 private UK firms to explore the impact of accelerator participation on firm performance. This study shows that firms that participate in an accelerator raise greater amounts of capital than a matched sample of non-accelerator FinTech firms. However, these firms, in turn, exhibit poorer financial performance. This finding indicates that accelerators do not attract the highest quality firms, and high-quality firms may choose to avoid participating in accelerators as a countersignal of venture quality. In contrast, evidence suggests that regulatory accelerator participation may signal venture quality. The final study assesses the effect of board characteristics on firm performance in a sample of 189 UK registered FinTech firms as new ventures may signal quality through cultivating a large, more diverse, or prestigious board. The final empirical chapter provides evidence that increased female board representation contributes to improved performance in early-stage private FinTech firms. Furthermore, more than half of firms have no female board representation, and only one-in-ten directors are female. FinTech is characterised by increased start-up activity and innovations that threaten to disrupt incumbent processes. This thesis contributes to assessing the efficacy of FinTech firms’ efforts to signal venture quality, the impact of board characteristics on private firm performance, and incumbents’ response to FinTech. This thesis, therefore, provides significant contributions to the FinTech domain through advancing science and knowledge. It creates value for those operating accelerator programmes, incumbent organisations seeking to integrate new financial technologies with legacy information systems, and for effective governance of FinTech firms towards optimum performance.
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    Voices from the outside: Homeric exiles in twentieth-century French writing
    (University College Cork, 2020) Burke, Catherine; Noonan, Mary P.; Irish Research Council; Fulbright Association
    This thesis explores the twentieth-century trope of the outsider but from a modern and Homeric perspective. The corpus of artists under review each develop a symbiotic relationship with Homer and his epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. It is an encounter that repositions the outsider, shifting our gaze from the pitiable, shunned ‘étranger’ to the creative, empowered, and vocal other. The position of the exile is recast as a Homeric exile of possibility. I begin the discussion with Marcel Proust, one of the cornerstones of French literary and cultural history. Through his masterful work A la recherche du temps perdu, Proust fashions a French epic deeply indebted to Homer, exploiting the figure of the Homeric bard to craft his modern response to the contemporary notion of the twentieth-century French outsider. The second chapter follows on from this, with Jean Giono and Naissance de l’Odyssée building on this idea of the storyteller and in particular the self-referential and metanarrative nature of the role, and how this impacts upon and advances the French Homeric exile. The result is an intricate exploration of the relationship with literary predecessors, one that oscillates from parasitism to symbiosis, with the identity of the artist moulded by the encounter. The third chapter moves to a comparative study of two French women, Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff and their respective engagement with Homer’s Iliad. This chapter explores a notable development in the Homeric reconfiguration of the twentieth-century modern French exile. The chapter provides evidence of female artists engaging with Homer, where the female response is not determined by gender and where the playfulness discernible in the previous artists is in stark contrast to the grim and gritty Homeric rewritings of these women. Both Weil and Bespaloff are at pains to reveal that the creative and powerful position of the reconfigured outsider is one hard fought. Chapter Four deals with the inimitable Claude Cahun, an artist who embodies the twentieth-century French Homeric outsider. In both her visual artwork and her literary work Héroïnes, Cahun represents a significant iteration of the French Homeric outsider. Throughout her work, she explores many of the themes of the thesis, interrogating the nature of art and the artist, the fluidity of the self, the metamorphosis of the artist, the performative aspect of identity and the role of the other. Chapter Five brings us to Monique Wittig, one of the most influential voices in the feminist movement in France. Her Homeric reworking of the Iliad, Les Guérillères, is in marked contrast to that of Weil and Bespaloff. Wittig wears her gender very much on her sleeve: this is a feminist revision of the Homeric Iliad and stamps a female voice on the figure of the Homeric exile in twentieth-century France. The thesis ends with a conclusion that ties the disparate strands together in a coherent illustration of the twentieth-century French encounter with Homer. The encounter is an intertextual exchange that saw the emergence of a distinct Homeric voice of exile, one that articulated a unique moment in France’s cultural history. From this fertile engagement avenues of possibility spring forth for the future Homer, the quintessential voice of exile.
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    A reluctant pacifist: Thomas Merton and the Cold War Letters, October 1961 – April 1962
    (University College Cork, 2021) Cronin, James G. R.; Ryan, David; University College Cork; University College Dublin
    Thomas Merton believed nuclear war was the single greatest threat facing humanity, whereas American Catholic commentators considered that nuclear war was winnable or at least survivable. What made him a reluctant pacifist was the tensions he faced between speaking frankly without being partisan. Merton had an intellectual duty to his readers to both fairly and accurately set out his position on nuclear pacifism. In order to evaluate whether he did this with integrity as a writer it is necessary to set his declared motivations against his actions and to evaluate what the tensions between his views and his actions reveal about him as a writer. Merton’s pacifism is evaluated through archive research at the Thomas Merton Center, Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, and supported by a substantial secondary literature. Research for this dissertation highlights previously unacknowledged associations between Merton’s Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky and radical pacifism of the Catholic Worker movement. Merton’s pacifism is evaluated in five chapters through examination of his character, cloistered life, and correspondences within the institutional context of Merton’s tussles with his superiors and censors in reaction to the resumption of atmospheric nuclear testing by the Soviet Union in September 1961 and the U.S. in April 1962. He represented himself through correspondence as being a writer who was committed to a central American Catholic ideal that America was good for Catholicism and Catholicism could save America. He was committed to a consistent ethics of life. The few mainstream readers who engaged with Merton’s ideas were shocked and confused that he reduced political reality to symbols of moralism that rejected all war, not just nuclear war. The broader significance of Merton’s pacifist writing was as a bellwether of a broader cultural shift in American Catholic life from American Catholic triumphalism to prudential judgement in the responsible exercise of the democratic life.
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    Connecting the continents. Power system modelling and capacity building for detailed assessments of global power sector decarbonization pathways
    (University College Cork, 2021) Brinkerink, Maarten; O'Gallachoir, Brian; Deane, Paul; Energy Exemplar; Science Foundation Ireland
    Deep decarbonization of the global energy sector is essential for reaching increasingly ambitious climate change mitigation targets. The momentum on global climate action is gathering speed, hence the need for energy research to accurately inform development pathways and decision making processes for the global energy sector is both critical and urgent. Electricity end use is expected to gain a larger role due to the potential for emission reductions in the electricity sector combined with the ability of electricity to displace fossil fuel use in other sectors. While completely decarbonised power systems based on very high penetrations of wind and solar energy are desirable, the technical and economic feasibility of power systems mostly or fully based on renewables remains a matter of debate. Furthermore, from a continental or global perspective, the role of flexible assets such as large-scale transmission interconnections are poorly understood. This thesis develops, applies, and disseminates a number of key foundation blocks for robust assessments of global power system decarbonization pathways by means of open methods and datasets that can be used with a broad range of modelling tools. The author constructs and uses a detailed global power system model with high technical, temporal, and spatial modelling resolution to assess the technical feasibility of scenarios coming from long-term planning models. The methodological open source soft-link framework presented here is carefully designed to respond to known limitations of Integrated Assessment Models in a manner that allows for iterative model coupling to pinpoint and improve key areas of power system representation within Integrated Assessment Models. The thesis results provide insights that planning models struggle to generate, for example regarding curtailment of renewable electricity, occurrence of unserved energy and the operation of flexible assets at hourly modelling resolution. The research pays particular attention to the potential for intercontinental trade of electricity in context of a globally integrated power grid. The main contributions of this thesis are the development, application and dissemination of new methods, datasets and models that improve power system modelling and capacity building efforts at the global scale. The foundation blocks provided by this research are currently contributing to improved assessments of power system decarbonization pathways and are enriching the evidence base underpinning global climate- and energy policy decisions.