By David Farrell
Richard Sinnott passed away on 3rd January 2022 after a long illness. An emeritus professor at the School of Politics and International Relations at University College Dublin, Richard was a world-leading researcher in the study of elections and electoral behaviour, his research leadership recognised by membership of the Royal Irish Academy (in 2012).
Over the course of his career, he led a number of major European-funded research projects, collaborating with the top names in political science across Europe and the USA. His most significant books included People and Parliament in the EU, Public Opinion and Internationalized Governance and, of course, his path-breaking study of Irish voting behaviour, Irish Voters Decide (Manchester University Press, 1995 – now out of print).
He also played an important leadership role in the development of voting research in Ireland. For instance, he was one of the editors of the very first How Ireland Voted volume on the 1987 general election, and he was co-author of the first Irish National Election Study volume, The Irish Voter.
Over the course of his career he published a host of journal articles in leading political science journals on subjects ranging from voting behaviour in elections and referendums, to public opinion, voter knowledge, the Irish party system, the study of party attachment, ethnic conflict, international relations, voter attitudes about Northern Ireland, and so on – the list is long, the quality throughout top notch. If there is one common denominator in all this research output, it is an abiding concern with the theme of ‘voter knowledge’. It is testimony to the high regard felt for him that at the time of his retirement several years ago a number of his former colleagues and students published an edited volume in his honour, The Act of Voting.
Richard was much in demand from international collaborators: at the height of his powers he could have had his choice of top job internationally. I have no doubt that it was his love of Ireland and UCD that kept him here. UCD was in his blood. He was a student of the College in the early 1970s, and after a stint at Georgetown (for his PhD) and the ESRI he returned to UCD in 1976 as an assistant lecturer, where he remained (apart from research visits to Harvard, the EUI, Oxford, and Tokyo) until his retirement in 2012.
In UCD Richard trail-blazed the teaching of quantitative politics and international relations – both subjects that are core to the political science curriculum half a century later. Perhaps his most notable teaching-related contribution was the establishment of the Centre for European Economic and Public Affairs (CEEPA), of which the centrepiece was the interdisciplinary Masters of Economic Science in European Economic and Public Affairs – a huge innovation at the time and early forerunner in European Studies, which also remains a core focus in our curriculum. There were also important leadership roles in university administration, for instance as one of the founder members of the UCD Geary Institute, and a long stint as the first Vice-Principal for Research of the UCD College of Human Sciences.
Richard will be remembered by many for his regular appearances as RTE’s election pundit; indeed, he was a pioneer in introducing data-led, political science expertise to the airwaves, as shown for instance in this clip from the RTÉ archive.
I will end on a more personal note. Richard was my former teacher, mentor and friend. He was my undergraduate lecturer, my Masters supervisor, and also co-supervised my PhD: I can’t begin to remember how many reference letters he wrote for me over the years! Like many others, I benefited hugely from Richard’s advice and support over many years. He will be sadly missed. RIP.