Student Debaters Daniel Gilligan and Ronan Daly from Trinity College’s Historical Society won the grand final of The Irish Times Debate 2018-2019 following a passionate debate in UCD on Friday night. This represents the Historical Society’s 26th time winning the competition. The competition, which is the oldest debating intervarsity competition on the island of Ireland saw over 300 entries this year.
The motion for the 59th final of the competition was ‘This house would rescind Ireland’s position of neutrality in favour of a European standing army’. Contestants from The Kings Inn, UCD, Trinty College and The Solicitors’ Apprentice Debating Society of Ireland were all represented is among this years 12 finalists.
The winning individual speaker was Kevin Roche of The King’s Inn, who accused the Irish state “of being blind to the world around us,” and argued that “joining a European army was the ultimate remedy to that blindness.” Roche recognised that it was uncomfortable to think of Irish people being killed in another war, but claimed the EU had consistently stood by Ireland.
The black-tie event hosted by UCD Law Society saw frequent clashes regarding the current status of Irish neutrality with proposition claiming the status quo to be a sham. Propositions speaker and overall winner Daniel Gilligan (TCD Hist) argued that “Irish neutrality has always been a grand act of self-exception.” His teammate Ronan Daly (TCD Hist) furthered this argument by saying “this debate is about the profound distance between who we are, are who we believe ourselves to be,” and said that the current state of Irish neutrality was little more than a rhetorical device.
Opposition speaker Ross Merriman (UCD LawSoc) however believed that it was deeply unjust for the house to suggest that we should ask parents to send their children to fight in another nation’s war. He held that if the Irish people wanted to fight a war “we want that act to be one of willful engagement,” and not simply the state fulfilling an obligation. His teammate Conor White (UCD Law) believed that all Ireland owed “the world [was] the chance of peace’. This was as a response to the propositions frequent claims that Ireland owed the EU this as a result of the support they have afforded us throughout the years.
Lonán Collins (SADSI) attacked oppositions argument as a relic of a bygone era where to be Irish was little more than an effort to not be British. Collin believed that as the British were an imperial power, Ireland decided to be a neutral state. This however no longer reflected the best course for Ireland, and we needed to ensure ourselves against future crisis through further cooperation.
Aishling Kinsella (UCD L&H) runner up in the individual speaker category called on Ireland “to be aware of when powerful states attempt to bully and lie to us” about the need and consequences of war. It does not matter she claimed if our neutrality was not perfect because most nations of the world believed it was, and perception is more important. Kinsella also noted that Ireland was not subject to any serious military threats, meaning that we would be in effect contributing to a system from which we would derive no benefit.
Feidhlim MacRóibín and his teammate Conor O’Brien (SADSI) described Ireland ‘as a small ship in a vast ocean”, and “not a warship seeking past imperial glory’. They warned against handing over the job of directing our armed forces to the largest countries in the EU, on some misguided basis of being equal partners. They also noted that in most nations, command of the army was vested in the executive branch, and that proposition could not have a situation where there was a rapid response, and carefully considered action.
The debate also saw the finalists contest which side of the house was more moral in the actions. Opposition speaker Shane Kelly of UCD MedSoc asked: “whose state is morally correct, the state that must defend its neighbours, our the state that chooses to defend its neighbours.” He also questioned why the state would defend after other nations when its first duty of care should be to the Irish people. If we handed control of our defence forces over to Europe, there existed a possibility that they would be unable to respond quickly to a crisis in Ireland.
Harry Higgins (TCD Phil), who alongside his partner Rory O’Sullivan were the runner up team countered “we have an obligation to stand for peace, security and human rights,” worldwide, and only a European army could achieve that. Through greater cooperation, they argued Ireland could expand its peacekeeping and aid delivery capabilities to the benefit of all.
Speaking after the debate Gilligan said that he ‘was delighted with the win, it was a really close competition and we are delighted it went our way.’
Chairperson Jack Chambers, Fianna Fáil spokesperson for defence said of the debaters presented many “compelling and excellent arguments” with “many of the points being very well made” by finalists.
The winners of the competition have since 1980 been invited by the National Parliamentary Debate Association of America to participate in a debating tour of the United States. They will also join the ranks of such distinguished former winners as Supreme Court Justice Adrian Hardiman and broadcast journalist Marian Fianuace. President Micheal Higgins and former Tánaiste Mary Harney were also previous finalists of the competition.


By Aaron Bowman – CoEditor