After winning the semi final last Saturday, three speakers from Trinity are to progress to the final of the Irish Times Debating competition. The black-tie event was held over Zoom and was one of four semi-final debates held throughout April.
Kate Maher and Megan O’Driscoll of Trinity’s University Philosophical Society (the Phil) earned the top team spot, whilst Gabrielle Fullam of the College Historical Society (the Hist) took home the prize of top solo speaker.
The motion presented at the semi-final was “This House Believes Justice Must Reclaim Forgiveness.” The event was chaired by Conor Houston, a previous finalist of the competition and a current board member of the Irish Times Trust.
Maher and O’Driscoll argued against the motion, scattering humour through their speeches.
In her speech O’Driscoll said “movements of people owe nothing to the systems or people who do them harm”.
“Forgiveness absolves oppressors of the responsibility to do any amount of work before claiming the title of ‘ally’… Forgiveness helps people move on but you can’t move on if you are still being oppressed.”
In her speech Maher explored the ‘weaponisation’ of forgiveness by institutions such as the Catholic Church.
Using this example, Maher spoke on how the Catholic Church weaponises forgiveness in its Doctrine saying “if you don’t want to be a sinner, then you forgive what was done to you and what you saw being done”.
She continued, “When finally they had to acknowledge the movement, they did what Jesus would have done, they asked forgiveness”.
“Reclaiming forgiveness does not help justice movements achieve their goal because institutions of oppression use forgiveness against them.”
Speaking in favour of the motion, Fullam argued that “individuals can be forgiven, because they are inevitable results of unjust systems which perpetuate oppression”.
“There is not just one bad apple, there is a disease in the orchard, and we are in serious need of systemic overhaul and change.”
Speaking to Trinity News, Fullam spoke of the benefits the move to online brought to the debate.
“The move to online debating over the past year has been really smooth. In particular, it’s great to see physical access barriers reduced, as you no longer have to travel across the country to debate” she said.
She believes “online debating has a lot of accessibility benefits” and she is hopeful that “hybrid debate models will persist in a post-COVID world to increase access”.
Discussing her win in the semi-finals, Fullam spoke of the quality of the other speeches, saying “I’m really shocked to be in the Irish Times Final, because honestly there were so many really really wonderful speakers at last night’s debate”.
Speaking on the debates still to come, Fullam said that she is “looking forward to the final in June, and hope it brings with it even more opportunity to argue for justice”.
“I’m really happy to see women and people of colour being represented in this year’s final” she continued.
Speaking to Trinity News, Maher said that she is “so excited to be representing the Phil in such an important competition”. She is also “really looking forward” to speaking in the final with O’Driscoll.
O’Driscoll told Trinity News that she is “very glad to have made it to the final with such a wonderful friend as [her] partner”.
Speaking after the debate Houston, spoke about the benefits of reconciliation saying it should be “the absolute overriding objective”.
He went on to add that “the responsibility of this generation, if we’re really going to affect change, is going to be to constantly figure out how we can better engage and understand those with whom we disagree”.
The final of the Irish Times Debating competition is due to be held in June.
This article was updated at 2:15 to include comments from Maher and O’Driscoll.