The Irish Times Debates: the leading third-level debating contest in Ireland


The Irish Times Debate has been running for more than 50 years. Open to students at all third level institutions in the country, both North and South, the competition has produced an array of distinguished former winners, including among them Prof Anthony Clare, Prof David McConnell, Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman, Dermot Gleeson, Derek Davis, Marion Finucane, Gerry Stembridge, Dara O’Brian and Senator Ronan Mullen.

The prize for the winning team and winning individual is a three week debating tour of universities across the United States next March and April. If you are interested in entering, or if you are the chair of an institution’s debating society and would like to introduce yourself to this year’s convenor, email Application forms will be sent out in the last week of September.

Hosting The Irish Times debate final
Institutions interested in submitted a bit to host this year’s final will be invited to do so in the weeks following the registration of teams for the competition. Submissions should be posted or emailed to The Irish Times. Email or post to Janet Stafford, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2.

The Irish Times Debate, Belfast 2013

Goal of competition
The competition aspires to be a truly national debating championships. Whilst it draws a large entry every year, it is true that some third level institutions rarely or never enter, and that colleges in Northern Ireland have not participated much in recent years. Last year, the competition attracted more societies and speakers than ever before and this year, the aim is to see such growth continue. I strongly urge any institutions who haven’t entered recently to consider it this year. It would be my pleasure to help you familiarise your society and speakers with the format.

The competition has been running for over 50 years and has been generously sponsored by The Irish Times since its inception. It has been a popular student activity on campuses all over the country. Institutions that have tasted ultimate success in the Team or Individual competition include UCD, Trinity, UCC, Queen’s, Kings’ Inns, UCG, UL, DCU, Maynooth, SADSI, the Cadet School, DIT Bolton Street and the Royal College of Surgeons.

Many former winners are prominent today in public life, in disparate fields that share only the common thread that debating prowess proved an important skill in the career chosen. Former winners Derek Davis, Marian Finucane, Henry Kelly and Ian Kehoe have all had prominent careers in the media and journalism, as did psychiatrist Anthony Clare. Law and politics are strongly represented among the ranks of the former winners. Supreme Court Judges Adrian Hardiman and Donal O’Donnell, Judges Kevin O’Higgins and Esmonde Smyth, Sir Donnell Deeny QC, former Attorney General Dermot Gleeson and Senator Rónán Mullen are former winners; both Mary Robinson and Mary Harney were finalists.

The value of humour in the competition can be measured by the fact that writer Gerry Stembridge and comedian Dara O’Briain are both former winners.

The only information that you need to compete is an order paper. At the first round stage, you will be selected by your union or society to compete in a particular debate, as DIT C, UCC Philosoph F, TCD Hist A or something similar. The alphabetical tag has no significance, and will be replaced by your names, at the first round debate.

The order paper will detail the motion, your speaking position, and the time and place of the debate. On each order paper, a meeting point will be specified (sometimes a reception venue, sometimes the actual debate venue) for 30 minutes prior to the scheduled commencement of the debate. The debate will start punctually, and without you, so be there at the specified time.

Each debate is hosted by a particular society or union in the relevant college. They are responsible for providing you with directions, and information on travel and accommodation in the location where the debate is taking place. A contact person and a contact telephone number in the host college are supplied on each order paper, if you need any help.

Notwithstanding this, it is your own responsibility to arrange transport and accommodation for each debate. The college or society that you represent will often make some arrangement with you about defraying your costs.

Once the competition starts the draw for all rounds and details of results will be posted to the relevant contact people in each society or college. They will be responsible for passing the details on to you.

At this stage, teams and individuals will be drawn in specific rounds, and they may not “swop” their position on an order paper with another team or individual in the same institution.

Showing up
It is vital that the society is represented at every debate in which it has entered a team. Unexplained no-shows are completely unacceptable and if they occur, the Convenor reserves the right to:

  • Bar the society in question from hosting debates in subsequent rounds
  • Disqualify all other teams from the same institution
  • Fine the institution

If a team that was selected to speak in a round unavoidably cannot be present, the society in question should:

  • Make every conceivable effort to send a replacement team
  • As a matter of last resort, ensure that they contact the host institution before the start of the debate (contact details will be on the order paper), to inform them that they are unable to participate.

Competition rules

  • From the point of view of the Institution, as opposed to the individual speakers, there are really only two competition rules:
  • Speakers must be current registered students in the College which they are representing. Any third level educational institution can participate.
  • Entry fees must be paid in full for the institution before any team is permitted to speak.
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