Ciara Kenny

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‘This house would emigrate’: The 53rd Irish Times Debate final

The TCD Bram Stoker Club last night won The Irish Times Debate held in the Riddel Hall, Queen’s University Belfast, on the topic of emigration.

Eoin O'Liathain (TCD Phil) opens the Irish Times Debate. Photograph: Pacemaker

Sat, Feb 23, 2013, 09:05


GERRY MORIARTY, Northern Editor

That this house would emigrate, was the motion for the 2013 Irish Times Debate in the Riddel Hall of Queen’s University Belfast last night and after a long, disputatious night of verbal cut and thrust it was those urging people to remain in Ireland who triumphed.

Liam Brophy and John Engle of the TCD Bram Stoker Club took the team Demosthenes trophy against opponents from the TCD Philosophical Society, the UCD L&H and the TCD Historical Society while Kate Brady from TCD Hist, the only woman of the 12 debaters, won the individual Christina Murphy memorial prize.

Next month all three will head off for a three-week debating tour of the US sponsored by The Irish Times and the National Parliamentary Debating Association of America.

The team runners-up supporting the motion were Eoin O’Liathain and Brian O’Beirne with Rob McCarthy of UCD L&H taking second spot in the individual section, again supporting the motion.

“Emigration has dogged Irish people throughout their history,” said Liam Brophy opening opposition to the motion for the TCD Bram Stoker Club in front of a lively audience that included lawyers, students, former competitors and proud parents.

”Emigration occupies a unique hold over the psyche of the Irish people, a hold that causes us to regard it as an inevitability,” he added. What he wanted was for this generation to stay in Ireland and “demand a better quality of politics and politicians”.

“Emigration has a stranglehold on the Irish that has inhibited and will continue to inhibit our development into a mature nation as long as we let it continue, and that cycle of emigration is one that we have to break,” he argued.

“I can’t think of any other country in the world that has quite such a propensity to joke away and plain ignore problems that in any other country would be regarded as scandals,” he added.

“We don’t need a spirit of resignation, we need a spirit of renaissance, and that can only come by retaining this generation in the country,” he said.

His team colleague Liam O’Neill said it was glib to “paint emigration as just a broadening of our horizons” because that ignored “our duty to our country”, a duty to do something to help the 200,000 children who were in poverty in Ireland.

Staying might mean enjoying “less croissants on a beach in Sydney” but it meant people could contribute to improving Ireland and dealing with its problems, added O’Neill. And “emigration takes away the people most crucial to that debate”.

He called for a “collective outrage” to be channelled and used “to demand that change we need and deserve and that can only be found at home”.

Individual winner Kate Brady of the TCD Historical Society, also opposing the motion, argued that by staying in Ireland people could be part of something that was much larger than themselves.

“They can be part of something that goes across history and goes across nations and that can be done best by staying in the area where you feel you belong for the longest time you can,” she said.

People, of course, should travel and have a sense of adventure but then return. Paraphrasing Dante’s depression at his exile she said that “you can’t experience something good about a country if you are continually missing your own home, and that is the difference between the mindset of an emigrant and the mindset of someone who has travelled”.

“I say go and come back because we have something here worth staying for, and we have something here worth standing up for,” she said.

Mr Justice Frank Clarke of the Supreme Court, a former debate finalist, chaired the debate and the presiding adjudicator was Mr Justice Donnell Deeny, of the Belfast High Court, who was a team winner in 1971 and 1972 – and competed against Mr Justice Clarke.

The other members of the adjudicating panel were Margaret Elliott of Elliott-Trainor solicitors and governor of The Irish Times Trust; Prof Brent Northup, chairman of communications at Carroll College in Montana; SDLP Assembly member Conall McDevitt; Billy McCrory QC, a team winner in 1973; Jeremy Kinsella, an individual winner in 2009 and convenor last year; and Paddy Smyth, foreign policy editor of The Irish Times.

This was the 53rd Irish Times Debate final, the first one was held in 1960.

The Generation Emigration blog will feature text and video of the speeches next week.