High-profile members of Trinity College Dublin's Knights of the Campanile have said they were not aware of any "hazing" rituals carried out by the society.
A list of members at a recent annual dinner held by the Knights of the Campanile, which has been seen by The Irish Times, includes prominent figures from the worlds of business, media, politics and sport.
The society invites 50 new inductees each year based on their sporting prowess, and now boasts 1,200 members, including honorary members.
While a list is not publicly available, members include some of the university’s best-known sportspeople and other well-known graduates.
TCD last week said the society was being investigated over allegations that new members were this year subject to “hazing”, or harsh physical ordeals, which were first reported by the University Times (UT) student newspaper.
Senator David Norris, who has been an honorary member of the club since 1990, described the alleged hazing as reported by the UT as a "stupid Anglo American piece of nonsense which can sometimes be quite dangerous". He said that when he attended this year's dinner, which was held on March 8th, he was not aware of any alleged hazing as described in the University Times article.
“I have never been involved in such activities. When I joined, they simply dipped my tie into a pint of stout. Perfectly harmless.”
As well as investigating whether hazing occurred, TCD also said it was investigating an allegation that the UT “bugged” the apartment of the president of the Knights of the Campanile during the alleged hazing. Reporters from the newspaper placed a recording device by the open door of the apartment during what is alleged to have been an initiation ceremony for new members.
The newspaper reported that society members were being jeered and shouted at over a period of time, and that gagging and retching sounds could be heard from within the apartment.
A member of the Knights of the Campanile present in the apartment at the time told The Irish Times that new members had been told to eat butter, were told to bend over and had bicycle helmets strapped to their heads, and at another point had to get into a running shower with an umbrella.
Former rugby pundit and radio presenter George Hook, who is also an honorary member, said he was not aware of any initiation practices in the club. "I know S.F.A. about what happens in the society . . . I'm reasonably certain that students will be students, and get up to mischief," he said.
“Boys will be boys and girls will be girls, but that’s the reality,” he said, before adding that students could be up to much worse than “having a bit of high jinks and a few drinks”.
Following the story, 500 students signed a petition which has led to a referendum which could lead to the effective closure of the newspaper. The ethics council of the National Union of Journalists has strongly defended the professional standards of the UT reporters, saying their reporting was “beyond reproach and consistent with the highest professional standards of public interest, investigative journalism”.
Former senator and Pro Chancellor of Trinity, Dr Sean Barrett, has been an honorary member of the society for several decades, but said he had never been aware of any hazing practices.
Ronnie Delaney, the Irish runner and 1956 Olympic gold medallist, is listed as attending the annual dinner. Mr Delaney said that as an honorary member it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the current controversy. Trinity Provost Patrick Prendeville also attended the dinner earlier this month. He has been an honorary member of the society since 2012.
Other members of the society who attended the dinner include former Irish rugby internationals Hugo MacNeill and Brendan Mullin, as well as motivational speaker and endurance athlete Mark Pollock.