Speakers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and the Solicitors' Apprentice Debating Society of Ireland (Sadsi) were named the winners of the Irish Times Debate semi-final on Saturday and will progress to the final event in the summer.
Trinity College's Historical Society team Caoimhín Hamill and Jack Synnott claimed the top spot in Saturday's semi-final online event and will progress to the final debate, while Daire McMullin from Sadsi was awarded the top speaker spot.
The motion debated at the second semi-final of this month was, “This house regrets the prominence of political satire”. The first of the online semi-finals took place last week, while two more will be held in April ahead of the Irish Times Debate final, which is scheduled for June.
Mr Hamill and Mr Synnott opposed the motion, arguing that political satire played an essential role in society. Mr Hamill underlined that satire was “the tool of the powerless against the powerful” and a “vital response to politicians who ignore the weakest and most vulnerable”.
Political satire “dares to be controversial in a world where people feel everyone is lying to them” and “reminds us that we can challenge those who have power over us”, he argued.
Mr Synnott said political satire “brought people back into a system of politics” and argued that “laughing at someone is the first step towards working with someone”. Political satire “creates unity between individuals” who can share “involuntary laughter”, he said.
Mr McMullin, who also opposed the motion, contended that satire held a “political and moral purpose” and elevated comedy to activism. Satire “bruises” people with “visions of the truth” and warned that a world which rejects satire is “welcomed by dictators and bullies”.
“Satire is never going to bring down a government on its own but gives people the power to acknowledge the government of the state they’re living in,” he concluded.
Saturday's winners will join Rí Anumudu and Kemka Ogbonda of Maynooth University who took the top team spot at the first semi-final on Thursday, along with Gavan Mc Laughlin who was named top speaker.
The annual debates are taking place online this year but continue to be black-tie events, with participants encouraged to dress in formal wear while presenting their speeches to a computer screen from their home.
Saturday’s event was chaired by satirical cartoonist Martyn Turner, who has been contributing illustrations to The Irish Times since the early 1970s. Former debaters Ronan Daly, Janine Ryan, Lewis Shanahan and Aodhán Peelo acted as judges for the event, along with Irish Times journalist Bernice Harrison.
The annual debating competition has been an early proving ground for many who have gone on to forge distinguished careers in law, medicine, theatre, media and politics.
Former winners and finalists include presidents past and present (Michael D Higgins and Mary Robinson), politicians (Eamonn McCann, Mary Harney, Brian Lenihan and Rónán Mullen), broadcasters (Henry Kelly, Derek Davis and Marian Finucane), and senior civil servants and judges (Adrian Hardiman, Frank Clarke and Donal O’Donnell).