Irish Times Debate: Trinity speakers awarded top spots in semi-final

Reconciliation and forgiveness the focus of motion that was debated by students

The Irish Times Debate is taking place online this year. File photograph: Alan Betson

The Irish Times Debate is taking place online this year. File photograph: Alan Betson


Speakers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) were named the winners of the latest Irish Times Debate semi-final on Saturday and will progress to the final event in June.

Megan O’Driscoll and Kate Maher of the University Philosophical Society (the Phil) took the top team spot, and Gabrielle Fullam of the College Historical Society (The Hist) was awarded the top speaker spot.

The motion debated at this semi-final was: “This house believes justice movements must reclaim forgiveness.”

Arguing against the motion, Ms 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,” she said.

“When forgiveness is offered as a default olive branch and there’s no prior restorative or rehabilitative work required, people increase the mass of your movement, but are they really helpful?” Ms O’Driscoll said.

The pair scattered humour throughout their speeches and argued that forgiveness was “the status quo”.

Ms Maher said: “Reclaiming forgiveness does not help justice movements achieve their goal because institutions of oppression use forgiveness against them.”

‘Weaponised’ forgiveness

She used the example of the Catholic Church, which she argued “weaponised” forgiveness against people of Catholic faith. “If you don’t want to be a sinner, then you forgive what was done to you and what you saw being done … When finally they had to acknowledge the movement, they did what Jesus would have done; they asked forgiveness,” she said.

The event, held through an online Zoom call on Saturday, was one of four semi-final debates held throughout April.

The event was chaired by Conor Houston, a previous finalist of the debate, who has been heavily involved in advocacy and work on peace and reconciliation. Speaking afterwards, Mr Houston commended those who cited forgiveness in the context of the peace process in Northern Ireland and the Belfast Agreement.

Reconciliation should be “the absolute overriding objective”, said Mr Houston, who is also a governor of The Irish Times Trust. “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.”