Students hotly debate Ireland’s post-Brexit prospects

Irish Times Debate 2017-2018 semi-finalists battle it out for place at finals in Belfast

Gloomy economic predictions and enthusiastic claims about Ireland benefiting from post-Brexit free trade deals were heard at the third semi-final of The Irish Times Debate 2017-2018 in Dublin on Monday.

Impassioned arguments were made around the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union as 11 student debaters tried to get the better of each other on the topic of Ireland’s place in Europe.

Students from debating societies in UCD, TCD and UCC debated the merits of Ireland’s future relationship with her nearest neighbour during the competition at the Dublin Business School on Aungier Street.

Competitors debated the question: “This house believes that post-Brexit Ireland would be better served by aligning with London rather than with Brussels.”


Proposing the motion, UCD student Isabel Cooke argued in favour of greater alignment with London.

“For the first time Ireland needs to identify what is actually best for its interests and put ourselves in a position where we can fight for that,” she said.

Opposing the motion, UCC student Caoimhe Meaney said: “It is principally illegitimate for Ireland to keep pushing itself and its people closer and closer to Britain when we never had the opportunity to cast them off before, but we do now.”

‘Bar stool’

Speaking for the motion, TCD student Harry Higgins said: “We have been on a bar stool rather than a seat at the table for as long as I can remember and for as long as the European Union has existed. We need to have control over our post-Brexit destiny . . .”

Speaking for the motion, UCD’s Jack Heron said: “Ireland must be pragmatic and use its cultural and historical links with Britain to its advantage.

“If we intensify our co-operation we can increase our mutual prosperity without having to overcome the barriers of different languages or different legal systems.”

Opposing, TCD student Catherine Prasifka, the final speaker, warned of the danger posed to Ireland by realignment with London.

“Irish politics are still expected to fall in line with whatever happens in the UK. Even now, though they have little power to enforce it on us, Ireland is denied sovereignty and agency except that which is guaranteed and reinforced by involvement in the EU.”

Speakers were assessed on a range of competencies including the reasoning used, the examples and rebuttals offered and how well specific arguments were made.

Team trophy

Some 200 debaters entered this year’s competition. They go through first round, second round and semi-finals, until the 12 speakers who have been judged to have debated best during the competition will compete to win the Demosthenes team trophy and the Christina Murphy individual speaker trophy at the final in Belfast.

The three winners (team of two and individual speaker) will then go on a tour of the United States, hosted by Prof Brent Northup of Pax Rhetorica, Carroll College Montana.

The competition is now in its 58th year, and previous winners have included broadcaster Marian Finucane, comedian Dara Ó Briain, writer Gerry Stembridge and the late Adrian Hardiman. President Michael D Higgins and former president Mary Robinson were finalists.

The Debate 2018 Grand Final takes place at Queen’s University Belfast on Friday February 23rd. The event is being hosted by the Literary and Scientific Society, Queen’s University Belfast.

The convenor for this year’s competition was former finalist Janine Ryan.

Following a unanimous decision, the team that will go through to the final in Belfast were motion proposers Daniel Gilligan and Ronan Daly (TCD Hist). The individual winner, Patrick Lavelle (TCD Phil), spoke in opposition to the motion.

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí is an Irish Times journalist and editor of the Irish Times Student Hub