Students from two UCD societies to contest Irish Times Debate final

Contenders debate motion that ‘This house believes that Ireland’s Great Famine was a genocide’

Students from two University College Dublin societies have progressed through to The Irish Times Debate final.

Frances Aketch of UCD's Law Society claimed the top individual speaker's spot in Tuesday's evening's third semi-final, while UCD's Literary and Historical (L&H) society members Sarah Jones and Owen O'Grady won the team competition.

They debated the motion that “This house believes that Ireland’s Great Famine was a genocide”.

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

At Thursday's semi-final earlier this week, the winners included Caomhín Hamill and Sinziana Stanciu from Trinity College Dublin's independent team and Pierce Lyons of the Solicitors' Apprentice Debating Society of Ireland (Sadsi).

The final of Ireland’s longest-running, third-level debating competition is due to take place at UCC next month.

Speakers in the final will compete for the Demosthenes trophy for best team and the Christina Murphy memorial trophy for best individual.

Evictions and forced labour

Sarah Jones of the UCD L&H team proposed the motion, arguing that the famine should be called a genocide because there was “mass eviction, land grabbing and forced labour” and because Irish language and culture were “taken from us by the British”.

“It’s to find meaning in what is lost and more specifically what was taken from us,” Ms Jones said.

She compared Ireland’s famine to those in Ukraine and India.

“It was the economic policy choices, exporting grain when people were starving and closing the soup kitchens, that caused Irish people to starve.”

Ireland had “all the characteristics of a post-genocidal country” including high levels of depopulation, a decimation of culture including reduction in Irish speakers and Gaelic games.

Frances Aketch (Law Society) opposed the motion, and said suffering was caused “not just by a colonial overlord but by a complicated mix of colonialism, religion and the local people willing to sell out their fellow man . . . It is not only disrespectful to the memories of those who died in these tragedies to think of this as a deliberate genocide but it is a denial of history.

“By framing the British empire as the cause of our famine woes, we ignore the complex, multifaceted face of colonialism that still dominates our planet to this day.”

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