During the finals of the Trinity IV, James Johnston, Registrar for The Phil, made a comedy speech in which he accused Auditor of UCC’s Philosophical society, Caoimhe Meaney, of making a joke on facebook as “a pathetic substitute for a personality.”
The annual debating competition co-hosted by Trinity’s two debating societies, The Phil and The Hist, took place last weekend between the 1st and 2nd February. Johnston’s speech, which was the comedy “minutes speech”, included references to members of the Irish debating community and events throughout the year. During intervals between speeches, members of the audience stood up and shouted: “Caoimhe Meaney deserves an apology”. A member of the Judges panel called for order, although no interruptions were made during the speeches themselves.
Speaking to The University Observer, Meaney said “it was important to me that I did not know James Johnston… It’s not like he was a friend who would be entitled to make those sorts of jabs at me…I didn’t feel like I can leave the situation and I didn’t know what to do with myself, I just sat there very upset in tears.”
During the debate an outline of an apology was sent to Meaney by a member of The Hist, asking if it was sufficient. After Meaney approved, another message asking “can I message [the people calling for an apology] to say that we have sorted out an apology…so they don’t need to protest?” Johnston made the apology after the debate had concluded.
The reference to Meaney was made in connection to an event earlier this academic year, in which the Phil failed to register teams for the Cork IV. The advertised deadline for teams to register for the Cork IV had been the 30th October. Reminders of the approaching deadline were posted online for all debating societies on the 27th October. After the deadline passed, it was decided that The Phil could have a five day extension. When The Phil registered their teams this second deadline had passed by 34 seconds, according to Meaney. The decision of the Chief Adjudicators of the competition, which included Meaney, but also debaters from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leiden, and Trinity, was to not accept the late registration as it was late for a second deadline.
This isn’t the first time a member of The Phil has used their platform to publicly target a woman in the audience. Earlier this year, Sophie Furlong Tighe, an ordinary member of The Phil, tweeted criticisms of The Phil for hosting an all male debate. The Phil tweeted a response saying “sadly no women signed up to speak at this debate!” During this debate, Pierce O’Meara, who is the pro-debates convener for The Phil, asked if Furlong Tighe was in the audience, and asked her to stand up. He then continued with his speech without addressing her. Speaking to The University Observer, Furlong Tighe said “I was just left standing, in a room full of people laughing and looking at me, which was a bit embarrassing.”
Immediately after the debate “An Apology from the Registrar of the Phil” was announced by the Convenor of the competition who was representing the Phil. The Registrar then gave a public apology in the chamber, in his capacity as Registrar. Later, the Registrar personally apologised to the debater in private. The President of the Phil also personally apologised to the debater in private after the debate.
“The University Philosophical Society unreservedly condemns the Registrar’s comments. It was a misuse of the platform given to him, a breach of the competition’s equity policy and was antithetical to the values to which the society aspires. This is an incident we regret deeply. We offer our most sincere apologies to the individual who was wronged.”
In a statement to The University Observer, Johnston said:
“At the Final of the Trinity IV 2019, I read the minutes in my role as Registrar of the University Philosophical Society…In my speech I made a number of directed, hurtful and mean-spirited remarks about a debater in the room which, though meant in jest, [sic] were not funny and simply nasty. There was a large amount of very justified unhappiness in the room, and I agreed with the convenors of the event that I should make a public apology. I offered a public apology at the end of the debate, and later offered a personal apology to the debater in question.”
“I apologise unreservedly to this debater for the hurt I have caused, and to the wider debating circuit for the bad faith I have shown. It was a breach of the competition’s Equity Policy and a misuse of the platform given to me by the organisers of the competition.”
Neither the Phil nor The Hist responded to requests for comment, although The Phil Facebook page posted an apology stating: “Hello all, The Phil would like to formally address what occurred on Saturday night during the Trinity IV. This event was an extraordinary public business meeting jointly held by the University Philosophical Society and the College Historical Society. The role of reading the minutes is rotated every year between the Registrar of the Phil and the Record Secretary of the Hist. It was the Phil’s turn this year, and as such the two Convenors of the competition agreed to have our Registrar compose and read the minutes out before the final began.
The minutes were composed without consultation with any of the other members of the Phil committee. During these minutes, the Registrar made a number of distasteful and hurtful comments, clearly targeted at a certain debater in the room. In response to a significant amount of legitimate anger, the Convenors of the event, and the Registrar of the Phil, decided an apology was necessary.”
In a statement to The University Observer, the Trinity IV Equity Team, whose job it is to enforce protect student debaters from bullying and harassment, confirmed that the Registrar had breached the equity policy, which directs debaters not to make “personal attacks.”
“The equity team contacted the wronged individual to establish a course of action. The requested form of action in this particular incident was a formal public apology which was agreed to and offered at the conclusion of the debate.”
“Following the debate, and public apology, the wronged individual had a conversation with the equity team in which further potential action was discussed as an option but not requested.”
“Our role as equity officers is to contact the person who was wronged, offered counsel and respond according to how they request. No further action was requested.”
Pierce O’Meara did not respond to request for comment.