Several student organisations, including TCDSU and UCD PBP, have released a joint statement condemning the recent L&H “Northern Ireland Debate” for its rehabilitation of controversial political personalities.
On the evening of Monday, 9th October, UCD PBP, TCD PBP, TUD PBP, Students4Change, TCDSU, UCD PWO, and UCD CYM issued a press release condemning a debate organised by UCD’s Literary and Historical Society on the same day. The debate, titled ‘The Northern Ireland debate’, was called out for its “biased panel” and “clear political agenda”: the groups undersigning the press release argued that the debate was “pushing a reactionary right-wing agenda, rather than allowing debate”, alongside trying to rehabilitate the figures of Berine Ahern and Edwin Poots, with the latter being invited to the debate.
The debate, titled ‘The Northern Ireland debate’, was called out for its ‘biased panel’ and ‘clear political agenda’: the groups undersigning the press release argued that the debate was ‘pushing a reactionary right-wing agenda, rather than allowing debate’, alongside trying to rehabilitate the figures of Berine Ahern and Edwin Poots.
The main point raised by all student groups concerning the attempted rehabilitation of Bernie Ahern focused on Ahern’s responsibility for austerity policies that severely affected the Irish population during his tenure as Taoiseach. On this matter, TCDSU President László Molnárfi stressed that those economic policies resulted in “social murder” - these policies have driven people into precarious living conditions.
The negative repercussions of these economic policies continue to affect the student population. Notably, the press release reads that austerity policies contributed to students' inability to “find affordable accommodation.” László Molnárfi expanded on the matter, arguing that Ahern’s government paved the way for the neoliberalisation of modern universities. This sentiment was also echoed by Rory Burke, UCD PWO representative and UCD PBP, who added that the aftermath of Ahern’s policies “have undermined the education and living standards of UCD students”. For this reason, UCD PBP expressed their disappointment that UCDSU “haven’t shown their disapproval of the event on behalf of UCD students.”
Another aspect of the debate called out by all signatories of the press release was the invitation of Edwin Poots. The statement reads, “Poots, a reactionary, transphobic sectarian, [...] has absolutely no interest in trying to resolve the current political and economic crisis of Northern Ireland [...] Poots and his reactionary elitist politics is not welcome here at UCD!” On this topic, Students4Change added that Poots has “no regard for the welfare of those he supposedly represents - his views and policies are harmful and serve nobody but the elite.”
Alongside the rehabilitation of both Poots and Ahern, all student groups involved took issue with the absence of genuine opposition at the event, which turned the debate into a “lopsided discussion skewed into the narrative of the rich and powerful”, as suggested by UCD PBP, TCD PBP and TUD PBP.
Talking to the University Observer, UCD PBP clarified that the purpose of the press release was to “hold L&H accountable to what they were trying to do with this event”, since they “think public disapproval is much more likely to impact the kind of debates that L&H has in the future.” László Molnárfi, too, stated that the intent of the press release was “not to target the society itself” but to “call out the government, call out the attempted rehabilitation of Bertie Ahern and try to stand up to this neoliberal, capitalist economic system that has impacted higher education.”
Contacted by the University Observer, the L&H Society declined to comment at this time.