The Tánaiste’s criticism of yesterday’s anti-war protest at the Government forum in UCC was ‘astonishing’ given his own history of shutting down debate, according to UCD’s Academic Freedom Officer.
Protests shouting ‘shame’ and ‘no to NATO; no to war’ interrupted Micheál Martin’s speech at the Forum on International Security Policy in Cork yesterday.
In response, the Tánaiste could be heard shouting, “The most undemocratic thing you can do is try to shut down debate and that’s what you are trying to do”.
After the event, he also raised concern that universities are now “fearful” of holding debates on campus.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, UCD Academic Freedom Officer Dr Tim Crowley said he found some of the Tánaiste’s comments ‘astonishing’.
“For instance, he said the most undemocratic thing you can do is try to shut down debate and accused the protesters of trying to do that,” he said.
“I find that astonishing. I am reading these comments and thinking, does this guy have any self-awareness? Does he remember what he did last week?”
Dr Crowley said the Tánaiste has some responsibility for any anti-debate culture in Ireland after he, this time last year, warned that Ireland should not import the UK’s ‘toxic’ debate on trans rights.
“I’d be very concerned about that and I’ve watched it in the UK and we certainly don’t need that kind of debate in Ireland,” he said ahead of last year’s Dublin Pride.
“We don’t need to have that kind of debate in Ireland.”
“If there is a culture of a lack of debate, Micheál Martin is partly responsible for this,” said Dr Crowley.
“This is someone who, just in June of last year, was talking about how we don’t need certain kinds of debate. That he doesn’t want any, what he calls, 'imported debate'.
“Then, this phrase ‘imported debate’ suddenly starts appearing in the media as if … ideas have borders.”
The Government’s four-day forum aims to kickstart debate on issues including Ireland’s neutrality and foreign policy – with meetings in Cork, Galway and Dublin.
The meeting has come in for strong criticism, not least from President Michael D Higgins, who warned it was ‘playing with fire’ during a period of ‘drift’ in Irish foreign policy.
Meanwhile, opponents have claimed that the anti-war and pro-neutrality movement was not offered any real chance to take part.
Also on the show, University of Galway Student Union President Sai Gujulla said the protesters had no choice but to disrupt the event.
He suggested five out of six of the official panellists are ‘pro-NATO’ and the anti-war movement was, “given no chance, in a way, to even express their opinion”.
“It is important to note that when the protesters came in, they came in to make their voice heard because they weren’t allowed to make their opinion heard in this forum,” he said.
“When it is a public forum, they are allowed to be heard.”
Mr Gujulla said he believes university campuses are “the most open societies in Ireland” – noting that the country’s student population is diverse and college societies cater to different political views.
He said universities are “really open and tolerant always”; however, he admitted that he believes there are “certain people, such as extreme far right, that should not be allowed to speak on campus”.
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