Last night I attended my first formal debate ever. I'd been at debates in TV studios, but I'd never been at a formal debate, and it's something I've always wanted to experience. For twenty years I've been working in a university where they are regularly held, by the various student societies, but I just never got around to it.
So yesterday, when I saw this poster for a debate on the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland, I decided it was time to go along and see. I hadn't intended to contribute, although as it turned out I did.
The L&H is an old and storied institution, having included among its members many famous names, such as James Joyce and Brian O'Nolan. Today they hold their debates in the Fitzgerald Chamber, named after former Irish Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald (there's a bronze bust of him outside). It's a purpose-built debating chamber in the new, plush Student Centre. It looks like a little parliament, with red benches.
There was a small enough turnout, perhaps fifty or sixty people. I'm bad at judging numbers. I enjoyed the formality of the thing. The Society had acquired a new book for keeping the minutes after having kept them on loose pieces of paper for some time. It was a satisfyingly large and serious-looking tome, open on the table between the speakers.
The debate itself was quite depressing. The motion was: "The house regrets the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland", and there were three speakers for and three speakers against.
This was my summary of the event on Facebook:I've just attended this debate. It was incredibly depressing. It was like a debate on Judaism in Saudi Arabia. The only "name" speaker was Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland. All the other speakers were students and they all took it as read that the Catholic Church is bigoted and more or less criminal, even the ones supporting the motion. The "pro" side were all arguing for radical reform in the Church.
The usual canards were trotted out...that the Church teaches that sex is solely for making babies, that Savita Halappanavar died because she couldn't have an abortion, etc. There were the usual disparaging references to John Charles McQuaid.
When it came to questions, I introduced myself as a conservative Catholic who admired John Charles McQuaid. Everybody craned their necks to stare at me. I said I found the debate depressingly one-sided and asked whether, since there had been so much talk of the rights of children that the Church had taken away, there was a case to be made that Catholic Ireland had safeguarded the most important right of children which secular Ireland had taken away, the right to life.
A young woman from the "pro" side made the usual response about laws not stopping abortion, what kind of life would a stigmatized kid have anyway, etc.
I didn't really know the form when it came to whether I could respond, so I didn't make the obvious responses, and I even joined the applause out of politeness. I regret both now .
When it came to a vote, I think I was the only person supporting the motion. Everybody else opposed it. I think one guy had his hand up with me but then took it down.
I like these kids but it was a depressing experience.