The finals of the 61st Irish Times Debate competition was held last Saturday outside the Museum of Literature Ireland at St. Stephen’s Green. Awards were given for best team speakers, as well as best individual speakers. Those speaking in teams were competing for the Demosthenes Trophy, whilst individual speakers competed for Christina Murphy Memorial Trophy.
The award for best team speakers went to Maynooth University students Rí Anumudu and Chikemka Abuchi Ogbonda, whilst the award for best individual speaker was given to Gabrielle Fullam of the Trinity College Dublin Historical Society (the Hist).
The motion for speakers in both categories in this year’s grand final was “This House Believes Privacy is Dead.” The event was chaired by Liam Herrick, executive director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.
Speakers arguing for and against the motion discussed data collection, and the implications this has as to whether or not privacy remains a realistic concept.
Gabrielle Fullam, a Senior Sophister Politics, Philosophy and Economics student spoke against the motion, arguing that privacy could not be dead, as much of the data collected is incorrect. She pointed to the racial profiling scandal involving US law enforcement to support her argument. Fullam also pointed out that in California, data collection of those suspected to be in gangs disproportionately targeted those of Black and Latino ethnicity. This collection of names was built on the incorrect collection of data entries.
Fullam’s argument centred on the fact that the proposition – which insisted the surveillance state has omnipotent insight into the individual – could not in fact be true if the data being collected was “totally fabricated.”
Speaking to Trinity News, Fullam discussed the final, her performance and the issues with contemporary debate culture as a whole.
“Debating is a pretty elitist exercise, and I think a lot of aspects of it are rotten to the core. I don’t like the insinuation that debating can necessarily solve things, that there is an objectively fair way to conduct conversation, or that people need to wear black tie to deserve to be listened to.”
“But I’m proud of what I said, what I wore, and what I did.”
She continued to say that “forging space for yourself in pretty intimidating and archaic settings, which were not designed for you, is a feat in itself.”
Continuing on the subject of her previous comment in which she mentioned she would argue for justice in her debate, Fullam corrected herself, saying “I think that was maybe too flippant of a comment. I don’t think justice is brought about by clearly delineated seven minute speeches, it’s brought about with community action, cooperation and personal and political sacrifice.”
“That being said, I cared about what I was talking about, I think I was talking about important things, and I am really grateful to be able to platform important issues and stories in any way. It’s important for me to recognise however, that debating is a hobby, and not a form of activism.”
Speaking on diversity in the debate, Fullam commented that “It should also be noted that three women of colour won Irish Times this year – that’s a big deal to me, and I’m a big fan of Rí and Chikemka (who were the team winners from Maynooth).”
“I don’t know whether this signals some grand change in the scheme of debating institutions, but I do think it was a really nice moment”.
Kate Maher and Megan O’Driscoll from the University Philosophical Society (the Phil) also reached the Irish Times final, and were team runners-up.
The judges of the event were Paul O’Neill, editor of the Irish Times, Dara Keenan, team winner in 2017, Aishling Kinsella, individual runner-up in 2019, Dr David Kenny, associate professor of Law in Trinity College Dublin and team winner in 2008, and Clíodhna Ní Chéileachair, individual winner in 2016.