An open letter to the College Historical Society (the Hist) committee, signed by 31 members of the Hist, was delivered during the Private Members’ Business segment of the weekly debate. The letter called upon Hist Auditor Paul Molloy to withdraw the invite to former UKIP leader Nigel Farage. Farage is scheduled to address the Hist in an event titled “Anglo-Irish Relations and the future of the EU” on Friday.
The letter states: “The Hist exists to facilitate discourse and the exchange of ideas, and sometimes of course that means hearing unpopular ideas. But this should not extend to giving pride of place to someone like Mr Farage at an event of the society. He is someone who has a history of not only expressing racist, Islamophobic and anti-semitic opinions, but of building his politics and world views around these opinions.”
It continues: “Given the offensive and dangerous nature of the views Mr Farage espouses and the prominent position he and the views he promotes already have in society, it is truly disappointing to see the Hist has decided to follow through with their intention to host Mr Farage. As members of the society, ranging from past Auditors and committee members, debaters who proudly represented the society at international tournaments and current students who only recently signed up to membership with the college society, we do not feel that this decision represents us as members, or the values the society should be promoting by giving them a platform within college, in 2018.”
Molloy defended the decision to invite Farage, pointing to the structure of the debate, which includes the use of a moderator, and a question and answer session. Quoting Jefferson, Molloy said: “I hold to the belief that reason and rational debate is the safeguard of democracy.”
Following Molloy’s speech, a number of ordinary members of the society who signed the letter, left the debating chamber.
Signatories of the letter currently include eight honorary members, including three former Auditors; Julia McCarthy, Michael Coleman and Thomas Kinsella. 23 other ordinary members of the society, as well as multiple former committee members, also signed the letter. 17 signatories are current or former council members of Trinity’s other debating society, the University Philosophical Society (the Phil).
After the event with Farage was announced on Monday, Hist Auditor Paul Molloy released a statement defending the decision. In a post in the Hist Facebook group, Molloy said: “That we should revoke the invitation as some would suggest, is insulting not just to the electorate of Great Britain, but also to the membership of the society as a whole. “ He further clarified that the Hist is not providing any travel, accommodation or speakers’ fees for the event.
Farage is scheduled to speak to the Hist at 3pm on Friday, February 2. He was initially offered the society’s Gold Medal, before that offer was rescinded amid controversy. The event will be a questions and answers event moderated by Irish Times Political Editor Pat Leahy.