The College Historical Society (Hist) last night debated the motion that “This House Would Remove the President of the Students’ Union” in front of a packed chamber in the Graduates’ Memorial Building (GMB). The debate took place as the first day of voting in the college-wide referendum of the impeachment of Tom Lenihan, SU President, drew to a close.
Lenihan, who is out of office for the duration of the campaign, spoke briefly to the gathered audience to ask for an “open debate… without any fear”, before departing the scene. He was followed by Professor David McConnell, the president of the Hist, who emphasised that the debate should be conducted in the “gravest and most serious way.”
McConnell then called upon Eoin Silke, the third-year medical student who created the Facebook page that first called for Lenihan’s impeachment, to propose the motion. Silke identified himself as someone who had suffered from depression and stated that sufferers “should be held to the same standards [as others].” He asked students to consider whether “someone who cheated should represent [them] as a figurehead.”
The first speaker to oppose the motion was Marc Tiernan, a Law Soc committee member, who claimed that the outcome of the referendum would “define our type of community [in Trinity]” as one of either vindictiveness or forgiveness. He cited a number of Lenihan’s achievements in office and praised him as a “fantastic individual,” before calling on those in favour of his impeachment to “stop playing with toy soldiers.”
Brady Manning, the second speaker to propose the motion, described himself as a “regular Trinity student”, and insisted that his intervention in the debate was one motivated by neither “vengeance or malice but by with love and pride.” He stated that he felt “great disdain” for Lenihan’s actions, and argued that his mental health was no excuse for cheating in an exam. The incident, Manning claimed, had led to other universities calling into the question the value and prestige of a Trinity degree.
He was followed by Naoise Dolan, a Hist committee member, who argued that students should accept the verdict of College – who had acted as “judge and jury” – in doling out disciplinary measures and move on. She admitted that she was not an avid follower of student politics, but ventured that, from the perspective of most students, the SU’s work seemed to be going well this year.
William Dunne, another Hist committee member, denounced people who had, in his view, “personalised the debate”, and insisted that his speech in proposition of the motion should not be viewed as a “personal attack.” He stated that he views the debate not in terms of Lenihan’s achievements as SU President, but rather in terms of the willingness of Trinity students to be represented by someone who cheated in a college examination.
Dunne was followed by Lorcan Clarke, the former Phil president, who, having never having spoken before at a Hist debate, was dubbed a “novice” debater by the acting treasurer, and asked whether he wanted to waive his “maiden rights” – a debating convention whereby audience members must refrain from offering speakers any points of information – which he did so after comedic hesitation. Clarke politely described Dunne’s speech as “idealistic,” and argued that there are “no flawless leaders.” He told the audience that Lenihan’s focus on mental health issues over the course of his presidential campaign and tenure has led to a number of his friends confiding in him that they too had had issues with mental health in the past.
Clarke also drew upon his experience in dealing with College authorities as president of the Phil in cautioning that College could use the interim period following impeachment and the election of a new president to pursue their agenda to the detriment of students.
His points were then rebutted by Cormac Heneghan, who insisted that Lenihan’s cheating had “much further reaching consequences” than the opposition had make out.
The last speaker to oppose the motion was Adam Noonan, “one of [Lenihan’s] best friends”, who denounced the pro-impeachment side as “a bunch of committed SU hacks,” and rebutted Manning’s claim that his actions could be in any way responsible for the College’s international ranking, since it has in fact improved. He argued that Lenihan’s tenure has been “revolutionary” in terms of its focus on mental health. Any sabbatical officer, he went on to state, would still have more credibility than a USI officer, even if they were found dragging a dead body across the Arts Block one morning.
Noonan was followed by a final proposition speaker, Briony Somers, who ridiculed the Facebook campaign, “#STANDBYTOM”, as reminding her of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by your Man”. It was all too personal and “cringey”, in her opinion.
Lorcan Cullen, Hist committee member, wound up the debate by lauding the “real buzz and energy around the [Students’] Union that didn’t exist before”, and urged the audience to “vote the right way and the rational way.”
The motion was put to the floor and was defeated with a show of hands by a substantial margin. McConnell finished by praising the conduct of speakers and audience members, and weighed in with the opinion that, as someone who had sat on disciplinary panels before, “college dealt with [Lenihan’s cheating] fairly and fully.”