Hist honorary members debate Foot’s trolley problem

The debate was chaired by President of the Hist, Professor David McConnell

Dani Reynolds once stated that “intellectuals debate and idiots just argue.” What occurred in the GMB yesterday evening under the seasoned banner of the Hist, as honorary members revisited their old stomping ground, was undoubtedly the product of the former.

Although the chamber debate is a staple in the weekly calendar of one of the colleges most esteemed student societies, this particular installment held added importance, as figures ranging from Senator David Norris to Librarian of the 197th session of the Hist Ross Hinds took to the podium once more. The motion at hand was “This House would Pull the Lever” in Phillipa Foot’s trolley problem, which asks the question is it ethical to kill one person in order to save five?.

The proposition consisted of Oscar Tuohy, Ross Hinds, Lorna Staines, and John Smith, all of whom were former silver medalists of the society. Pleading the opposition’s case, was Ronan MacGiolla Rua, Vice President of the Hist David Norris, Catherine Prasifka, and Stephen James Barr. The debate was chaired by President of the Hist, Professor David McConnell.

The cases put forward by each side were varied and unique. Touhy opted for a light-hearted approach, which undoubtedly engaged those present. While his suggestion that we should pull the lever for the “thrill of the kill” was somewhat unnerving, he did manage to tick the audience participation box via a communal countdown to his speech’s conclusion. Touhy’s arguments were expertly rebutted by MacGiolla Rua, whose determination of the proposition as hypocrites truly hit home, in what made for an excellent opening to the debate.

The rhetoric that followed was of a similar vein. Hind’s use of nostalgic anecdote and reference to the Emperor’s New Clothes to reflect the falsity of certainty in situations of human experience was thought-provoking, whereas Norris’ tales of the Irish Health System and Smith’s toy train related stories truly tickled the audience.

While some speakers sought to entertain, others sought to educate. The cases put forward by Prasifka, Barr, and Stanes in particular were well structured and worthy of parliament, such was the standard of this debate and the spirit of those present. This was reflected in the judge’s recognition of Stanes as the best speaker of the night.

Although the debate itself was ultimately the night’s centrepiece, there was an air of something far more important. In his address to those present, the Chair Professor David McConnell sought to draw reference to a number of things, ranging from the eighth amendment to student protest and beyond.

He potently observed that the Hist’s 250th anniversary is on the horizon, and outlined the societies plans for commemoration. These include an RTE documentary, debates with colleges from all around the world, a recognition of women’s contribution to the society to be chaired by Mary Robinson, and a week-long celebration of the GMB’s second-floor occupants.

If the passion amongst those present tonight is anything to go by, the Hist shall remain omnipresent within college life long after these celebrations conclusion.