Free Speech frees the mind

The topic of the eight amendment has been of great discussion in recent months. Credit:

In our ever-polarising political climate, it is now more important than ever to turn the focus on an open and educated discussion between people from all walks of life. This, more than anything, was the tone and the reasoning for the Abortion Debate held by DCU Debate Society on Thursday the 17th of November.

This debate was immediately met with controversy when the Society first released its event page on Facebook due to the nature of its advertising poster. People immediately flocked to the page to express their outrage at not only the poster but for the students involved in the society. Assumptions and accusations were made on the basis of the gender.

The original poster, which was referred to as “an artistic representation of a foetus” by the society’s Vice Chairperson Pierce Lonergan, was then removed due to requests from both students and administrative officials. However, discussion continued on the page as to whether or not the event should take place at all, with one individual saying that ‘it’s dangerous and offensive to ‘debate’ this issue as an intellectual exercise at this point, people in Ireland have abortions every day’

This wish for discussion to be halted is something that can be seen increasingly on both sides of the political spectrum, be they left or right. It is an unwillingness to listen to an opinion that is not your own and an assumption that people who do not agree with your own beliefs are being  “offensive” and “dangerous”. While abortion is a highly contentious issue for all, it still stands that in order for either side to make headway during a legitimate Constitutional Referendum, they must be willing to engage in civilised, genuine discourse with each other.

The necessity of this was seen at the debate when an unknown heckler disrupted the Pro-Choice Keynote Speaker psychiatrist Dr Peadar O’Grady with his Pro-Life Rhetoric. The man, who began with shouting ‘Psychiatrists are evil” and continued disrupting Dr O’Grady until he was removed by security, ended his tirade by shouting an “appeal” to our hearts “We must not murder the little babies” and proceeded to throw a paper aeroplane with a question for the debaters.

This disruption, in what otherwise was a well conducted and informed discussion of two opposing views, highlighted the importance not only of free speech, but for proper debate. If we were to have these discussions without the necessary controls chaos would ensue, and rather than the equally abhorrent idea of no speech occurring between all, people would instead be expressing their views without an ear to hear them. Thus, no progress could be made

If we wish to progress as both people and as a society it is vital that now more than ever we place our values on freedom of speech and freedom of expression for all. As was aptly put by Debate Society’s Chairperson Seamus Cummins in his introduction to this contentious discussion, “Free speech is fair speech and fair speech frees the mind.”

Aoife Horan

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