Trinity College’s Historical Society withdraws speaking invitation to Richard Dawkins

Jamie Mc Carron

Trinity College’s Historical Society, known as The Hist, rescinded its invitation to atheist author Richard Dawkins to address the society next year, due to his controversial views.

Bríd O’Donnell, auditor of the Hist, announced that the debating society  “would not be moving ahead’ with Dawkins” planned address in a post on her Instagram on September 27th.

O’Donnell stated that the invitation to Dawkins was made by her predecessor and that after learning of remarks made by Dawkins on the religion of Islam and sexual assault, she withdrew the invitation “as we value our members comfort above all else.”

The author has made multiple controversial statements on Islam in the past, such as a Tweet from 2013 claiming “Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today.”

Dawkins also tweeted in 2014 that “if you want to be in a position to testify & jail a man, don’t get drunk” in relation to victims of rape who had been intoxicated, although O’Donnell didn’t specify any individual remarks which led to her decision.

“I want to thank everyone who pointed out this valuable information to me. I truthfully hope we didn’t cause too much discomfort and if so, I apologise and will rectify it,” O’Donnell’s statement read.

The decision to cancel Dawkins’ planned address was met with some backlash by former members of The Hist and by TCD lecturers.

“College life is supposed to be a time where you are out of your comfort zone and where you are challenged to ideas that might be different to your own. The idea of ‘comfort’ just doesn’t come into it,” economics lecturer Ronan Lyons said.

Labour senator Ivana Bacik, who has a long involvement with The Hist, defended the society’s right to cancel its invite to Dawkins.

“No-platforming is not a new phenomenon, it’s been happening for years. In 1988, I was one of a group of students at the Students’ Union at Trinity who wanted to no-platform the Holocaust-denier David Irving…When it comes to universities, the whole point of debating societies is for students to hear different sides of a debate. At the same time, there’s no right to be invited,” she commented.

The Hist, the world’s oldest student society, has been subject to allegations of censorship before, notably in 2018 when the then Auditor Paul Molloy invited Nigel Farage of the United Kingdom Independence Party to address the society.

Farage’s address went ahead although the Hist decided not to award him a gold medal for outstanding contribution to public discourse, as was previously planned, while 23 members and three former auditors condemned his invitation in an open letter.

Dawkins himself has not yet publicly commented on his exclusion from the ranks of The Hist’s famous speakers, which include Winston Churchill and John Hume.

Jamie Mc Carron

Image Credit: Alan Betson