Legal students crowned winners of the Irish Times Debate final

Contestants debated the motion that ‘referendums are no way to run a country’

Ciara McLoughlin and Ceara Tonna-Barthet of King’s Inns have been crowned team winners of the 64th Irish Times Debate final, Ireland’s longest running third-level debating competition.

The individual speaker’s award went to Clíodhna McHugh of the Solicitors’ Apprentice Debating Society.

The judging panel commended the “exceptionally high standard” of this year’s finalists and were struck by their “wit, intelligence and quick thinking”.

Speakers were competing for the Demosthenes Trophy for best team, and the Christina Murphy Memorial Trophy for best individual, as well as places on an all-expenses-paid tour of the United States for the three winning speakers.


A dozen speakers took part in the final at University College Dublin’s FitzGerald Debating Chamber, the culmination of a competition that began last autumn and attracted more than 200 third-level contestants. It was hosted by UCD’s Literary and Historical Society.

The judging panel was chaired by Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell, a former winner of the competition for the UCD Law Society in 1978. The panel included Irish Times editor Ruadhán Mac Cormaic, UCD president Prof Orla Feely, former Irish Times Debate winner (2023) Ailbhe Noonan; Oxfam’s director of public affairs and former team winner Brid McGrath; and Prof Brent Northup of Carroll College Montana, the organiser of the US tour since 2000.

Students debated the motion that “this house believes referendums are no way to run a country”.

Contestants who argued in favour of the proposition said referendums are a powerful democratic tool which give individuals a more direct voice on issues of public interest.

Those arguing against said referendums stoke division, reduce complex issues to simple propositions and encourage tribal and emotionally-charged argument.

Runners-up in the team competition were Louise Cullen and Eoin Ryan of Trinity College Dublin’s LawSoc while the individual runner-up was Athena Wu of Trinity’s Hist.

Contestants in the final included team members Martha McKinney-Perry and Andy Cullinan of TCD’s Hist and Stephen O’Sullivan and Ellen McKimm of TCD’s Bram Stoker Club.

Individual contestants included Cadet Conall Gallagher of the Cadet School and Matilda Brewe of TCD’s Phil.

The Irish Times Debate competition, which began in 1960, is an all-island debating championship, open to any full-time third-level student.

Former winners include comedian Dara Ó Briain, film director Gerry Stembridge, broadcaster Marian Finucane, Supreme Court judges Adrian Hardiman and Donal O’Donnell and former attorney general Dermot Gleeson. President Michael D Higgins, former president Mary Robinson and former tánaiste Mary Harney were also finalists.

This year’s debate convener was former winner Chikemka Abuchi-Ogbonda, a team winner in 2021.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent