This year’s annual Model Dáil debates hosted by both UCC’s International Relations Society and Government & Politics Society took place in Devere Hall on Monday the 14th. The event, which takes place every year pitting each of the parties present on campus against each other in debates regarding pressing issues in Irish politics today, took an unusual structure for anyone who has attended previous iterations of this event. Due to the indecisive outcome of the last general election, the usual three motion structure of one motion from the government, one from the opposition and a final motion of no confidence in the government was replaced due to the lack of a government or main opposition. The event instead consisted of three motions, with each of the three largest parties (Young Fine Gael, Ógra Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin respectively) providing a motion. The motions introduced were a commitment to political reform by creating an electoral commission along with improved voter registration (proposed by YFG), a motion to abolish the Special Criminal Court (proposed by Sinn Féin) and finally a motion to establish a National Mental Health Authority (proposed By Ógra). The event was chaired by Cllr Stephen Cunningham, a previous regular of Model Dáil, who was deputising for the Lord Mayor on the night.
The event opened up with the customary short speeches by Eoin Doyle, the event’s organiser, from the International Relations Society and Cllr Cunningham, followed by Young Fine Gael’s John Forde introducing the first motion. The motion itself was largely non-controversial with most of the debate coming from the Green Party’s Justin Fleming, Soc Dem Jessica Smith and Independent Aaron Frahill regarding how far the reform measures will go. However, the motion was inevitably defeated easily. The second motion, Sinn Féin’s call to abolish the Special Criminal Court, turned out to be the most hotly contested motion of the night, with almost all the speakers from parties other than Sinn Féin attempting to shut the motion down. Independent speakers Gary Moloney and Rob O’Driscoll launched scathing attacks on what they assumed was the true nature of the motion. While names such as Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy were thrown around, as well as allegations regarding whether or not the Sinn Féin leadership are connected to the IRA, Sinn Féin and Independent Rob Cassidy stood resolute in their claims that the court should be abolished claiming that the lack of a jury tarnishes the ability to deliver a fair trial. During this debate, speakers were regularly interrupted by heckling from other parties, much to the annoyment of the chairs. In a strange series of speeches, it seemed that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were locked in a competition to see who could be the harshest towards Sinn Féin. By the time the motion came to vote, Cllr Stephen Cunningham had to remind multiple deputies to remain respectful to their peers as tempers flared from all sides. The motion was defeated by an extremely overwhelming majority, with only Sinn Féin and deputy Cassidy supporting it.
The final motion, Fianna Fáil’s motion for the establishment of a National Mental Health Authority, was marred with controversy before the debate was formally opened. Due to the fact that many speakers went drastically over time on top of the many times the debate had to be stalled by Cllr Stephen Cunningham to deal with heckling, the time for the final motion to be debated was cut from its original time of 40 minutes to 30. Many deputies from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael then spent further time questioning the guillotining of the debate, eating up further time. By the time the debate formally began it was clear that much like in the first debate, this motion was not being argued on whether it was right or wrong but rather the extent to which the authority would have autonomy from the bureaucracy of the HSE. Many Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin members then took time to criticize the Fine Gael Government’s choice to defund many forms of counselling and aid for those with mental health issues. While many of the deputies spoke of the impact of depression, including some very personal stories from multiple deputies, Jessica Smith from the Social Democrats spoke of how the proposal lacked any mention of other mental health issues, namely Schizophrenia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which she stated can be some of the most costly and difficult issues in the field to treat. Only the Labour Party and the Greens found fault enough to vote against this motion claiming that the idea, while good meaning, would further exacerbate the issue due to the inevitable bureaucracy that it would be subject to under the HSE.
After a brief meeting of the judges awards were decided with Sinn Féin’s Kate Kelly winning Best Speaker, Gary Moloney winning Best Independent, Aaron Frahill winning Best First Year and the Green Party winning Best Party.