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Concern Debates National Final 2008

Approaching the RDS last night the rumble of 650 supporters of Athlone Community College and CBS Thurles stomping their feet was deafening. As the teams approached the auditorium they were treated like superstars by their adoring fans in the audience.

Last night’s event was the culmination of eight months and eight rounds of gruelling debates. Throughout the competition teams have argued motions on the viability of development aid, terrorism and boycotting the Beijing Olympics.

This year’s National Final motion “To end hunger, the world must embrace biotechnology”, proposed by Athlone Community College and opposed by CBS Thurles.

The proposing team, Athlone Community College, comprised of Bronwyn Reid-McDermott, Ciarán O’Connor, Caoimhe McManus and Thomas Keogh. Athlone Community College supporters are no strangers to the Debates final, as last year’s team are National Champions and travelled to Haiti in the summer of 2007 as part of their prize.

The opposition, CBS Thurles, was made up of Pierce Maguire, Aidan Skehan, Daniel Ryan and John Cleary.

The debate was opened to screams of “We love you Pat” by veteran broadcaster Pat Kenny as he took to the podium.  He told the students about his experience of making a film with Concern to mark their 20th anniversary (Concern is 40 this year) and chairing the first ever Concern debate. Pat handed the proceedings over to his colleague Fergal Keane, who was in charge of keeping order for the night.

The debate kicked off with Bronwyn Reid-McDermott proposing the motion. Bronwyn introduced her colour coded team and their arguments. Blue for marine technology, green for agricultural technology, red for medical technology and white for industrial technology. They argued that bio-fuels allow poor land to be cultivated for effective use and new fuel avenues to be opened up. Referring to the 2.6 billion people living without access to clean water, they argued that biotechnology can help provide clean drinking water to these billions helping end hunger.

Captain of the opposition, Pierce Maguire opened up his team’s argument. Defining the motion not purely in opposition to biotechnology but supporting other methods such as local food production and changing western consumer habits.  ch they say would do more to end hunger than simply relying on bio technology.

They had a well researched argument and used the example of a Zambian village they visited last year to support their case. They also argued that bio-fuels were being used to “steal from the mouths of the poor and put into the starving SUVs in the world.”

Both teams made powerful arguments to support their position during the course of the debate. The captain of the opposing team Pierce Maguire sent shivers down the spine of the audience when he said “bio-fuel does not grow food but grows freedom from guilt” in his summation speech.

While the adjudicators were considering the debate the motion was opened to the floor. Audience members grilled both teams on their arguments, which highlighted the teams’ engagement with the topic.

In recognition of other schools who had done so much to make the debates a success, prizes were presented by Tom Arnold for best new school, best researchers and best team mentor.

Finally, after what seemed like an age, Chief Adjudicator Patricia Boyd took to the stage to announce the winners. She praised both schools for their scintillating arguments saying it had been a very difficult choice for them.

After a pregnant silence she announced that the motion had been carried. For the first time in Concern Debates history a school had retained the title. Supporters of Athlone Community College went wild, jumping on their seats, waving flags, chanting “ACC, ACC!”

Both teams richly deserved the praise they received. It’s a huge achievement to make it to the national final. The captain of CBS Thurles spoke of how humbled they felt at making it this far and congratulated the winning team on their achievement. The captain of Athlone Community College thanked their supporters, teachers and finally Concern for giving them the opportunity to take part in the debates.

The winning team was presented with the Concern Debates trophy and will be travelling to Concern projects in Africa over the summer as part of their prize. 
Pictured from left: Caoimhe McManus; Ciaran O'Connor; Thomas Keogh; (Captain) Bronwyn Reid-McDermott