Concern Debates finalists: “The experience changed me”

News14 August 2017Aoife O'Grady

In May 2017, Colm, James, Eoin and Johnny from St. Mary’s CBS in Carlow came second in one of Ireland’s biggest school debating competition, Concern Debates. Back then, it seemed like this was the end of a long journey of research and rhetoric. However, we caught up with them after an inspiring visit to Brussels and The Hague with Concern, and it seems that it might just be the beginning...


CBS Carlow team with teacher Claire O’Brien at Concern Debates final 2017 in the Helix, Dublin. Photo: Ruth Medjber/Concern Worldwide.
CBS Carlow team with teacher Claire O’Brien at Concern Debates final 2017 in the Helix, Dublin. Photo: Ruth Medjber/Concern Worldwide.

Tell us about your trip to Brussels and The Hague with the Concern team.

Johnny Spillane: The trip to Brussels and The Hague was a fantastic experience. Anyone can go to cities like these but not everyone gets to see the European Parliament and the International Criminal Court. Not everyone gets the perspective that we got from an experience like Humanity House. It was incredibly meaningful. 

Colm Heneghan: For me, the highlight was our meeting with Alliance2015 and discovering a strategic partnership of European NGOs which beforehand I would have very little knowledge of. To find out that Concern and six separate NGOs, each with very different aims and goals, could cooperate within a Belgian office to reduce costs, improve resources and enhance worldwide communication was surprising to me. 

James Haughton-Kellett: Another unique experience was attending Humanity House in The Hague. 

Our visit to Humanity House in The Hague gave us a small glimpse into how refugees are treated when they are evacuated from their homes. The treatment is very harsh and the experience for these refugees is very scary. It has a huge effect on their lives.  

Eoin McGloin: We capped off our trip with an immensely interesting morning at the International Criminal Court where we viewed the trial of former Côte D’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo and his co-accused Charles Blé Goudé. On the day we were there, the cruel conscription of child soldiers was examined by the court, another reality of our world that really hit home with all of us.

CBS Carlow debates team with teacher Claire O’Brien outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Photo: Concern Worldwide.
CBS Carlow debates team with teacher Claire O’Brien outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Photo: Concern Worldwide.

What did you learn from the trip? 

Eoin McGloin: By far the most striking components of our trip were those that taught us more about how important debating and advocacy can be in enacting change. On our second day in Brussels, almost recovered from the sleepiness from our all-night journey, we met with MEP Lynn Boylan and were given a tour of the European Parliament. All of our questions, however weighty or trivial, were heard and answered and we learned so much about EU politics.

Did it bring to life any of the issues you tackled for Concern Debates? 

Colm Heneghan: For me this trip solidified the work we had been doing in this year's Concern Debates. Our team spent months researching a multitude of global development and human rights issues closely linked with the work Concern carries out. 

On the trip, it felt like what we were learning, speaking and debating about was no longer limited to the classroom or the Helix. It brought my work throughout the year to a personal level that was no longer solely tied to the Concern Debates. 

Looking back now on the debates, how did the experience impact you? 

James Haughton-Kellett: The last year of debating has changed me a lot. I have become much more confident about public speaking and delivering a message to a crowd. I would never have been able to speak in front of 400 people without the experiences I gained throughout the competition […] The overall experience of debating has also expanded my knowledge of worldwide issues and geopolitics. Prior to the competition I had no idea what field I'd like to pursue a career in after school but after taking part I have become very interested in politics. 

Johnny Spillane: I think our team as a whole grew hugely last year. We all developed in really significant ways. I've learned the art of speech writing. I've learned how to structure arguments and speeches, how to rebut someone's point. I've learned how to speak in public in front of big audiences. I could go on forever about what this debating season has given to me but in the end everything that you gain is a life skill, and that would mean a lot to anyone. 

It's something I will always be proud of and I will always hold my head high when I think of it. The whole debate year has been a huge experience and certainly one of the highlights of my year. And it certainly changed me.  

Get involved

You can get involved with our 2017-2018 Concern Debates season, as an adjudicator or a participating team. Just drop our schools team a line! 

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