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Trinity society withdraws invite to BNP leader Nick Griffin

The Phil had invited the controversial MEP to participate in a debate next week, but withdrew the invite after student protests.

Image: Anthony Devlin/PA Archive

Updated, 16.39

A STUDENT SOCIETY in Trinity College has withdrawn its invitation to the British National Party leader Nick Griffin to speak at a debate next week.

Griffin, an MEP for north-west England, was to address the Philosophical Society’s debate on immigration next Thursday evening, but the college this lunchtime confirmed that it and the society had decided to withdraw the invite.

A statement from the society and the university said the decision had been taken after careful consideration and after both parties had taken “all safety considerations into account”.

They said that the safety of staff and students could not be guaranteed, and that neither Griffin nor any members of the BNP would be given access to the college grounds as a result.

The statement added that the college “encourages balanced debate and freedom of speech at all times” and respected the autonomy afforded to student societies.

The decision to withdraw the invitation came after around 30 protesters disrupted the society’s weekly debate last night, as part of a campaign against Griffin’s invitation.

College newspaper the University Times carried a separate statement from the Phil, however, which said the decision had been made before last night’s disturbances – though the events had crystallised the decision to cancel the debate.

“As a liberal society in a liberal institution, we feel that Mr Griffin’s right to speak on immigration should be protected,” the statement said.

“Despite this, The Phil have been put in a position whereby to proceed with the debate would be to risk the safety of our members.

After the submission of serious security concerns by college authorities, the Gardai and other members of the student body – we feel we have no other responsible choice in this matter than to cancel the debate.

We deeply regret the society’s incapacitation to act as an open forum for discourse in this matter.

‘Bunch of leftists’

BNP spokesperson Simon Darby told TheJournal.ie that the decision to withdraw the invite was “not entirely surprising”.

“It’s disappointing – you’d think Ireland would have at least a rudimentary understanding about free speech,” Darby said, adding that Griffin regularly attracted votes from second- and third-generation Irish families.

“It’s up to students to decide if Nick is right or wrong. I wouldn’t like to be told who I can and cannot listen to, by a bunch of leftists,” he added.

Darby added that the only recent occasion on which Griffin had been permitted to speak at a university debate was at Oxford University in 2007. That appearance had resulted in major protests at the university, with a heavy police presence required to avert rioting.

“It means anyone opposing immigration – and actually meaning it – isn’t given a chance to speak,” he said.

The withdrawal of Griffin’s invitation is not the first time that a high-profile overseas politician has been stopped from speaking at an Irish college.

In 2008, UCD’s Law Society was forced to withdraw an invitation to French far-right leader Jean Marie Le Pen when university authorities refused to sanction the event.

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Gavan Reilly

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