The Auditor of the College Historical Society (the Hist), Paul Molloy, has defended the society’s decision to invite Nigel Farage to speak on Friday, saying the Hist has a “mandate to further public discourse and facilitate debate”.
In a statement, posted in the Hist Facebook group, Molloy said: “The Society plays host to numerous individuals of divergent views, many of which our members feel strongly and passionately about. This is the nature of free enquiry in a democratic society. It is by that enquiry the strength of ideas and the validity of beliefs are challenged and upheld. We recognise, however, that many of these individuals hold controversial and unorthodox views, but ultimately we must recognise that they are figures who are in the public discourse.”
“It is the view of the General Committee that the suggestion made that pursuing such an enquiry should not occur is something which makes the mandate of the Society redundant. That we should revoke the invitation as some would suggest, is insulting not just to the electorate of Great Britain, but also to the membership of the society as a whole”, Molloy added.
He also said the society’s committee had not pressured any members to “like, share or attend the event or compromise their personal beliefs in any way to support it”.
Following the announcement yesterday, the society attracted criticism online.
Farage, who credits himself for the UK’s decision to leave the EU, will address members of the Hist but will not receive the Gold Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Public Discourse, which was originally offered to him. A discussion on Friday at 3pm in the GMB on “Anglo-Irish relations and the future of Europe” will be followed by a questions-and-answers session moderated by Pat Leahy, the Political Editor of the Irish Times.
In October, following an announcement that Farage would be receiving the award in early 2018, previous and current members alike condemned the decision to invite Farage in the Hist’s members’ Facebook group. Farage was described in Facebook posts as a “white supremacist” and a “racist”.
Amid the backlash, a screenshot posted in a Hist group showed Molloy defending his decision to offer Farage the award: “The medal is not an endorsement of any view or action, anymore than votes on motions, debates or panel discussions are.”
However, he later apologised to members, former and current, in the Facebook group: “It was wrong for me to extend an invitation to Nigel Farage in the manner which I did. I offer my sincerest apologies for any offence which has been caused from doing so.”