No, Dan, this was a failure on the part of the Lit & Deb to protect the process of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is not self-executing. Those who claim to support it have a duty to do so actively. It’s not enough to say free speech is important; it is necessary to be active in its defence and support. If a society such as the Lit & Deb invites controversial speakers, making a grab for the headlines, then that society must ensure that the controversial speakers actually have the opportunity to speak. Otherwise, the hecklers in a hostile audience will have a veto on the speakers. And the heckler’s veto is antithetical to freedom of speech. Hence, the US Supreme Court has rejected it as inconsistent with the freedom of expression guarantees in the First Amendment (see Feiner v New York 340 US 315 (1951); Hill v Colorado 530 US 703 (2000)).
The Lit & Deb should therefore have protected the process of freedom of speech last night by ensuring that Bertie Ahern’s interview went ahead. And they should take active steps to ensure that, having invited David Irving, he actually gets to speak. Anything else would be a failure of freedom of speech, and it would lie at the feet not of the hecklers but of the Lit & Deb.