Protest? Yes, of course! Censor? No, absolutely not!!

Free Education for Everyone (FEE) is a grassroots group of students and staff in various third level instititutions which has been set up to fight the re-introduction of fees while campaigning for genuinely free education for all. According to their About Us page:

FEE activists have organised protests, occupations and blockades across the country over the past number of months.

For example, in February of this year, their protests against former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern‘s arrival at NUI Galway led to the cancellation of a public interview with him – and I thoroughly disapproved of this at the time. Protestors must be allowed to make their point, but, by the same toke, they must not have a veto on the speech of others. Now, it seems that FEE have Bertie in their sights again, according to a press release published this afternoon:

Press Release: UCD students plan Bertie Blockade

Student campaign group, Free Education for Everyone (FEE) is planning to planning to stage a blockade of Bertie Ahern’s appearance at a debate on the Lisbon Treaty, tonight at 7pm in UCD’s O’Reilly Hall. Following a blockade of Brian Lenihan by the group last September, Martin Mansergh, Mary Hannafin and Conor Lenihan were forced to pull out of other scheduled appearances at the college. …

FEE have more information about tonight’s protest and their earlier actions on their website. I deplore the fact that their protests have meant not only that Ahern could not speak in Galway, but that Brian Lenihan, Martin Mansergh, Mary Hannafin and Conor Lenihan could not speak in UCD. There is, to say the least, an irony in preventing debate in a university. The best answer to speech is more speech – discussion might not change the other person’s mind but it can influence the neutral or undecided observer in a way that shrillness never could. As a consequence, whilst I am sympathetic to FEE’s objectives and agree with their views about Ahern, I cannot condone their methods. FEE must be allowed to make their point; but, by the same token, they must not be allowed to prevent Ahern from making his. They should certainly make their protest, but they must not censor someone espousing an opposing view. More than that, I hope that those organising tonight’s debate on the Lisbon Treaty in UCD will be active in the defence and support of freedom of expression, and take all necessary steps to ensure that Ahern will not have to pull out.