On 2nd November 2022 the University of Oxford’s most prestigious public lecture was given by the head of state of the Republic of Ireland.
In it he spoke about the ongoing war in Ukraine as well as the UK’s relationship with Ireland, and the collapse of the power sharing agreement in Northern-Ireland.
The Taoiseach for the Republic of Ireland, Michael Martin TD for Cork South-Central, and leader of Fianna Fail, gave a talk on the threat of populism to liberal-democracies. He is the first head of state to deliver the Romanes lecture. Michael Martin was introduced by the Vice-Chancellor, Louise Richardson, herself an Irish political scientist specialising in terrorism.
Martin’s talk, titled ‘The Centre will hold: Liberal Democracy and the Populist Threat’ focused on shared liberal values, as well as their “illiberal” opponents. The Taoiseach spoke about the need to “reclaim” the word liberal, arguing it had become tainted by the spread of misinformation. Whilst, he understood that the values of liberal democracies, such as tolerance and free debate, were under threat, the positives of the political model would succeed.
Whilst Martin avoided mentioning specific states in depth, arguing the underlying point of the lecture was larger than specific countries. The Taoiseach did however discuss the war in Ukraine and the relationship between Britain and Ireland. The Taoiseach stated that Vladimir Putin “fears democracy far more than military threat” expressing his sentiment and solidarity with the people of Ukraine. He argued Putin’s military acceleration of the war was motivated to prevent liberal ideals succeeding in a formerly imperialist state.
The Irish head of state had also recently met with Prime Minister Sunak, and said the two had settled on a blueprint of unity for the future. Taoiseach said they had agreed a “new positive agenda across borders”.
Afterwards, the Taoiseach held a drinks reception with members of the Oxford University Irish Society.
The club’s social secretary, Susanna Elliott, told The Oxford Student:
“Getting invited to a drinks reception with the Taoiseach felt surreal. Having seen him so often on TV meant it was so exciting to listen to him in person especially when we were personally invited to come and meet him! He was so lovely and very down to earth and made us feel a lot less intimidated about meeting him. I know I’m speaking for all members of the Irish Society Committee when I say that it was an honour to have been invited to this special event.”
The President of the Oxford University Irish Society, Nicole Reid, gave a statement on the club’s behalf:
“We were incredibly grateful to our Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who gave the Irish Society at Oxford a personal meet and greet with him as part of his trip to Oxford to speak at this year’s Romanes Lecture, held at the illustrious Sheldonian Theatre. Our Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, was exceptionally generous with his time, and we had a very engaging and cordial evening with him, where the Irish Society committee members were able to meaningfully converse with the Taoiseach on all matters politics. As ever, it is a credit to our nation that we have such an accomplished statesman, our Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who is erudite and exceptionally well-versed in all political spheres. From a personal point of view, I, Nicole Reid, as the President of the Irish Society, was personally thankful to the Taoiseach and his team who carved out a significant proportion of his evening to spend time with the Oxford Irish Society and its members. For a world leader who is exceptionally busy, it is indicative of the value he places on the young Irish diaspora abroad. Our conversations were wide ranging, covering a vast array of topics, pertaining to Ireland, economics, the Irish diaspora abroad and one of the major assets Ireland has always possessed, being that of a well-informed and educated youth.”
Image credits: John Cairnes
Image credits for third photo: Nicole Reid