LIT rejects ‘attack on free speech’ claims over Savita vigil

Mike Dwane

Reporter:

Mike Dwane

COLLEGE authorities at Limerick Institute of Technology have insisted there was no attempt to muzzle free speech surrounding a candlelit vigil organised by student and staff to commemorate the death at Galway University Hospital of Savita Halappanavar.

COLLEGE authorities at Limerick Institute of Technology have insisted there was no attempt to muzzle free speech surrounding a candlelit vigil organised by student and staff to commemorate the death at Galway University Hospital of Savita Halappanavar.

Requests to quench candles came about as a result of policy adopted after a previous incident at the college when a student’s hair caught fire from a candle beside a book of condolences for a deceased student.

And the college has also insisted it had not refused a request to allow posters advertising the event as it had never received such a request.

Those involved in organising last Wednesday’s Savita vigil, however, had a different story to tell.

They said they had been prevented from emailing students (to their college addresses) in advance of the event; prevented from posting details on LIT’s electronic noticeboard and not allowed to put up posters. While the vigil did go ahead, those who attended were told to extinguish the candles.

Lecturer Lisa Scott spoke passionately at the vigil that Ireland needed to legislate for the X case judgement in the Supreme Court in 1992 and said what she described as official efforts to muzzle freedom of expression would not work.

“We will not be silenced. The Irish people voted over 20 years ago to permit abortion in certain circumstances. Women have been ignored. Further attempts to silence us on this issue will only spur us on”.

“Perhaps the unlit candles were a poignant reminder and statement of how far we still have to go as a country,” she said in respect of the Savita case and her group’s frustrated attempts to highlight it.

Campaigners noted that LIT was bound by the Institutes of Technology Act 2006, which commits the college to respecting free speech and includes the provision: “A member of the academic staff of a college shall have the freedom, within the law, in his or her teaching, research and any other activities either in or outside the college, to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions”.

But an LIT spokesperson said the college was absolutely committed to allowing freedom of expression.

“LIT staff and students, like everyone in Ireland, are deeply struck by the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar and hosted the vigil at the Institute in her memory and in support of her family at this deeply distressing time.

This event was in keeping with the rights of students and staff at LIT to exercise academic freedom, which the institute fully supports. The vigil took place as scheduled in the main building and was open to all staff and students who wished to attend.”

It was a long-standing policy of the college that it’s electronic noticeboard could be used only for matters that related directly to LIT and not for political or other matters.

But Dr Frank Houghton said the electronic noticeboard was frequently used by the college’s Catholic chaplaincy service.

“It often advertises a mass but nothing for Muslims, Jews, Buddhists or humanists.”

“What we have here is conservatism at work,” said Dr Houghton, a geographer and colleague of Lisa Scott’s in the department of humanities.