Limerick Civic Trust chief says it would be 'wrong to censor Kevin Myers'

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

Limerick Civic Trust chief says it would be 'wrong to censor Kevin Myers'

Dismissed Sunday Times columnist Kevin Myers will be moderating a talk on censorship in Limerick next month

THE chief executive of Limerick Civic Trust has said the invitation to former columnist Kevin Myers to moderate a talk on censorship will not be withdrawn, after it was subject to ‘vitriolic’ abuse following the announcement.

David O’Brien, who heads the conservation and preservation charity, said the invitation was not a “provocative, calculated” move on their part to attract a greater audience, which critics have suggested.

Mr O’Brien said Mr Myers was invited about five weeks before the column which led to his dismissal from The Sunday Times, appeared in print.

The trust has now received a number of “distasteful emails, full of vitriol” regarding Myers’ name on the billing, as well as abuse on social media, in addition to criticism of its "male dominated" line-up of speakers.

But Mr O'Brien said he believes it would be wrong to censor a person due to moderate a talk on the subject of censorship.

After Myers’ column appeared, Mr O’Brien said he felt he was “in a position where I couldn’t censor him”.

“That would have been the easy thing to do. We had to look at the bigger picture, and it would have been too easy have a knee-jerk reaction, box him off and put him in a cell. I think we need to be bigger people and be more enlightened,” he said.

He said it would be remiss of the trust to now withdrawn the invitation.

The Sunday Times published an apology following the publication of an article on July 30 last by Myers, which contained offensive remarks about women and Jewish people, while he was also dismissed from the paper.

Mr Myers will moderate a talk entitled ‘How censorship stifles debate and undermines the tenets of free and democratic societies’, inviting questions from the audience on the subject in Limerick on September 28 next.

The talk will be given by Jodie Ginsberg, of the Index on Censorship, which publishes the work by censored writers and artists and campaigns for free expression worldwide.

The trust has been further criticised as only one woman – Ms Ginsberg – is on the line-up amongst six speakers – while no woman appeared in its line-up of speakers last year, which he said “was not by design.”

Of the six additional moderators of the talks this autumn, again only one is a woman.

“We weren’t seeking to have a male-dominated panel. There is a gender imbalance, but it wasn’t contrived. In fact, we invited a lot of women, who weren’t available but have indicated their willingness to take part next year. So, in fact, next year it is quite possible that we will have a female-dominated panel,” he told the Limerick Leader.

He said approximately 30 invites were sent this year, “with the majority of invites being sent to women.”

All are appearing at the event free of charge, to raise funds for the Civic Trust’s charitable endeavours, he stressed.

Labour deputy Jan O’Sullivan, who is a member of Limerick Civic Trust, said she believes Myers “crossed a line” with his column, and was “rightly censored” as a result, but does not have an objection with his appearance in this context.

Professor Emeritus Pat O’Connor, of sociology and social policy at the University of Limerick, said her concern is that “with this platform, are they framing Kevin Myers as the defender of free speech by putting him in that position?”

She said she won’t be attending the talk, as there were “too many crazy assumptions in his column”.

“He said men are more charismatic, and that is one of the reasons why they get ahead, but I’m afraid we all know an awful lot of boring men. Me thinks the lady doth protest too much. When there are as many mediocre women as mediocre men in the top jobs, we’ll have equality,” she said.

Prof O’Connor, who is now retired, said while she considers herself a feminist, “I am not a lunatic man-hater, and Fintan O’Toole’s column in The Irish Times [on the controversy cause by Myers’ column] was proof that some men can get it right.

“It takes a lot to get me really angry, and with Mr Myers I just get a very tired feeling of ‘Are we still dealing with this type of rubbish?’ I don’t even give mental space to Kevin Myers; he’s not on my list to be redeemed,” she said.

While UL has led the league tables in terms of women holding senior academic roles, according to a recent report published by the Higher Education Authority, “there isn’t a state of nirvana yet” for women in their fields, she cautioned.

Social Democrats representative Sarah Jane Hennelly said: “To think it a good idea to invite a man like Myers to moderate a discussion on censorship is, to me, almost laughable.”

The six talks will run on Thursday evenings from September 14 to October 19, and will also also feature Irish Times journalist Simon Carswell, who is from Limerick, and internationally-renowned architect Ian Ritchie, among others.

All proceeds will go towards the development of St. Munchin’s Church.