Kevin Myers’ role at Limerick talk on free speech under fire

The scheduling of controversial columnist Kevin Myers as a moderator at a talk on censorship in Limerick strikes as a “provocative, calculated” move by the organisers, a professor at the University of Limerick has said.

Prof Emeritus Pat O’Connor, of sociology and social policy, with a particular focus on gender, said she hopes that Mr Myers’ involvement in the upcoming debate “isn’t a call to legitimise the views of other unreconstructed misogynists”.

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

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

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, on September 28 next.

David O’Brien, chief executive of Limerick Civic Trust, which has organised the series of talks, said he has not read Mr Myers’ widely criticised article, entitled ‘Sorry, ladies — equal pay has to be earned’.

Nonetheless, Mr O’Brien said he believes Mr Myers has a right to express his own mind, and stressed that their talks are about “encouraging debate and having opposing views”.

But Prof O’Connor said her concern is that “with this platform, they are framing Kevin Myers as the defender of free speech by putting him in that position”.

“I suspect that it is simply an attempt to drum up an audience by being controversial.” Prof O’Connor, who has written extensively on gender equality, was the first woman to be appointed at full professorial level in UL in 1997.

She was previously invited to advise an NUI Galway (NUIG) taskforce on gender equality, but turned it down, saying she would not be used as a “corporate mudflap” by the institution.

Addressing Mr Myers’ column, she said “it’s not an acceptable position to say everyone is entitled to free speech if it stirs up hatred against any one group. It’s not an uncontested right.”

“I have no time for political correctness. I think if the heart is right, the lip can be forgiven. But it seems to be giving a platform to Kevin Myers, and legitimising opinions that many people found offensive.”

Prof O’Connor, a visiting Fellow at University College Dublin’s Geary Institute, 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, she said she is “not a lunatic man-hater”.

“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.

The six talks will run on Thursday evenings from September 14 to October 19 in St Mary’s Cathedral.

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