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2 May 2005

Irish Times Debating Rules

Information for Competitors in the Irish Times Debating Competition

Rossa Fanning
Convenor 2000-2001,

Whether you are an experienced Irish Times speaker, or a novice, you are likely to have questions about the competition’s format and timetable, the difference between the Irish Times and other competitions, the way to approach Irish Times motions, and the way in which debates are adjudicated.
This guide should provide you with all the information that you need. It may be helpful to retain a copy throughout the duration of the competition for reference. This guide, and other information about the competition, is available at

Competition Structure
There are 16 first round debates, each including around 8-10 teams of two speakers.

2 teams and 2 individual speakers will qualify from each debate for the second round. The 32 teams and 32 individuals who qualify for the second round will be divided into 8 second round debates, each with 4 teams and 4 individuals.

From each second round debate, 2 teams and 2 individuals will qualify for the semi-finals.

At the semi-final stage, the 16 teams and 16 individuals will be divided into 4 semi-finals, each containing 4 teams and 4 individuals. From each semi-final, 1 team and 1 individual qualify for the final.

At the final, the winning team and winning individual speaker are chosen, The prize for the winners is an all-expenses-paid debating tour of U.S. Universities.

The only information that you need to compete is an order paper. At the first round stage, you will be selected by your union or society to compete in a particular debate, as DIT C, UCC Philosoph F, TCD Hist A or something similar. The number has no significance, and will be replaced by your names, at the first round debate.

The order paper will detail the motion, your speaking position, and the time and place of the debate. On each order paper, a meeting point will be specified (sometimes a reception venue, sometimes the actual debate venue) for 30 minutes prior to the scheduled commencement of the debate. The debate will start punctually, and without you, so be there at the specified time. Allow margin for error if it is your first time travelling to the venue.

Each debate is hosted by a particular society or union in the relevant college. They are responsible for providing you with directions, and information on travel and accommodation in the location where the debate is taking place. A contact person and a contact telephone number in the host college are supplied on each order paper, if you need any help.

Notwithstanding this, it is your own responsibility to arrange transport and accommodation for each debate. The college or society that you represent will often make some arrangement with you about defraying your costs. Discuss the matter with them.

Once the competition starts, details of results, and the draw for subsequent rounds will be available on the website, as soon as they are available -

The order papers for the subsequent rounds will not be posted to speakers, but to the society or union that you are representing. If you qualify for a subsequent round, your society or union is responsible for passing on the details to you, though you can access them yourself on the website.

Format of Debates

There is a necessary distinction in format between first round debates, and all subsequent debates.

The First Round
In a first round debate with 8 teams (an average number), 4 teams will propose the motion, and 4 teams will oppose the motion, beginning with the proposition, and speaking alternately, one member of a team at a time. Thus, at the half-way point, the first speaker from each team will have spoken. The second half of the debate follows the same order, with the second member of each team speaking in the same sequence. Thus, in a debate with 8 teams, the order of speaking would be as follows:-

(1) Speaker 1, Proposition Team 1 (2) Speaker 1, Opposition Team 1
(3) Speaker 1, Proposition Team 2 (4) Speaker 1, Opposition Team 2
(5) Speaker 1, Proposition Team 3 (6) Speaker 1, Opposition Team 3
(7) Speaker 1, Proposition Team 4 (8) Speaker 1, Opposition Team 4
(9) Speaker 2, Proposition Team 1 (10) Speaker 2, Opposition Team 1
(11) Speaker 2, Proposition Team 2 (12) Speaker 2, Opposition Team 2
(13) Speaker 2, Proposition Team 3 (14) Speaker 2, Opposition Team 3
(15) Speaker 2, Proposition Team 4 (16) Speaker 2, Opposition Team 4

Subsequent Rounds
Each of these debates will feature 4 teams, and 4 individual speakers. 2 teams and 2 individuals are on each side of the motion. The first member of each team speaks first, then the four individuals, then the second member of the four teams. The order paper will thus be:

(1) Speaker 1, Proposition Team 1 (2) Speaker 1, Opposition Team 1
(3) Speaker 1, Proposition Team 2 (4) Speaker 1, Opposition Team 2
(5) Proposition Individual 1 (6) Opposition Individual 1
(7) Proposition Individual 2 (8) Opposition Individual 2
(9) Speaker 2, Proposition Team 1 (10) Speaker 2, Opposition Team 1
(11) Speaker 2, Proposition Team 2 (12) Speaker 2, Opposition Team 2

Competition Rules
Speeches are of 7 minutes duration. A bell is rung after 1 minute, after 6 minutes, and after 7 minutes, when there is a double bell. Speakers who continue for longer than 30 seconds after this point will be penalised.

Points of Information may be offered from the end of the first minute (when the first bell rings) and until the sixth minute elapses (when the second bell rings). They may only be offered by participating speakers on the opposing side of the debate. To offer a point of information, a speaker should stand up and clearly say “Point of Information” in such a way as to attract the attention of the speaker. A point of information should be no more than 10 seconds in length, and should either take the form of a question, or a brief statement of fact that undermines the speaker’s current point. Accepting points of information is entirely a matter of the speaker’s discretion.

Speakers must be current registered students in the College which they are representing. Any third level educational institution can participate.

Entry fees must be paid in full for the institution before any team is permitted to speak. If you are in doubt as to whether these have been paid, check with your sociey or union.

Debates will start punctually. If you are not there at the commencement of the debate, the order paper will be re-organized and the debate will begin. At that stage it may be impossible for you to participate if you arrive late.

Dress Code
Informal for the first and second round. Formal (black tie) for both semi-finals and final.

Who are the Adjudicators ?
A debating competition is only as good as the persons judging it. Competitors have a legitimate concern about the quality of the judges. Adjudicators of the competition will only be persons of demonstrated ability and experience in competitive debating.

Specifically, this means that first and second round adjudicators will have:

reached a National Final (Times/Mace), or

reached the final of a major International Intervarsity Competition (Oxford, Glasgow, Strathclyde, Cambridge), or

reached the knock-out stages in the World Universities Debating Championships, or

acquired extensive chief-adjudicating experience at International Intervarsity and World Championship Debate level.

Adjudicators at semi-final and final stages:
will have done at least two of the above, and

will have won a National Title, a major International Intervarsity Competition, or reached at least the quarter-finals of the World Championships.

Each adjudication panel will contain graduates from at least two different colleges

· This is the first year that criteria for choosing adjudicators have been made explicit prior to the competition. The idea is that having strict criteria, and making them public at the outset of the competition is in the best interests of the stature and credibility of the competition. If, on any occasion a competitor feels that the adjudicating panel at an Irish Times debate falls short of these criteria, please speak to the Convenor about it. You are entitled to an explanation.

Adjudication Criteria
Adjudicating debates is an inexact science. Experience shows that the only protection against irrationality or subjectivity is an experienced and qualified panel of adjudicators.

Whilst no specific marking scheme is used, and many adjudicators will legitimately disagree on what wins debates, some points are so commonly understood and accepted that they verge on the axiomatic, and are offered here as general guidelines.

Cardinal Rules
Ø Every aspect of your participation in a debate should be directed towards persuading the audience and adjudicators to either support or reject the motion, according to what side you are on.
Ø Always try and present your argument as being more reasonable than that of your opponent. (“The-always-compare-the-opposition-to-Hitler-rule”) Even if you really are in favour of assasinating Tony Blair, this isn’t likely to be a winning argument in a debate on New Labour.

10 Vital Components of a Sucessful Speech

1. Argument
The basis of every successful speech is a coherent argument. A successful speaker will always have a clear argument which is continuously impressed upon the adjudicators in a convincing fashion. The ability to address earlier contributions while remaining original is an important balance to strike in the presentation of an argument. An argument must make an impact while remaining logical. A chain of thought and clear progression is important to avoid losing the audience. This is best done by having a clear structure.

2. Content
Content distinguishes a good argument from an array of unsupported assertions. Content should be relevant, interesting and ideally, innovative. In a debate on an ethical or moral issue, little research may be required, but on a specific economic or political topic, extensive reading may be necessary unless you are particularly well-informed in that area. “Specialist” arguments based on knowledge acquired in your particular academic discipline are not welcome (and probably not very interesting if you are a neurophysics PhD) - the content that you use in any debate should be available in popularly read quality current affairs material, from The Irish Times to The Economist.

3. Fluency
A good speech must be delivered fluently with minimal use of notes. A fluent speaker will be more persuasive as he/she will appear to be more convinced of the truth of what they are saying. Never forget that a debate is an argument with rules, not an exchange of position papers. Reading is not debating and will be penalised by any adjudication panel.

4. Refutation/Rebuttal
This is the ability to effectively attack the critical point of an opponents position, while retaining your own argument and structure. It is critical to undermine the arguments of opposing speakers and this should be incorporated into your own speech. If you deliver a pre-prepared speech for five minutes, and then say “now for some rebuttal” you are missing the point. The whole point of your participation is to undermine the stance taken by the opposite side - as you are making your own points you should refer to the weaknesses that they expose in the opposition’s case.

5. Humour
Humour can help you to win over an audience and can make your speech stand out from the rest. Frequently, the most effective use of humour is as a tool to ridicule the position of your opponents. Remember though, that while a successful stand-up routine might persuade an audience or adjudication panel that a speaker has a great sense of humour, unless there is a point to it, it is irrelevant and a waste of time.

6. Style and Presentation
This is a general heading incorporating a speaker’s general competence as an orator. It includes conviction, humour, presence, gesture, tone, eye contact, a clear and audible delivery, and freedom from notes. Many of the best speakers have quite a quite a distinctive style. Obvious stylistic weaknesses, such as speaking too softly or loudly, too quickly or in monotone will detract from an otherwise strong performance.

7. Points of Information
A speaker is not obliged to accept points of information but it is recommended that speakers accept 2 or 3 points during a speech. They should be accepted at an appropriate time, - never in the middle of outlining a particular argument or example - and answered decisively. Refusal to accept any points, or failure to answer them undermines your argument, as you appear unwilling or unable to defend it from attack. Accepting 4 or more points of information is generally regarded as unwise, as it will excessively distract you from the central purpose of offering your own argument. Your speech is not a question-and-answer session.

Each speaker should offer points of information throughout the duration of the debate. They should be short and directly relevant to the point that the speaker is currently making. Abuse of this facility so as to upset or distract a speaker, by continually offering points at short intervals (“barracking”), or by offering points at an inappropriate time - when a speaker is patently only introducing or outlining the basis of his argument - will be heavily penalised.

8. Teamwork
A team speaker will be judged as such. A successful team will have a coherent argument which unifies both of their speeches. The first speaker in a team should set out the argument of the team with supporting examples and the second speaker should defend it, by showing how the arguments that have been offered in the intervening time have not effectively undermined the team line, as set out by the first speaker. If the second speaker for a team departs from his/her partner’s argument, he/she will be heavily penalised.

9. Individual Speakers
In the subsequent rounds of the Irish Times there are individual speakers as well as teams. The individual speakers are “sandwiched” in the middle of the debate, and the principal arguments will typically have been made by the first speaker on each of the teams. Because they have no team-mate to reiterate their argument, it is often the case that successful individuals will in some way add a novel dimension or perspective to the debate. There is an important distinction between novelty and irrelevance - an individual will not be rewarded for introducing completely different subject matter, but a new argument, or a reworked version of an existing argument, used to prove the same point, will be welcome.

10. Order of Speaking
Different responsibilities attach to different positions on the order paper.

The first proposition speaker has the specific responsibility of defining the motion, and explaining what he/she believes is at issue in the debate.

The first opposition speaker may respond to this definition, but should in almost every case, accept it and work with it. Only in the very rare situation of a “squirrel” (where the proposition have defined the motion in such an unreasonable fashion that their definition bears no relation to any meaning that could reasonably be ascribed to the text of the motion) is the opposition entitled to disregard the definition offered by the proposition, and substitute their own definition.

Thereafter, the first speaker from each team should clearly state what that team will seek to argue. Although what is at issue in the debate should now be apparent, each team is free to adopt its own different arguments, different structure and different examples to argue their side of the motion.

As a general rule, the later a speaker is on an order paper, the greater the responsibility to refute arguments already made, and the lesser the responsibility to introduce new material. Indeed, the last speakers for the proposition and the opposition should sum up the arguments made by all of the speakers on their side of the motion and rebut the arguments of the opposing teams. They should not introduce new arguments - rather, they should confine themselves to reiterating the arguments advanced by their teammate.

Types of Debate
All debates in the Competition are “prepared” - speakers will have notice of the motion, usually for over a week.

Because of this it is generally regarded as inappropriate to have “vague” motions that have no apparent meaning, and could be interpreted as any one of an infinite number of possibilities by the first proposition team. Thus, there are no motions such as “That This House would look before it leaps” or “That This House believes the glass is half-empty” which are so beloved of impromptu-style competitions. The reason is that this practice defeats the object of having preparation time, and also offers the first proposition team a large advantage, as they are the only team going into the debate who know what the issue to be discussed is.

Irish Times motions normally posit a relatively clear issue. For example, to take a hackneyed topic that will certainly not be part of this year’s competition, “That This House would Ban Boxing”, it can readily be seen that the issues, and the arguments are straightforward and apparent. That is the tradition of Irish Times motions. Adopting an unusual definition - in the above case defining the debate as being concerned with banning the boxing of fruit - perhaps because of damage to rainforests caused by the demand for wood to make the boxes - impresses nobody and will almost certainly backfire. The first opposition team, in an Irish Times debate would be entitled to disregard this definition, and substitute their more conventional understanding of the motion.

To the extent that there is any ambigouity at all in the motion “That this House would Ban Boxing”, that ambigouity is contrived. The motions chosen for the competition seek to avoid cases of genuine ambigouity which might be caused by a motion such as “This House supports the right to strike”, which could be legitimately defined in the very different settings of labour relations, corporal punishment, or military initiatives.

If you are in any doubt, the best tactic in any Irish Times debate is to tackle the most obvious and straightforward meaning of the motion. That way, you are certain to be in the thick of the debate, and not on the sidelines.

Motions usually deal with a particular political, moral, religious, economic or international issue. The quid pro quo for having time to prepare, is an expectation that you will be well-informed on the topic.
I hope these notes are of some use in helping you to prepare for your participation. I would like to acknowledge a number of people who have generously offered me their advice and assistance, in particular, Colm Flynn, Caoilfhionn Gallagher, Ian Walsh, Bernadette Quigley and Adrian Langan. I hope you enjoy the experience of competing as much as I did, and I wish you the very best of luck.

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