“I hate journalists. There is nothing in them but tittering jeering emptiness. They have all made what Dante calls the Great Refusal. The shallowest people on the ridge of the earth.” -William Butler Yeats

Remembering Buttergate

For the campus reactionary, student politics can be equal parts infuriating and as it is tiresome. Irish student life is defined by big egos confined within a small pool, with the vain progressive politics only exaggerating the problem.

Nevertheless, it remains the best place to garner insight into Ireland’s soon-to-be managerial class and the progressive policies they will inflict upon the Irish nation. 

While no doubt bringing a smile to the faces of the reading public, the not too distant bugging scandal emerging from Trinity College’s University Times (UT) is a case study in trends emerging within Irish journalism. 

While the paper has existed at the financial expense of students (whether they wanted it to or not) for the past 10 years, its future as a mainline publication was jeopardised by a student-led campaign to reduce its annual stipend to a (supposedly) paltry €3,000 per annum, as well as the removal of the free accommodation provided to its editor.

To summarise, on February 27th, operatives belonging to Trinity’s masthead student publication placed a listening device outside the flat of a student alleged to have been presiding over a fraternity hazing ritual. 

Hazing, more commonly found on American campuses, is a popular method of initiation within college fraternities, normally involving excess drinking and practices designed to humiliate inductees. This incident drew the attention of students due to the apparent description of fraternity members being ordered to ‘eat butter’ as part of the ritual. The reporting follows on from work done by the paper regarding alleged practices partaken in by members of the Trinity College Boat Club, involving ‘whipping with bamboo sticks’ of novice members. 

The fraternity in question is the rather pompously titled Knights of the Campanile. It has been operating since 1926 (albeit below board) as a predominantly male club catering to members of Trinity’s sporting community. The listening device was apparently discovered in situ by fraternity members who, after confronting the UT editor, reported the incident to college authorities. 

Following two weeks of relative calm, the story broke on an unsuspecting campus, resulting in indignation at the practices of UT journalists pursuing the story. While members of the UT had undoubtedly hoped to start a conversation on the practices of hazing within college life, they had merely stood on a journalistic landmine. Students questioned what looked like very serious ethical violations and a shoddy attempt at covering it up until the point when it was unearthed by journalists from campus rival Trinity News.

Very soon, the paper faced calls for resignations, while multiple law academics tore to shreds the legal justification journalists of the paper had for bugging a student flat.

To make matters worse, in the interim over 500 student signatures had been collected for the triggering of a referendum on reducing the paper’s funding and removing the accommodation provided to the paper’s editor. 

The paper, rather unusually, has a constitutionally guaranteed stream of funding, as per Chapter 10 of the TCDSU constitution. With ridiculous overruns its funding had become a bugbear to many on campus, with the drama merely exacerbating the tension.

Despite the UT’s claims of disinformation, as well as the accusations that its rival title Trinity News was aiming to twist the knife, the paper was saved from being defrocked by a comfortable 3:1 voting margin. The general feeling on campus was that the paper had operated obnoxiously during the fiasco with a particularly inept editor, and that while their practice of bugging student accommodation was erroneous, it didn’t merit defunding.

Proceedings were then kicked into touch, with the Knights being cleared of the practices of hazing by the Junior Dean tasked with the investigation. One would imagine there is an effort by an embarrassed college to diffuse the situation as much as possible.

The UT was and still is a Frankenstein’s monster of excess subsidies combined with progressive politics and evidently lax ethics, however it has been crippled by the entire ordeal. Even some of the most progressive of my peers felt a serious unease at the practices by which the UT operated, as well as the fact that they acknowledged no fault on their part. Placing a student flat under electronic surveillance and hamfistedly trying to reinvent your malpractice as crusading journalism is abysmal enough, nevermind doing so at the potential legal expense of the student body.

Surveillance of private residences by the state security apparatus is regulated primarily by the 2009 Criminal Surveillance Act with a prerequisite of judicial approval. By concocting for themselves an arbitrary right to place whomever they decide under surveillance, the UT leapfrogged the powers of even the Special Branch.

To paraphrase Edmund Burke, all this smashing of the patriarchy stuff can get very very totalitarian very very quickly. By conducting a botched surveillance op on a private flat and inventing themselves a right to bug private flats the UT clownishly stumbled across the line on any semblance of journalistic ethics.

Considering the symbiotic relationship unscrupulous journalists have with Gardaí and politicians, to grant them the ability to conduct de facto arbitrary surveillance is unhinged. Anyone with a modicum of cynicism knows journalism in Ireland acts as the long arm of the state.

The referendum was not a vindication of the conduct of the UT, and instead points to a growing disquiet felt by students regarding the organs of power in the University, this is likely something that will continue to manifest itself in years to come, and which conservatives should pivot towards taking advantage of. 

Previous to this, TCD Students’ Union was almost gutted when 49% of students voted to opt-out of mandatory membership, playing on similar undertones to the referendum which occurred with the UT. As someone on the political right, one can diagnose this as symptomatic of the extent to which these bodies have been captured by small amoral progressive factions, intent on pursuing an agenda at the expense of an apathetic student body.

The University Times is perhaps the greatest microcosm for Liberal Ireland and the multitude of contradictions it has. A publication that gloats of an all-female acting senior masthead, but retains the right to conduct electronic surveillance of student flats where it sees fit. A magazine at the service of students but who refuses to have its funding really questioned. A publication that states that it speaks truth to power on matters of Direct Provision and gender equality but is in fact power speaking.

Welcoming Ireland’s New Media Class

It should be made clear that this author carries no water for the Knights or the asinine practices alleged to have occurred. Fraternities should be rallying points for young men and conservative politics, instead of decadent cliques.

The Burschenschaften fraternity network has been a godsend for right-wing politics in Austria, while formerly in America the WASP leadership caste was cultivated using an array of college fraternities. In Ireland we had our own Catholic fraternities like the Knights of Columbanus holding back the institutional rot of liberalism.

That being said, the story very much stopped being about the Knights the moment the UT allegedly saw fit to violate the privacy of a student in his accommodation by placing a listening device outside of it, not to mention two weeks of keeping quiet about it until confronted by investigators.

The UT and its defenders forgot the rather privileged position of being a student funded paper. While the proportionality of the referendum to the action was questionable the notion that students shouldn’t slash the funding of the UT wasn’t.

The claim made by the UT that reducing its funding would qualify as thwarting press freedom was also patently absurd. There is no onus on students to bankroll the UT, even without the threat of serious legal costs emerging from this fiasco. Students questioning the funding of a flat for a student publication’s editor are as much assaulting press freedom as those refusing to pay for their 17-year old’s Leaving Cert holiday to Ibiza are guilty of child abuse.

Speaking cynically but fairly, the function of the UT is to act as an over-glorified bulletin board for students, a function that Trinity News or even the popular Facebook meme page ‘Trinity Collidge’ could do.

Rather surprisingly the then editor of Trinity News Niamh Lynch distinguished herself amid the turmoil. While her politics are no doubt as pedestrian as the paper she edited, she at least held the line against media Twitterati peeved at her role in exposing UT incompetence.

Student journalism, as much as it is stultified by progressive politics, is also a conveyor belt to the world of adult journalism. The slow-witted hacks that have Trinity as their stomping ground today will gradually take charge of the commanding heights of journalism tomorrow, and with them they will take their increasingly feral practices. Journalism is increasingly inseparable from a type of never ending social activism that never really challenges modern power structures for all the noise it generates.

Journalists and the role they play in narrative formation for liberalism is the open secret of our time. The humbling of the UT and having them forced to justify their inordinate funding and unethical practices was a remarkable vista, one that will be replicated as progressive organisations continue to cross the line.

The Trinity bugging scandal and resulting dogfight is the shape of things to come in Irish journalism and will ironically do more to turn people to conservative politics than anything this publication could ever do. Except for providing a step on the ladder for banal journalistic functionaries, the University Times is very much a useless addition to the world. However, by awakening many to the dysfunction of progressive journalism, every college reactionary owes them a debt of thanks.

Posted by Ciaran Brennan

One Comment

  1. I take exception with some of the authors cynicism but all the same tbe UT acted disgracefully.

    I remember listening to the UT editor Eleanor O’Mahony justifying the scandal on joe duffy and thinking where do these people get off?

    Hopefully the students involved learnt their lesson. UT like the SU is walking on thin ice these days.


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