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Now you're talking ... city students debate in Oxford

FOUR Dublin students have reached the finals of the biggest parliamentary-type debating competition in the world.

The articulate teenagers are the only Irish students from a non-fee paying school who will participate in the Oxford Union Schools' Debating Competition on Saturday.

More than 700 schools have participated in the regional competitions which have now been whittled down to 88 groups from Canada, Ireland and the UK.

Sixth-year students Adam Pettigrew (18) , Fergal Stamp (17) and fifth-year students Fionn Scott (17), and Gavin Radford (17) all from St Declan's College in Cabra, will have just 15 minutes to prepare their arguments on controversial motions.

"We're ecstatic about them getting to that stage," English and debating teacher Claire Breen told the Herald.

"We put forward two teams (6th and 5th year) and both got through, which is remarkable for a school in a disadvantaged area, most teams that get to that level are private or fee-paying schools," she explained.

"It's going to be tough because they're given such little time to get their speeches ready but we're counting on them."

In order to reach the prestigious finals, the four young men had to justify why barriers to immigration should be abolished and argue against a (hypothetical) legal permission to buy and sell organs.


"You'd have to know a good deal about the world and current affairs to take part in debates like these," Adam said. "That's the only way you can prepare yourself, you have to constantly read the papers and get a good night's sleep."

Both Adam and Fergal believe that their extra-curricular achievements will help them get into tough college courses next year.

Adam hopes to study European Studies at Trinity College, a social sciences-based degree renowned for its difficulty. Fergal has already been offered a place in Oxford University, to take Philosophy, Politics and Economics, a course which has produced some of the world's most famous political figures, notably British Prime Minister David Cameron and former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto.

"I always had an interest in politics so I thought debating would be a good way of getting involved in that, and getting confidence in public speaking," said Fergal.

"It really came in handy at my Oxford interview because they asked me questions on a topic that we had discussed for a motion the week before -- whether force can be used to prevent human rights abuses like in Libya, so I wasn't nervous."

Fionn and Gavin also have a bright future ahead of them.

The two talented boys won the gold in the Griffith College legal debate last year and came second in another national competition.