Belfast Telegraph

Queen's Students' Union decision to reject attempt to make Irish unity official policy is a defeat for Sinn Fein

By Samuel Morrison

The decision of Queen's Students' Union to decisively reject a Sinn Fein attempt to make Irish unity official policy should be welcomed.

Academic neutrality is a long-established and proud tradition. Had the Sinn Fein proposal become the official policy of the Students' Union, it would have sent out a very clear message that Queen's was a nationalist university, alienated unionist students and discouraged applications from unionists.

In spite of their talk about shared space, Sinn Fein and the SDLP were quite happy for Northern Ireland's only Russell Group university to have a Students' Union which was only welcoming to one side.

In the event, students rejected the idea that the Students' Union should have a pro-united Ireland policy by 21 votes - 1,264 to 1,285. What makes that result remarkable was that unionists at Queen's urged a boycott of the poll.

By contrast, the campaign to keep Queen's Students' Union neutral secured a thumping majority of those voting, passing the 10% threshold to become official policy, with 2,596 students in favour and 409 opposed.

However, the fact that the referendum happened at all raises serious questions about the genuine desire of nationalism to build a shared society in Northern Ireland.

It's important to point out that this was not a case of the Sinn Fein and SDLP societies at Queen's going off on a solo run. Mairtin O Muilleoir and Colum Eastwood campaigned alongside students from their parties for a yes vote.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP like to claim that their refusal to tolerate loyal order parades in "their" areas, or a Union flag on City Hall, is nothing to do with a desire to suppress expressions of unionist culture; rather, about creating a shared and neutral space.

Yet, at Queen's, the nationalist parties united behind a campaign designed to strip our leading university of its neutrality, making a crude calculation that, because Roman Catholic students outnumber Protestants, they were sure to win.

In the event, that didn't prove to be the case. Monday's referendum was an emphatic defeat for Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

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