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Academic blasts Sinn Fein over Queen's Irish unity referendum

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Queen's University, Belfast

Queen's University, Belfast

Queen's University, Belfast

A Queen's University academic has blasted Sinn Fein for organising a referendum on Irish unity without allowing enough time for a "mature debate".

Frederick W Boal, Professor Emeritus, said young people straight out of schools have been "plunged straight into a deeply divisive issue".

The referendum will take place next Monday.

However, a second referendum will also take place on the same day on whether the Students' Union should be kept neutral on Northern Ireland's political status.

In a letter to the Belfast Telegraph Professor Boal lambasted Sinn Fein.

"So what do we have here? We have a bunch of young people, mostly straight out of (presumably segregated) schools, who would not have participated in a single class at Queen's," he said. "At least there they would have an opportunity to interact with others, many of whom would be of a different 'community background'.

"But, no, these young people were plunged straight into a deeply divisive issue as QUB Sinn Fein harvested their signatures in the Whitla Hall." QUB Sinn Fein chairman Sean Fearon said he hopes there will be a "mature and informed debate" ahead of the vote next week.

But Professor Boal queried how such a debate could develop in just two weeks.

"In contrast, the people of Scotland were given two years for their debate," he said.

"I would suggest that the proposal for a referendum at Queen's Students' Union indicates a highly peculiar interpretation of the meaning of the word 'mature'."

Meanwhile, the Alliance Party group at Queen's has revealed its stance on the debate.

QUB Alliance Chair, Stephen Donnelly, said his party will be campaigning for a yes vote in the neutrality debate. "QUB Alliance has no intention of campaigning to stop this referendum from happening, although many of us have reservations about it," he said.

"QUB Alliance, as the only explicitly cross-community party youth group at QUB, will not actively campaign in favour of either yes or no in the run up to the referendum, and we will make no recommendation to the student body about how they should vote, or, indeed, if they should vote."

Mr Donnelly said his party will recommend a yes vote in the second referendum on whether the SU should retain a neutral position on the constitutional situation of Northern Ireland.

Background

QUB Sinn Fein gathered over 700 signatures during Freshers Week to force a referendum on Irish unity among the student body. Unionist students voiced outrage and attempted to have the referendum stopped. Both DUP MLA Arlene Foster and UUP MLA Tom Elliott held meetings with Vice Chancellor Patrick Johnston urging him to halt the referendum plans. However the referendum was allowed to proceed.Now a second ballot has been organised to take place on the same day over whether the SU should remain neutral on Irish unity.

Belfast Telegraph