Baroness Kate Hoey and the loyalist activist Jamie Bryson have defended their argument that nationalists “dominate” many Northern Ireland professions and are using their influence to bring about a united Ireland.
Baroness Hoey was criticised after stating there were “very justified concerns” that many professional vocations — such as law, academia and journalism — had become dominated by those of a nationalist persuasion and were being used to exert influence over those in power.
Her assertion was dismissed by Northern Irish academic Professor Peter Shirlow, director at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies, as being “sterile and unevidenced”.
In a joint article in this paper, Baroness Hoey and Mr Bryson claim they have been misrepresented.
Restating their position, they said: “There is a network of those who hold nationalist political views, and that this network uses the professional status of its members in areas such as law, media, and academia to credential and so to advance nationalism’s political objectives.”
They deny this is not based on religion, but on the competing political ideologies of unionism and nationalism.
The article also states that “a ferocious effort was made to distort and deflect” their views in order to reframe the debate.
Their argument could be “proved beyond any doubt,” they said, citing the Ireland’s Future campaign group, which they said “advanced under the guise of civic nationalism”.
Baroness Hoey and Mr Bryson criticised the group, as signatories including journalists, academics and lawyers listed their name and profession. They argued this was “the very definition of using professional status to advance political objectives”.
This week the Irish News reported that Queen’s University academic, Professor Colin Harvey, had received an increase of online abuse since Baroness Hoey’s initial remarks.
“I am increasingly concerned about where this might all lead, not just for myself but for anyone affected in this region… everyone knows where this atmosphere can end in a deeply contested society like this,” he told the newspaper.
Baroness Hoey and Mr Bryson went on to accuse the BBC Talkback programme of using “supposedly academic or ‘civic’ figures with no mention of their proclaimed nationalism” while anyone with a unionist view was labelled as such.
The joint article also suggests that it is “entirely legitimate” for unionists and loyalists to pursue the exact same goal they criticise, by developing “a counter-network of influence” to ensure a balance in professional institutions.
Concluding, they urged those who objected to the politicisation of their profession to confront “the increasingly partisanship of some of your number, and the willingness of sections of the media to go along with it”.
“The aim of this piece is to ensure the debate is accurately framed. We trust that it now is, and we are content to let our arguments stand on their own merits.”
A BBC Northern Ireland spokesperson said: “We treat all contributors fairly and equitably and consistent with the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines. Should any audience member have concerns about how an interviewee is described, the BBC has a rigorous complaints process to ensure that its editorial guidelines are upheld.”
Baroness Hoey did not wish to respond to the comments made in the Irish News.