Baroness’ comments are sterile and without evidence, claims academic
Baroness Kate Hoey has been urged to withdraw her controversial term that many of Northern Ireland’s professions are “dominated” by those of a nationalist persuasion by a leading academic.
Professor Peter Shirlow, who is director at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies, described the debate sparked by the former Labour MP’s foreword for the Unionist Policy Studies report, as “sterile and unevidenced”.
In it, the cross-party peer expresses her “concern” over the influence of “anti-Union activism” within key professions such as journalism and law.
She stated that she supports “ongoing work to encourage those, especially from working class loyalist communities, to engage in education and to seek entry to professional vocations such as journalism, law, and public service”. “There are very justified concerns that many professional vocations have become dominated by those of a nationalist persuasion, and this positioning of activists is then used to exert influence on those in power,” continued Baroness Hoey.
Ms Hoey has defended her comments, insisting they were an “entirely legitimate position to articulate”.
Writing in a platform piece in the Irish News, she said her stance was underlined by the “manner by which the aforementioned elite network swung into action seeking to misrepresent the context of my remarks”.
Professor Shirlow said the issue was more complex than the zero sum game being portrayed, adding he took issue with the term “dominated”.
“The rise of a Catholic middle class shouldn’t be anything more than something that we support. It hasn’t undermined the position of the Protestant middle class. There’s no evidence to suggest that,” he said.
Instead, a person’s outcome in life is shaped by various socio-economic factors, such as third-level education attainment, home ownership and whether or not someone attended grammar school, he argued.
“What this society needs to do is have a conversation about social inclusion. We still have a situation where the majority of places that are deprived are predominately Catholic,” explained the academic. “You get within sections of nationalism and republicanism saying that they’re ascending, they’re on the march, and the Protestant community is dysfunctional and failing apart.
“You have sections of unionism and loyalism, like Kate Hoey who accept that; that their community is failing apart and it is being undermined and discriminated against.”
Mr Shirlow continued: “There is no evidence for either of those arguments. So what we’re getting is this sectarian-identity reading of the social changes.
“Nobody in that conservation is asking us the question why people are being left behind — two thirds of the children on the Shankill and the Falls are not achieving five GCSEs.”
He described the debate sparked by Kate Hoey’s piece as a “sterile Catholic/Protestant conversation”, adding younger generations here find such labels “tiresome”.
“I think the term ‘dominated’ has to be withdrawn. It’s basically taking the language of civil rights, that once there was a domination by unionists and now we have people claiming there’s a domination by the other side. If it’s not evidenced, then it should be withdrawn.”