Queen's University students vote down bid to ban sale of poppy
A bid to ban the sale of poppies at Queen's University's Students' Union has ended in a humiliating defeat for the republican activists behind the plan.
Student Sean Fearon, a Sinn Fein supporter, proposed the motion to ban the sale of poppies, claiming the charity appeal is "politically charged".
The Royal British Legion's annual Poppy Appeal raises funds to support the families of British soldiers. While the emblem has been historically contentious, in recent years it has been embraced by a section of Irish nationalism.
Mr Fearon and two other members of the Sinn Fein grouping at the Belfast university spoke for the motion. However, it was defeated by 40 votes to 15, with one spoiled paper, in a secret ballot.
The Students' Union (SU) representative council effectively barred media from entering the meeting after a vote that only students and staff of Queen's university could attend. However Queen's student newspaper The Gown published comments on Twitter from Mr Fearon's speech, in which he claimed his motion had become a "farce" due to media coverage.
It is understood that Mr Fearon singled out the Belfast Telegraph for criticism for reporting on the row in yesterday's paper.
The Gown tweeted that Mr Fearon told the meeting that the "integrity of the democratic body has been compromised".
Last night there was extra security around the campus and a police car remained outside throughout the meeting. Two loyalists held a brief flag protest at one point. Mr Fearon has been the subject of online threats from loyalists for proposing the ban on selling poppies at Queen's SU.
None of the 15 students who voted for Mr Fearon's motion was prepared to speak to the Belfast Telegraph following the meeting.
Brendan Corr (19) was one of the 40 who voted against it.
"I am an Irish nationalist, but I have always worn the poppy," he said. "I don't think it's something I have ever associated with politics – for me it's about supporting families and supporting people who are struggling. From the historical perspective, a lot of Irish people have died in wars, particularly in the First World War, so I don't feel any contradiction.
"I have friends who have family members who are in the service and I was worried about the message we would be sending out to them if we voted this through."
Eoin Donnelly (20) also voted against the ban and said he didn't view the poppy as a political symbol.
The defeat of the motion was welcomed by Lisburn UUP councillor and former QUB SU speaker Alexander Redpath.
"This will do much to preserve the good reputation of Queen's University," he said.