Belfast Telegraph

Why are unionist causes beyond the pale among so-called activist academics at Northern Ireland's two universities?

Left-wing sympathies of some professors at QUB and UU work against all our shared futures, writes Nelson McCausland

The story of the exodus of Protestants from the Cityside in Londonderry is a story of between 12,000 and 15,000 people moving from their homes across the Foyle to the Waterside and beyond. Today, only a few hundred Protestants remain on the Cityside, mainly in the Fountain, while 97% have gone, and most people will acknowledge that it was the result of a sectarian campaign perpetrated by the Provisional IRA.

Last week the Pat Finucane Centre published a controversial report on this exodus and, while I would disagree with much of the narrative in the report, it did prompt me to take a look at the Pat Finucane Centre itself.

It is a limited company and, when I looked down the list of company directors, one word struck me: it was the word 'Professor', and the director in question was Professor Emeritus Paddy Hillyard, who has been a director of the Pat Finucane Centre since 2008.

Not only is he a director of the centre, but he was also the only director to serve on the advisory group that worked with the authors of the controversial report.

At one time there was a tendency to view academics as "living in ivory towers", spending their days in libraries, poring over ancient texts, or transfixed by test tubes and periodic tables.

However, today that is wide of the mark.

Throughout the 20th century there was a growth in the number of academics who were also political activists and this is very much the era of the "academic activist", of whom Professor Hillyard is a good example.

Beyond the Pale was a publishing company with a registered office at Conway Mill in west Belfast.

It was incorporated in 1998 with three directors and two of these were academics: Professor Bill Rolston at Ulster University and Professor Mike Tomlinson at Queen's University.

Beyond the Pale only published around 19 books, but these included books by authors such as Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison and hunger striker Laurence McKeown, as well as books by Rolston himself.

Beyond the Pale was dissolved in 2016. But by then Bill Rolston, who was a Professor of Sociology at Ulster University from 1977 to 2014, was also a director of Relatives For Justice, an organisation that takes a particular interest in allegations of "collusion" between "state forces" and loyalists.

Professor Denis O'Hearn is an Irish-American sociologist, who was at Queen's University from 1994 to 2008. During that time he was also chair of the West Belfast Economic Forum and the author of Nothing But An Unfinished Song: The Life And Times Of Bobby Sands.

O'Hearn also wrote a children's biography of Bobby Sands, suitable for primary schools and published by Beyond the Pale. Which brings us back to Professor Rolston.

Professor Paul Stewart (Pol Mac Stiubhard) is another academic activist.

He is now Professor of Sociology at the University of Strathclyde and describes himself as an "Irish socialist republican".

However, he is also a director of the Armagh-based Cairde Teo, an Irish language initiative formed in 2009 by "experienced community workers, academic researchers, trade unionists and Irish language activists".

Last year the Adam Smith Institute published a report entitled Lackademia: Why Do Academics Lean Left? It concluded that around 80% of academics were sympathetic to the Left in politics and the imbalance is probably even greater in the field of sociology. The Adam Smith Institute was looking primarily at Great Britain, but the imbalance is even more acute in Northern Ireland, where we have the added dimension of Irish republicanism and its alignment with the Left.

As the examples above clearly demonstrate, this has implications outside the universities as it gives Irish nationalist organisations and Gaelic cultural organisations greater access to academic expertise, experience and connections. Moreover, that militates against the development of a shared future for Northern Ireland, where community and cultural development for all should be taken forward on a basis of equity.

This is something on which we as a society would do well to reflect, and that includes the powers-that-be in our two universities, but it also includes the unionist community and our unionist parties.

Belfast Telegraph

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