Concern has been raised by a number of unionist students at Queen’s University Belfast that a group, potentially linked to dissident republican activity, is seeking to become an official Society at Queen’s University Belfast Students’ Union.
The Scoop was recently given access to a secret Facebook group called ‘Unionist Students of Northern Ireland’ where such concerns were raised.
Membership of the group is comprised of students from Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University, as well as some elected representatives from both the Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party.
Members of the group often discuss strategy as well as upcoming events and meetings.
The Scoop have been told the purpose of the group was to provide a platform for unionist students to work with each other. However some posts show a more sinister side to the group.
One post describes an event hosted by Linda Ervine to talk about Protestants and the Irish language. Under this post a member of the unionist student group posts a comment, inviting the others to attend to “have a pop at Irvine”.
The concern about a group linked to dissident republican activity was first raised in the secret Unionist Facebook group under a post which was attached to a letter from the Department of Employment and Learning Minister, Stephen Farry. This letter outlined Minister Farry’s response to a range of Unionist concerns which various members of the secret group had raised with him.
Underneath this post a member of the group, who didn’t want to be named, noted his ‘concern that a dissident republic group operating at QUB’.
Since the comment was made a member of the group sought to provide clarity, telling The Scoop that the comment was made in relation to a society who they believed to be seeking official membership of QUB SU. The source further clarified that although this group isn’t involved in dissident republican activities, they believed that it was linked to such activities.
The group in question is the ‘1916 Societies’. They told The Scoop that they “are committed to fostering and promoting Irish unity as set out in the 1916 Proclamation”. A spokesperson for the group also added that they want to “empower the Irish people and secure what is their sovereign destiny, an independent 32 County Irish republic founded on the principles of the 1916 Proclamation, a republic worthy of the name.”
When asked if the 1916 Societies are in any way linked to dissident republican activity they strongly denied this claim telling us that they are a non-violent political movement, adding, “We certainly do not oppose peace but for sure, we refuse to endorse implementing British policy in Ireland and normalising what remains the occupation of our country.”
On November 12th 2014, the 1916 Societies had planned to hold an information evening to discuss setting up a branch at QUB Students’ Union, however this meeting was subsequently blocked by the Students’ Union after a complaint had been lodged by a student.
The Scoop have been informed that the 1916 Societies meeting had been blocked by QUB Students’ Union once they had reviewed the booking request, because “since the room booking was made, the ‘neutral stance’ referendum result had become binding on the Union and therefore it would not be appropriate to accommodate an external booking of organisation that promoted views contrary to Union policy.”
The 1916 Societies believe that they have been unfairly ‘censored’ by the Students’ Union.
On their website the 1916 Societies claim that “membership of the 1916 societies shall be open to any Irish republican regardless of race, age, gender, sexual orientation or ability, except those who endorse British rule and accept the crown forces as a legitimate force in Ireland.”
It is expected that the 1916 Societies would not be able to become an official society at Queen’s Students’ Union if the group had this exclusionary clause in its constitution. This may be deemed to be contrary to the aims and objectives of the Students’ Union and hence, unconstitutional.
The 1916 Societies have countered this claim by stating that because the group feel that support of the PSNI and endorsing what they see as British rule would be “tantamount to the whitewashing of the grievous and heinous crimes of this organisation, crimes for which it is still subject to ongoing investigation” .
They have added, “we would be extremely uncomfortable with the idea of a Student body in a position of public trust, such as Queen’s Student Union, might attempt to dictate to those it has a duty of care towards that they are required to whitewash and excuse the murder of innocent civilians and their cover-up in order to comply with its constitution.”
Several members from the secret Unionist Facebook group told The Scoop that they would not be comfortable with such a group gaining official membership of QUB SU due to their anti-Good Friday Agreement stance and the fact that they do not view the PSNI as being a legitimate police force.
The Scoop has since put these claims to a representative of the 1916 Societies and we were told:
“The PSNI has next to zero credibility at this point and with that in mind the least we can do is ensure we do not give succour and legitimacy to this discredited organisation, what is in effect a repackaged RUC, with a new cap and badge, in the forlorn belief it can be changed from within.”
The Scoop can confirm that the 1916 Societies are working towards becoming an official society at QUB and the group believe that they will have their first ‘Cumann’ (branch) established in the weeks ahead.