On the 1st October 2014 QUB Sinn Fein announced that at the Queen’s University Freshers’ Fair that they would be launching a petition to hold a referendum at QUB on the subject of Irish unity.
From that moment onwards, our reporter Tori Watson has been following every movement of the referendum campaign, which not only saw QUB Sinn Fein exceed the 2.5% quorum needed in order to hold the referendum, it saw a subsequent referendum campaign launched which seeks to keep Queen’s SU neutral on the status of Northern Ireland’s constitutional position.
The two referenda that are being held on QOL tomorrow will ask the following questions; ‘This Students’ Union is a shared space that is inclusive for all students and should therefore have a neutral stance on the constitutional position of NI. [Do you agree? Yes or No]’ and ‘Should Ireland be a united and independent country? [Yes or No].’
Both referenda have sparked the branches of political parties at QUB alight with most parties at QUB taking a stance on one referendum or the other.
Yes To Irish Unity
So far, only two political parties on campus support a yes vote in Irish unity referendum – Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
QUB Sinn Fein who are behind the Irish unity referendum have said that:
“a referendum should be held on this matter in order to stimulate civic conversation, as in their opinion “a United Ireland is not just a Republican pipe dream. It is in everyone’s interest, no matter their age, gender, sexuality, race, religion, nationality, background, or identity.”
“Whether you support Irish Unity, the link with Britain, or are undecided, we ask of you to sign the petition in order to give a voice to the students of our University.”
The SDLP’s position was initially unclear as the University Times reported that the SDLP’s Youth Chair Cliona McCarney had said that:
“I think this kind of debate is absolutely unhelpful, there are so many other things that our SU should be campaigning on without getting caught up in a sectarian head-count that benefits nobody.”
In a press statement released later, the SDLP formally welcomed the launch of the Irish referendum at QUBSU. QUB SDLP interim Chair Shannon Downey welcomed the debate on the constitution of Northern Ireland.
“The Scottish referendum clearly demonstrated that we can have a passionate but rational debate on the future constitutional settlement on these islands. We must learn the lessons of the Scottish example and ensure that this debate is held on the basis of equality and inclusivity rather than continuing the politics of exclusion that has held us back.”
Yes To Neutrality
This is where it gets slightly complicated. No political party at QUB seem to be officially endorsing a ‘no’ vote in the Irish unity referendum. Instead there are a range of parties who are urging students to vote ‘yes’ to QUBSU having a neutral stance on Northern Ireland’s constitution.
Before the ‘neutrality’ petition had been launched, QUB Alliance planned to abstain on the Irish Unity referendum.
QUB Alliance Chair Stephen Donnelly said:
“QUB Alliance, as the only explicitly cross-community party youth group at QUB, will not actively campaign in favour of either Yes or No in the run up to the referendum, and we will make no recommendation to the student body about how they should vote, or, indeed, if they should vote.”
Once it became apparent that a neutrality petition had been confirmed, QUB Alliance clarified their stance in a statement saying:
“After consultation with the Alliance Youth Executive, and more widely with Alliance members who are students at Queen’s University Belfast, QUB Alliance will officially be supporting a ‘yes’ vote on October 27 to ensure the Students’ Union remains a shared and neutral space.”
The Democratic Unionists Association (DUA) is the youth wing of the Democratic Unionist Party and are part of the team who led in organising the neutrality referendum.
The DUA are strongly against QUBSU voting on taking a stance on the constitutional question of Northern Ireland and DUA Chair Jack Patterson told The Scoop:
“Sinn Fein are only attempting to carry out their referendum because they believe that if they get a vote in favor of a united Ireland at Queen’s then they be will provided with some comfort in the pursuit of their illusionary dream of a united Ireland which seems increasingly unrealistic and has less support at this moment in time than it ever has.”
In a statement the Young Green’s say:
“we would encourage students to consider whether they think it is appropriate or necessary for the SU to take this stance, as the SU exists to unite students as part of a wider university community rather than exclude students who disagree with the official stance.”
Ógra Fianna Fáil
In a statement QUB Ogra Fianna Fail said that they have been committed to the reunification of this island since its foundation. Although they add that they are in support of retaining QUB campus’ neutral environment with in relation to the constitutional issue. Ogra Fianna Fail say that this is because “a united Ireland can only be built on the foundations of a united people”
The Ulster Unionists’ Party youth grouping, the Young Unionists, have also been involved in the campaign to keep QUBSU neutral and in a statement said that:
“The Young Unionists have been at the forefront of the Keep QUB neutral campaign. The Young Unionists believe that this is a cynical attempt by Sinn Fein to raise tension and drag outdated constitutional issues into Queen’s Students’ Union. The group was disappointed to learn that Sinn Fein would be using the University to score poor political points and cause unnecessary division within the student body. Surely as students our focus should be on the 15% cuts to Queen’s University funding where courses and student places are under threat.”
Students with no official political party membership were also involved in the organising of the neutrality referendum campaign.
Polling will take place between 9am and 5pm tomorrow [Monday 27th October] and the result of both referenda will be known by early Tuesday morning.