Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

[Updated] Queens academic taught a hard lesson at the hands of ‘that lot in the DUP’

Fri 31 January 2014, 4:39pm

This is odd. Well intentioned or not, a Queens academic has managed to get himself on the poor end of the argument over Maurice Morrow’s private members bill which contains a maximalist clause that would criminalise prostitution.

Rather ill-advisedly Dr Graham Ellison decided to lobby a Swedish witness, Gunilla Ekberg, an ex-special adviser with the Swedish Government, who had previously given evidence in favour of Lord Morrow’s bill.

The trouble is the email contained rather a lot of man playing rather than connecting with the ball. The Belfast Telegraph reports:

“Why have you hooked yourself up to that lot in the DUP? Have you any idea what they stand for in terms of social issues around women’s rights; women’s reproductive rights issues and so forth?

“In terms of gay and lesbian politics that I have an interest in, they are one of the most repressive and socially backward parties you could imagine.”

Mr Wells said in the email Dr Ellison, who admits writing it, used a swear word that he would not repeat in public.

But the email said: “Who knows how many gays and lesbian young people in Northern Ireland have committed suicide because of this bloody party.

“I could also remember not long ago, five or six years, that the party, i.e. the DUP, was claiming that rape within marriage was impossible. They are simply latching onto this idea about sex that it is grounded in biblical teaching and not in feminist theory.”

As we have noted there are very serious questions about the likely unintended consequences of Lord Morrow’s bill. Trying to leverage a liberal bias which whilst general across the establishment at home is a poor substitute for forensic analysis of the more glaring faults of the bill.

Update: Slugger understands that one DUP MLA has already contacted QUB to try and take the matter further with his employers. That ought to be watched and watched very carefully. The anti democratic reflex, it seems, is strong on both sides of the Castle.

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Comments (40)

  1. I dont want to be specific.
    It was certainly ill advised and I dont think its edifying to see a public ambush.
    But I DO think there is a Double Standard in the cross-over world between Academia (and Civic Society) and Stormont.
    In private there is barely disguised ridicule heaped on the DUP and Sinn Fein. They are dismissed as knuckle draggers and backwoods men…..yet they are courted by their detractors…academics, journos, trade unionists, business people, lobby groups.

    I suppose we should be grateful for a glimpse behind the mask
    It really is make your mind up time for us all.
    Rather than simultaneously ridicule AND stroke the egos of DUP andSF , it might be more reasonable to say….”Im not attending your Committee”, “Im not attending your Press Conference”, “no we are not inviting the Minister”.
    Its a mixed message at the moment.

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  2. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    You cannot be watching the Dail proceedings much these days FJH. Pitching an attack on a party she’d barely heard of to a special advisor who was already deeply ideologically committed to the policy was naive to say the least…

    Effectively he helped them tied his own laces together so that whatever important perspectives he had to bring the matter got lost in the bias debate. It’s a persistent fault with the liberal lobby that it presumes too much on its own innate virtues (as you have pointed out painstakingly in the past)…

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  3. Expat (profile) says:

    I think the message that resonates most from this affair is that certain young gay people can be driven to suicide by a rigidly intolerant stance towards them. I think that is what will be remembered and if this causes some to reflect on the effects of their attitudes, so much to the good.

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  4. Neil (profile) says:

    The email was meant to be private for starters. How many gay people have been driven to suicide by comments from within the DUP and the hostility towards gay people in society those comments engender? Who knows, but you’d be hard pushed to say (or prove) it was zero. It seems the main problem is our man doesn’t recall who said rape within marriage was impossible, and whether that was said by a free P or someone in the DUP. Possibly both. But calling people ‘an abomination’, or describing gay activity as ‘worse than paedophilia’ as moral guardian Iris Robinson once said, these things do give cover to people who would engage in homophobic attacks.

    The topic of the DUP’s intolerance is front and centre so i’d say our Queen’s academic has not totally lost the argument. Many people should be reminded of it in the run up to an election, a large number of DUP voters have a gay in the family and should consider that when they cast their vote.

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  5. cynic2 (profile) says:

    I think he won the argument and was smack on in his description of the DUP.

    I look forward to Queens explaining to the DUP about freedom of expression before advising them where to go and what to do on their arrive there

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  6. I think DUP attitudes do contribute to Homophobia.
    But Id very much doubt that the DUP is actually responsible for a suicide….that seems to stretch things too far.
    Not least because the DUP hate so many people….probably they dont think that much of a nationalist/Catholic/Irish/Republican/socialist but Im not driven to self harm.
    Therefore I think the DUP getting the blame for homophobia thats rampant in society…in schools, clubs, families, churches, workplaces, social media seems to overload it.

    I think Mick gets the point here.
    if the DUP offends your sensibilities….DO Something. Dont keep the distaste for the DUP or indeed SF or any other Party for private conversations and then rush out to the launch of some Ministerial initiative at the Long Gallery.
    “Yes Minister”
    “No Minister”
    “Very amusing anecdote Minister….I look forward to our photograph being in the Ulster Tatler”.
    The greatest achievement of the DUP-SF-Alliance Coalition (we can ignore the others….cos THEY do) is the affirmation of Civic Society.

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  7. sherdy (profile) says:

    Doubt if the DUP can be blamed for any suicides. After all haven’t they told gays that they can be ‘cured’!

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  8. Turgon (profile) says:

    Mick,
    Worth noting that Wells has also accused Dr. Ellison of links to an Irish prostitution website. See Newsletter article here:

    http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/regional/stormont-witnesses-deny-links-to-pimps-1-5847318

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  9. David Crookes (profile) says:

    The privacy of the man’s email is neither here nor there. No one would be talking about privacy if he’d asked (for example) “…..how many people are sick to death of hearing about gays and lesbians”. Does the man’s question constitute a libel, and if so should the DUP institute proceedings at law?

    I’ll repeat what I said earlier today on another thread. The BBC’s headline on today’s NI news site was scandalously partisan. “Lecturer disappointed at email row.”

    Pretend it’s late 1939.

    “Hitler disappointed at unhelpful reaction of Poles.”

    There is no equitability about a society in which if one lot says something they’re evil outrageous bigots, but if the other lot says something they’re poor misguided dears.

    One last point. A real scholar gives evidence. He doesn’t ask sleazy questions beginning with the words, “Who knows…..”.

    Who knows how many activists for particular causes are employed in the media? I don’t, but one day someone is going to ask.

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  10. Neil (profile) says:

    The nature of the email is relevant when people describe it as a public ambush (see above). It was a private email, not a public ambush. As to your Hitler analogy: Godwin’s rule. In furtherance to that reply, I suppose he was disappointed that a private email became a public row. Seems likely to be a factually accurate headline to me.

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  11. Neil (profile) says:

    One last point. A real scholar gives evidence. He doesn’t ask sleazy questions beginning with the words, “Who knows…..”.

    Do scholars have conversations with people? In your expert opinion might a scholar having a private conversation with someone use the words ‘who knows’ within that conversation, or does the degree mean they must endure the rest of their days in silence or evidence giving mode?

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  12. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Thanks, Neil. The man’s emotional response to the disclosure of his email is worse than trivial. What he said should form the substance of the headline, not what he felt like.

    Everyone says wild things in private conversation: but if you’re a scholar, writing to an expert witness in connection with what you believe to be a matter of life and death, you should take care not to generate wild allegations by asking a slur-question.

    One last thing about Dr Ellison. To object to an idea as being grounded in Biblical teaching rather than in feminist theory is actually hilarious. Many scholars regard feminist theory as a load of tosh, but Dr Ellison gives it canonical status!

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  13. David,

    I might be wrong but I think you can only be liable for libelling a person, not an organization.

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  14. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Many thanks, Joe. I’m no expert here, but in 1990 McDonalds served a libel writ on several members of a campaigning organisation over the production and distribution of their “What’s Wrong with McDonalds?” leaflet. The legal battle between Helen Steel and David Morris, a gardener and a postman, and the McDonalds corporation became one of the most famous cases in British legal history, not least because it became the longest running British trial.

    To win the case, the pair would have had to prove from primary sources the truth of their allegations about McDonalds. After hearing all the evidence, the judge (who did find that some of the allegations were true) ruled that the pair had libelled McDonalds because the evidence which they called was insufficient to prove the majority of their statements. They were ordered to pay damages of £60,000.

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  15. Rapunsell (profile) says:

    The unrepeatable swear word was – those of nervous sensibilites avert your eyes now – Christ!

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  16. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Maybe someone has been reading Slugger. Aside from a reference to Mark Devenport’s twitter-comments, the NI BBC news site no longer contains any reference to the sorry tale of the disappointed lecturer.

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  17. Seamuscamp (profile) says:

    Dr Ellison clearly thinks it legitimate privately to pressure someone, with views contrary to his own, to change their mind. If he had done that openly, it would be legitimate; to do it privately is dubious. To back up this hidden pressure with dubious tendentious anecdotal statements is hard to square with academic freedom. But for some, only their own views are shielded by academic freedom.

    Personally, I think Lord Morrow’s bill is an attempt to foist his morality on others (just as Dr Ellison has done) – and it is dishonest not to make that central to his case.

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  18. Coll Ciotach (profile) says:

    It sounds like a bit of a hysterical, (yes – I know the meaning of hyster in the word), reaction. Has it anything to do with his award of over 9 grand to produce “The Policing and Regulation of Sex Work: A Four City Case Study” ?

    I feel that will have to be judged against that outburst.

    Is he complaining about the person giving a view to the DUP? Is the plight of trafficked woman less important? Or are they important so long as the DUP is not involved?

    Does he not realise that once you hit the send button you no longer have control? Is he that naive? Why does he use language that he cannot stand over?

    Is this guy an academic with no knowledge of the world outside of academia?

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  19. Charles_Gould (profile) says:

    The lecturer was unprofessional and it makes him come across as having opinions, rather than being an evidence based academic, with scientific values.

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  20. David Crookes (profile) says:

    If he had asked how many people had been driven to suicide by the Ulster Bank, could you see the Ulster Bank allowing the implied charge to go unchallenged in the courts?

    One side point: if you have to swear at someone in order to make your case, you are unfit for polite society. Some liberals who would start World War III if a blogger used the N-word are happy to use profanities that they know will offend Christians. If NI had a large population of militant Muslims, the same liberals would take great care never to profane anything in Islam.

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  21. David,

    I stand corrected. I have since checked the law here in Canada and the Canadian bar says that recent cases have ruled that corporations can also sue here for libel.

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  22. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Many thanks for getting back to me, Joe. Some of the coded language in today’s news reports suggests to me that the DUP is contemplating litigation.

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  23. gaygael (profile) says:

    Dr Ellison is right.
    When a minority group is denied equality, actively stigmatised, it exacerbates risk of poorer mental health and outcomes and subsequently risk of suicide.
    It’s that simple. If you read any of the work by the leading acedemics on suicidology and mental health. They will concur.
    The dup have the blood of lgbt people on their hands.

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  24. gaygael (profile) says:

    It’s red sky all over again. How many times have the dups threatened legal action? It’s a bully boy bluff.

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  25. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    CC.

    One thing I would point out at this stage is that Jim Wells has only quoted extracts from the email. Presumably those parts that best suit his own case.

    gaygael,

    There’s no consonance, that I can see, between your first post and the second. Other than you’re not the greatest fan of the DUP.

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  26. Turgon (profile) says:

    gaygael,
    “When a minority group is denied equality, actively stigmatised, it exacerbates risk of poorer mental health and outcomes and subsequently risk of suicide.”

    Indeed and I would add the risk of violent assault and even murder. Exactly these occurrences appear common for women (and men) in sex work at the hands of their clients. Hence, the wish to change the law to criminalise not the women but the users.

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  27. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    A laudable sentiment Turgon, no doubt motivated by compassion. But we ought to look at it in terms of whether clause six aids or hinders the overall aim of the bill.

    The cops’ concerns are that instead of focusing on traffickers, this clause will re-direct scarce resources from targeting supply side traffickers to managing demand side clients.

    Now, I won’t pretend I’ve read the research, but broken window theory might suggest that making it difficult for prostitutes to operate will have a secondary effect on trafficking.

    But, and this is a very big but, we have to ask whether given the way our politicians handle their responsibilities viz a viz law and order when their own direct interests are challenged, how realistic an expectation is this?

    If this was Sweden, I’d say this law had a chance. But this is Belfast, where whole areas are in the possession of paramilitaries who see themselves as beyond the law.

    Add to that that the cops do not have the political licence to go in and deal with them robustly whether in inner east Belfast or Oldpark or wherever.

    Until that changes, this has the smack of tick box politics. Another case, yes yet another one, of inputs masquerading as outcomes (aka the God Complex).

    In the process, whilst I think Dr Ellison was foolish in making the pitch, the attempt by the DUP to distract from the core argument betrays just how weak the case is in favour of clause six.

    I understand that one DUP MLA has already contacted QUB to try and take the matter further with his employers. That ought to be watched and watched very carefully. The anti democratic reflex, it seems, is strong on both sides of the Castle.

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  28. streetlegal (profile) says:

    The DUP does have some gay MLAs.

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  29. IJP (profile) says:

    Thanks for this, Mick, which I’ve only just seen.

    If I’m picking you up correctly, there are two points here:

    Firstly, the academic may have been right in his argument about the DUP.

    Secondly, however, his email resulted in his case being “The DUP are for it, therefore you should be against it”, rather than the case being assessed on its merits.

    To scare FJH a bit, this is an area where he and I get on extremely well!

    You absolutely cannot have it both ways. There is an anti-intellectual strand to the DUP and SF (fundamental to both, I would suggest). Academics – not least Platform for Change and so on – need to stop this two-faced relationship with the DUP and SF, and instead challenge them straight on.

    As I’ve written countless times elsewhere, for as long as the DUP and SF have a collective majority, what they say will go (and where they disagree, nothing will go).

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  30. Not that scary.
    IJP and I would disagree on whether the Alliance Party is
    (a) propping up the farce more than its honourable tradition deserves or
    (b) is bravely standing up for Decency against the One Party State (Green and Orange Wing)

    Indeed we cant have it both ways.
    What to do?
    With an Overclass and Underclass already disaffected, the turn out for Assembly 2016, might be little more than 50%.
    Is there a point at which Government loses legitimacy thru a turn out of 40% or 30%….or what exactly?
    A boycott of the Elections advocated by UUP, SDLP or Alliance (???) might be very effective….if people were actually brave enough to do it.
    The British and Irish Governments could actually give a nod anda. Wink about salaries for outgoing MLAs as and staff…for constituency work….prior to a second set of Elections.
    Without rivals in the field, it would be difficult for DUP and SF to get the core vote out.

    But are people brave enough to do it….even at Council Level.

    At ALL levels this Farce is being propped up
    By Alliance Party.
    By UUP and SDLP.
    By British and Irish Governments.
    by Media
    By Business and Commercial Sector.
    By Trade Unions.
    By Lobbyists.
    By….us here on Slugger.

    We give DUP and SF credibility ….too often with a fawning sycophantic regard.
    Its all a bit like Zambia or Uganda in the 1960s where the sectors that propped up the colonial regimes fell over themselves to embrace the new rulers.
    Effectively Collaborators.

    Respecting the mandate of the ballot box is one thing….collaboration is another.

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  31. David Crookes (profile) says:

    A most important story has appeared on the NI BBC site.

    [Ex-prostitute in Stormont appeal

    A former prostitute makes an emotional appeal to Northern Ireland MLAs to pass a proposed law on human trafficking and the sex trade.]

    The lady who is central to the story deserves to be acknowledged AT ONCE on this thread,so I’ve set down the title and the summary of the story above. I know she’s talking about men relating to women, but what she says does have a certain relevance.

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  32. sherdy (profile) says:

    David, – I heard some of what the lady in question said on the BBC news this evening and she certainly would make a very convincing witness.
    But as a victim of enforced prostitution I wonder if she is able to give a balanced report. On the other hand the opinion of someone with no actual experience in that department would maybe not be as valid.
    So do you base any new legislation on the views of those with or without experience. Or do you take a cross-section of opinions and come up with decisions somewhere in between (In this country I wouldn’t suggest compromise).

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  33. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Thanks, sherdy. I reckon it comes down to what a great Waggoner song calls the cold hard facts of life. Very often, in this department of the universe, those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know. The lady whom we’re talking about deserves enormous respect for giving her testimony.

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  34. Matthias Lehmann (profile) says:

    In my opinion, what is outrageous isn’t what was written in Dr Ellison’s private email conversation with Gunilla Ekberg but the fact that for the sake of coalition building, prostitution prohibitionists like her stop at nothing, or more accurately described by the corresponding German idiom “walk over dead bodies” [1] in order to promote their anti-prostitution agenda, despite an abundance of evidence that contradicts their claims. [2]

    [1] http://wp.me/P3K8kK-1L [2] http://wp.me/p294H2-NM

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  35. sherdy (profile) says:

    Professor Ellison may or may not have been on the right side of the moral argument. But his principles were completely lost in the aftermath of that infamous e-mail.
    One would expect a university professor to have a bit of sense, but to send such a strongly worded missive to someone he knew to be in the opposing camp, not anticipating the fact that it might be broadcast to the outside world, was naive in the extreme.
    Before appearing in front of that committee he was made aware that the DUP had seen his e-mail and should have been prepared for an attack.
    What we saw on TV was someone completely out of his depth, shifty and uncomfortable in his chair, looking in all directions for help he knew was not there, stumbling and almost incoherent in his answers – had he not been such an educated person I would have felt sorry for him.
    But by his behaviour that day, had he been a defendant in a court case, I would have found him guilty, whatever the charge.
    And to think this man is supposed to be educating some of our most talented teenagers – I despair.

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  36. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Right on, sherdy. The principle of privacy doesn’t arise in this case. It wouldn’t arise if an accusation relating to child abuse had been floated by an academic. Why should it arise when a academic effectively accuses the DUP of being responsible for a substantial number of suicides? Dr Ellison would need at least ten suicide notes containing the word DUP if he was going to have any credibility.

    As it happens, of course, the real matter of the bill has been ignored, and the most powerful expert witness has been ignored (see what I posted on 6 February at 7.16 pm), by those whose sole agenda is to make us all get down on our knees and worship the G-word. The ignoration of this expert witness is sublimely wicked. Instead of reading the works of academics who quote from the works of other academics, this witness has lived her life in the pertinent world, and survived to tell the tale. Many persons who have lived the same sort of life have not survived to tell the tale. But don’t ask the monomaniacal obsessives to pay any attention to a genuinely expert witness. All their compassion is focused elsewhere.

    Amen to what you said about the questioning of Dr Ellison. When he was called to account, he showed himself to be COMPLETELY INCOMPETENT. That doesn’t mean that he should be allowed to enjoy impunity. He hasn’t been taught a hard lesson — yet. He will be taught a hard lesson if he is found guilty of libel, and dismissed from his job.

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  37. David Crookes (profile) says:

    PS Sherdy, I went back and read the minutes of the whole session. Two things occur to me now. First, whatever we think of the position that Dr Ellison takes on the big issue of the bill, we can’t demonize him as an evil man who wants to make evil things happen. Secondly, we should accept the fact that he has apologized, and move on. Maybe that sounds like cutting the gub out of what I’ve said already, but if you’re going to err you’re always better to err on the side of humanity.

    I still see the silence that has greeted the most important expert witness as shameful. Nonetheless, this whole business needs to be sorted out in terms of honest affection for our fellow-humans.

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  38. FuturePhysicist (profile) says:

    I think it’s interesting that a man who speaks about “feminist theory” in saying that “he was trying to turn her around”, seemed to infer that the woman couldn’t think for herself. Interesting in that such a smart person should make such a basic mistake.

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  39. sherdy (profile) says:

    David, – I never actually thought the good prof was evil and on an evil mission, but maybe I’m naive in expecting someone in his situation to have some wit about him.

    Maybe his problem is: ‘All brains, no sense’.

    And as for his apology, after making such a fool of himself, a bit of grovelling is not going to do him any more harm.

    I just think Queens students deserve better guidance than this man is able to give.

    Can’t remember the US politician who asked of Nixon: ‘Would you buy a second-hand car from this man?’ In the present situation: ‘Would you take lessons from this prof?’

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  40. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Thanks, sherdy, and I never thought that you had any such thought!

    The man lost me at the start when he said, “First, I thank the Committee for allowing my colleague and I to provide oral evidence.”

    Anyone who doesn’t know that the accusative form of “I” is “me” should not be teaching students.

    Thanks for allowing I to make this comment.

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