The Queens University Border Poll – semantics, sectarianism or substance?

As many of you may be aware, the Sinn Féin students at Queens University in Belfast have succeeded in gaining sufficient votes to trigger a “united Ireland Poll” among the student body. This matter seems to have energised parts of the mainstream media to an inordinate degree, particularly the Belfast Telegraph.

Personally I am all for for radical student politics, there is a long, proud tradition of rebellious students being at the forefront of political change and anger at the status quo.

Give me that, rather than the Bullingdon club crowd currently bumbling their way through what is the the current incarnation of British party political ineptitude.

The election in Queens required a 600 vote mandate to go ahead, which, having been gained, now requires a vote of at least 10% of the student body for the result to stand. That means that of a 24,000 student body, at least 2.400 must vote. Voting is available online and a 50% plus 1 majority is sufficient to win.

There is a clear majority of nationalist background students attending Queens. On paper, the vote should be a shoo in. Is this about polarising views, dividing the student body, semantics, sectarianism or substance? What is the purpose?

I met today with Sean Fearon today, who is head of the SF branch in Queens and asked him those very questions.

The most obvious question for me was what the whole thing was designed to achieve. His response was that it was part of an overall movement to create momentum and debate towards an island wide vote in much the same way that the Scottish independence campaign grew organically at a grassroots level.

I asked him was he receiving advice, instructions or help at any level from his party.

He was adamant that he was receiving no material assistance from the party at all. I’ll let readers make up their own minds as to the unsaid part.

We moved onto the dynamics of the campaign. I made the point that the Scottish campaign ultimately revolved around personal economics which impact, for the most part, on the “senior” electoral demographic. Students, on the other hand, tend to be a little more idealistic. Ahem.

I wanted to know if there was a strategic economic plan, preferably backed up by independent respected economic opinion. Sean responded by referring to Dr Conor Patterson and Michael Burke who both spoke at a recent debate on the subject but I was unconvinced by his grasp of the importance of the subject.

With the vote taking place on the 28th of October, I asked what the campaign would involve.

Apparently there will be debates with the other student party groups within the university.

This may be a major problem.

The Unionist party organisations in the student body are currently trying to launch a counter referendum. The SDLP organisation in Queens views the referendum as “divisive and sectarian”.

I put that point to Sean. “Is this not a polarising and divisive strategy?”

His answer was interesting and I’ll sum it up below if I may:

We are asking a question
We are happy to debate and discuss
We are happy for it to go to a vote
What, in the above, are others afraid of and why would they try to prevent any of it happening?

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  • Comrade Stalin

    This poll is stupid, pointless, has no national constitutional standing and is such is nothing other than an attempt to force a sectarian headcount at QUB with the objective of trying to assert nationalist dominance over the union and the university.

  • Reader

    “…requires a vote of at least 10% of the student body for the result to stand.”
    What does that actually mean? Isn’t this just an opinion poll on a restricted franchise however many people take part?

  • brazzandrade

    A counter petition has been launched by a group of students from varying political viewpoints who want to keep the SU neutral. Petition is here: http://bit.ly/1nl3SKC

  • Michael Henry

    It’s a democratic vote amongst students who hopefully will fall in love with the democratic way- there will be talks / discussions / meetings to allow everyone their say-( Did Unionists ever think this would happen when they helped the University to be called Queens )-

  • It is, of course, a restricted vote. It is restricted to the student body at Queens as stated above. The turnout and vote should be viewed in that context

  • Andrew Gallagher

    You should also have asked him how many Protestants he expected to vote yes…

  • Mister_Joe

    Amazing that the body is 24,000 strong. When I as there in the late 60s, it was slightly over 4,000.

  • eireanne

    why don’t students hold similar polls (same day, same time) in the university of ulster, magee college, UCD, trinity college dublin, dublin university, and the national universities of galway, cork and Limerick?
    At least we would have an idea of opinions all over the island of ireland –
    All claims about they/we want it – no they/we don’t – maybe they/we do – would be based on some sort of statistics, however limited the sample polulation

  • eireanne

    how time passes and society changes!!

  • Mister_Joe

    Interesting suggestion, eireanne. Although as you pointed out, as time passes, things change, my memory of the student body when I was there was that we were rather inward looking. Do you think that has changed?

  • Jon Hope

    Guess what? Nearly anything worth debating is divisive. Get over it.

    It’s not sectarian. Not even close. In fact, accusing it of being sectarian is probably sectarian.

    There’s a danger that it causes division for sure but, again, that goes for nearly everything worth debating. There’s also a possibility it creates greater unity. Either way, Universities are relatively controlled environments in which radical ideas can be nurtured and explored. Would be nice if the students could do what the adults are apparently too childish to do by having a sensible debate.

    Anyways, 600 new members of a Union voted to debate the thing so the leadership should look at it.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Of course it is a sectarian headcount. What possible other purpose is there to measure support over an issue which is divided in Northern Ireland along tribal and religious lines, which is at the root of decades of bloody conflict, and knowing that constitutional changes is unlikely in the short or medium term ? This is an attempt by nationalists to intimidate the Unionist minority at QUB by lording it over them with statistics. It is pathetic.

    The other thing going on here is the usual bunch of ball-licking idiots at the union preparing for a career in politics, where in council chambers up and down the Assembly they will continue our long tradition of debating pointless questions over which they have no jurisdiction, rather than actually putting their heads together to improve the lives of ordinary people in ways that actually matter.

    Either way, Universities are relatively controlled environments in which radical ideas can be nurtured and explored.

    I have yet to hear republicans advance any radical ideas about what a united Ireland would look like and I can clearly see that there are no radical ideas being put forward here.

  • Comrade Stalin

    That’s not what Reader asked.

    What does it mean for the result to “stand” ? Stand where ?

  • $33309652

    Might I suggest Slugger posts this as their new “photo of the day” slot.
    It’s shocking that Slugger has failed to report this story.
    http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Belfast-mother-faces-trial-over-Kill-All-Taigs-Catholics-face-painting-on-daughter.html

  • $33309652

    “Of course it is a sectarian headcount. What possible other purpose is there to measure support over an issue which is divided in Northern Ireland along tribal and religious lines…”

    NEWSFLASh..The entire Gerrymandered border is a sectarian headcount.
    It makes me laugh to hear Unionists complain about a “sectarian head count”.
    You couldn’t make it up.

  • Jon Hope

    “What possible other purpose is there to measure support … knowing that constitutional changes is unlikely in the short or medium term?”

    Presumably to increase its likelihood in the short to medium term.

    I’m not being funny here, but it’s doesn’t exactly take much to work out what they’re up to. The Scottish campaign was built from the ground up in a similar way and is a giant, fuck-off elephant sitting right there, demanding to be looked at by Irish republicans. Starting out with a credibility deficit a few early wins with Unions and young people is a good score to put on the board.

    The ball-licking comment was pretty funny tho. Applies equally as far as I can see. The statement from the leader of the SDLP grouping at the Union was about as watery as it gets. It’s depressing to see young people already talking like the incumbent political class. But there ya go.

    Anyhoo. You’ve written it off before any ‘radical’ ideas can really come to the fore. And that’s fair enough y’know.

  • Comrade Stalin

    NEWSFLASh..The entire Gerrymandered border is a sectarian headcount.

    Whataboutery. At least by claiming that one sectarian headcount deserves another, you are admitting the true agenda here.

    It makes me laugh to hear Unionists complain about a “sectarian head count”.

    I am not a Unionist.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Presumably to increase its likelihood in the short to medium term.

    A bunch of post-adolescent students having a completely pointless toy referendum within their union will accomplish nothing in terms of regional or national politics.

    I’m not being funny here, but it’s doesn’t exactly take much to work out what they’re up to.

    I’ve given my opinion on that already, and I agree it is very simple – it’s to count the number of prods and taigs and say “in your face, look at who is on top now” to the Unionists. It is a time-honoured tactic practiced often by the Unionists when they were feeling confident and has now been adopted by QUB republicans.

    The ball-licking comment was pretty funny tho. Applies equally as far as I can see.

    The licking in question is aimed to curry the favour with the party leaderships from whose patronage these little gits wish to obtain their next career move.

    Anyhoo. You’ve written it off before any ‘radical’ ideas can really come to the fore. And that’s fair enough y’know.

    The idea that this is radical is hilarious. It isn’t radical to pose a question that has been debated for a century and to which nothing new has been added, or is ever likely to be added if things continue the way they are.

    Radical should mean something different and disruptive. Having another debate (which won’t really be a debate, but merely a series of opposing statements coming from people whose opinions on the matter were determined more or less at birth) is the opposite of radical. To me it is opiate of the masses territory; these people constantly “debate” this bollocks with the same old arguments while the country’s public services are being run into the ground and the community divide grows ever wider.

  • Starviking

    Democratic with 10% of the vote being valid?

  • Starviking

    Wow! Amazing revelation! Some people are prejudiced…

    …maybe not so shocking.

  • Starviking

    At least there is online voting. In my day as Queen’s voting times often did not match up with those of us with busy course schedules.

    I do wonder if the Republican Society will try to game the system again? They were caught out voting early and often in the 90s.

  • Cahir O’Doherty

    “The other thing going on here is the usual bunch of ball-licking idiots at the union preparing for a career in politics, where in council chambers up and down the Assembly they will continue our long tradition of debating pointless questions over which they have no jurisdiction, rather than actually putting their heads together to improve the lives of ordinary people in ways that actually matter.”

    Bingo.

    I’d be interested to see how much energy SF at QUB (or any of the other political parties active there) are putting in to resisting cuts in the higher education budget, resisting the increased monitoring of students at universities, scrutinising the activities of senior members of the QUB hierarchy rather than just lining themselves up for a shot at an assembly seat in the coming years.

    Then again, welcome to student politics in the 21st century. It’s not about starting a debate about something, but about proving yourself to your party leadership (6 out of the 11 NUS presidents of the past 20 years have either stood for election at some level, been elected, or been a SpAd of some description).

  • Robin Keogh

    We know the stats on the religious breakdown of students at Queens so its plain stupid to suggest the vote is a sectarian headcount. There is simply no need to go to a so called divisive vote to find out who is what when we all ready know. Really, what utter nonsense.

    Yes the issue has divided opinion in the North, And? are you seriously suggesting that students cannot experiment with a poll, encourage debate and challenge the current no vote narrative simply because it makes some Unionists uncomfortable? Really? Is that the criteria we have to live by now. Unionists are heading for minority therefore the majority rules rule no longer applies? Total trash.

    You dont get to decide unilaterally when constitutional change is likely to occur, that can only come about by a vote. And if you are afraid to face the results of a simle student experimenta vote God help your nervous system if we ever do manage to secure a national poll. Talk about theatrical hysterics.

    I imagine the intelligence of Unionists students at Queens is unlikely to allow them to be affected by immarure “lording over” I am sure they understand that an artificial state created on the basis of a sectarian headcount will probably find it difficult enough to shake that particular monkey off its back, you may not have faith in Unionists students to debate and argue their position but I certainly do. Paranoia gone mad or what.

    You only get to define what is radical for yourself in terms of your own (clearly narrow) criteria. Ideas, thoughts, suggestions are born of and nurtured by the very type of exercise that Queens students are attempting . How can ideas flourish if the very concept of democracy is denied in our Universitys. Your comments are those of a coward while the efforts of the students are Brave, democratic and dare I say it, radical.

  • Robin Keogh

    LOL, you must be a newbie mate. Slugger will only report on a story like that if there is a chance it can be connected directly to a member of Sinn Fein, a relative of a member of Sinn Fein, a pet of a relative of a member of Sinn Fein or a friend of a pet who is associated in some way with a relative of Sinn Fein or an actual member. You will get used to it mate, the rest of us have.

  • barnshee

    “Queens” (along with Cork and Galway from memory) was established by Royal charter

    It appears the student body is unhappy with it and appears to resent/refuse to acknowledge organisations roots

    The motion should include one which demands that charter should now be revoked The university could then sold to the highest bidder the funds repatriated to the Treasury. The new owners and student body can then

    1 Run it as they see fit
    2 Call it what they want

    PS any chance of a referendum amongst taxpayers whether tor not they should fund Student unions

  • Bryan Magee

    Its just a student union vote – who cares?

  • barnshee

    ” Did Unionists ever think this would happen when they helped the University to be called Queens”

    Shakes his head– I know Slugger is repository of the ignorant /uninformed but “unionists — helped the University to be called Queens” ??

    http://www.qub.ac.uk/home/TheUniversity/AboutQueens/HistoryofQueens/

  • $33309652

    “Whataboutery. At least by claiming that one sectarian headcount deserves another, you are admitting the true agenda here”

    “…Whattaboutery .”. No an inconvenient truth for someone such as yourself.

    “….you are admitting the true agenda here….”

    I never admitted anything. buddy. I copied and pasted a statement from yourself.

    Define for me How, by copying and pasting a statement by yourself. That I was admitting anything?

    I merely chose to fight you on the ground that you chose.

    I could have attacked you on your “point” about a UI vote been sectarian. But others have already done that.But I shall now do so purely for your benefit.

    And BTW sectarian is to do with religion.A vote about a United Ireland has got naff all to do with religion.

    Ergo it is NOT sectarian. That is just lazy to use that word.

    “I am not a Unionist.”

    Yeah buddy .You are. You have stated that you would vote in favour of the Union. Ergo you are a Unionist.
    The fact that you deny that you are a Unionist whilst admitting that you would vote in favour of the union.
    Leads me to suspect that you regard Unionist title that is conferred on you; by nature of your stated choice, as a toxic brand.
    Which is delightful, since that is what you would be voting in favour of, given the chance.
    It’s not rocket science.
    And please spare us your dancing on a pinhead routine as to why you “are not a unionist”

  • $33309652

    “Whataboutery. At least by claiming that one sectarian headcount deserves another, you are admitting the true agenda here”

    “…Whattaboutery .”. No an inconvenient truth for someone such as yourself.

    “….you are admitting the true agenda here….”

    I never admitted anything. buddy. I copied and pasted a statement from yourself.

    Define for me How, by copying and pasting a statement by yourself. That I was admitting anything?

    I merely chose to fight you on the ground that you chose.

    I could have attacked you on your “point” about a UI vote been sectarian. But others have already done that.But I shall now do so purely for your benefit.

    And BTW sectarian is to do with religion.A vote about a United Ireland has got naff all to do with religion.

    Ergo it is NOT sectarian. That is just lazy to use that word.

    “I am not a Unionist.”

    Yeah buddy .You are. You have stated that you would vote in favour of the Union. Ergo you are a Unionist.
    The fact that you deny that you are a Unionist whilst admitting that you would vote in favour of the union.
    Leads me to suspect that you regard Unionist title that is conferred on you; by nature of your stated choice, as a toxic brand.
    Which is delightful, since that is what you would be voting in favour of, given the chance.
    It’s not rocket science.
    And please spare us your dancing on a pinhead routine as to why you “are not a unionist”

  • John

    Sean Fearon was the mastermind behind the plan to ban the poppy at queens. This is just another sad attempt to stir sectarianism up at the University.

  • eireanne

    Inward-looking? Do you mean sort of Sartre and existentialism?
    Since today’s students are much more worried about their job prospects than the 1960s generation, they need to be up to the mark in what’s going on in the rest of the world as they may be emigrating somewhere once they have graduated.
    Given modern communication technology they are also more aware of political/social and economic situations and developments worldwide as they can access a range of sources of information beyond local/national newspapers and broadcasters.

  • Darragh McGovern

    Republicans have advanced many radical ideas about what a United Ireland would look like, in fact Eire Nua is one of the most popular and most equality-embracing ideas. In fact, it would give the power-sharing government in the north power over the whole of Ulster.
    It is simple: there are four separate federal governments for the four provinces, who all come together at Athlone as one parliament.
    There is also the unitary republic, where the whole island is ruled by one government. A republic would also be far better than a democracy, since the people’s rights would be inherent through the constitutions and amendments, like in the USA, rather than in GB where rights are given and can be taken away – the majority rules – so a republic would be more friendly towards the “unionist minority”.

    Just a little unionist-friendly idea.