The Gown has learned that members of the Sinn Féin society at QUB are planning to petition for a referendum demanding that the SU explicitly supports a united Ireland. The wording of the referendum will be ‘Should Ireland be a united and independent country?’
Any student at Queen‘s can call for a referendum, either via a petition signed by 2.5% of the student body (approximately 600 students) or by the assent of a simple majority of QUB councillors, the only restraint being that the question must be strictly Yes/No. For a referendum to be iron-clad more than 10% of all students must vote, with half of those students voting Yes. If less than 10% of the student body vote, but the referendum carries, it is merely a ‘recommendation’ rather than a command.
Although there is a referendum each year to ratify the decisions made by the SU Council, issue-specific referenda occur less-than-yearly. The last referendum occurred at the end of the 2013 academic year, when former VP for Campaigns and Communications Fiona Kidd and DCs Phil Cole and Jim O’Donnell led a campaign to ensure that QUB’s DC contracts were not outsourced to G4S. Although the result was not officially binding, the outsourcing bid was stopped. The Previous referendum was on renewal of NUS-USI membership, which devolved into a tribal contest between Pro-Choice and religious activists.
The driving force behind the petition, Sean Fearon, previously caused a stir in SU Council by motioning that the SU should cease to sell poppies, arguing that they were contested symbols, associated with military triumphalism. The motion fell by a significant margin, but it caused the need for additional security within the SU, as well as the decision to be made by secret ballot, rather than the usual show-of-hands. The motion also attracted significant media attention, and a two-man loyalist protest at the gates of the university.
In a press release, QUB Sinn Féin argued that this was not a ‘republican pipe dream’, but that it was aimed to challenge the orthodoxy of welfare cuts, and the ‘increasing xenophobia’ of the United Kingdom. With the release of the petition scheduled for the Freshers’ Fair, a high-point of student involvement, getting the required signatures will not be a difficult feat, even with the two major Unionist parties (and their special guests) within three stalls of the Sinn Féin stall. The campaigning that will follow is certain to be fought tooth and claw by both sides.
We will have more on this story as it develops.