Referenda at QUB: opinion from both campaigns

On Monday 27 October two referendums will go to the student body.

One, led by QUB Sinn Féin will ask ‘Should Ireland be a united and independent country?’ and the second led by Keep QUB Neutral will make the statement, ‘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.’

Campaigners for both referendums make the case for why you should vote for them.


Seán Fearon, chair of QUB Sinn Féin:

When QUB Sinn Féin launched our campaign for a referendum on Irish Unity at the 2014 Fresher’s Fair at Queen’s University, the initial response was overwhelming. There was a distinct dichotomy between the reactions of passing students and those students who represent the political societies at Queen’s. In the seven hours in which we gathered signatures, almost two students every minute put their name to our document calling on the Students Union to give them a voice on the future of the country in which they will live and grow.

Weeks have since passed and on Monday 27 October every single student at Queen’s University can join in the discussion, and vote on whether Ireland should be ‘a united and independent country’. They will also be given the chance to vote, on the same day, on whether the Student’s Union at QUB should remain neutral on this issue.

We welcome this referendum and the encouragement of debate on all issues at Queen’s University, a debate I will happily engage with on the day of the vote. This remains the case despite the unfortunate fact that the second vote was born from several failed and spectacularly undemocratic attempts to deny the constitutionally guaranteed vote on Irish Unity that 750 students called for in one day of petition signing.

For those who persist in calling us sectarian, I seriously suggest you abandon the destructive rhetoric and instead familiarize yourself with a dictionary definition of the word. Fear-mongering and the perpetuation of the illusion of division at QUB will not help your case, nor is it conducive to a relaxed and shared community in the university.

I go to Queen’s. There are no “sectarian tensions”; there is no “tribalism”. There is only a large group of educated and progressive students who will talk about the future of this state, even if you won’t. Pretending there is to block a vote you disagree with is entirely abhorrent to me and a massive disservice to the respect the students hold for each other at Queen’s. Instead, let them know why this failed United Kingdom should be their future, through the medium of respectful and logical argument.

These issues will never go away so long as the nature of this state persists – the two largest ethno-national communities here ascribe their statehood to two entirely different polities. So how will we overcome the division that is sometimes evident in these debates? We talk, we compromise, and we fuse two entirely different histories and cultures into a shared vision and agreed political configuration that will benefit both of these communities – a united Ireland.

I call on all students at Queen’s University to seriously examine the state you live in now, and ask yourself, is this what you think you deserve? We are tied to a United Kingdom that in the past year has spent £5billion on an aircraft carrier, £5billion on nuclear arms, over £200 million on the upkeep of a monarchy to lounge in obscene finery, while over one million of their working ‘subjects’ will suffer the indignity of food banks to survive the Tory attack on the working class.

The state of ‘Northern Ireland’ has the highest rates of child poverty, unemployment and illiteracy in the UK, a reality that devastates everyone regardless of religion or national identity. Only 18 MPs out of 650 represent this state in Westminster and not a single Labour or Tory representative was elected here. Yet term after term they will decide how much money we receive, and, indirectly, the quality of life we enjoy, or suffer, as a result. The freedom to govern our own affairs means we can prioritize people over profit and welfare over war.

Think outside the old green and orange politics of old and decide on Monday 27 October to support a united Ireland that serves every British and Irish, loyalist and republican, protestant and catholic citizen of the state

Julia Andrade Rocha, campaigner for Keep QUB Neutral:

Why should the Students’ Union have a policy on the Irish border? I have asked several campaigners for the QUB Unity Referendum this exact question, and the most common response I’ve heard is “Students should have a say in their future”. This is certainly the case, but this doesn’t answer the question. The Keep QUB Neutral campaign isn’t questioning why students should have a say on a United Ireland. Our question is: Why should the Students’ Union advocate any position on Northern Ireland’s constitutional position?

The Students’ Union Constitution is very clear on this point – if 10% of the student population votes in a referendum and if a majority of those students vote in favour, that position “shall be mandatory and binding on the Union”. If there’s large enough turnout and students vote Yes in the QUB Unity Referendum, the Students Union would be bound to work for a United Ireland. If students vote No, all across Northern Ireland we will read ‘QUEEN’S STUDENTS VOTE AGAINST A UNITED IRELAND’. Regardless of the result, it would appear Queen’s University is not a shared, safe space – whether a yes or no, it would appear we are not welcoming to people depending on their political views on the border.

In the QUB Unity Referendum, what option is there for the rest of us? The international students, the students from Great Britain, the students from south of the border, students who have no preference for or against a United Ireland? What option is there for students of all political persuasions who don’t want their union to have a position one way or the other? The exclusively YES / NO vote on the Irish border presents a very narrow area for discussion, and ignores the fact that the diversity of opinion on this issue at Queen’s University is too wide to possibly be covered by a binding policy on the Students’ Union. This is why the Keep QUB Neutral campaign is fighting to maintain the Students’ Union’s neutrality on NI’s constitutional question – the neutral position that is inclusive of views held by all students, whether ‘republican’, ‘nationalist’, ‘loyalist’, ‘unionist’, ‘Irish’, ‘British’, ‘international’, or any other varying shade of ‘other’.

Of course students should have a venue for debate and discussion of Northern Ireland’s constitutional position. Of course in the event of a real border poll we students should have equal say in this debate with the rest of Northern Ireland’s population. This does not mean a potentially binding referendum on the issue is the best venue to start this conversation. So I ask again: Why should the Students’ Union advocate any position on Northern Ireland’s constitutional position?

If you think the Students’ Union should not be compelled to campaign for any particular position on Northern Ireland’s constitutional question and if you think it should be a shared, inclusive space for all, please vote YES in the neutrality referendum on Monday 27th October and #keepQUBneutral.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

3 thoughts on “Referenda at QUB: opinion from both campaigns

  1. Though I see merits in the argument on both sides, I’m baffled by the view that ‘the international students, the students from Great Britain, the students from south of the border’ can’t engage in a discussion and vote on Northern Ireland’s constitutional status. There was a two-option referendum in Scotland last month which engaged openly with EU citizens and people from other parts of the UK. There were campaign organisations like Poles for Yes and English Scots for Yes which focussed on reaching out to those people. Can’t the same be done on the QUB campus?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Connor,

    I’m not sure if you intentionally misrepresented my position, but that is not at all what I suggested. We can all participate in a debate on a United Ireland, but many people from the backgrounds listed do not see the relevance of the Students Union taking a position on an issue that is so divisive among the community in Northern Ireland. It’s a little disengenous to compare a poll in Scotland that had the power to actually change borders for the country to a poll in the SU that would only affect SU policy.



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