By Conor Hogan, contributor
The great battle of contradictory referenda of the past while is soon drawing to a close. Like many in Keep QUB Neutral, I was initially sceptical of the Unity Referendum. I found myself perturbed by the same important question: Is it right to ask the student body such a bold and divisive question? I have come to support the vote on Irish Unity, and felt it imperative to explain why.
The persistent assumption by KQUBN that a student referendum on Irish Unity is divisive in and of itself (and always will be, regardless of how it’s carried out) has discouraged me immensely. There seems to be a forced will to view the debate as residing wholly within the clichéd ‘green and orange’ binary, despite many of us (and our arguments) having transcended the brutality of the past. Are we really still so trapped within our separate identities that a mere discussion on Irish Unity is still totally untenable? If so, shouldn’t we aspire not to be?
Why is it that we can discuss virtually anything as a student body (and hold temporarily binding referenda on them) with the exception of a United Ireland? Unless you view the topic of Irish Unity as being a special brand of controversial that separates it from other potential referenda on equal marriage, abortion etc, it’s hard to understand any justification for neutrality simply on the basis of avoiding division and exclusion.
This inconsistent neutrality displayed by KQUBN was put very succinctly by none other than their leader, Cathy Corbett, who on a recent radio interview coolly asserted that the issue of poppies isn’t at all divisive, but that of Irish Unity is. This is the very definition of tribalism.
It’s all very good if you don’t wish your university to have an official policy on Irish Unity, but the question should always naturally follow: why only on Irish Unity?
If there was a campaign for actual, pervasive neutrality across the Students’ Union as opposed to a very selective one, I might be tempted to support it. I find it hard, however, to take seriously a campaign arguing for neutrality on just one, special issue. I also can’t help but find it rather suspect in a way.
There’s a simple way by which I could be proved wrong. I hope to see the leaders of KQUBN continuing their noble effort for a neutral space in the next student referendum, be it on equal marriage, abortion, or whatever other contentious and divisive question next lends itself to the ballot. If indeed their passion for the university’s neutrality proves to extend only as far as Irish Unity, it should raise serious questions as to what actually motivated this campaign in the first place. I hope I’m proven wrong, and that the non-unionists within KQUBN (of which there are many) have not been duped into supporting a campaign with the simple, cynical aim of keeping even the vaguest possibility of a United Ireland off the table. We’ll just have to see when it comes to the next referendum.
Furthermore, I invite the reader to consider this: where is the ‘No’ campaign? I find it difficult to believe that every single unionist and loyalist student in Queen’s agrees unequivocally that the university should stay neutral on the matter of Irish Unity, and yet with one day to go until a referendum on the future of Northern Ireland, there is not a single scrap or whisper of a ‘No’ campaign. Where are they? Could it be that they’re taking refuge in the counter-referendum? I would certainly hope not, not least because a ‘Yes’ vote to neutrality coupled with a defiant ‘No’ vote to Irish Unity is rather inconsistent, and very telling.
The people of Northern Ireland will never find reconciliation as long as we tell ourselves ‘we’re not ready to talk about this.’
‘Reconciliation’ is being able to consider the country we live in, together. That won’t always mean the possibility of a United Ireland, but sometimes it will. Part of the idea of ‘moving on from the past’ is being able to talk about the future, even if you don’t like what that might entail. Let’s aspire to be courageous in regards to our immense differences, not capitulating in the face of our fear of each other.
I will be voting ‘No’ to what I view as selective neutrality, and ‘Yes’ to a United Ireland. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you go out and vote. Much luck!