FERMANAGH student political activists at Queen’s University are in the midst of a referendum debate that will see the university population vote on whether the university supports Irish unity.
Brought forward by the QUB Sinn Fein cumann (branch), it has been scheduled for October 27.
A second referendum will also take place on the 27th calling for the Student Union to be ‘neutral’ on the constitutional status of ‘Northern Ireland’.
Sophie McClintock, 20, from Enniskillen is a law with politics student at the university and is a member of the Sinn Fein cumann.
She explained that in order for the referendum to take place, 584 signatures had to be obtained, which they were, at the university’s freshers fayre.
“We saw student politics re-energised in Scotland over the Independence vote. It was not divisive, it was not sectarian and it did not do lasting damage. In fact it had the exact opposite effect.
Students re-engaged in debate, were energised by the issues and conducted themselves in a mature and respectful manner,” she said.
“Unfortunately to date we have seen attempts to have this discussion closed down. Unionist groupings within the union have attempted to block this referendum which thankfully failed.
“However the hundreds that signed the petition had very positive things to say and many others along with the SDLP youth group have joined us in campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote. The media has been mixed but mostly they are supportive of us in holding the referendum. The right to call for a border poll is a legitimate political aspiration shared by a large number of the students on campus.”
The student said that these ‘debates happen in departments across the university every day’. She added: “I have no problem whatsoever with the counter referendum. I will take part in that debate too. What I do have issue with however is the use of negative language such as ‘divisive’ and “raising tensions” by raising this issue. Our voice in calling for a border poll is equally as valid as those who call for no border poll.”
The view, however, of a fellow student from Enniskillen, Michael Long, a member of Young Unionists, was that it was an attempt to ‘marginalise people of different beliefs’.
The 20-year-old history and politics student said: “To be honest, and I think this is shared by a lot of students, the union supposed to be a shared space, a neutral space. It should provide a platform for debate but in essence for a vote on the constitutional issue Queen’s isn’t really the place to do it.”
He went on: “It’s really an attempt by Sinn Fein to marginalise people of different beliefs like when it tried to ban the sale of the poppy. The student union is supposed to be almost an umbrella of all views and by introducing this it’s trying to disengage people from that.
“Despite a large Sinn Fein grouping at QUB, the Young Unionists along with other organisations at queens are mounting a strong challenge not only to the referendum, but are also questioning the need of this referendum, as it does not benefit anyone.”