Last night at Queen’s

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They could hardly have been more different. A couple of evenings ago, a group of Irishmen and women trooped into Buckingham Palace to bow and curtsey before Queen Elizabeth II, who asked them inane questions which thrilled them to the marrow of their bones. Just being in the Queen’s Palace was enough to make them weak with gratitude.

Last night I was in Queen’s University, where a debate was held: “This House believes that a united Ireland makes economic sense”.  The lecture theatre  was packed – quite a few people squeezed into standing-room-only at the back. The debate was good-humoured and some interesting insights provided by the speakers, particularly  Michael Burke and John McAllister. I like John McAllister, and if I were a unionist NI21 would most certainly be the party I would vote for. There’s a warmth and good humour to the party’s deputy leader: he even gave the audience a brief verbal glimpse of his sexual stamina which brought the house down (you had to be there, Virginia).  Michael Burke is a polar opposite of John. He’s a quiet-spoken Londoner, balding (nothing wrong with that) and he knows his facts and figures which he presents in a clear, concise way. At one point in the debate someone in the audience yelled a wisecrack at his expense, evoking much laughter. He waited patiently until it had died down, then came back with a sensible response which totally defused the initial witticism. Other speakers for the motion were Dr Conor Patterson and Caitriona Ruane, and those against Mark Cosgrove of the UUP and Alex Kane the journalist and commentator.

Did those present learn much? Not a lot, I suspect. I quoted Heaney’s line about mind here being “open as a trap”: it wasn’t a dialogue of the deaf but I doubt if anyone entered that lecture theatre with one view of the economics of a united Ireland and left with a different one. But maybe these kind of debates, when some tentative initial moves are made to discuss the economic question – maybe these  tottering steps are necessary before we get down to looking at the figures in a calm, truly open-minded way.

I took a few impressions from the debate last night. The first was that anyone who says young people today are detached from politics and could care less would have had an eye-opener had they been there. Queen’s lecture hall was stuffed with young people, all absorbed in what was going on, including the on-going debate twitter-feed  which was projected onto a screen at the front. The second thing was that debate to be worthwhile doesn’t have to be solemn: the faces in the tiered rows last night radiated that youthful verve for life that is near-infectious. And finally, I enjoyed talking to several people after, notably Patrice Hardy, a young woman who not only is standing for election to one of the new councils but assured me she has the good taste to read my blog.

All-round then, a good night with exchange of strongly-held opinions but done with respect and laced with a sense of fun. Why can’t it be like this all the time?

15 Responses to Last night at Queen’s

  1. Argenta March 28, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    Looking at one of the photographs,can it be assumed that the event was sponsored by the Sinn Fein branch in Queens?

    • Antonio March 28, 2014 at 10:47 am #

      Most likely

  2. TheHistorian March 28, 2014 at 10:18 am #

    Jude, I was there last night and thoroughly enjoyed the debate. Slightly disappointed in your blog response (I really enjoy your blog). On a personal note what did you make of the strengths and weaknesses of both sides last night? Based on the facts proposed what argument won you over and why? Thanks

    • Jude Collins March 28, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

      Historian – I’m focusing my meagre energies on tomorrow’s half-marathon in Omagh (like to sponsor me on Trocaire?). I’d need to know what disappointed you in order to try to redress it. I thought the most impressive speaker of the evening was Michael – he appeared to have facts and comparisons which he was able to present in a quiet, non-theatrical way. I think my own disappointment would be that most minds were closed to the other side, regardless of what they said. But as I pointed out in the blog, maybe these baby steps are necessary as we begin to get used to talking to each other about important stuff. Ok. That’s me for tonight….Don’t forget to sponsor – you’ll find the online address on my tweets or on Facebook

      • TheHistorian March 28, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

        Ofcourse i will sponsor you – best of luck with the half Marathon. I was hoping for your usual analysis of some of the debated points and their validity. As a republican I totally agree that these steps and debates are necessary although I believe there are substantial fears within the unionism community particularly when the two words “united Ireland” are echoed. I enjoyed the views from the economists and it gave me a lot of food for thought. Keep up the great work on the blog, love reading it daily!

  3. JD March 28, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    Yes the event was organised by Queens sinn fein and widely encouraged that it was open to all students

  4. PjD March 28, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    Does it really matter who sponsored it, the panel of speakers represented unionist opinion and they were allowed to give their viewpoint. Surely, (I know don’t call you shirley) if, as you suggest, the hall was full of united Irelanders , then this was an opportunity for the pro-unionists to convince republicans that it made more sense to stay with Britain.

    • Argenta March 28, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

      I never suggested that ” the hall was full of united Irelanders”.I saw a Sinn Fein poster in one of the accompanying photos and merely asked a question.

  5. ANOTHER JUDE March 28, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    Someone had to sponsor it, let`s face it, Sinn Féin are the only all Ireland party. Fair play to those Unionists who took part in it and who I am sure put their case eloquently. The problem is it is the likes of Willie and Jamie and the woman who put her face to the door of the City Hall and screamed` No Surrender!` who are the ones wagging the tail of Peter and Mike`s dogs.

  6. Enda March 29, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    Any videos or transsripts?

  7. paddykool March 29, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

    Jude :
    My gut feeling is that unionism doesn’t really care if it makes economic sense , or any other kind of sense, for that matter to join up with our southern neighbours. Sure, I’m all for debates on the issue and the more ideas and information on the table the better. I feel though, no matter what, that deep-seated fear of being swallowed into a republican state is still being encouraged in homes and halls throughout the land and no amount of reason will change that.

    That’s the way it’s been so far anyway. I know some of the brighter and more reasoned Alliance members and some NI21 types are working strictly from a logical point of view as opposed to a heart-felt hatred of anything smacking of republicanism with a large “R” or a small “r”.. but most don’t even want to let the thought cross their mind lest it might contaminate their thought process. That’s fair enough given our savage history and our adherence to some ripe hypocrisy both political and religious in the past.
    I’m an odd creature myself in that as a Northerner from a nationalist background I know we of a nationalist bent have more in common with “some” { and I say that advisedly} of our northern protestant neighbours than say someone in Cork.

    In fact there is maybe more of a common thread with someone in Liverpool or Manchester at times. The other thing is that our southern buddies don’t really seem to want us. I can’t say I blame them when you consider how volatile we appear to be. It would be like taking a particularly bad -tempered dog into the house. in some respects The likes of Ian Paisley’s guldering and the violence of our assorted alphabet of killing groups have already salted that ground I’m afraid.
    The southern republic is built on its own pile of bloodied bodies of course but they do appear to have long ago abandoned any notion of uniting with us either economically or otherwise.They are not clamouring for their lovers’ return.

    It’s a curious situation when you find yourself cheering for the liberalism and ordinary decency of britain allowing gay marriages to any of its citizens, when you know in your heart that that notion is light years ahead of the mindsets adhering in Ireland either north or south. That kind of decent thoughtful liberalism is what I want and I don’t think it is achievable here in my lifetime.If we can somehow liberalise our minds and maintain as multi-cultural a nation as britain currently has{certainly not here in the north} ,we might be onto something.More likely the whole thing will blow up in our faces.That said , let’s see the economic plan .
    The dog needs to see the rabbit … they say.

  8. Ryan March 29, 2014 at 9:09 pm #

    I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to this debate, I fully intended to but just couldn’t find the time. I suspected it would’ve been a good and friendly atmosphere to debate in and it seems it was. But would it have been that way if half the audience were made up with the same characters that were brawling, yelling and behaving in a frankly threatening manner on the first Nolan Show focusing on the Loyalist Flag protests over a year ago? I somehow doubt it would’ve been friendly if they had choose to turn up or if the likes of Willie Frazer (the man who loves to be labelled a “victims campaigner” while he says he had plenty of time for the likes of LVF Leader Billy Wright and even had a man suspected of being involved in the Dublin/Monaghan Bombings listed as a “victim” in his organisation) had turned up to watch the proceedings of the debate.

    My point is there’s a section of Unionism which are extremists and bigots, who foolishly think that the Orange State can return, this small group are very vocal, making them seem bigger than what they actually are. Then there’s the other section of Unionism which don’t really care about flags or emblems or parades but the economy, hospitals, schools, etc are they’re chief concern. Unfortunately its the very vocal and extremist section of Unionism that most Unionist politicians of the main Unionist parties choose to pander to, as seen by the UUP recently.

    • giordanobruno March 30, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

      Willie is a victims campaigner. Unless you think the families represented by FAIR are not victims? True he is only concerned with IRA victims and he is open to criticism in lots of ways not least the flag nonsense.
      But it is his right to campaign for the victims he wants to, just as ‘relatives for justice’ is predominantly interested in victims of state and loyalist groups.

  9. Antonio March 29, 2014 at 11:40 pm #

    The Republic has enormous economic problems now and despite this I still lean towards some form of Unity with it.

    Why? It seems to be the only means to escape this never ending zero sum game between the Fenians and the Prods that defines Northern Ireland.

    Basil McCrea’s form of Unionism is probably the way unionism needs to develop if it wants the Union to survive in the long term. However, I would not bet on N..I21 having enough success in forthcoming elections to push any change in the never-ending zero sum game that is N.I.

    Another reason is our lack of Influence in the U.K state we are a part of. We are 1.7 million people in a population of 60+ million. We have little or no means to have representation at the highest level of government. 18 MPs in a Parliament of near 700 have no influence never-mind power. Have you ever watched NI Questions on the BBC Parliament channel? The Commons is practically empty which shows the disinterest British MPs have for N.I.

    In an All-Ireland set-up we could not only have influence but real power as 1.7 million people out of some 6 million people. They wouldn’t be able to dismiss as the ‘mad nordies’ that must be kept at arms length (the way the English dismiss us as the ‘mad paddies….’) because we would be too large to ignore.

  10. Paul March 30, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    I think NI21’s appeal extends beyond unionism. My view is that they have taken a pragmatic, detached and well argued position, that it is in the collective good for the people of Northern Ireland to currently be connected to the UK.

    As someone from a nationalist background I do not have issue with NI21’s position and support it. I also know many others from a similar background that feel the same.

    The view that the collective good of the people of Northern Ireland should be prioritised over any constitutional issue is growing in popularity and hopefully people will take the opportunity to express it in May.