Unionists unite to welcome defeat of QUB poppy ban proposal

War memorial at Queen's University Belfast. Picture: Diane Magill
War memorial at Queen's University Belfast. Picture: Diane Magill

There has been a broad welcome from unionists after an attempt to ban the sale of Royal British Legion poppies at the Queen’s Student Union failed.

At a union meeting in Belfast on Wednesday night, the proposal was defeated with 40 votes against to 15 votes in favour of a ban.

The motion – proposed by two Sinn Fein activists – claimed the annual appeal is a “politically charged” and “divisive” initiative given the nature of local politics, and that there should be a politically neutral environment at the Students Union “to avoid offence and a sense of exclusion”.

Lagan River TUV council candidate Samuel Morrison welcomed the vote result.

“There should never have been any question of the sale of poppies being banned. It is a symbol which reminds us of the sacrifice of the 16th Irish Division as much as that of the 36th Ulster Division.

“However, the actions of the IRA – particularly in Enniskillen in 1987 – have ensured that the poppy will always remind us of those who died at the hands of terrorists in Northern Ireland. Perhaps that explains why republicans sought to ban it.

“The SUC is to be congratulated for defeating a motion which was divisive and offensive to people throughout Northern Ireland and indeed further afield,” Mr Morrison said.

Ulster Unionist council candidate for Botanic and former Queen’s University student Graham Craig said he welcomed the vote “in favour of inclusivity and tolerance”.

He said: “I congratulate those in attendance to oppose this wicked, sectarian and backward motion put forward.

“The Royal British Legion administer and promote the poppy campaign and the sale of poppies goes towards assisting in the welfare of widows, widowers and families who suffer as a result of the loss or injury of a loved one on active service.”

When asked for the official stance of Queen’s University on poppies, a spokeswoman said: “There is no policy on poppies.”

A spokesman for the Equality Commission said the body has provided guidance for employers and for service providers on issues surrounding the use of emblems and symbols in the workplace.

“In that guidance we make our view clear: that the wearing of poppies, in a respectful manner and within the appropriate period, should not be regarded as something which would cause offence, and that there is no requirement under equality law to exclude people wearing poppies from the workplace or from other premises,” the spokesman said.

Speaking ahead of the meeting last night, DUP councillor and Queens’s student Jonathan Buckley said the motion was “truly disgusting” and “gravely offensive”.

He said: “It must be made clear that the poppy is a non-political and non-sectarian symbol.”

NI21 QUB Society chair and council candidate for Botanic, Ben Matthews, had urged student councillors to vote against the motion.

Also speaking ahead of Wednesday night’s vote, he said: “It is unacceptable to assume that by banning the sale of poppies will create more of a shared space.

“A sterile environment is not an inclusive or tolerant society, and so it is important for different communities to embrace symbols as a sign of our history.”