University professor defends no Beyond Brexit invite for unionists

Professor Colin Harvey
Professor Colin Harvey

A university professor has accused the DUP of “running around Europe” attempting to self-harm Northern Ireland.

Colin Harvey, professor of human rights law at Queen’s University Belfast School of Law, also called for the British Government to ensure the rights of people living in Northern Ireland are enshrined before the UK leaves the EU.

“There is a lack of clarity and certainty. We need rights codified and enshrined in law,” he said.

“We do not need warm words about the Common Travel Area. We need it written down and formalised.”

The professor was speaking at the Beyond Brexit event in Belfast which examined what Northern Ireland would look like post-Brexit.

He said: “We acknowledge the special arrangements in the Withdrawal Agreement and the majority of people here want to see the (backstop) protocol as a medicating factor for the terrible situation we are in.

“We are beyond the stage of warm words. There are things the British Government can do - get on and do it.

“We are being told that we cannot talk about the Good Friday Agreement mechanism for permanently getting rid of the hard border on this island.

“We will not be seeking permission from anyone to talk about the unity of our country.”

Professor Harvey also defended the event’s organisers for not inviting unionists to speak at the conference at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.

“Let me absolutely clear, we apologise to no-one for being here today and having the conversation about the rights of Irish citizens,” he said.

“I make no apology for being with you today.”

The Beyond Brexit gathering in Belfast is the latest initiative by Ireland’s Future - a collective of Irish citizens living in the region seeking to highlight the potential impact of Brexit on their rights and livelihoods.

Political commentator Brian Feeney told the audience that Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland have been “left behind” by the Irish Government.

Mr Feeney, who was one of a number of panellists speaking at the event, also accused the British Government of being in contravention of the Good Friday Agreement.

He explained: “Their default position is: if you are living in the North, you are a British citizen and there is nothing you can do about it.

“They say an international treaty has no constitutional position in Her Majesty Government’s law.

“We hear all these promises (from the Irish government), we are told: ‘You won’t be left behind, we are totally committed to this’ - warm words. That’s all we get.”

Journalist Paul Gosling said that he has been left “appalled” by people in England who he claimed “do not care about the border”.

“The rise of English nationalism is what drove Brexit. It represents a challenge and a threat to democracy,” he added.

He also said he could not support a border poll at the present time.

“We have to think and plan. We could have a defeat in the South which could put us back many years,” he continued.

“The prospect of united Ireland is reasonable.”