By Jamie Bryson
In the past week there has been renewed focus on Queen’s University Belfast (‘QUB’) and in particular the activities of a nationalist/republican activist employed there, Colin Harvey.
Let me say from the outset that at times there has been some unacceptable and abusive comments made toward Mr Harvey. This is to be condemned. No one should engage in any threats, abuse or harassment of any person (for the avoidance of doubt, this includes Mr Harvey).
It is worth pointing out however that even that unacceptable behaviour is a far cry from what many of us- including Sinn Fein and unionist leaders- have to endure on a daily basis. I have had property attacked, at times weekly or monthly death threats delivered by the PSNI, threats to sexually abuse and murder my seven-year old son, verbal attacks in the street and a daily deluge of actual abuse and threats that stands in stark contrast to that which Colin Harvey has presented as evidence of him being the most oppressed person ever.
In relation to Mr Harvey there has been a somewhat absurd, but equally calculated effort to present any form of challenge, criticism or disagreement as ‘threats’, ‘intimidation’, ‘harassment’ or ‘attacking’.
Alongside the usual cast of nationalist activists, this has been amplified by the Irish News who have become uncritical propagandists for Mr Harvey (and others), which raises issues around source independence.
This approach of conflating the legitimate with the improper, deliberately blurs the line between acceptable and robust public discourse, and unacceptable criminal behaviour. This is a deliberate tactic, the purpose of which is to insulate Mr Harvey from any form of challenge or criticism, and thus permit his ideas and political objectives to dominate the public arena.
It is a tried and tested strategy of shutting down legitimate debate and is regularly deployed in GB by hyper-woke organisations who seek to present any opposition to their views as, inter alia: ‘racist’, ‘transphobic’, ‘bigoted’. This tactic permits the self-identified ‘victim’ to avoid engaging with the substance of the message, but rather just seek to discredit the messenger.
On Sunday evening nationalist twitter took a collective meltdown because I robustly challenged Colin Harvey. This was variously labelled as ‘intimidation’, ‘harassment’, ‘abuse’ and ‘threats’ by a range of nationalist activists.
The week prior Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Dr John Kyle and a range of others had raised concerns about Mr Harvey’s activism in regards the use of QUB resources in promotion of his political agenda (a United Ireland).
In regards my contribution, which so enraged the nationalist elite, I simply highlighted the following issues:
- Colin Harvey is an associate of convicted IRA terrorists. The truth of this matter is undeniable. Mr Harvey regularly poses with convicted terrorists such as Martina Anderson (a convicted IRA bomber) and also members of Sinn Fein, an organisation which- according to MI5, PSNI and the Garda- is controlled and directed by the IRA, a proscribed terrorist organisation.
- Colin Harvey had threatened to “remove” any border infrastructure. This is hardly an objectionable observation given this is merely a repetition of Mr Harvey’s own words at a republican protest against Brexit. At a number of such protests republicans dressed up in costumes posing with replica heavy-duty firearms and the President and Vice President of Sinn Fein, along with convicted IRA bomber Martina Anderson, paraded around with a sledgehammer.
- Colin Harvey has failed to condemn Leo Varadkar’s threats of IRA bombs in relation to Brexit. This is again a demonstrable truth, and somewhat surprising given Mr Harvey’s stated (and regularly repeated with well-spaced tweets) objection to any suggestion that peace or stability would be impacted by loyalist activity. It is self-evidently a matter of some interest that Mr Harvey is openly such an ardent campaigner against loyalists and any threat of violence emanating from this direction- which is a perfectly legitimate position to take- but is seemingly entirely silent on the threats to peace, deployed for political leverage, which emanated from the nationalist/republican community and Irish Government.
- Colin Harvey is a republican activist. That is hardly credibly in dispute. Mr Harvey is a board member of Irelands Future, a campaign organisation dedicated to dismantling the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He has also publicly politically campaigned using his academic status as a vehicle for his political objectives.
None of the above points are truly even objectionable, let alone “intimidation”, “threats” or an “attack”. It is worth remembering only last week I was subjected to a 45-minute interrogation on the Nolan Show when I was challenged about similar issues which probed my credibility and sought to expose any hypocrisy in my publicly stated positions.
The response to these perfectly legitimate points of challenge to Mr Harvey were met with howls of outrage, and demands by the SDLP’s Matthew O’Toole and republican surrogate (and former failed SF election candidate) Chris Donnelly that I be banned from all media. It seems any hint of challenging the nationalist/republican narrative is enough to warrant deplatforming.
It further seems Mr Harvey is to be insulated from any such probing of his positions, and rather his views are to be treated as being beyond any challenge, disagreement or criticism. This is a strange position to take for someone who is so publicly committed to what he terms ‘conversations’ and Human Rights (obviously Article 10 is a somewhat elastic concept in this regard depending how it can be best deployed for nationalism’s political objectives).
It is notable that one of Ireland’s Future star participants in their ‘conversations’, and invited ‘unionist’, recently tweeted “f**k the Queen” and declared “it is NOT ok to be British”. This sums up the true parameters of the Ireland’s Future ‘conversations’; unionists are wanted, but only unionists who accept that they should no longer be unionists and take up the nationalist cause with all the zealousness of a convert.
In truth, is the case not that Mr Harvey- and his fellow travellers- are only interested in ‘conversations’ within their self-defined parameters, and anything which they find disagreeable or challenges their public persona is to be filed away under “intimidatory attacks”?
That is dangerous for democracy.
In his public role as an activist Mr Harvey is seen by many in the unionist and loyalist community as a divisive and inflammatory figure. He regularly uses the public platform of twitter to post controversial views (well-spaced out in his carefully composed public tweets), and to make allegations or raise challenges of the unionist/loyalist community.
Why should Mr Harvey be entitled to enter the public arena, acting as voluntary public figure, and in doing so be insulated from the cut and thrust of public discourse?
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
As an individual who makes much of his commitment to Human Rights- which is deployed to bolster the credibility of his political campaign- it is legitimate to probe Mr Harvey on how this is reconciled with his very public association with Sinn Fein and convicted IRA terrorists. That is a matter of legitimate public debate, especially when Mr Harvey has put himself to the forefront of various political campaigns.
For example, in October 2019 Colin Harvey wrote in the Irish Times around the concept that the “Threat of loyalist violence ‘not an argument’ against united Ireland”. Is it now to be said that it is illlegitimate to probe this with Mr Harvey and ask whether he takes the same view as to whether the threat of IRA terrorism was a legitimate argument against Brexit?
Or, in the alternative, whether threatening to “remove” any border infrastructure as part of a protest campaign with republicans dressed up carrying replica firearms and sledgehammers could be construed as a “threat of violence”.
Mr Harvey heavily challenged and criticised loyalist anti-Protocol rallies, yet claims for himself a complete impunity from challenge about his role in highly inflammatory republican protests.
It is equally legitimate to probe- as Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Dr John Kyle and others have done- whether Mr Harvey’s academic status and/or role in a once widely respected academic institution (QUB) is being abused for the purposes of advancing a highly partisan and controversial political agenda.
The right to free thought and academic independence does not mean the right to enter the public arena as a political campaigner, say whatever you want and be insulated from any challenge because you are also an academic. In fact, that is the very opposite of the principles of academia which supposedly welcomes the robust exchange of ideas and views.
This tactic has been deployed by nationalism for quite some time, and not just by nationalist academics but also those who use the fields of journalism, law and public policy to advance their political agenda, but who demand to be permitted to do so uninterrupted because they are a professional within the very discipline they are using for the purpose of advancing their political agenda.
Let us not forget that Mr Harvey and a range of others self-identified as activists within their profession when they signed the ‘Letter to Leo’ not as individuals, but listed by their profession. They politicised media, academia, law, the Arts and sports. It is no use now crying that they are getting wet in the storm they created.
The battle of ideas and views in the public arena is the key battlefield in the ongoing cultural war. Nationalism is ramping up efforts to dominate this field by stifling all debate by the deployment of the tactics canvassed in this article, but also by using their lobbying and political muscle to have voices they find disagreeable ‘banned’ from the airwaves of wider public discourse.
It is for this reason that this issue is of such importance. We, as unionists and loyalists, cannot be cowed or bullied into silence. We cannot surrender the public arena to nationalist activists.
It is imperative that we continue to robustly challenge our opponents (peacefully and within the law), and- as this article seeks to do- face down the efforts to criminalise or prevent legitimate opposition to nationalist activism and challenging debate on matters of the utmost public interest.