Anthem row rumbles on

May 5, 1995

Queen's University of Belfast's ruling body has performed an almost impossible political feat as a row over dropping the national anthem at graduation ceremonies rages on.

The university senate managed a U-turn, a climbdown and a firm stand, all on the same day, after facing almost unprecedented public pressure over the controversy.

No issue has figured larger in newspaper letter columns in Northern Ireland in the past six months - even the paramilitary ceasefires and the joint London/Dublin Framework Document.

Queen's announced at the end of last year that the anthem would no longer be played at graduations, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary band no longer invited to play it, in a bid to give expression to parity of esteem for nationalist students.

Instead it said that the European anthem, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy", would fit the bill and neutrality would be ensured. But the largest ever meeting of the university's convocation last month, which all former graduates are entitled to attend, demanded a rethink.

Senate members decided to perform the U-turn by inviting the RUC band to future garden parties; to climb down by scrapping Beethoven and to stand firm - the "Queen" is still out, too.

Michael McGimpsey, Unionist councillor and senate member, said the concessions were not enough and the fight to reinstate the anthem would continue.

"They believe they can soldier on and ignore the overwhelming vote against them and ignore the views of Unionists," he said.

And the chairman of the Unionist Graduates Association, Jon- athon Moore, said: "Queen's has to positively address the chill factor which has resulted in a significant under-representation of protestants in the student body."

However the president of the students union, Paul McMenamin, who is also a senate member and belongs to the middle of the road Alliance party, described the moves as positive and constructive.

Queen's pro vice chancellor Leslie Clarkson said dropping the "Ode to Joy" was recognition that having opted not to play the national anthem, any other anthem was also inappropriate. But the decision not to reintroduce the Queen was because Queen's was a non-doctrinal university open to all the community.

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