The terrorist legacy

February 6, 1998

Students are holding their own multinational talks on the future of Northern Ireland in Belfast

Northern Ireland's universities and colleges are proud of their record in largely keeping sectarianism off the campuses.

Further and higher education can justly claim to be the most fully integrated sector in the province. But the long legacy of hatred that characterises the conflict has inevitably and often seeped in.

And there have been the outrages. Lecturer Edgar Graham, a leading Ulster Unionist member viewed as a potential political high-flyer, was shot dead outside Queen's University in December 1983. Students from the University of Ulster were also killed in terrorist shootings. Campuses have also been damaged by bombings.

Queen's suffered long from its reputation as a bastion of unionism but more recently has received almost as many embarrassing headlines over claims that it has been "captured" by nationalists.

There was a long series of fair employment cases, mostly brought by Catholics. Students have clashed, and not always just verbally, over seasonal rows like the playing of the National Anthem at graduation ceremonies and the status given to the Irish language.

The University of Ulster has been less affected, partly because its mid-1980s merger with the Ulster Polytechnic at Jordanstown meant it had little specific historical baggage.

Yet the fact that the province's second university was not sited in Londonderry, Northern Ireland's mainly nationalist second city, is often cited as evidence of the discriminatory bias of the former Stormont unionist administration.

The university now has one of its four campuses in Londonderry. It has been regularly criticised, however, by Ulster Unionist deputy leader John Taylor for accepting too many students from the Irish Republic.

Some of the 17 FE colleges have had a number of minor incidents and are dogged by the fact that they are also sited in mainly Catholic or Protestant towns.

But both universities and colleges have a strong commitment to supporting peace initiatives. Last Friday staff and students were allowed two hours off to attend the massive "Stop all the killings" rally in Belfast city centre.

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