Northern Ireland news

Lecturers accuse unionist politicians of attacking free speech

The UCU branch at Queen's University accused some unionist politicians of attacking free speech

A UNION that represents lecturers has accused unionist politicians of attacks on academic freedom.

The University and College Union (UCU) criticised "an outrageous attack on democracy" and values of free speech.

Its branch at Queen's University Belfast spoke of "worryingly authoritarian attacks on local academics' right to voice free opinions".

In a statement it urged Queen's to "robustly and unequivocally reject demands by politicians to censure or silence academic staff".

"It's becoming depressingly and predictably familiar," a statement said.

"An academic has their say on local issues of public interest or political importance - as academics do worldwide - and a local politician petitions the university to have them disciplined or gagged."

The UCU claimed DUP members had complained to Queen's about views expressed by lecturers.

It singled out a newspaper column by former DUP assembly member Nelson McCausland in which he said Queen's must address the perception that it was a "cold house" for Protestants.

Mr McCausland was writing after an incident in which a Queen's professor supported European Council President Donald Tusk's comment there was a "special place in hell" for no-deal Brexiteers.

The UCU said: "Is Mr McCausland suggesting that this professor should be disciplined for offering an individual opinion?"

Mr McCausland rejected the criticism.

"Academics are no different to anyone else - they are fallible the same as all of us," he told the BBC.

The statement also referred to correspondence from TUV leader Jim Allister to Queen's over comments made on radio by a former Queen's professor.

Mr Allister dismissed this as "frankly laughable".

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