Northern Ireland news

Platform: Baroness Kate Hoey - Network of influence exists, but is nothing new

Baroness Kate Hoey

LET me, for the avoidance of doubt, set my position out clearly. I want to see everyone take the opportunity to be educated to as high a level as possible from whatever their background and having the choice to enter professional vocations. I am especially keen to see young people from working class communities succeed through education.

I should further point out, none of this has anything to do with religion. The contested nature of Northern Ireland is not about religious theology, it is about national identity. Some of the strongest unionists I know are from the Catholic faith.

It is interesting that in 2018 nationalists within the professional class had no issue being identified by their political agenda. Indeed, many signed a nationalist letter to the Irish prime minister - published in this very newspaper - which identified persons by their profession.

In that instance, there were no complaints about the signatories from law, media and academia being identified by virtue of their professional occupation. Rather, their occupation was used to give credence to the contents of the letter. Put simply: professional status was used to advance a political cause. And therein lies my point.

My forward to the Unionist Voice Policy Studies report said that there is plainly an (albeit informal) elite nationalist network whereby a significant number of persons use the credentials afforded by their (entirely legitimately obtained and hard earned) status within those professional vocations to advance nationalist political objectives.

This develops into a network of influence due to the shared political objectives and ideas acting as a mechanism for the platforming and credentialing of material (or persons) conducive to the cause. And this, in turn, influences the political and legal direction of society as decision makers will draw upon the prevailing intellectual capital produced by academic groups, lobbyists, litigation and that which is most prominently platformed by the media and endorsed by the ‘commentariat’.

Unionists don’t do this, or if they did, they no longer do. Particularly and initially in our university student unions which developed a chill factor that has reduced unionist enrolment. The long march through the institutions advocated by the Marxist philosopher Gramsci, so beloved by President Higgins, is well under way and increasingly expressed in this new majoritarian outlook.

I note that when loyalist or unionists appear in media they are labelled by their political affiliation (eg. loyalist activist), however nationalists are bestowed with a neutral descriptor such as ‘political commentator’. There has yet to be a satisfactory explanation for this obvious disparity, most notably in BBC NI.

This is a subtle way of promoting certain views and conversely de-platforming or delegitimising others as purely partisan.

It is a matter of the most compelling logic that if you control the building of the prevailing intellectual capital, credentialed from the worlds of academia, media and law, which will ultimately be drawn upon by those in power, then you exert a powerful influence.

I do not blame nationalists for the existence of this network and for using this tactic their political objectives. Such an approach is hardly a new phenomenon-we see it in America with the partisan nature of media and law and various competing networks of influence (such as the Federalist Society and American Constitutional Society).

In Northern Ireland, the reality is that there is no equivalent network of unionist activists using access and credentials obtained via positions in the professional class to advance the cause of unionism. And therein lies the imbalance.

However, I do urge unionists and loyalists to counter this by similar activism within the fields of law, academia and media.

That is an entirely legitimate position to articulate, and indeed the issue was demonstrated by the manner by which the aforementioned elite network swung into action seeking to misrepresent the context of my remarks, and thus shut down debate on this issue.

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