Northern Ireland news


Further online attacks on Prof Colin Harvey since Kate Hoey remarks

Professor Colin Harvey said online abuse directed at him had 'intensified' in recent days. Picture by Ivan Ewart

A QUEEN'S University academic says there has been an upsurge in online abuse directed at him in the days since Kate Hoey's remarks about nationalist "activists" dominating many of the north's professional vocations.

Colin Harvey, a professor of human rights law, told The Irish News that a "targeted campaign" is seeking to close down public conversations about the constitutional issue.

A board member of civic society group Ireland's Future, Prof Harvey has faced criticism in the past from unionists over his public role.

He is also at the centre of an ongoing controversy over appointments to a Stormont advisory committee on a bill of rights.

Prof Harvey, who in the past has served as one of Northern Ireland's human rights commissioners, was interviewed in June 2020 for one of five positions on the panel of experts to advise MLAs but has heard nothing from the Executive Office since.

It is widely claimed that his appointment is being blocked by the DUP, though the party has denied this.

Prof Harvey has previously spoken of feeling "under siege" from unionism and loyalism after criticism from some elected representatives.

He said in recent days abuse on social media had increased and he linked it to comments by former Labour MP Baroness Hoey, who said north's professions are "dominated by those of a nationalist persuasion" who were using their roles to "exert influence on those in power".

Writing in The Irish News, the former Vauxhall MP alluded to members of Ireland's Future signing a public letter to the taoiseach, in which they stated their occupations.

Prof Harvey said that in the days since Baroness Hoey made her comments, online abuse directed at him had "intensified".

The Queen's academic said the criticism and abuse had continued since he first raised the issue in this newspaper in 2019.

"I am increasingly concerned about where this might all lead, not just for myself, but for anyone affected in this region ... everyone knows where this atmosphere can end in a deeply contested society like this," he said.

Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd said: "The aspiration to a united Ireland is a totally legitimate viewpoint ... and there should be no place for the dangerous and targeted attacks on Colin Harvey or any other citizens who express their views."

The DUP, whose MLA Diane Dodds has recently been trolled by anonymous Twitter accounts, condemned the abuse aimed at the Queen's academic.

"No-one should be expected to just accept or ignore disgusting abuse," a spokesperson said. "There is a real need to call time on the Wild West online where a small number of people believe they can say or do what they like without consequence."

Baroness Hoey was contacted for comment.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access