Northern Ireland

Watch: Prof Colin Harvey overwhelmed by support in face of vilifying campaign by unionists

Professor Colin Harvey. Picture by Mal McCann
Professor Colin Harvey. Picture by Mal McCann

COLIN HARVEY has said he is overwhelmed by the public and private support he’s received in the midst of the latest escalation in a campaign of vilification against the nationalist academic.

The Queen’s University lecturer has been liaising with the PSNI in recent days after he was the target of violent threats on social media.

The Irish News revealed last week that Prof Harvey has had a panic button fitted in his office at Queen’s and his nameplate removed from the door as a security measure.

Last week’s meeting of the Policing Board was told there had been threats to behead the former Northern Ireland human rights commissioner and internationally-recognised expert.

The Derry-born academic, whose appointment last year to a Stormont advisory panel on a bill of rights the DUP was accused of blocking, spoke to The Irish News ahead of next week’s publication of his co-authored report ‘Making the Case for Irish Unity in the EU’.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson recently raised the use of Queen’s branding on the report’s cover with the university authorities.

Prof Harvey vowed to continue his work and said he wouldn’t be cowed by criticism or intimidation.

“I won't be hiding from it,” he told The Irish News.

“I'll continue with my work, but where people have crossed lines, then that needs to be challenged and confronted, and I know there are a range of people at the moment, considering that as well.”

He said he took recent threats seriously but suggested there was a “complacency” in tackling loyalist paramilitarism.

“I know there's an argument that we should ignore all this, but in a post conflict society I'm not sure of the wisdom of that," he said.

“I think where people are engaged in harassment, intimidation and threats, that needs to be challenged, and ultimately, thinking at the moment about the present, where you have loyalist paramilitaries in this society, and the complacency, to be candid, in some quarters around that and the sort of muddled thinking that goes on – I think is really, really problematic.”

Prof Harvey said there’d been an intensification of the criticism and abuse ahead of the publication of next week’s report. He said he’d been subjected to a “fairly systematic campaign of intimidation, harassment and threats”.

“I've been called every possible expletive and name it's possible to imagine,” he said.

“I've had some profoundly distressing things said about me on a repetitive basis. And we live in a world of disinformation, misinformation where people just repeat misinformation, time and time again, using all available technologies, that is advanced to threats, which I've had to report.”

The Queen’s academic urged those who had voiced public criticism to engage with him.

“I would say to Jeffrey Donaldson, I've said that very publicly - talk to me engage with me, I'll explain my work,” he said.

“And we'll get involved in a conversation and open pluralist conversation about the present and future and I'm happy to do that anytime with the leader of the DUP leader, the up leaders of TUV whoever.”

Prof Harvey said he career spanned three decades but that public criticism of his role only began after Brexit prompted research into the constitutional question.

"[I've worked] across a whole range of human rights issues so for those who think my life and work only started, when I became involved in Ireland's Future, they'd be very wrong.

"But ultimately, certainly post-Brexit I feel like many, many people, that there's a responsibility to enter that space and to talk about if you like the constitutional question within a broader human rights framework."

The academic welcomed support from colleagues, politicians and the public.

"I’ve been really overwhelmed by the amount of publicly expressed and privately expressed solidarity and support," he said.

"It's really overwhelming and I think it highlights the extent to which people really do want this discussion to continue."

John Manley Irish News Political Correspondent and Prof Colin Harvey. Picture Mal McCann.
John Manley Irish News Political Correspondent and Prof Colin Harvey. Picture Mal McCann.