Professor threatened after research on Irish unity

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Belfast academic Colin Harvey continues to receive widespread support as he endures an escalating unionist hate campaign.

The latest spate of online attacks and threats to the nationalist human rights professor came after he posted details of a pending report on Irish unity.

Despite it being standard academic practice, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson questioned the use of university branding on the report, leading to a fresh round of unionist abuse.

Mr Harvey is a Professor of Human Rights Law in the School of Law at Queen’s University Belfast. He has faced increasing threats from loyalists since earlier this year, when he began to question the failure to tackle loyalist paramilitary groups. He is also a board member of Ireland’s Future, the pro-Irish unity group.

On the advice of security experts, the QUB boffin has had a panic alarm fitted in his office, his name plate removed from his office door and information about his location removed from the university’s website.

US academic and businessman, Professor Frank Costello, a former chief of staff for Congressman Joe Kennedy, spoke out to defend academic freedom in Ireland.

“The practitioners of the politics of darkness must not be allowed to stifle academic freedom,” he said. He urged Jeffrey Donaldson to instead focus on low levels of educational attainment among young people in the loyalist community.

“Rather than turning up at Queens seeking to rebuke Colin Harvey, I suggest Sir Jeffrey might focus his attention, and those of his colleagues in unionism of all stripes, into helping uplift those neglected young men and women to attain the education necessary for entry into Queen’s and other third level institutions,” he said.

A statement issued by Harvey’s law firm KRW confirmed the use of the university logo had been authorised, but also warned that other academics from QUB are being targeted “by those opposed to the research in which they are engaged – including on constitutional change, Brexit, and the Protocol.

“We deplore such attacks, and seek to put on record the value of legitimate inquiry and the right to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas, without being under threat or being penalised for doing so.”

Speaking on the continuing hate campaign, Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill noted that UN human rights experts had already spoken out in support of Prof Harvey and other academics in the North. She feared the ongoing smear campaign had the potential to spark physical violence.

“This cannot be taken lightly. There is an onus on the PSNI to investigate the matter, and also ensure Mr Harvey’s personal safety. These attacks are dangerous and must end,” she said.

Prof Harvey said his work in the area of questions around constitutional change and human rights would continue. He appealed to Jeffrey Donaldson and other unionists to engage in “respectful dialogue, discussion, and debate”.

“Come and talk to me, engage with me, let’s discuss the present and possible futures,” he said. “I would welcome such a pluralist and open constitutional conversation.”

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