The Grand Secretary of the Orange Order says that the rise in terrorist T-shirts and Irish language signs at the University of Ulster are to blame for Protestant students making up only 32 per cent of the population.
Drew Nelson, a solicitor and senior office holder in the Order, went public with his grievances because he said that there was no sign of formal complaints being concluded, despite being lodged in March and April.
The university and students’ union both said their investigations into the complaints are ongoing.
Alistair McCracken, incoming chairman of the University of Ulster Jordanstown Orange Society, said he had lodged a formal complaint about paramilitary T-shirts being worn on campus.
“In the last couple of months we have seen a rise in shirts being worn by students at Jordanstown prominently displaying the names of people convicted of terrorism,” he said.
“In particular we are seeing GAA tops with the names of Kevin Lynch, Bobby Sands and Long Kesh. Both of these men were members of terrorist organisations which were intent on massacring the unionist community. I believe these tops are being worn deliberately to make a political point and intimidate the unionist community.”
He lodged a complaint on April 22 to the university’s equality department who passed him on to the students’ union, he said: “I got acknowledgements from both but I feel this is taking much too long to resolve”.
Mr Nelson wrote to the university and the students’ union on behalf of the Democratic Unionist Association at Coleraine campus and the Orange Society at Coleraine campus.
Letters were written in March, April and June to the students’ union and the university’s vice-chancellor.
His two clients complained about large Irish signs at the entrance to the students’ union, bar, shop and Irish directional signs around the Coleraine campus, he said.
“I believe that these signs are in breach of university diversity policy and equality legislation,” Mr Nelson said.
“If multiple languages representing many nationalities of students were used it could be lawful – as at Belfast City Hall – but because only Irish is used so prominently, that is in breach of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act and the university’s own diversity policy. This sort of ethos is creating a cold house for Protestant students, whereas Queen’s University Belfast dealt with these same issues 10 years ago.
“Perhaps this is the reason the University of Ulster’s student population is only 32 per cent Protestant.”
Mr Nelson believes that the students’ union is legally accountable to the university.
He said that the students’ union had now requested a formal meeting.
A University of Ulster spokesman responded to the Orange Order, saying it was committed to promoting “equality of opportunity and good relations”.
He said: “We are aware of a complaint regarding signage at the students’ union, and – in association with the incoming students’ union president – are reviewing signage at the Coleraine campus.
“We are also aware of a complaint about sportswear on campus and are investigating the matter,” said the university spokesman.
The students’ union said it was working with the university to review signage “in a way which students can engage entirely with the process”.
“We are currently investigating the complaint about sportswear on campus and how we can make our university a welcoming place for all.”