Susan McKay: "If there is evidence of unionist under-achievement in education, then that's a matter that unionism should be looking at and addressing."
Derry writer and author, Susan McKay, has criticised Kate Hoey for reverting to “a sectarian model of society” following the former Labour MP's claims of nationalist activism within the legal profession and the media.
Ms McKay, who authored the acclaimed book published last year, “Northern Protestants On Shifting Ground”, said Ms Hoey's words were comments she would have heard as a child growing up in Derry in the 1960s.
Hoey, who was the Minister of Sport in Tony Blair's government and now sits in the House of Lords as an Independent peer, wrote a forward in a 'report' released by a fringe Loyalist group.
In it she wrote: “I... support the ongoing work to encourage those, especially from working class loyalist communities, to engage in education and to seek entry to professional vocations such as journalism, law, and public service.
“There are very justified concerns that many professional vocations have become dominated by those of a nationalist persuasion, and this positioning of activists is then used to exert influence on those in power.”
Ms Hoey's comments have drawn widespread criticism across the political board with the exception of DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson who posted on Twitter that he welcomed Hoey's contribution.
Susan McKay has refuted Hoey's claims as baseless and that if there is evidence of Protestants under-achieving in education, then that is for unionism itself to look at and address.
She said: “I found it really depressing to see Kate making comments that I would have heard in my own childhood back in the 1960s.
“When I was a child, I would have heard adults in the community that I was growing up in saying things like 'oh the post office is rotten with them' – meaning that jobs that were traditionally held by Protestants in the Post Office were now being obtained by Catholics.
“The notion that somehow or the other, Catholics getting jobs was something that was disgusting and to be avoided is very obviously sectarian and I think that Kate Hoey's comments, unfortunately, fit that model.
“There isn't any evidence whatsoever of any of the things that she's claiming. We do have fair equality legislation. There used to be ways of excluding Catholics by finding out people's names before you're offered jobs but there isn't any more.
“Nor is there any mechanism to exclude Protestants. People have the same educational opportunities and I think the thing is that if there is evidence of unionist under-achievement in education, then that's a matter that unionism should be looking at and addressing.
“Kate Hoey's comments are very much reverting to a sectarian model of society but I think that most people would recoil from this. I don't think that's the way most people see society anymore.
“Unfortunately, the worst aspect of it in a way is the fact that Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the DUP, has stepped in and welcomed the both the report and Kate Hoey's comments.
“That's the unfortunate part of it that someone like Jeffrey could have responsibly said, 'of course we encourage equality in all of the professions and we believe that all of our young people should have the same educational opportunities'.
“But instead he is supporting this sectarian approach which makes it seem as if Protestants aren't succeeding because of Catholics.
Hoey's citing of the legal and media professions have led to concerns of the former MP's comments could inadvertently 'paint a target' on people's backs.
Journalist, Martin O'Hagan was killed by Loyalist paramilitaries in Lurgan back in 2001 and in 1989, lawyer Pat Finucane was murdered in his own home by UDA terrorists.
Pat's son John, now the Sinn Féin MP for North Belfast, condemned Hoey's comments and Susan McKay said that Catholics who had scaled the social ladder were often seen as getting ideas above their station.
She added: “We know of John Finucane's father, Pat, who was a Catholic lawyer who was murdered by Loyalist paramilitaries.
“There has been a lot of evidence over the years of a pattern of sectarian killings during The Troubles of Catholics who had – to use a Northern sectarian phrase – 'got above themselves'.
“It used to be a common enough phrase in Northern Ireland when I was growing up.
“This notion goes right back to the foundation of the state with Lord Brookeborough's infamous 'ninety-nine per cent of them are disloyal' comment when he was urging employers to go for Protestants lads and lassies as he called them.”
McKay also said that unionists such as Hoey should maybe look instead at how unionism has stunted working-class growth in the Protestant community instead of seeking to place blame on aspirational working-class Catholics who have attained white-collar jobs such as lawyers and journalists.
She continued: “My parents would have been working-class Protestants who had been able to avail themselves of the 1947 Education Act. So it lifted Protestants as well as Catholics because unionism has never looked after its working-classes.
“The whole Orange system was meant to be that you knew your place and if you were working-class, you stayed working-class and you did what you were told by your betters.
“It was a very rigid system and it didn't encourage people to aspire to better themselves. In some ways, what we're seeing now is a playing-out of that.
“There is a passivity still within the Protestant community that doesn't serve young working-class people well.”
Hoey's comments and Donaldson's endorsement of them have been regarded as unionism whipping up support from its core voting base ahead of this years Northern Ireland Assembly elections.
However, McKay reckons that if this is part of their strategy, it could backfire on them.
She said: “It's a dangerous and irresponsible game to start invoking those old sectarian ghosts.
“The Good Friday Agreement was supposed to have moved us on from all of this. This is just an attempt to throw us back to the old days when everything was defined in terms of 'them and us'.
“It's just so counter-productive for unionism to talk like this at this time. It's so obvious that if unionism wants to keep the union, they need to make it attractive to Catholics and nationalists as well as to unionists.
“But that kind of talk, now being endorsed by Jeffrey Donaldson, is far more likely to turn more young unionist people away from unionism than anything else. You're not going to attract any nationalists because it's really insulting to everybody's intelligence to be spoken to in that way.
“People may well just feel, 'roll on the referendum on unity', as we can't go back and this crowd don't seem to want to go forward. I think that's how it will work. It will just make people think, 'if this is the way unionism is going to talk, then there is no future for this state'.
“It's like the 'crocodile' moment with Arlene Foster where a lot of nationalist people who were not particularly politicised were politicised by that remark as they recognised it as being really demeaning.”
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