This year's contribution to the ritual comes from DUP MLAs Alex Easton and Jonathan Craig, who have tabled the following Private Members motion in the Assembly today:
"Motion - Protestant Student Exodus
Proposed: That this Assembly calls on the Minister for Employment and Learning to bring forward measures to attract, and ensure that, students from a Protestant background are encouraged to opt for universities in Northern Ireland as their first choice, rather than universities in the rest of the United Kingdom."
This motion displays in glorious brevity four obvious facts:
- The DUP is unreservedly sectarian. Why otherwise would their motion talk about 'Protestant' students, rather than Northern Irish students? Their concern is not a brain drain per se, but a specifically Protestant brain drain.
- The DUP does not see Northern Ireland as a fully integral part of the UK. If it didn't then it would have no issue about where in the UK students might study.
- The DUP recognises that the drain of Protestants (whom the DUP evidently considers to be unionists) to British universities means that they are less likely to return to Northern Ireland, and that this poses dangers for the current very slim unionist majority.
- The DUP considers Catholics – as Catholics – to be a danger to Northern Ireland's continuing membership of the UK. In other words, it continues to regard them as inherently 'disloyal', and believes that the achievement of a Catholic majority in Northern Ireland would spell the end of the road for Northern Ireland's participation in 'the union'.
Perhaps if Messrs Easton and Craig (and their party) spent more time and effort on making Northern Ireland a more pleasant place for everyone, then more students – of all religious persuasions and none – might want to stay. But they won't, so the students will keep on leaving, and with them unionism's best hopes for the future.
In the end the Easton/Craig motion did not get debated. Neither of the proposers was in the Assembly chamber to propose it (though one of them at least tried to be there), so we will never know who was, or was not, in favour of such sectarian nonsense.
Oddly, the Speaker - DUP man William Hay - appeared not to even know who his DUP colleague Alex Easton was. He referred to him as "Mr Eastwood".