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Queen's University to review cancellation of Charlie Hebdo conference

Belfast university backtracks on controversial decision

Queen's University Belfast has said it will review its decision to cancel a symposium on Charlie Hebdo and citizenship.

On Wednesday, the university said the symposium, called "Understanding Charlie: New perspectives on contemporary citizenship after Charlie Hebdo" had been cancelled due to the lack of a risk assessment for the event. This appeared to contradict an email sent to delegates to inform them of the cancellation on Monday and seen by Little Atoms, which suggested a risk assessment had been carried out and "every precaution had been taken."

A statement received by Little Atoms at 5.08pm today (23 April) said:

Building on the statement from Queen’s University yesterday and contrary to widespread comment, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Patrick Johnston wishes to reiterate his commitment to academic freedom saying: “Queen’s is, and will remain, a place where difficult issues can be discussed.”

In line with due process, the University has commissioned a full risk assessment to be completed. The report of this assessment is expected to be completed by Friday 1 May 2015. The report will then inform the University’s decision.  

The university had come under criticism for its pulling of the event, scheduled to take place in early June. Oxford philosopher Brian Klug, who was due to take part, told Little Atoms he was "baffled" and "dismayed" by the decision.

Angela Nagle, who was also due to take part, told Channel 4 News: "The conference organisers should be supported in their attempts to discuss this issue, with extra security if necessary, but instead have been shut down by a cowardly university bureaucracy. "

Writing for Little Atoms, Jason Walsh, a journalist and philosophy doctoral candidate who was to present a paper at the symposium, commented: "The real reason for the cancellation was given away with the mention of reputation. What damage to Queen’s reputation could have happened, though? That it would develop a reputation for tackling difficult subjects?"

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms. He is Director of Editorial at 89up and has written and ghostwritten for The Evening Standard, The Guardian, The Observer, The Irish Times, The Daily Telegraph, The New Statesman, The Sun, and The Irish Post.

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