Northern Ireland

Queen's University: Charlie Hebdo event off due to lack of risk assessment

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Media captionAs Mark Simpson reports, the conference had been due to be hosted by QUB's Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities

Queen's University has said an event on the fallout from the Charlie Hebdo murders in France was cancelled as no risk assessment had been completed.

The conference had been scheduled for the Belfast university in June.

Vice chancellor Patrick Johnston had said he cancelled due to the security risk and concerns for QUB's reputation.

Earlier, two academics who had been booked to speak said it was ironic that an event about free speech should be called off in this way.

Self-censorship was one of the themes of the conference.

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, Queen's University said: "As part of managing the health and safety of the institution, it is a requirement for all major events to have a full risk assessment completed prior to them going ahead on the campus.

"Unfortunately the proposed symposium organised by the Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities did not have a completed risk assessment and, as a result, the institute has cancelled the event.

"This issue is not related to academic freedom and Queen's continues to uphold the importance of academic freedom in a world-class institution and has demonstrated this over many years."

'Deeply ironic'

Speaking on Radio Ulster on Wednesday morning, Prof Max Silverman from Leeds University, who had been due to speak at the event said: "It is deeply ironic that what was going on in Paris this year to do largely with freedom of speech is actually being replicated by the university itself.

"There is a bitter irony in that the ability to discuss these topics has been taken away from us by this university decision.

"If you cannot discuss these sensitive issues in a university then I don't know where you can discuss them. I do fear for what we value most in our democracies."

Prof Silverman said the cancelled conference was now getting much more publicity but "for all the wrong reasons".

'Baffled and dismayed'

"Queen's University has a wonderful reputation. It is a very prestigious institution. I don't think this is going to enhance that reputation at all," he said.

Dr Brian Klug from Oxford said he was both "baffled and dismayed" by the decision to cancel.

"Organising this was an admirable initiative and I cannot understand why the university has pulled the rug out from under their feet," he said.

"We really don't know what the vice chancellor was worried about. We haven't been told what that security risk consists of. I think we are all owed an explanation."

Dr Klug said that not only was it not the role of the university to stop freedom of speech, but it was "the responsibility of academia to respond to complex international conflicts in a constructive analytical way".

The symposium: Understanding Charlie: New perspectives on contemporary citizenship after Charlie Hebdo, had been due to be hosted by QUB's Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities.

Twelve people died when two brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, fired on the journalists on 7 January at the satirical magazine's offices in Paris.

Five others were killed over the two following days by one of their associates.

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