Conor McGinn MP
Equality and Diversity Lecture


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CONOR: Thank you for that introduction, Richard. Firstly, it's always really nice to be home; and it's a huge and very unexpected honour to be delivering Queen's University Belfast's inaugural Equality and Diversity lecture. Thanks to you, Richard, and to my good friend Ryan Feeney, for inviting me to be here with you. 

My brother has a Master's degree from this place, and my father graduated from here as a mature student. Now, they've always held it over me that I didn't go to university here. At least after tonight, I suppose I can say to them that while I might not have studied at Queen's, I have lectured at it. In time-honoured fashioned for politicians, I want to, I suppose, issue a few preemptive caveats. The first one is that the title of my lecture might suggest some sort of conceptual or intellectual treatise. Firstly, there are far more eminent people ensconced in this great place of learning, who are much more qualified than me to examine all matters in that respect. 

What I want to say to you tonight is actually about how these values and principles - rights, respect and responsibility - are as relevant to our politics and society today as they ever have been - possibly more than they ever have been - and how it's the task of each and every one of us to believe in and build the common good. Secondly, when I was doing my A-levels, I worked part-time as a cleaner in the school I was attending after school, along with my best friends. The women we worked with - the mothers, the aunts, the sisters and even the grandmothers of our school friends - took particular pride in the work. We, as 16-year old boys, evidently didn't; in fact, we were labeled as 'dirt distributors', because we didn't so much get rid of it as just move it from one place to another. The point is that one day it was announced in the staff room, that a teacher had complained about his room not being cleaned properly by us three likely lads. Given the supervisor's predilection for telling us how useless we were, we expected a metaphorical - or perhaps even literal - (UNCLEAR) battering. Except unfortunately for the teacher, he happened to be an Englishman teaching in a Catholic school in South Armagh. So our boss responded in as diplomatic a way as you might expect, by saying, "Sure, I know them three nuisances wouldn't wipe their own rear ends, but I'm not having some highfalutin boy coming over here from England to tell us how to scrub floors!" 

So I want to make clear that I'm not over here from England to tell anybody how to clean floors; or how to do anything else, for that matter. Because I'm acutely aware that I'm in the unusual position of being a politician from here, but not for here; and tonight, I've been very lucky to have been given a platform to talk to you about things that happen here, when I don't live here, I don't work here and I don't stand for election here. 

Being an MP from Northern Ireland, but not a Northern Ireland MP, poses its own set of peculiarities and challenges; particularly when everyone from this place has a background or a perceived affiliation, and there's a determinism that expects that therefore they most think certain things because of that. I've always found, when I say something that nationalists agree with, they say 'Well, fair play to him now; he hasn't forgotten where he's come from'; and when I say something they disagree with, they say, 'Shouldn't he be ashamed of himself, given where he's from?'. Similarly with unionists; when I say something they agree with they say, 'Well, fair play to him now, given where he's from'; and when I say something that they disagree with, they say, 'Well sure, what would you expect, given where he's from? ' So in my short but eventful political career, I have acquired the knack of annoying everyone; sometimes separately on different occasions and sometimes simultaneously, a record that will undoubtedly continue after - and perhaps as a result of - this evening's remarks.

 

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