Not all students to blame for riots

March 25, 2009

Published: Belfast Newsletter, 25th March 2009, page 14

Robin Peake, 23, is a Final Year History and Journalism student at the University of Ulster, Coleraine

As students, we are as appalled as anybody at the inexcusable behaviour witnessed in Belfast’s Holylands area on Tuesday. The area has long been an issue in local news coverage and remains a topic that springs to mind any time students are mentioned.
With a BBC survey on the same day showing that many universities want a sharp increase in tuition fees, with some desiring the removal of a cap altogether, this was not a good day for students to garner sympathy for their cause. Already seen in some quarters as tax-dodgers, a drain on the public purse, lazy and drunkards, we have an ever increasing battle to fight if we want to promote a positive image.

I am personally ashamed that fellow students could cause such a diversion of PSNI resources, particularly at a time when 350 officers have been deployed to join the hunt for the dissidents responsible for last week’s murders. I am ashamed that students cannot enjoy a day off in a peaceful manner, adding to the colourful festivities that the rest of the city enjoyed, and instead caused such disruption and chaos.

The blame for Tuesday’s antic lies not with the police whose heavy-handed approach was only necessary because of the threat to public property and personal safety that the mob was presenting. Nor does it lie with the Universities who cannot be held liable for the behaviour of their students off campus. The blame lies squarely at the feet of those students and non-students who allowed excessive drinking habits to fuel such behaviour which has further tarnished our flagging reputation.

The reality is however, that such incidents are rare. The good weather seen on Tuesday combined with the fact the universities were closed were major contributing factors in the all-day drinking binge that culminated in the scenes that layered our newspapers yesterday morning. Students are demonised somewhat, but we are not as bad as we allow ourselves to be portrayed. Students from University of Ulster, Magee have this year embarked on a ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ mission, to practically support local residents and promote the reputation of students in the Maiden City. Here at Coleraine the Students Union are liaising with the Council for a litter pick up in off-campus accommodation areas. Some students from the Christian Union did something similar last year after the North West 200 motorbike races and residents were as impressed as they were surprised by what they saw. And right across the University of Ulster campuses, thousands of pounds were raised for various local charities during Raise and Give (RAG) week held in the middle of February. These are student driven initiatives designed not as some form of propaganda, to convince the rest of the population that deep down we are nice people, but because we believe that as students and residents we have a responsibility to serve the community that we are a part of.


‘Rowdy’ students disrupt north coast resort

March 19, 2009

Published Belfast Newsletter, 19 March 2009, page 9

Students in the Holylands area in Belfast were not the only culprits of disruptive behaviour last Tuesday. There was trouble too in Portstewart, where a significant number of students attending the nearby University of Ulster, Coleraine live throughout the week. In Old Mill Grange, off Lisadell Avenue where a large proportion of students living off campus reside, students were reported as putting traffic cones and roadwork signs in the middle of the street, forcing drivers to manoeuvre around them. Arguments fuelled by alcohol spilled out into the street and rowdy behaviour was noted from 6pm onwards, forcing police to step up their patrols of the area which they had been visiting all day.

Rebecca Golding, 20, an English and Education student at the University who lives in the area said; “I get extremely annoyed when students give other students a bad name, when many of us have simply come to University for a good education”. Whilst she said that there was “nothing wrong with a party here and there”, she condemned the behaviour, saying “It shows a lack of respect for other residents and brings down the reputation of the vast majority of students here.”

Local Alliance Councillor, Barney Fitzpatrick firmly expressed his disapproval towards the Students’ behaviour. “I completely condemn this sort of behaviour. Just because students had a day off from University is no excuse to spend it drinking excess amounts of alcohol which inevitably results in this kind of behaviour” he said. Cllr Fitzpatrick went on to say however, “This behaviour is in no way representative of the majority of students here at Coleraine. The Students Union has liaised well with local residents and the police to seek to minimise this behaviour and some students are involved in initiatives to serve the community.”


The Dispassionate Student?

March 12, 2009

Published: UFOURia Spring 2009

Robin Peake attended the Students’ Union protest against fees at UUC and was taken aback by what he saw.

Students have a history of making a stand, and making a difference. In 1941 the White Rose movement was formed by students in Munich, making a defiant stand against the Nazi Regime. The chain of events leading up to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was started by peaceful student demonstrations. In 1967 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was formed, spurred by Catholic Students who were benefitting from the free education that had come into Northern Ireland in 1947 under the new ‘Welfare State’ and who were now disenchanted with discrimination from local authorities. The Tiananmen protests in China, culminating in the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 came off the back of students dissatisfied with the Chinese method of governance. Around the same time in Europe, students were holding pro-democracy protests in Soviet states, which can be argued to be a catalyst for the rapid downfall of communism.

Yet where is the passionate student today? Last year, a protest organised against fees was held at Stormont. Some 30 students bothered to turn up. Not so long again at UUC, the Union General meeting attracted only 40 people, though this was twice as many as the considerably larger UUJ campus. Talk about issues of Fairtrade and the student is interested in change, but only if someone else will do it for them. Speak about poor parking facilities, and the threat of doing away with Sunday train services for which many students on this campus rely on, and there are complaints, but no action.

It disheartens me to see a vast number of young people here, affected by various issues but so dispassionate and apathetic that they don’t want to see anything changed. Maybe it all comes back to selfishness? Why bother campaigning if by the time we have change I won’t be here any longer? Why lobby on Fairtrade if all it does is ease my conscience a little?

Tuesday, 2nd December seemed different though. The Students’ Union organised a protest against Fees. At the minute in Northern Ireland, tuition fees stand at £3,145 per annum, the maximum which Universities can charge. There is a short term proposed move to increase this by £80, to help ‘deal with inflation’. On top of this, Sir Reg Empey, leader of the Ulster Unionists is calling for a removal of the cap, meaning that Universities could charge as much as they like. This would lead to an increase to £5,000, £10,000, £20,000…who knows. Ultimately it would weed out the last remaining students from low-income families, and ensure that our institution-educated people are those people who come from middle class backgrounds. The Bible talks about campaigning for the poor, lobbying for justice.

Isaiah says;
“Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
(1v16-17)

He goes on to say;
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”
(58 v 6)

Ultimately the majority of students are not coming to protest because of any God-given command, but I was shocked to see the numbers who started arriving from 12.30 in the Students Union, ready to make their voice heard

Why? The increase is unlikely to affect us, especially for those of us who are in our last year; it’s more for those teenagers who will be coming to Uni in the years to come. And yet students wanted to speak for those who couldn’t speak. Students wanted to stand up for their brothers and sisters who would be coming to University after them, and didn’t want them to be labelled with an even bigger financial burden.

There were probably around 150 people gathered in the Students Union building. Councillors Billy Leonard (Sinn Fein) and Barney Fitzpatrick (Alliance) spoke well and passionately. Their calls for students to continue to be active and to hold politicians accountable (all 5 major parties in Northern Ireland committed to a removal of students fees in 2004) were greeted with loud cheers.

Followed thereafter a march from the Students Union building to the Central building. Shouts and chants were heard. Upon entering the front entrance of the University, these grew louder. Classes were disrupted. Students and staff stopped to watch. Security men stood on the steps of the stairs.
“What do we want?”
– “No Fees”
“When do we want them?”
– “Now!”
We all sat down on the floor, the local photographer clicking like crazy, the media students grabbing their soundbytes for their voxpops as the chants continued, growing louder. Adrian, the Site VP tried to make a speech but could barely be heard above the racket.

I was in awe. Here were students, doing what students do best. Having their voice heard. Making a stand, against perceived injustice.

The Assembly should be listening. The University should be scared. And I think they were. The poor security chaps didn’t seem to know what to do. As I made my way up the stairs for the class I was late for, I was grabbed on the arm and told I could not do so, that I wasn’t allowed up there with a sign (which was a mock of a Father Ted protest). When I went round and used the lift, there the little bald man on an ego trip was again, having cleverly scented my devious plan. In the end, my class was cancelled, presumably due to the Lecturer being unable to have herself heard as the deafening roars continued.

If we students ever realise the potential to change the society we live in, the world will be an exciting (for some) and scary (for others) place.

I am a happy man. The Revolutionary Student isn’t dead. He’s just having a break