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.


It’s al about you

March 12, 2008

Published: UFOURia Spring 2008

Tesco opens beside University Halls in Portstewart. McDonalds coming to Jordanstown. Is there any escape from the aggressive invasion of big companies in student life in Northern Ireland? Robin Peake sets out on his crusade to stop lining the pockets of the rich, and urges you to join him

At 21 my political mind is a mess. I joined the UUC Socialist Party at the start of this academic year and became a leftie without the beard. After Christmas I paid a tenner to become a member of the Alliance Party, notoriously neutral in a political climate dominated by religion/ideologies. Throw into the mix that I’m an evangelical Christian and you start to wonder how much of the political spectrum one man wants to cover. By my own admission I don’t know if I’m a Commie, a Capitalist or a Centralist. Yet while on my whirlwind tour of ideologies I’ve made one stop, and I’m starting to make a stand on it too. Consumer Choice.

It’s very easy in this day and age to agree with the argument that our voices don’t matter to the state elite, or to big corporations. Why even bother to vote in elections? Is my ‘x’ really going to make any difference amongst thousands? However I would argue that we vote every day – with our wallets. Daily we spend money on food, drink, fuel and plenty of other wee things without thinking. And yet the consumer choices we make during our days as students are those that our most likely to stick with us throughout the rest of our lives. Why do you think newspapers such as The Times are prepared to sell for far less than retail price in Student’s Union shops? Why do you think Freshers week is full of banks clamouring to get you on board? Because in both cases, they know the power of the choices made by students. The students of today are the leaders of tomorrow who will influence the decisions and consumer choices of others. That is why I think now is the optimum time to think about what you are spending your money on.

Buy local
Have you ever fully thought of the benefits on offer by buying Northern Irish produce? Cookstown Ham, Ormo Bread, Ballyrashane Milk, Tayto Crisps, Smithicks Ale By spending your money on these items and countless others which have been produced in the six counties then you are keeping people in employment. If employment is high, then income is generated by more workers, which in turn is spent in the local economy; in goods, services and leisure. If a company is doing well through increased sales (e.g. Linwoods of Co. Armagh) then this in turn can create more opportunities for graduates – Marketing, Advertising roles; Management positions, Accountants, Web designers and IT technicians: all opportunities that arise from a company’s expansion.
Think too of where you buy your food and drink. Why not use the local corner shop instead of the branded supermarket? Because it’s more expensive? Fair point, but when you’re in your 30s with money to spare and can’t find anything other than a Tescos to shop in just remember who to blame.

Contribute to World Poverty – Or not?
There are those that will say that by buying ‘Fairtrade’ you are making the world a better place and alleviating global poverty. I propose a much darker alternative. By not buying Fair Trade where possible, you are increasing the power that large companies such as Nestlé have over highly skilled and underpaid workers. You are increasing the hours of the third world workers by your purchase, who needs to step up production to fulfil your wants. You are increasing the gap between rich and poor. My housemate tells me that he doesn’t buy Fairtrade coffee because “it’s a rip off.” I argue that other brands of coffee are ripping off their poverty-stricken employees, and that really that’s the choice it bottles down to – Who should pay the price? Consumers with a few extra quid or producers with no fair deal in sight? By using your loaf and buying Fairtrade wine, clothes (UU hoodies available), tea, rice you are guaranteeing that at the other end of the line more of your money is going towards the farmer and his family, and not only that, but there is also extra money available to build schools and basic hospitals. The farmer then, with a bit of extra income is able to buy animals off his neighbour who then too has received some of your money. The consequences of our money are far reaching, and we need to realise our responsibility in spending. Look out for the Fairtrade logo on products. Encourage your friends to think seriously through the benefits. Pester the UU authorities to strap on a pair and achieve ‘Fairtrade University’ status.

So next time you’re thinking of heading out for some groceries, look at where they come from, and think of who is benefiting from your purchase. And, if you end up buying something local, or something with the ‘Fairtrade’ logo then you’ll probably find that you and your conscience have benefited too.

Northern Ireland v Everton: What’s the point?

July 14, 2007

Published: Happy Days Issue 8

Northern Ireland v Everton – What’s the point?

So, half an Everton team beat a Northern Ireland side featuring four regular squad players in a match where neither set of players were at full fitness levels. What did anyone learn from this? For David Moyes, it was a chance to assess how his young players cope playing with seasoned first teamers and to further his players’ progress towards match fitness; but those who turned out for the Northern Ireland ‘select’ could easily have done that with the clubs that employ them. For Nigel Worthington, cleverly disguised as Roy Millar, he will have picked up very little from watching this drab 90 minutes that he couldn’t have found out from you or me.

Irish League players can’t cut it at International level. Sure in days gone by there were exceptions, but can you really convince me that Peter Thompson or Gary Hamilton have set the International stage alight? The only one who can claim to have made and impact in Europe in recent years is Glenn Ferguson, but I’m not sure being banned from Prague is quite what we’re looking for. Oval hero Hamilton was back for this match to show that he is more suited to the ‘big fish-small pond’ scenario. Alongside him was Kevin Braniff, showing good upper body strength and aerial ability, but demonstrating the main indication of his Irish League status, that is the ‘first touch syndrome’. That six Irish league players took part, along with a string of players from the lower English and Scottish leagues who were all captained by the unemployed Stephen Lomas pretty much sums up the quality on show. This was dubbed a showpiece match and had the players featured in the match programme squad lists turned up it would have been. But they didn’t so it wasn’t.

Now far be it for me to be pessimistic and condemning against a Milk Cup committee who persuaded the Irish FA that this would be a good idea. That they also persuaded me to purchase a ticket at £18 so that I could watch my childhood heroes Sean Webb and Sammy Morrow deserves credit also. As a marketing ploy (and I see it as little else) this was a financial success. The committee played the 25th anniversary card spot on. If half the Everton squad turned up to my 25th Anniversary I’d be reasonably happy although I’d be keeping an eye on the thirst and antics of Shandy van der Meyde. However, as much of a success as it was for the Milk Cup and its ego, it was equally a waste of time for Nigel Worthington. How many of these players changed the manager’s mind about whether or not they deserve a full cap? Dean Holden said he would walk from Falkirk to Windsor for the chance – Thing is Dean, so would I. And I’m crap. Holden played well, along with several other players including Keith O’Hara, but did they really show enough to say I deserve to play against Denmark, Spain, Sweden? I doubt it.

Now perhaps I’m mellowing as I get older, but I thought Ciaran Toner actually looked the part. He not only looked energetic and committed, but showed glimpses of quality in his passing and movement, particularly when he moved from right flank into the centre. There you go – A positive. It’s the only one I can find from an otherwise pointless affair.