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.