Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Doc Rocks Mandela

The Mandela Hall was at fever pitch on Tuesday night as 'The Doc' himself hit the stage to the tune of 'The Boys are back in Town'. Australian flags adorned the shoulders of the cult following there to see Alan Fletcher and his band 'The Waiting Room' strut their stuff.

Famous for his ability to "cure all illnesses known to man" (by his own admission)Dr Karl Kennedy was on his first visit to Belfast. The Neighbours star was on a tour in the UK which mainly consisted of Student Unions and the sell-out crowd in Belfast confirmed the daytime soap's popularity among students. When asked as to what he thought the reason for this was, Fletch answered "because its just so funny" admitting that none of the cast take themselves seriously.

The Gown, clearly not being held in the same regard as Off-Beat - 'Son of Radar' I believe its known as within the Union - were unable to get an arranged interview before the concert with Fletch. However, so enthusiastic were we to speak to the Aussie celeb that some reporters (who shall remain anonymous for reasons of saving their reputation)were literally first in line to get backstage. After scrambling through the crowds and enduring prolonged screaming from over-excited fans, an outstretched hand on the Doc's shoulder grabbed his attention. Being limited for time though and very aware of Alan's enthusiasm to meet "as many of you Irish guys as possible" the only information that could be obtained was that the music and tv are equal loves of his going "hand in hand" and, yes readers he confirmed it, Susan is better than Izzy "no question"!

Does the Belfast Festival at Queens have a future?

Kerry O'Donoghue

This year’s Festival held between October 19th and November 4th has been the 44th held here at Queens. However it has been announced that unless funding bodies match the University’s commitment to the Festival, next year's will not be funded by the University. The financial support provided by the Government funding for the Festival has been cut in recent years despite claims that it contributes at least £6.5 million to the Northern Irish economy.

The Belfast Festival at Queens is the largest Arts Festival seen throughout Ireland. From its humble beginnings it has flourished, and in its time has played host to performers as big as Jimi Hendrix and Dexy’s Midnight Runners (remember ‘Come on Eileen’!) This year the Festival showcased a variety of events including The Gypsy Kings, the Magners Comedy nights and the Spiegeltent, and despite the funding problems has made the most money in its history; bringing in over £500,000. Ticket sales saw an increase of 40% from last year alone, and over 100, 000 people showed their support attending the range of events.

Michael Palin obviously thought there was something special here when he ‘vowed never to take his one-man show anywhere else on earth’ after his first performance in 1981.

Surely the past and continued success of the Festival warrants its salvation? Is it not reasonable to expect the government to 'pay up' on an event which contributes so much to the Northern Ireland Arts scene?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Orde speaks in PFC

Aine Fox

Chief Constable of the PSNI, Hugh Orde was introduced on Monday evening in the PFC to a reasonably sized crowd of academics, students and members of the public (including those involved with victim's groups arising from the 'Troubles')to speak on a topic which was readily recognised as an emotive and controversial one. His talk entitled 'Policing the Past to Police the Future' was centred on public enquiries and the contentious topic of State collusion.

The emphasis throughout was on the "high expense" of the said enquiries. A statistic of £2 million a year in staff and legal costs alone was given. Sir Hugh questioned why there should be a "hierarchy of death" recognising that there are only a select few deaths being investigated in this way and due to the sheer number of victims over the past thirty years the stark reality is that many cases will never be solved.

Mr Orde stressed his view that all groups on all sides who were involved in the violence of the past should be called to account and made to answer the difficult questions which he feels are currently being unfairly directed at the Police force and the State. He also referred to widows of RUC officers and other groups whom he feels are being neglected. Although promising that he would " ensure all material in my organsiation will be made available to all the enquiries" he suggested that compensatory schemes for victims and their families would perhaps be a more cost effective way of dealing with the issue.

When asked by Professor Brice Dickson whether there should perhaps be a general enquiry into state collusion he again reiterated that there were others to blame for Northern Ireland's troubles and said "It must be remembered that the vast majority of people were killed by terrorists". It was suggested by a member of the audience that the State was shirking its responsibilities here with an apparent failure to recognise its automatically higher level of responsibility to protect its citizens.

Although there was a small protest staged throughout the speech it was a silent and undisruptive one which Judge David Smyth QC (chairman of the debate which followed) allowed to continue in the name of free speech. He recognised the success of the evening saying "A few years ago this wouldn't have been easy, if possible" and he praised the virtue of the rule of law and the freedom of speech in open debate.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

From Flanders' Fields to Belfast

by Niall McCamley

On the 11th of November, Remembrance Day, a peculiar flower takes its position on stage of the theatre of politics- the blood-red poppy. The poppy is the symbol of remembrance for those who were killed in battle during the Great War. At Queen’s the monument that sits in front of its splendid façade is dedicated to the lives of those lost during both world wars. The traditional sight of poppy wreaths being laid at memorials all over Britain will be broadcast by the media to our televisions, newspapers and radios yet its position in Northern Irish circles is a difficult and delicate one.

The image of a poppy on the lapel of a man walking a Belfast street can bring unwelcome but seemingly unshakable stereotypes to light. The stigma of the poppy appears to connect the flower towards a unionist ideal even though during the Great War both Unionists and Nationalists were casualties. Both fought in the dire trenches of slow and costly battles of attrition that shaped the First World War.

As a student who has lived in England and the Republic of Ireland I find the effect of the poppy quite striking. Studying in Northern Ireland, the overlap of the Republic and England, the treatment of Remembrance Day differs from both countries. In England it sombrely observed and school kids wear the bright poppy openly. This is a stark contrast to the South where it is largely ignored. No children wear the poppy in the schools and no sellers approach you in the street. Northern Ireland provides a mixture of both attitudes in the fact that whilst there is a smattering of red flowers and wreaths laid at the various memorials there is also an almost forced ignorance of the day by others. No trouble is caused but the lack of any forthright opinion on the subject provides Remembrance Day with an awkward atmosphere.

The delicate position of the poppy in Northern Ireland is a long way from the battlefields of the Great War where the blood of Irishmen (Northern and Southern, Unionist and Nationalist) was spilled in an attempt to win favour in Westminster for their different causes. The Unionists fought for their union with Britain and their counterparts fought for Home Rule. Both fought and died on the battlefields of Europe but what does Remembrance Day mean for both sides?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Student Coucil Elections

Yes folks, its that time of year I'm not going to go into a speel about how you've only 50 shopping days left until Christmas, I'm talking about the elections for student council which took place today.

The polling stations at the likes of the PFC and those in the Union and MBC were, as always buzzing with people eager to exercise their democratic right to have their say in the running of the Union. How disappointed they surely were then to see a list of meaningless names on a page with no candidates in sight, not a sniff of a manifesto and very little information in general in relation to what the Student Council actually does.

It is hardly surprising then that the elections have a record for voter apathy and low turnout. How is interest to be generated if no-one is ever to be seen canvassing for support? Surely something needs to be done about this if we are ever to have a Student Council which genuinely represents the wishes and interests of Queen's students.

Of course there is the rabid sectarianism that is to be conquered also. I'm sure this year will see many more explosive arguments and ridiculous motions (anyone for a verse of 'God Save the Queen'? Or maybe we'll move the war memorial in case it causes offence) put forward by the DUP and Sinn Fein representatives. It sounds like a junior Northern Ireland executive - and that can only bring hopes of progress for the future I think you'll agree...

Let's not pass judgement yet however, we'll leave the negative comments until the results are out!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

New and Improved Student’s Union.

by Emma Blee

From 2004, the Student’s Union has been undergoing a major re-development, and finally the work is coming to an end. It is stated that from the re-development of the building there has been new front elevation on university road, new side elevation along Elmwood, with new entrances at both sides of the building. The project also included work to the Mandela Hall and Bunatee Bar, which provides venues for many nights of entertainment throughout the year, for students of QUB and other universities. Additionally, internal work to the building includes new shop units and restaurants where students can shop and relax, at discounted student prices. Many of the Clubs and societies, which are run through Queen’s University will also benefit from the re-development as the 3rd floor of the building is now solely dedicated to their use.

Whilst this all sounds extremely impressive, it has not come without major financial backing. In round figures, the re-development is said to have cost £9 million. The University has provided £2 million of this money, £1 million has come from the Student’s Union reserves and £0.5 million has come from statutory government money. However, a massive £5.5 million has been borrowed by the Union, and according to Student Union Manager, Barney Hughes, it could take up to 25 years for the debt to be cleared.

Although it is evident that the Student’s Union was well overdue a face-lift, it has yet to be seen if this re-development is worthy of the major expense. Ben Preston, Student Union President, is adamant that the re-development was necessary. He stated that the building would provide many benefits for QUB students, as there are “brand new facilities in a Student’s Union we can be proud of”. However, when questioned about the educational benefits for students, Preston hinted that there are only indirect benefits regarding academic education, as he is “keen to look at development opportunities outside the classic academic role the University provides.” He believes that the new and improved Union will be able to provide rounded experience for all students.

Like Father Like Son

by Niall McCamley

On the 27th September Queen’s Student’s Union was engulfed again by eager students at the annual Freshers’ Bazaar. Present on the day was an incredibly diverse array of clubs and societies ranging from the Dragonslayers to the SDLP, Sky-Diving to Chess. The DUP also attended the event and brought the big guns to attract students to the party. The Rt Hon. Ian Paisley MP MLA, his son Ian Paisley Jr., Jeffrey Donaldson and more attended the event adding a smidgen of celebrity and attracting students to the party and to get involved in Northern politics in general. The Gown was fortunate enough to get an interview with the heir apparent of the DUP, Ian Paisley Jr.

Paisley expressed his belief in political parties having stalls at Queen’s Freshers’ Bazaar as “being a past student of Queen’s” himself he found the presence of them “welcoming.” They provided students with the ability to partake in politics whilst also allowing the University to display the diversity of its student body. When asked if he thought that the attendance of opposing political parties could provide unnecessary conflict amongst students he replied that “Politics is about divided opinion” and that it serves to show “diversity.”

He also emphasised that students have and will continue to have an important role in Northern Irish politics as they are the future of the country. The fact that political parties were attending the bazaar was a sign, he said, that “parties were taking students seriously.”

When asked concerning his thoughts of a potential future agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein Paisley was quick to attack Gerry Adam’s party for their lack of “support for the police” and other important public services in Northern Ireland. He declared “Sinn Fein have a lot of travel to do. They have to cross the Rubicon not us!”

Paisley Jr.’s comments, however, sound all too familiar as the blame game continues to circle throughout Northern Irish politics on both Republican and Unionist sides. His comments also seem to mirror those of his father and their close relationship seemed apparent when at the conclusion of the interview he noticed his father attempting to leave the Bazaar. “I’m gonna have to make a move here,” said his son, “I’m his lift!”

Computer chaos in the Union

The on (and on and on and on...)-going refurbishment to the Union has resulted in a brand spanking new office for The Gown which it is hoped will provide the perfect environment for our journalistic endeavours this year and beyond. Aha but what good is this new office without the centrepiece that is our means of going to print? Yes folks the rumours are partially true - The Gown's top of the range computer has been 'misplaced' by the Union in the chaos that surrounded the movement and 'safe storage' of our office belongings. A thorough investigation is currently underway though so never fear, with the help of the 'grandfathers of the Gown' (you know who you are!) we will make every effort to recover this invaluable piece of equipment. Until then the blog is our outlet and we'll keep you updated with current stories floating about...not least this massive scoop!