Monday, March 26, 2007

History Made in Stormont

At last a devolved government appears to be truly possible as the DUP and Sinn Fein staged historic talks today in Stormont. Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams sat side-by-side to announce that devolved government in Northern Ireland should come into being on the 8th of May.

Ian Paisley has said "On Saturday, the DUP executive overwhelmingly endorsed a motion committing our party to support and participate fully in government in May of this year - this is a binding resolution." The devolution was in doubt at one point as previously Monday had been set as the deadline for a power-sharing agreement but the DUP appealed to Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain to extend the deadline by 6 weeks to avoid a potential split in the party. Sinn Fein have agreed to the 6 week extension and Gerry Adams - who wore his Easter Lily to commemorate those who died in the 1916 Rising at the talks - has reacted positively saying "I believe the agreement reached between Sinn Fein and the DUP - including the unequivocal commitment made by their party executive and reiterated today - to the restoration of political institutions on 8 May marks the beginning of a new era of politics on this island."

It appears to be an historic time in Northern Ireland but there will still be those who remain sceptical as to whether power-sharing will be succesful. The Gown would like to know how students feel about devolution and if they believe the politicians of the country can, in the words of Peter Hain, get down to "bread and butter issues" like water charges for instance? Is this a step forward for Northern Ireland or just another token gesture destined to collapse?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"Our students deserve the very best"...but at what price?

The official re-dedication of Queen's Student's Union took place last week with an academic procession from the University to the newly refurbished Union building. The £9 million facelift was much-needed in order to comfortably accomodate the larger student populus than that which existed when the Union was first opened 40years ago.

According to Vice-Chancellor, Peter Gregson Queen's commitment to the welfare of its students who "deserve the very best" is clearly evident, of which the "magnificent refurbishment is a tangible symbol".

It seems a pity then that there was no refurbishment of the Mandela Hall, the Bunatee Bar or the Speakeasy, some of the parts of the Union which are most frequented by the students. As well as this the Beech Room and Snack Bar have remained dormant and untouched since the refurbishment began last year.

The newly elected executive have vowed to see that these areas are made use of - perhaps an idea may be a resonably priced area to eat. The current eateries (aside from the small selection of food available in the Bunatee Bar) are over-priced to say the least. Clements is attractive to the eye with its multi-coloured lights and modern lay-out but should students really be subjected to £1.50 for a regular cup of coffee - as one student interviewed pointed out that's hot water mixed with dry granules. Cloisters provides a wide range of food but at £2.35 for a coke and pizza SLICE students may find themselves heading across the road to the Parlour where they can enjoy a small pizza and wedges combo meal for £3.50.

Our Union should be student friendly. Those who are limited to one hour for lunch in a 9-5pm day of class should not have to walk to Stranmillis or Botanic to afford a meal. Unions across England pride themselves on cheap food and drink offers while here a hot dog alone will set the average student back £2.50.

The Queen's commitment to welfare clearly doesn't extend to favouring student needs over privatisation.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

New Exec Elected

3627 students voted last week for those they felt would best represent their needs as part of the new Union executive at Queen's. Both election days saw the Union buzzing with activity, something which has been sorely lacking in previous years, as circus performers drummed up attention and candidates and their helpers campaigned with loudspeakers and flyers aplenty.
The new online voting system was undoubtedly a contributing factor to the higher number of voters, as well as the more active campaigns of the candidates. This year, in contrast to others, manifestoes were made accessible and clearer to the average student, and colourful posters advertising the elections were seen around the Union weeks in advance.
There was the usual bickering among candidates of course, as is usually the case in Northern Ireland; Some claimed that aims targeting law students were simply false promises, bebo was used as a base on which to publicise views about certain potential executive members and one personal statement was even alleged to be disadvantageous to the others due to its 70 extra words...
By Friday afternoon however, threats of electoral courts had been dropped, sore losers had dried their eyes and the names of those to take up residence in the spacious offices of the second floor of the Union next year had been announced. (see below)
Despite certain hitches which were to be expected in a new system of voting, this year saw a positive move towards the way Union voting should be at Queen's - more students taking part, clear campaigns and (for the most part) genuine candidates with no hidden agendas. All that remains is for the new executive to go about fulfilling their promises in the year ahead...let's hope they make more of an impact than the present one has.
President - John Roger
Deputy President - Sarah McCaffrey
VP Education - Michál Harkin
VP Welfare - Ciarnan Helferty
VP Clubs and Services - Steffan Rafferty

Monday, March 05, 2007

Election time looms...

Voting for Union officers in my first year at Queen's was a whole new experience. Everywhere I turned, be it at the PFC, the Union or the library there were people desperate to assure me they were going to fight for my rights as a student in the coming academic year...

There must surely have been a special offer on sweets around that time with Refresher bars and Drumsticks being used as a 'carrot-and-stick' method to convince me to place a mark beside a particular name on a small piece of paper...

I'm not even sure who I voted for in the end but I definitely acquired a toothache. I distinctly remember however that I had never heard of any of the candidates (save for one Law Society president), I didn't know what their role would be if they were elected, and I'd heard nothing about the elections until the canvassing which took place that day.
This year let's hope it will be different. The March 14th/15th elections (not to be confused with those critical NI ones on the 7th...) will see 17 candidates vie for 5 positions within the Union. The voting will be online in the hope that more students will take an interest and use their democratic right to have a say in the running of their Union. It is unclear of course if it will make any difference - will 10 votes from close friends ensure a victory?

The Union certainly has gone all out in their attempts to create more student interest, with Little Britain themed posters dotted around Queen's and (most) candidate statements available on the website ( With none of the current executive running again it will be a fresh-faced team in September. What are your views on the whole process? Do the executive members really make an impact on your student life? Is the paid year in the Union worthwhile or simply an extension of their Uni life?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Queen's win Sigerson Cup

The most sought-after trophy in colleges GAA was held aloft by Queen's captain Dan McCartan at The Dub yesterday after a close-fought match that went to extra time. Queen's, this year's hosts, enjoyed a home victory bringing their total number of Sigerson wins to 8.

It was a tense match which saw the teams separated by just one point at the final whistle. Rivals UUJ led by a comfortable 3 points at half time but Queen's fought back, with a point from Eoin McCartan leaving it level at full time. Extra time saw more of the same point for point action. However, it was not to be for UUJ as Queen's ended a three-year run of final defeats.

Speaking after the match Dan McCartan explained his side's determination, "For a lot of the boys it was a last chance, their last year at the university." One such player is Kevin McGourty, VP Clubs and Services within the Union, who was named man of the match.

Yesterday was the University's first win since 2000, in what has been in the past a southern dominated competition.