Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Signing off for '07

We would like to inform all our 'posters' that The Gown blog will be taking a break over this Holiday Season to relax, unwind and mentally prepare for another 'colourful' year of blogging in 2008.

Thanks to all who have visited, read and commented (constructively) - we will return in '08 with a renewed spirit of dedication to uncover the major stories affecting us all in Belfast and beyond.

For now, let's remember 2007 as a year of love (eh Ian and Marty?), laughs (as before) and most importantly lollipops!

Season's Greetings from The Gown team.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

New Environmental Committee at Queen's SU

QUB Greens have secured the setup of the first ever Environmental Committee at Queen's Students' Union after submitting a proposal to the SU Council. The University ranked quite highly in People and Planet's 2007 'Green League Table' but co-chair of the Greens Mark McCormick stated that "QUB recycles only 17% of its waste and only 17% of its energy is renewable energy so a lot more needs to be done".

Currently Queen's has a publicly available environmental policy, full time environmental staff, a comprehensive environmental audit and a green travel plan but the Greens feel there is room for improvement. This is especially true in light of the recent revelation that many University staff told the University's environmental officer, Adrian Davis, that they were "only here to teach" rather than take note of green issues.

The main grievance felt however was the lack of a student platform to voice concerns on the issue. During an Environmental Debate as part of the Union's 'Political Activism Week' Martin Doherty of Belfast City Council and Mr Davis pledged their support for the creation of such a committee to ensure students have a say.

Mark is confident the recognition of this committee is the beginning of a greener future for Queen's and will give students a voice while also educating them on environmental issues. "It will make things a lot easier when campaigning for improved environmental performance because this committee will be a legitimate body of the Students Union which will hold the SU Executive to account, on environmental issues, who in turn will then be obliged to hold the University to account."

The Greens, recognised only three months ago themselves, expect real changes to take effect in the New Year as a result of the Committee’s setup.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Executive and Ents clash

The hire of the Snack Bar in the Student's Union by Irish Television channel TG4 for the filming of 'Deis Roc', a battle of the bands competition, has caused upset among the Executive.

The Sabbatical officers were informed only a matter of weeks ago that the Snack Bar would be out of use to students all week due to the presence of the television production crew. The booking, taken by Entertainments manager Rod Martin, was made early in the year and did not at any stage seek consultation with the Executive in the process.

Union President John Roger said he was disappointed that he and his team had not been told of the booking, which saw both the Dragonslayers and the Christian Union displaced from their weekly meeting venue. He asserted that this was primarily student space and students should come first at all times. General Manager Barney Hughes claimed the venue, which doesn't have heat or electricity, is virtually uninhabitable for societies but that the Christian Union and Dragonslayers, due to their large numbers, have an unwritten agreement with the Union for use of this space.

Rod Martin, a former student Sabbatical officer who retained the post of Entertainments manager when it was made permanent some years ago, refused to comment on the situation. A Union source has claimed TG4 is paying somewhere in the region of £5000 for the space from Monday 3rd to Friday 7th December.

A further issue regarding the refusal by the Executive to allow a banner to be hung outside the Union was thought by some to be related to the open display of Irish language. However, TG4 are not pursuing the matter and the Executive have refuted the argument stating they simply do not wish to advertise further the fact that student space has been hired out by a private company without their consultation.

What is your opinion? Does the hiring out of this space bother you as a student? Is it another example of the privatisation of our Union or the lack of substantial power of the Student Officers?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Poor Representation At Fees Protest

For clarification and comment on the matter here is the top-up fees article reproduced in full from page 4 of the newspaper

- Michael Collins

Students took to the steps of Stormont on Monday 19th November demanding an end to variable tuition fees. The introduction of top up fees has increased the cost of a university education to somewhere in the region of £3000 per year, resulting in a massive surge in student debt, discouraging many from pursuing third level education.

Around 150 students protested that education is a right not a privilege to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Most politicians who sit in the assembly chamber have pursued a third level education with the help of government grants. Now it appears they have little problem pulling the ladder up behind them.

Katie Morgan, President of NUS/USI said "Students are demanding urgent and concerted action from their politicians in the assembly. We are outraged by the semi-privatisation of University access."

The demonstration is the first of many in a campaign launched in an attempt to ensure that proper third level education services are provided without students finding themselves in debt up to their eyeballs by the time they leave university.

Buses from Jordanstown, the Arts College, St Mary’s Training College and Magee accounted for the majority in a attendance there. Queen’s however was a different story, only 14 students turned up to represent the University which comprises 24,000 students. Details of the bus were barely even publicized. The emailed student roundup which went out two days before the protest mentioned nothing of the fact that Queen’s Union was organising a bus to the demonstration at Stormont. The Union Executive is supposed to represent the interests of students, so quite frankly it is shameful that our Union has not tried to promote the protest.

Perhaps however, they felt it a battle which cannot be won. Union President John Roger has his doubts about the campaign, "This is not a short-term goal, the devolved assembly has just been set up and their budget is settled until 2009. We need to be more realistic about this". Although affirming that he believes free education is a right that all in our society should have, Mr Roger is not confident the current campaign has been thoroughly thought-out. The leaflet distributed to publicize the protest stated a commitment to ‘abolish top-up fees’ while at the same time retaining the cap – a complete contradiction which calls into question the abilities of the organisers of the campaign.

For Queen’s the issue is highly contentious. The ‘Russell Group’ representing some of the ‘top’ colleges including Queen’s has been lobbying the Labour government to lift the cap on tuition fees. If the cap is lifted students could be charged anything up to £10,000 and beyond per year to attend Queen’s University.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Finland not on the map in comparison to America it seems

This opinion piece appears in The Gown's December issue. Have your say on the issue here.

- Charlene Small

Did you know that Finland has the third highest rate of gun ownership in the world? Did you know that anyone in Finland aged 15 and above can apply for a gun licence if they are able to offer a valid reason? Did you know that in Finland membership to a gun club means that you can legally possess a firearm? Did you know that on 7th November of this year ago a Finnish teen shot dead 6 pupils, a nurse and the principal of a school, before shooting himself?

If you didn’t know any of these facts, don’t worry. How could you? It didn’t happen in America.
18 year old Pekka Evic Auvinen opened fire on the students and staff of Jokela High School (thirty miles from Finnish capital Helsinki) on the 7th of November 2007. When his killing spree was finally ended by local police he had killed 8 people, dying later in hospital himself.

The most inexplicable factor surrounding this tragedy is not his motive, which no one has yet identified. Rather, it’s the fact that there has been so little coverage of this atrocity in the press. In the wake of the Virginia Tech Massacre in April of this year, news coverage was dominated for weeks by second-guesses regarding the killer’s motive.

Is there a reason why the media is so much more concerned about American massacres than those that occur on our own continent? Are the deaths of Americans inherently a greater tragedy than those of innocent Finns? Or, is there some kind of sadistic pleasure derived from looking down upon the actions of America?

Prior to the shooting the Finnish assassin posted a video on YouTube, seemingly foreshadowing the killing spree he was to embark upon. The video, which has since been removed, possesses a strong resemblance to the actions of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two teenagers who orchestrated the Columbine massacre. Interestingly, one news station reported that the gunman in the summer of last year actually spoke to an American teen on the internet about Columbine. That teen was subsequently interviewed by American police.

Therein lies the crux of this matter. In the wake of nine deaths, caused by a Finnish person, in a Finnish school, blame is being brought back and heaped upon America. It is perhaps sad to see that almost a decade on, we are still referring back to Columbine as the benchmark of teen violence. We cannot rationalise why Auvinen embarked upon this mass murder, but if we take the harsh view of ‘attention-seeking’, it is cruelly ironic to see that his brutal actions are going practically unnoticed in comparison with his American counterparts.

Maybe if the media took a little bit more interest in this story we could try and understand just why nine people had to die. Maybe if we had seen the headline: ‘Nine Finns Die, It’s All America’s Fault’ we would have been interested.

Season's Greetings an' all that

The new issue of The Gown is on the shelves (and by shelves we mean available at various locations on campus)!

Have your say here on pressing issues such as the non-event that was the top-up fee 'protest' at Stormont, the continued debate on the Holylands and the recent Student Council meeting at which sectarianism and tribal politics were allegedley given the boot.

For a less intense read, have a look at our student shout pages, arts news in 'The Gas' and of course see what The Hood has to say in the run-up to Christmas.

Enjoy and feel free to let us know your thoughts!

PS Happy Holidays!