Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Good Tidings we Bring!

The entire Gown team would like to wish the student population of QUB a very safe and happy Christmas, and we look forward to a new year of news, opinion, scandal (We certainly hope so!) and top class academia!

Have a Gownie Christmas!

QUB - Officially an Esteemed University at the Top

With the recent release of the UK-wide Research Assessment Exercise, QUB has been celebrating its success as a leading University in the UK.

A member of the esteemed Russell Group, QUB can now boast that it has been firmly placed in the top 20 universities in the UK in terms of research.
Leading achievements in particular schools include Medicine and Dentistry, Engineering, Music and English.

While this success is a key endorsement of QUB’s prestige, The Gown begs the question as to whether such success will sway the decision of Queen’s to support its peers within the Russell Group and campaign for the cap to be removed on tuition fees?

For more on the possibility of higher tuition fees, check out the front page story in the November issue.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

SRC Meeting Thursday 27th November 2008

The first Student Representative Council meeting of the year took place on Thursday 27th November. Lasting almost four hours, the meeting was a combination of two meetings due to the cancellation of the meeting scheduled for Tuesday 11th November. Due to the absence of Stephen McIlveen, Jay Downs acted as temporary speaker on the night, and Fergus McAleavey VP Welfare was unavoidably absent due to work commitments in London.

After nominations were cast by the council for various positions, the main issues were then put forward for discussion. Each Student Executive member was requested to submit a report previous to the meeting which was then challenged by the council. Paul Courtney VP Clubs and Services, and Kevin Kelly VP Education faced more questions from the council than any of the other Executive members. Shane Brogan VP Equality and Diversity, took this section of the meeting as an opportunity to praise his colleague Laura Hawthorne VP Community. He told council that over the past few months he has witnessed Hawthorne's dedication and unrelenting determination to fulfill her job to the best of her potential. This was then seconded by a member of council.

President Ciarnan Helferty was asked to explain what perks the Executive members receive from the Union due to their positions of responsibility. He told council that members receive tickets for Mandela Hall on Mondays and Thursdays by way of contacting Rod Martin in the early part of the day, and then purchasing their tickets at the porters' desk. Other perks included entrance to gigs taking place in Mandela Hall.

Speaking about the infamous Qsis system, President Helferty commented that the failure of the system has effected everyone, and that students should expect to receive an email which will include an explanation and an apology within the next few days. He added that there wasn't one single member of the QUB staff that was not aware of students' concerns in regard to the system.

Paul Courtney promised that a fully functional Resource Centre will be opened by the start of next semester, and revealed intentions of applying to the Alumni Fund for a grant.

When questioned on his removal from the Union by security staff, James Murphy VP Campaigns and Communications assured council that he had apologised to the staff involved, and commented that since the incident he had been “sticking to the orange juice”. He went on to defend his editorial in The SU Magazine by asserting that all comments were made in jest, and that the purpose of the magazine was to entertain. When council member Joe Corina asked Murphy if he thought he had acted maturely in regard to the magazine and if he expected people to take it seriously, Murphy replied that he had merely used the everyday language of QUB students. At this stage, Seamy Og Mac Giolla Cheara pointed out that the magazine printed a disclaimer, and so Murphy cannot be held accountable for the views expressed in the magazine. Paul Courtney also commented that the Irish News and Belfast Telegraph refer to the “Poly” in sports reports. A member of Dance Committee raised his hand to offer a point of information at the end of this section of the meeting, in order to point out that Murphy allegedly did not apologise to the security staff involved in his removal from the Union. Dominic Doherty, Deputy General Manager, dissmissed this point as irrelevant.

Next on the agenda was still on the topic of The SU Magazine, and this time it was in regard to the photo which was included alongside Anne Pauli's abortion article. Murphy accepted responsibility for this, citing it as an overseen mistake in which there was absolutely no intention to insult. Council member Joe Corina took this opportunity to commend Murphy on his willingness to apologise and accept responsibility. Anne Pauli spoke to The Gown after the meeting and put forward her certainty that his decision to include the photo was not an accident and that it was a massive insult to German people. She went on to say, “It's a reflection on society. When Iris Robinson wasn't removed from office for her homosexual slurs, then why should James Murphy be removed for his insults?”

Next council meeting will take place on Thursday 4th December 6pm in The Space.


Attention all Students...


A QUB student warns of what can happen when you fail to be meticulous about keeping your details infinitely personal...

When the first loan installment arrives in September we all sign up to new services, new clubs, and new societies. As students, we live in halls or a shared house, where everyone has access to everyone else’s mail, and we regularly check our all-revealing Facebook/bebo profile pages. Little do we know that, in doing this, we become a gift to identity fraudsters.

Personal identity these days means much more than your name, address and telephone number. With the amount of door to door and online services available, we have a host of crucial login details, account numbers, passwords and pin numbers to remember. But it will never happen to you, right?

Imagine my horror last year when I realised that my weekly food shop would not go through at the local supermarket, because someone had stolen my identity through tracking my use of a public computer and taken £900 from my bank account. I had no money and faced weeks of phonecalls to make sure the banks insurance could cover the fraud. It cost me much more than expected, not to mention the stress caused during a very busy term time which became almost unbearable.

You’ve probably guessed that there’s a moral to this story. Always stop and question yourself when giving out your personal details. Think - Is the environment I am in secure? Can I really trust giving out my details in this instance? There’s only one simple answer if there’s even a shadow of a doubt over the answer to this. Protect yourself - or you could find yourself like I was; £900 down and not a happy bunny.

Friday, 21 November 2008

‘Rape Crisis’ Becomes a Governmental Catastrophe

By Raymona Crozier

On Friday 21st November, the Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre, situated on Donegall Street, welcomed Northern Ireland’s media into their humble abode in order to name and shame certain factions of the civil service in relation to withdrawing crucial funding from the organisation.

In light of recent events in the university area, The Gown were among the first media teams to arrive at the press conference and nab front row seats to hear this exclusive government leak.

The past week has seen an influx of interest in the centre’s story due to the screening of a specific BBC documentary on Wednesday night. This documentary referred to the misleading information that was provided by civil servants, which in turn led to a government minister withdrawing much needed funding. The proposed incorrect information revealed in an internal memo relates to certain cash withdrawals by the centre, and claims that these “were not recorded in the organisation’s financial records.” These vicious claims were denounced by the centre’s co-director Eileen Calder, who viewed them as a “deliberate lie” which “misrepresented” the centre and the staff.

When viewing the memo, dated from the 13th June 2006, it is clearly stated that the main issue for withdrawing core funding is in “light of its (the centre’s) non-compliance with governance and accounting requirements for the receipt of Governmental grants.” However, Eileen Calder stressed that this was a provable lie, as the department knew exactly what money had been extracted and for what purpose, as it had been recorded in various financial documentation. This has also been backed by Sean Mulhern from the European Unit of DHSS, who stated that every unit was recorded and accounted for, “even down to a 27p stamp.”

However, this issue of accounts is not the only problem that has consequently arisen from the DHSS as controversial. Other matters include the amount of evaluations, or reviews and verifications (as they have been disguised as by the department), that have occurred between 2003 and the present day. A spokesperson from the centre underlined how the DHSS were continually trying to find flaws with the centre and its internal functions, and this was the reason for the multitude of visits. In October 2003 PA Consulting were the first to be commissioned by the DHSS to assess and evaluate the Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre, and this cost taxpayers approximately £11,000. When the findings were published, they suggested reassessing “the current level of Departmental funding and directing it to provide one administrative post.” This option had of course already been explored and requested by the Rape Crisis Centre in a business plan in December 2002. This evidence proves that the civil servants, in the Family Policy Unit in particular, were seemingly blinkered and biased in their vision towards the centre by allowing incorrect and self-appropriated comments to be forwarded to the minister. For the staff in the Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre, they feel it was these remarks that led directly to the minister’s withdrawal of funding from the centre.

It is hard to discover the motivation behind the withdrawal of funding, as it could consequently lead to the closure of the Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre, which provides such beneficial assistance throughout the local and regional community. Yet, Eileen Calder believes it is connected to getting the centre conveniently out of the way in order to implement an S.A.R.C. (Sexual Assault Referral Centre) regime, which is also a professional and renowned system. However, both the staff of the centre and the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, agree that the S.A.R.C. system must be implemented alongside the Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre, and not as a replacement option. In addition to this, there seems to be an undercurrent suggestion that a personal vendetta has been placed against the centre, due to their outspoken past against issues such as low conviction rates and the lack of personal information they hold on each client that entered the crisis centre.

Eileen Calder has called on First Minister Peter Robinson to intervene.

QUB Amnesty International Protest at City Hall

By Catherine McCracken

Amnesty International define themselves as a movement of ordinary people from across the world standing up for humanity and human rights; their purpose is to protect individuals, wherever justice, fairness, freedom and truth are denied.

One of the main campaigns that Amnesty International have taken on board worldwide is for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, and the release of prisoners who have been detained without charge. On Thursday 20th of November, the QUB branch of Amnesty International, along with the help of a few others, held a demonstration which began at the Students’ Union and ended at City Hall. For the occasion, a number of members dressed up in orange jumpsuits to represent detainees.

When they reached their destination they then proceeded to collect signatures for the release of a particular prisoner named Binyam Mohamed who is an Ethiopian national and UK resident. He was arrested in 2002, allegedly seriously tortured in Morocco and has now been detained for nearly four years without trial at Guantanamo Bay. The signatures are hoped to increase the likelihood of having him moved out of the maximum security prison ‘Camp 5’ in Guantanamo. It would be preferable if he were to be moved into ‘Camp Echo’ in an effort to minimise the serious risk that currently exists to his mental and physical health. Binyam has already written to Gordon Brown and requested his assistance in the hope that he can return to the UK. Requests have been made by the British Government to have him returned but the US Government have refused. This is what Amnesty International is trying to change.

Binyam’s case is extremely important, but one must realise that there are many more like him who have been detained for no reason, and for indefinite periods of time facing unimaginable forms of torture. During the demonstration, particular individuals reenacted various stress positions which prisoners are forced to do. This was an attempt by the demonstrators to give people a greater insight into how horrific the life of a detainee is.

As it is less than five weeks until Christmas, Belfast city centre was buzzing with late night shoppers and those who were visiting the continental market; so there was probably no greater time to hold such an important event. Those taking part in the demonstration received a considerable amount of attention from shoppers and media alike, and a substantial number of people were more than willing to sign the petition.

Thursday, 20 November 2008


Brand and Ross: Scapegoats in a system of pass the buck


The suspension of Jonathan Ross and the resignation of Russell Brand may seem, to many, an appropriate response to their irresponsible actions on Radio 2. However, I believe that the conduct of the duo simply illustrates the shortcomings of the BBC.
It is clear that the motive for ringing Andrew Sachs, and the subsequent lewd message left on his answering machine, is a modern media tendency to take the road most dangerous in order to ‘entertain’, grab attention and attempt to secure viewers. Whilst this may be a mix which has worked to the advantage of Channel 4, with such shows as Skins and Big Brother proving popular, the BBC’s endeavour to pursue such risqué, eyebrow-raising entertainment has proved to be much more contentious.
It is undeniable that the message left of poor humour and executed with obscene language, yet it is somewhat ironic that when the show was originally aired, on 18 October, only two listeners were offended enough to compel them to complain. That is two listeners out of two million. This raises the question of the appeal of Russell Brand, whose main attraction for his employer is his popularity. Most of Brand’s listeners appear to ride roughshod over such provocative behaviour, indeed expecting it, with his unpredictable and sometimes unseemly behaviour forming his attraction. The issue therefore lies with the BBC forming the stage from which Brand performs, crucially, a stage which is funded by licensefee-payers’ money.
The result of the stunt? Initial apologies from Brand, Ross and the BBC; a BBC inquiry; an OfCom investigation; a report for the BBC Trust; the suspension of Brand and Ross, and eventually the resignation of Brand. The real consequence of the fiasco, however, lies with a clear underlining of the flaws of the BBC.
The BBC’s apology was one responding to the fear of a media backlash, not one of moral obligation, as illustrated by the release of Brand’s initial unremorseful sing-song apology to Sachs. In a more immediate way, it demonstrates the incapacity of the show’s producer, Nic Philps, but more significantly, however, the BBC has continued to pass-the-buck, a trait which is becoming increasingly inseparable from the BBC in times of controversy.
A single sheet of paper holds the key to finding whether the BBC has systematically broken the rules, or whether the incident was the failure of an individual. This ‘compliance form’ is required to be filled out by a producer and signed off by either an editor or commissioning editor, noting possible offensive content- a form which was either overlooked or filled in with little concern.
Whilst the BBC has a lot of experience with responding to criticism, it seems to have little experience in implementing sufficient changes to prevent the incompetence of a few from blackening the profile of many. Brand and Ross may have misjudged their prank, but the BBC have consistently neglected to apportion blame to the real culprits. It’s about time they stopped equating the most visible figures as the most responsible.

Monday, 17 November 2008

No Bursary, No Books

“SOME students experienced minor delays with the payment of the Sport and Books Bursary, associated with the transfer of data between the University and the Student Loans Company. These issues have now been resolved. Any student who believes they qualify for this Bursary but who has not yet received it should contact the Income Office on 028 9097 2767.”

That was the response from QUB when The Gown questioned them on the delay of credit being put on the student cards of students eligible for the Sport and Books Bursary. As late as week 5 a large number of students had to delve into their own pockets in order to buy essential books for their course from Queen’s Bookshop. With a semester totalling 12 weeks, we are now at the midway point, and the issue still appears to be unresolved. Additional to the problem of having zero credit on their cards, students have also been turned away from the bookshop due to their card being deemed “invalid”. In cases where this has occurred, the students have been fully academically and financially registered, suggesting that there is a problem with the system. When The Gown rang the student finance centre to find out more about the issue, and to hear what those responsible had to say, we were put through to more than one person, all of which put us through to someone else. We received the above statement in an email.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Did You Know that a QUBSU Employee is a Male Escort?

By Catherine Wylie

A student and staff member at QUB has chosen to come and speak to The Gown about his decision to become a male escort. With such extortionate university fees (which are likely to rise) and the impending recession, is turning to a life in the sex industry really the answer? The answer it might not be, but the last seven years has seen a 50% rise in the numbers of students doing so. Felix (not his real name) revealed to The Gown, however, that it wasn’t vital financial outgoings that encouraged him to pursue working as an escort. “I’m terrible with money. I don’t smoke or drink, but I have a passion for shopping and buy exactly what I want. As soon as my loan comes in I’m straight on to eBay,” he said. So, before you register with an online agency in a panic worrying about fees and the like, don’t bother. “It’s not necessary for students to become escorts,” Felix continued, “But when I discovered that my mate made £500 in five hours, I found myself researching it on the net and before I knew it I had registered.”
Felix’s secret life as an escort began in the summer of 2007, and since then he has had a string of meetings with women, all across the water. He was happy to show The Gown his profile on the agency’s website, where the homepage exhibited an extremely provocative image of a scantily clad woman. After a quick read at his profile, there were some points of note. Felix refuses to allow clients to visit him in his own home, but will consider visiting the house of a client, so long as he believes that he won’t be put in danger. “Ideally, I prefer hotels as there are lots of escape routes,” he said. On his profile, there is shockingly a “Yes” beside “Offer a Massage?”. Felix claims that it was his naivety that led him to agree to this, but says he should have known what it really meant (Sex!). When asked why he hadn’t edited it since discovering the true implications of the deal, he claimed, “I don’t know, that’s interesting. I’ll do that.”
There is no denying that the whole scenario screams “seedy”, and Felix agrees that it’s the seedy side of things that everyone will always think of first. However, he is keen to defend his antics. “I have never ever had sex with my clients,” he said. So what are his clients like, and why do they feel the need to turn to an escort agency for the company of another human being? “It’s generally people who don’t have many friends, and some of them are attractive, particularly the ladies under 34. Of course there are the weird ones. There are psychos who think fate has brought us together and after five minutes are telling me they are in love with me.” Although he has cited 50 on his profile as the maximum age of clients he would accept, he plans to lower it to 40 due to a “50-year-old” lady who looked more like 80-year-old requesting his company.
Intrigued at the workings of the system, The Gown probed Felix about exactly how a date is arranged and how the website benefits from the whole affair. He pays a monthly £30 membership fee to the website, and then awaits emails from ladies who wish to have him on their arm at a wedding, school reunion, or simply just a night out on the town. If the date suits him, he will then check the price of flights and choose a hotel before passing the details of the cost on to the lady in question. He told us about his first job and how nervous he was. “I told my mates that if they received a blank text from me then I needed assistance from the police in the particular area of London I was in,” he recalls. However, his first experience was easier than he thought. “As soon as I stepped off the plane, she greeted me and talked to me as though we knew each other for years, before leading me to an awaiting taxi. We went to a club which was oddly rather like the Limelight, but with lots of Z-list celebrities. She was a 29-year-old secretary.”
So how does it feel to be an escort and how does he cope when people find out? “I don’t like lying to people about what I do,” he said, “And I don’t think that what I do is wrong. I earn £60 at the very least per hour and therefore I am able to easily pay my rent, other bills and buy things that I want. I certainly wouldn’t earn money like that in the Union.” On the subject of telling other people about being an escort and dealing with their reactions, Felix remembers having to take a night off from the Union at very late notice due to a planned rendezvous with a client. Not wanting to lie or come up with an elaborate excuse, he simply told his boss that it was somewhat of an emergency and that he could earn a lot of money that night. Unconvinced, Felix resorted to showing him his profile on the website.
In regard to his family, he didn’t want them to know anything about his secret life as an escort. However, his brother found out and initially disowned Felix, warning him that if their parents were to find out that it would put them in an early grave. Thanks to a radio interview Felix conducted on a Northern Irish station, his parents recognised his voice and were surprisingly understanding, to the point that they now fully support him.
Felix hasn’t been on a date with a client since before the summer, but hopes to continue with his racy shenanigans for the foreseeable future. And, just so you know, the boss let him have that night off from the Union!

Russell Group seek to raise tuition fees up to £10,000 per year

By Eamonn Cunningham

CONTROVERSIAL information has revealed that Russell Group universities, of which Queen’s is a member, are pushing an initiative to raise the amount that students pay in tuition fees to a figure close to £10,000.
The Russell Group are a collective of research intensive universities in the UK who support the campaign to remove the cap on fees for higher education.
A questionnaire conducted by The Guardian, shows that Vice Chancellors of Russell Group universities, say that maximum fees would have to be at least doubled, following a review of the system that is to be concluded in 2009. It has also come to light, that the fees for some science courses could reach catastrophic costs of £10,000.
The Guardian’s recent findings are causing uproar amongst students, who feel that they are already paying an excessive cost to attend university, leaving them with insurmountable debts to tackle upon stepping into the job-sector. Reports now suggest that, as things are, undergraduates are paying £13,000 a year in tuition fees and maintenance costs. The idea that Queen’s would like to make courses cost as much as £10,000 per year is hard to swallow, and is rightly provoking some QUB students to oppose these plans.
First year biomedical student, Emma McKillion said “…Any plans by the Russell Group to raise fees are completely callous and unjust. That we may have to pay more, particularly with the oncoming financial crisis is unacceptable…”.
In the questionnaire, the heads of the universities supporting the new scheme, defend the plans by saying the funds available to teach an undergraduate in the UK are £7,300 compared to £11,500 in the U.S. They claim the only perceivable way to bridge this gap, is through a “higher tuition fee charge”. Surely the fact that U.S universities may charge extortionate amounts, is no excuse to raise student fees in the U.K
The argument propounded by the vice chancellors of the Russell Group universities is that increased fees will be used to make their institutions more competitive, and allow them to provide students with the best research facilities.
Speaking on the matter, Students’ Union president Ciarnán Helferty told The Gown that the rumoured increase in fees is unacceptable. He adds that, if universities need extra money to fund research projects, such money should come from central government.
Queen’s presently set their tuition fees at £3,145, the absolute maximum under the current system regulations. Being a member of the Russell Group, and a strongly research focused university, QUB was implicitly involved in this motion.
At the time of print, the Vice Chancellor’s communications office refused to issue an official statement on the matter. Although this does not conclusively prove Queen’s compliance with the Russell Group‘s motion, it raises the issue of why the university has shied away from this matter.
This silence provides students with the scope to infer that QUB could potentially have some involvement in increasing fees.
The real issue on show here is the effects that these new cost proposals would have upon societal changes. The last 40 years has seen higher education in the U.K transformed into a mass participation system, providing more people with the chance to improve their academic standings. Even with the onset of top-up fees in the past five years, the number of students attending university has increased.
However, there is sufficient proof to demonstrate how significant increases in tuition fees would effectively deny students from low income backgrounds the option of going to university. Queen’s has always sought to present itself as an inclusive institution for people from all cultural and societal backgrounds. How then could the university support a movement which would exclude a considerable section of the community, and drag us back into the old elitist concept of attending university.
Overall, the issue of tuition fees remains ambiguous and inconclusive, and Queen’s position on the topic, even more ambivalent. This is likely to continue, at least until the review of the fees system is released in 2009. Queen’s silence leaves many questions unanswered, and inauspicious doubt in the air.
What is certain, however, is that the prospect of tuition fees doubling, is a very real and disturbing concept for students, and one that we may be forced to face up to sooner than we think.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

New Issue Out Now

You can now pick up the new issue of The Gown, available in the Students' Union foyer, bars, and usual distribution points within the student areas.
Look out for stories on the male escort employed by QUBSU, a report looking at the proposed increase in tuition fees, a discussion on the criticisms levelled at The SU Magazine and much more.


Monday, 10 November 2008

A New President, A New Era - By John Beecher

On Wednesday 5 November those who had not stayed up to watch the results come in live woke up to find that Barack Obama had been elected the 44th president of the United States of America. The world breathed a collective sigh of relief and the image of America as a land of opportunity and equality was restored. The historic significance of this election is difficult to overstate. For many voters who cast their ballots on 4 November the days of segregation and the struggle for civil rights is within living memory, for these men and women the political an emotional significance of seeing an African American president elected in their life time is hard to express with words. The election of Obama also puts an end to the ‘Republican Era’ which began with Reagan in 1981 and challenges the assumption that America is fundamentally a centre right nation.

The historic significance of the election was not lost on the QUB students who gathered at Elms to watch the results come in through the night. The crowd, a mixture of American and local students, was overwhelmingly in support of Obama. In most cases those who chose to lend their voices in support of Republican candidate John McCain did so in order to get a reaction from the Obama supporters rather than out of true political conviction. The genuine Republicans in the room were subdued; they knew this was not their night, they knew they were on the wrong side of the crowd and on the wrong side of history.

As the first results came in at around midnight giving an early lead to McCain a notable tension intruded on the festive atmosphere as everybody asked themselves if the substantial leads to Obama in the opinion polls were simply too good to be true, whether public sentiment had matched private action in the poll booths. This symbolic victory of taking an early lead was the only victory McCain would see. As the polls closed in the next block of states and the results came in, Obama surged ahead and took a lead he would hold for the rest of the night. However, the Obama supporters continued to use the conditional tense until a projected Democrat victory in Ohio affectively closed the deal. For many the most significant moment came when the notoriously partisan Fox News predicted a victory for Obama.

When the key state of California went blue and the Democrats retained Washington, taking the Democrats over the crucial 270 electoral collages needed for victory, it was as though the final whistle had been blown on a World Cup final. The physical and emotional reaction was overwhelming. People jumped from their seats cheering and hugging complete strangers. The moment was illuminated by the flashes of digital cameras. Chants of “yes, we can” gave way to “Yes, we did” and were mixed with” O-Ba-Ma”, “USA” and “Fuck George Bush”. The feeling was one of incredulous relief and euphoria. Americans spoke of being able to feel pride in their nation once again. To many across the world this was a redemption of the United States; the eight years of the Bush administration were absolved by the election of a candidate who based his campaign on a need for change. These were scenes repeated across America and across the world as people celebrated the election of a president they could believe in, I wander how many babies were conceived on that night.

Most stayed until 6.00am to watch Barack Obama’s acceptance speech to 250,000 supporters in Chicago’s Grant Park. The speech was watched in reverential silence. Some chose to video the screen on their mobile phones. Obama opened his speech by saying his victory affirmed the principals of American democracy. From any other politician this may have seemed like a political cliché but from the “skinny kid with the funny name” addressing a diverse crowd of passionate supporters, including the veteran civil rights campaigner Rev Jessie Jackson crying tears of joy and relief, it felt like an undeniable truth. Obama reiterated much of the rhetoric of the campaign in the style that has already established him as one of the great orators of American political history but warned of the difficulties ahead. Obama placed his victory within the context of American history by referring to the life of 106 year old Anne Dixon Cooper and the changes she has seen in her century in America and by considering the changes his young daughters may see in their life times. The exhausted but ecstatic crowd watching in Elms were appreciative of Obama’s acknowledgment of “those watching from beyond our shores”, underlying the importance of this result to people around the world.

The concession speech of John McCain delivered prior to Obama’s speech was just as well received. This gracious and eloquent speech (clearly the product of several days work) revealed McCain as the politician of honour that he is; a fact obscured at times over recent months by a largly negative campaign by the Republican Party. The speed with which McCain silenced his supporters as they began to boo Obama’s victory demonstrated his integrity. Meanwhile vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, in many ways the comic relief in a campaign of operatic intensity, could barley contain her fury; both at defeat and the inevitability with which responsibility for that defeat will be attributed to her. It was a marked contrast to the composure of McCain.

As I write this a small American flag hangs above my desk, a souvenir from that momentous night. I feel it now symbolises something new. In recent days many have spoken of the ‘American Dream’ with a sincerity unthinkable in the recent past. The unpopularity of the Bush administration both in America and around the world had led to apathy and cynicism. Obama ran a campaign based on hope and the need for change and in doing so politicised a generation. The change is seismic. That an African American named Barack Husain Obama could rise from relative obscurity to leader of the free world in only four years has challenged many assumptions about the nature of politics. When Obama assumes the presidency on 20 January 2009 he will do so with perhaps greater expectations than any other political leader in history. A great many people have placed a massive emotional investment in Mr Obama and if he fails to live up to his promise the grassroots movement created by his meteoric rise will hold him to account. Though there will inevitably be disappointments ahead, Obama cannot be all things to all people and he faces the difficult task of assuming leadership in a time of recession, the presidency of Obama will be infinitely better for both America and the world than the McCain Palin alternative. Also, a whole generation has learned that their democratic voice matters and can bring about radical change. The political landscape may never be the same again.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Breaking News: SU Closed Pending Police Investigation

Queen’s Students’ Union is closed to students today, Friday, and is currently under investigation by the police.

This morning, Queen’s security staff have been patrolling the front entrance of the Union, informing students of the building’s closure.

Ciarnan Helferty, President of the Students’ Union, was reluctant to say anything at this early stage in the investigation, but confirmed that a “fairly serious incident” occurred at the SU event last night.

Last night’s Fancy Dress Ball ended five minutes before 2am. The shutters to the cloakroom were closed, preventing students from collecting their coats at the end of the night. Students recalled that security staff told them to collect their belongings the next day. A police presence was spotted outside the Union by students as they left the building.

Ciarnan Helferty said that control of the Students’ Union has been handed over to the police for use in their investigation. He also commented that no SU staff have been allowed into the building so far today.

It is expected that the SU will re-open later this evening, and that Queen’s University will release a statement on these events later today.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Rape Investigation Over

To renew our previous post: It has come to light that the alleged rape of a second woman in less than a week in the Holyland area of Belfast is no longer being investigated by the police. As has been pointed out, sufficient evidence has warranted the investigation null. Despite this, students are encouraged to remain extremely vigilant.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Second Rape in Less Than a Week in Holyland Area

A 20-year-old woman was raped on Agincourt Avenue on Tuesday morning this week, less than seven days after last Wednesday's rape on University Street. This means that there has been 18 rapes or attempted rapes in the area since April. The police are keen to eradicate rumours that a serial rapist is on the loose, and insist that they have no evidence to suggest that these attacks are linked. The Gown spoke once again to VP Community, Laura Hawthorne, who could tell us that due to staffing problems the plans for a night bus have been halted. However, Hawthorne assured us that despite this she is determined to continue with the 'Fight for Light' campaign, and liase with all relevant individuals in a bid to make the Holyland area a safer place for students.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

SU Mag Appears...Finally!

SU Mag eventually made its way to the foyer of the union on Friday 17th October. There was much speculation about its whereabouts from the beginning of the semester, with VP for Campaigns and Communications, James Murphy, editor of the publication, citing problems with the printers as the reason for the notable delay. Murphy told The Gown that he is content with it’s release date and that he had intended 17th October to be the day his first edition would hit the shelves. However, a reliable Union source contradicted these claims, and could tell The Gown that the intended date for the magazine to be available to students was in fact Wednesday 2nd October, the day of the Freshers’ Bazaar. On reading the magazine, you will notice that this claim appears to be quite accurate, as there are a number of details that are completely out of date within its pages. Take note of the listings, such as ‘Bruised’, a play which was staged at the Old Museum Arts Centre up until 11th October. The Gown are happy to do the math for you and confirm that the play’s run ended six days before the magazine made an appearance. Perhaps even more interesting is that arguably the main feature of the issue, a photoshoot promoting the autumn/winter collection from Topshop, advertises the special 15% student discount which ended on 16th October. The Gown innocently enquires, did Topshop pay advertising fees for this feature? We wonder…

Check out the next edition of The Gown for more on our investigation into SU Mag and the apparent disorganisation behind the scenes.

Yet Another Rape in University Area

A 22-year-old woman was raped in the early hours of Thursday (October 16th) morning, after travelling by taxi from the city centre to the university area. It is believed that the man whom she was travelling with may well have been her attacker. This follows a string of attacks from last year, and brings into question the safety of all students living in that area. The Gown spoke to VP for Community, Laura Hawthorne, who informed us that along with a security representative from the Students’ Union, she attended a meeting with Holyland residents on Thursday evening to discuss the possibility of a night bus running from the Union to all student residential areas. Quotes are currently being processed in regard to the price of a bus rental to get this service up and running.

Monday, 13 October 2008

UGM 8th October 2008

The Union General Meeting took place last wednesday 8th October at 1.15pm in 'The Space' on the first floor. This was the first meeting of its kind in a number of years in the Union, and a substantial number of students turned out to vote. Motions which were brought forward by James Murphy, VP for Campaigns and Communications, related to the new pricing structure at the Physical Education Centre. The motion called for a suspension of the pricing structure in question, and called for negotiations with the Union in order to identify a shared strategy for increasing student membership, and determining equitable fee levels for student customers. Shane Brogan, VP for Equality, introduced the motion that the Union should maintain a neutral position in relation to NUS/USI and their prospective campaigning in favour of extending the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. Brogan argued that our Union should remain neutral on the issue, and instead facillitate a discussion about the Act amongst students. All motions were passed and clearly carried.

Monday, 29 September 2008

NEWS BRIEF - Boy Knocked Down Outside Union

On the night of Thursday 25th September, a young male was knocked down at the traffic lights outside the Union building. Although it was first thought to be serious, he fortunately escaped with only a broken leg. A busy night by all accounts, due to the Freshers' party taking place in Mandela Hall, a source told The Gown that at this stage it can only be presumed that the injured boy is a QUB student. Laura Hawthorne, VP for Community, told us that she received a phone call about the incident at 1.40am. She remarked that the police were fantastic in the whole furore, and it was passed off without too much trouble.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Should QUB revise their exam feedback?- by Catherine Wylie

Having heard a number of students complain about the lack of exam feedback they received from QUB, The Gown thought it was time to investigate what the university’s policy on the matter is. As you are all aware, when you log in to view your results on QOL you are given one final mark for each module. However, that mark more than likely comprises at least two different pieces of coursework or examinations. An English or History student, for example, may have written two summative essays and completed a timed exam also. So how do you find out what mark you achieved in those essays, and how you could improve in order to get higher marks next time round? It seems to be the case that the majority of the student body are oblivious to the answer, and in some cases unaware that there is even a feedback procedure in existence.

Under the Data Protection Act 1988, universities are under no obligation to release exam scripts to students. However, if the examiner has written comments on a separate piece of paper, then a student should be given this if they request it. If the examiner has written his/her comments on the actual script, then these should be reproduced on a separate page and given to the student. It is important to remember here that examiners are not required to write comments about every piece of work they mark.

The Gown unearthed an online article written in 2006 for theoxfordstudent, the student newspaper at Oxford University, which expressed concerns about how the university handled marks and feedback. The reporters stated that they contacted all 18 members of the Russell group (QUB became a member in late 2006), a consortium of the UK’s leading universities, and could reveal from their investigation that all universities apart from Oxford offered examiners’ comments in some form or another. So as a relatively new addition to the Russell Group, are QUB failing its students and falling short of standards which are withheld by the other prestigious universities?

Professor Estelle Sheehan, feedback officer for the school of English, told The Gown, “Feedback may be obtained for a student if the student requests it within five working days after the publication of results. This deadline is advertised to students well in
advance of the examination period and is included in the student QOL information regarding examinations and submission procedures.” Does this suggest that students at QUB need to be more observant of information regarding issues like this? Or does the university need to be more blatant in their providing of it? Not according to Professor Joan Rahilly, who told The Gown that the information held by Professor Sheehan and Professor Ivan Herbison (exams officer) “are accessed by high numbers of our students.”
Kevin Kelly, VP for Education, conveyed a similarly positive outlook when he told The Gown that as of yet no students have approached him with queries on exam feedback. He also gave a glowing report on the school of Geography and claimed that as a geography student at QUB he never had any problems with receiving breakdowns of marks or examiners’ comments.
In order to paint a bigger picture, The Gown went in search of more information on exam feedback from National University of Ireland, Galway. We spoke to Professor Terrence McDonough from the school of Economics in order to hear what his views on the issue were. “Most students don’t seem to care unless they’ve failed,” he said. “However, if a student receives a mark which they believe is incorrect or a lot lower than they expected, then it would make sense to come and ask me about it,” he continued. Professor McDonough was of the opinion that providing feedback can only do so much, that it is in the hands of the students themselves to improve their mark next time round, but “it might be helpful in certain circumstances.” He concluded that, “people frequently know why they fail.”

Dr Daniel Kowlasky from the school of history at QUB echoed McDonough’s sentiments saying, “If a student achieved a poor mark, the reason is almost always a lack of preparation and dedication to the class and subject.” He went on to tell us what his own plan of action would be when a student approaches him about marks. “I think that if a student contacted a lecturer and asked for individual feedback on how to perform better in an exam, the instructor would willingly help out, and might even dig the exam in question out of the archive. I have done this on occasion, though I’ve never been allowed to actually give the exam back to the student. In general, after an exam is taken, there isn’t too much to convey to the student apart from the mark.” Similarly to the majority of teaching staff at QUB, Dr Kowalsky is of the opinion that the learning, teaching and feedback should happen in weekly meetings during term time. Reflecting on his own time at university, Dr Kowalsky told The Gown that when he was an undergraduate at the University of Oregon, he received all his marked exams, but later as an MA and PhD student at New Mexico and Wisconsin he was never permitted to see any of his exams, nor was he given any breakdown or detailed feedback. Looking back, he expresses no regret at being denied this information and states that even though he still has those exams from his undergraduate days, he would have no inclination to ever look at them again.

Carmel Beaney, secretary for the School of English, put forward her non-academic view that, “feedback on formative work is arguably more valuable than feedback on summative work, as it can be applied to summative work. Also, I don’t know how many Schools issue marks for formative work, but marks can distract from the feedback itself.”

Doors Closed to Students- by Catherine Wylie

JUST another sensationalist Gown headline, or is the above statement 100% fact? Can you imagine being denied access to the Union, the building that can only be described as a haven for so many at QUB? Strictly speaking, that is almost what happened from May right through to the day The Gown went to press.

The double doors on the left hand side of the Union facade have been out of order for four whole months, meaning that entering and exiting the building has had to be done through the other set of doors. This may sound very petty and trivial, but with a student population of over 24,000 there is a reason why two pairs of double doors were installed by the architects and not one. Therefore, The Gown went in search of some answers and spoke to premises manager Lorraine Meneilly in order to make sense of the whole debacle. Lorraine, who was adamant that she was no door expert, didn’t seem convinced that there was a problem. When asked why they had been out of order for so long, she merely stated that, “they continually got fixed and then manhandled again.” She seemed to be of the opinion that “it was something to do with shoes and feet, and that they had been overused, abused and kicked.” How a door to a union providing for over 24,000 can be “overused” is quite the mind boggler. Wasn’t it known at the time of installation what a popular spot the union is for QUB students? Evidently not, and so this door has sported an “Out of Order” sign for what can only be described as a disgracefully long amount of time. As the person responsible for remedying the problem, Lorraine admits that there has been an “unacceptable delay” but reassures us that she’s on the case and that there have been emails flying around since May.

The Gown spoke to an employee, who did not wish his name to be printed, from Felix O’Hare Co. & Ltd on Thursday 11th September. Having begun work at 9am on the seemingly impossibly task of fixing this most problematic door, he was confident that it should be back in working order by 5pm, and that included his lunch break. Laughing at our vented interest in what he was doing, he commented that it should have been done long ago, and that it was merely a job for one man that would take less than a day. When probed about whether or not he knew anything about when his firm was contacted about the matter in hand, he was unable to provide us with any details but stated that once his firm is contacted about a job, they endeavour to respond to it as soon as they can. So what effect has this had on the day to day running of the union, if any at all?

Granted, the Union is obviously not as busy in the summer as it is during term time, but it is still a very popular venue at the weekend for students and non-students alike. When asked about whether or not she thought the door being out of order had an ill effect on proceedings at weekends, Lorraine claimed that she would doubt very much that it had. Unconvinced that this was the case, The Gown made enquiries with the entertainments manager Rod Martin, who could tell us that throughout the summer approximately 400 people attended the bars in the Union on Friday nights. He also went on to reveal that Shine, which is an event organised outside of the Union, brought in approximately 800 and 900 people on its last two dates, and a whopping 1000 people attended it in July. That begs the question, how is the other, fully functional door holding up? Is it not being overused and baring the brunt? And how long will it be until it is out of order too? But similarly to Lorraine, we at The Gown are no door experts.
Here’s to a fully operational Union!

Sin City- by Raymona Crozier

Walking down Joy Street, a sense of irony passes you by as you walk alongside an incoming punter. Sneakily the car grinds to a halt and the lady in waiting approaches her potential client. Neither she nor he show any hesitation. Who exactly is in the wrong here, the woman selling her body or the man willing to pay for it? The taboo topic of prostitution is finally rearing its seedy head in the Belfast area.

Prostitution is one of the longest running trades in Northern Ireland and has been well hidden for many years until recently. What people may not know is that Northern Ireland falls out of both the British and the Republic’s legislation to prostitution and brothels. Our current legislation regarding kerb crawling and massage parlours has been valid for approximately one hundred and fifty years. Officially, paying for sex is not illegal. However, kerb crawling and procuring a prostitute for sex is an offence. Despite this fact, sources have suggested that this law is flouted most nights behind city hall.

This seemingly twisted law blurs the question of legality and limits, making prostitution and the sex industry extremely difficult to tackle, not only by the authorities, but by society in general.
In a similar way, brothels walk the line of questionable legality in the United Kingdom; Although there have been suggestions made that support the wish to legalise such houses, if they contain more than two girls and a maid. However, if more girls are employed or there is an actual brothel owner, it then becomes illegal.

It was only early this year that thousands of unaware citizens saw the extent of the sex industry in Northern Ireland as over forty brothels were closed down in the Belfast area. Yet, The Gown can reveal that there is huge suspicion regarding a larger than life ‘massage parlour’ in the main university area. Sightings of various men leaving at strange times of morning and night aroused suspicion in late December. Curiosities were raised further as male students claimed they were being offered ‘special services’ from this particular parlour.
Brothels or ‘massage parlours’ are harder to identify than the obvious tactics of street walkers, nonetheless they are just as dangerous and inhumane. Human trafficking and brothel work are closely entwined as brothels allow easy entrance of foreign nationals into a house for sex exploitation. A brothel owner can effortlessly organise and maintain the trafficking of women into their premises without suspicion from neighbours or authorities. This dimension of the sex industry proves more dangerous than kerb crawling as the ladies are hidden away from society and cannot be monitored by the police, unlike the streets where the law can be explicitly enforced.

However, it seems that the issue of safety has been almost ignored by the authorities in Northern Ireland. This is an outrageous disregard for the safety of these women and should be addressed, especially when the Ipswich murders in 2006 is taken into account, or the recent increase in the number of sexual assaults in both South Belfast and the city centre.
In response to these attacks, Anna Lo of the Alliance party has called for increased police patrols and warned women against walking alone at night. But what about the females who are employed to walk the streets at night in order to earn a living? Policing and safety procedures seem to fail these women; calling into question whether these women, who sell their bodies, are victims also?

On mainland Europe, the safety of such women is viewed with greater importance. In the Netherlands, prostitutes are treated as self employed persons, and brothels are legal but subject to licensing. The Dutch solution has seen a number of cities creating official ‘street walking zones’ which outlines special car parks for prostitutes. Cameras have been installed for both the safety of the prostitutes and their clients. In addition, social services are available for advice, medical information and condoms. These provisions have caused uproar from various factions of the global community, as they seem to heighten the debate of morality and fuel the dispute around the government’s lax attitude.

The SDLP’s, Pat McCarthy has always been outspoken on the topic of prostitution, and this came to the surface in 2006 when he called upon the government to extend the legislation covering kerb crawling into Northern Ireland. He believes that the Northern Irish laws on the subject need to be tightened and revamped in order to deal with present day circumstances. However, he disagrees with the European measures of legalised red light districts and branded them a “step too far” as they were exploiting women and permitting legalised prostitution.
The Gown decided to walk the streets that these women walk, entering into the life of a prostitute. When strolling around the linen quarter area two definite streetwalkers were identified. However, when approached, they backed away in fear and avoidance. The Gown then, theoretically scared away potential business and the prospect of earning between thirty and forty pounds per hour. While no prostitutes were available for comment, The Gown were able to talk with Kiera Mc Cormack, a counsellor who operates a helpline for females in the sex industry. With eight years experience in counselling, Kiera knows exactly what prostitutes and escorts are feeling and how to help. Kiera spoke freely of her support for the work of prostitutes, escorts and brothel workers, provided that they haven’t been forced against their will into this profession.
During the consultation of prostitution legislation in 2006 Kiera was one of the very few to voice her opinion in support of street workers, and as a result found tough opposition within the authorities and local politicians. When quizzed on what her solution to Northern Ireland’s prostitution problem should be, she said that the sex industry should be separated from laws and discussion on sexual assault and rape. She belives these connections only serve to criminalise the sex workers and their clients, heightening the stigma connected with prostitution. Kiera believes that prostitution is here to stay and society will “never get rid of it”.

Many believe that the government has to tackle the wider ring involved in the sex industry such as the pimps, brothel owners, and to a certain extent the men paying for sex. In effect targeting prostitutes is only a short term fix, and assistance should be given to prostitutes and brothel workers to obtain regular health checks and set up an organisation to support them, such as the Poppy Project. This project, set up in 2003, provides accommodation and support for women who have been trafficked into prostitution. It helps improve the safety and wellbeing of women from all over the UK.

The future of prostitution in Northern Ireland has a troubled path ahead and it will take co-operation on both sides, although a final view may never be reached on a topic so controversial. For some it’s a matter of morals, for others it’s a matter of money.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

The Gown is Back!

The new issue of The Gown is out now! Pick up a copy from the Students' Union, or from the usual student areas.

Articles from the new issue will be up on the blog shortly for comment and debate, so feel free to let us know what you think.

For previous posts from back-issues, check out The Gown archives at