Coronavirus: NI students could be disciplined over Covid restriction breaches

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Students have been returning to Belfast’s Holyland area ahead of the start of term

Northern Ireland’s universities have warned students they will take disciplinary action against those who breach Covid-19 health guidelines.

It follows complaints over house parties in Belfast’s Holyland area.

Ulster University (UU) has warned its students they could face suspension or expulsion if they break Covid-19 public health guidelines.

Queens University Belfast (QUB) said it would investigate complaints and “apply disciplinary measures as appropriate”.

Police made two arrests in the Holyland area on Tuesday and warned that PSNI officers will take action “where we see breaches of the regulations or anti-social or criminal behaviour”.

Representatives from both UU and QUB told the BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme they believe it was only a minority of students who were involved in anti-social behaviour.

The universities said they were working with the police, Belfast City Council and other agencies to tackle the issue, including Covid-19 breaches.

“We’ve written to every single student, they’ll have also had very direct engagement about that during their induction week this week,” said Prof Seawright, an executive dean at UU.

He added that it “spells out very, very clearly that any anti-social behaviour, which includes breaches of the guidelines, will be subject to the university’s disciplinary process and that could lead to suspension or expulsion from their degrees”.

‘Draconian processes won’t help’

Queen’s Pro-vice chancellor, Prof Stuart Elborn said QUB had “very clear guidelines for off-campus behaviour”.

“Where there are complaints and we pick those up and verify them, we will absolutely deal with students who are behaving in an anti-social way in terms of general behaviour, but particularly in terms of their adherence to public health guidelines for Covid-19.”

However Prof Elborn added: “This is a minority of students and we need to work together to really encourage the right behaviours.

“Coming down with draconian processes isn’t really going to help change things. We need to be persuading and educating and encouraging everybody to work together around this.”

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The Holyland area is home to many students and long-term residents and homeowners

He said QUB was working with existing students and those who will start their courses next week to advise them that everyone has a responsibility to protect their community during the pandemic.

‘It’s not our accommodation’

Prof Seawright said the issues in the Holyland were a “very small and localised problem”.

He said UU representatives were in the area on Tuesday night, monitoring student behaviour and helping to ensure they obeyed Covid restrictions.

“Our presence there has helped students comply with requests to disperse, turn music down and we’ve been advising them house by house on safety issues around their accommodation.

“It’s not our accommodation, it’s not owned by us so that’s more difficult for us to control but we’re there trying to do that and so are other agencies.”

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Belfast City Council is among agencies carrying out patrols in the Holyland area

Some students have complained that young people are being unfairly targeted by the authorities.

‘It’s always the young people to blame’

Kai McHugh, a second year student at QUB, said it was wrong to blame all students for the actions of some.

“The size of Queens, you will always get people like that [who break Covid-19 restrictions]. It’s a shame.,” he told BBC Radio Foyle.

“It’s quite unfair. It’s a societal thing, If something goes wrong it’s always the young people to blame.

“I feel there’s a lack of communication. Some of these guidelines just aren’t clear enough.”

Mr McHugh said one of his flatmates was unaware of the new rules introduced on Monday.

“It will take everyone working together to get over these issues. The onus isn’t just on one group alone, it is a combined effort, it’ll take everyone to pull through.”

‘Anti-social behaviour crisis’

Green party MLA Clare Bailey, whose constituency office is in the area, called on the executive, including the justice minister and the health minister, to visit the area.

She said residents had endured a “perpetual anti-social behaviour crisis”.

Ulster Unionist councillor Sonia Copeland called for Justice Minister Naomi Long to coordinate a multi-agency approach for dealing with the area.

“It’s no longer good enough to make excuses for those people engaged in these irresponsible activities. It’s time to send a clear message that enough is enough,” she said.



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