A council call for more to be done to help struggling students has descended into a row over Brexit and the DUP’s Stormont boycott.
The cost of living debate, at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s Donwpatrick headquarters, saw councillors clash over who and what is to blame for ongoing hardships faced by students. The debate did end, however, with a call for Northern Ireland’s two universities to do more to help their students.
Mournes Sinn Féin councillor Michael Rice, currently studying for a master’s in law at Queen’s University, put forward the original motion.
Read more: Co Down student urges Ulster University to provide support for students amid rising costs.
He said: “This council recognises the impact that the cost of living crisis is having on local students who either live away from home or who commute to campuses every day.
“The stark rise in the cost of fuel, heating, and rent has left students struggling to get by. This has had a detrimental impact on their health, wellbeing, and studies.
“This council condemns the DUP for their boycott of the Assembly which has prevented the Executive from supporting people during this cost of living crisis. This council expresses its frustration with the increase in student loans announced for undergraduates and postgraduates, which will take effect next September.
“Students, particularly those from a working-class background, are being priced out of education. This will have an untold negative impact on society for generations to come.
“This council is deeply concerned that due to Brexit, the loss of the European Social Fund puts funding for apprenticeships, traineeships and skills programmes all at risk. Therefore, this council calls on the DUP to end its boycott of government, which is punishing hard pressed students. We call on them to get back into the Executive so that we can support students and get money into their pockets.”
Fellow Mournes councillor, DUP rep Glyn Hanna requested that any reference to his party be removed from the motion.
He said: “This is simply wrong. All students in UK and around the world are finding it difficult now. I’m tired of hearing students grumbling about money. I never went to university, but those that do will often come out and get better jobs and pay.”
The use of the term ‘Brexit’ also faced a request for removal in a second amendment - which was also defeated.
Slieve Gullion Ulster Unionist councillor, David Taylor said: “The UUP wants to see a full Assembly and Executive in place. I am concerned that this motion has very heavy political content. We should take the party political aspect out as I have genuine concerns.”
The DUP’s Dr Kathryn Owen, a recent Ulster University PhD graduate, supported both amendments to the the motion stating: “We want to be back at the Assembly, but we can’t until there are changes to the NI Protocol.”
Eventually, an amendment was agreed for NMDDC to request increased student hardship funds from the two major universities in Northern Ireland.
Downpatrick SDLP councillor, Gareth Sharvin said: “Students are facing some of the toughest times financially when it comes to rent, heating and food. There has been a £7.6m package from Queen’s with hardship funds of £400 and £100. However, it is the students that should be benefiting not the landlords.
“These are dire circumstances that the students are facing. We should be asking the University of Ulster for hardship funding for students similar to Queen’s.”
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