Mandela Music Reign Slips as Building Threat Looms

Over the years many venues throughout Northern Ireland have been keen to encourage local and international musical talent to the country.  In venues such as Limelight, The Harp Bar, Empire and also Mandela Hall, which have provided culture, diversity and much enjoyment especially throughout the countries turbulent past. In more recent years these venues have been a platform for young new talent to showcase their music abilities. However with the news that Mandela may be forced to close due to a rumored demolition what is the future for new music here?

Jonathan Hill  reports on this investigation



(Pictured above) The majestic Queen’s home to many of the students whom have performed in Mandela.



(Pictured above) Rebekah Wilson- the latest musical talent to grace a stage in the students union.


Click the Youtube video links below to witness live acoustic sessions from some of the hottest new local musical talent in Northern Ireland!





For decades Mandela Hall has played host to some of the greatest and most influential acts in the world from “The Clash” to “Ella Eyre” the venue has been a corner stone for undiscovered acts and has been the stalwart of the local music scene in Northern Ireland. Now it looks as if Queen’s may put a stop to the venue’s musical heartbeat which could potentially jeopardise the future of the local Music Industry in this country.

This all started when it was suggested that Queen’s University would look at Mandela, its surrounding bars and also the entire Students Union complex as part of the further expansion of the prestigious University which began on other buildings in 2011. Since then various rumours have been surmised as to whether the building would be replaced or improved and if this was necessary, it had been suggested that due to practical reasons the venue needs attention due to Asbestos in the roof of the Students Union which has been a problem for buildings constructed prior to 1990. However no such statement or proposal has ever been released by officials at the Students Union or by the University in relation to this rumour. However Queen’s University have stated that while they are in “very early stages, proposals have been put forward for the redevelopment of the Students Union, to meet the growing accommodation needs and to provide a stimulating, engaging environment”.

It has also been stated that any proposals put forward for a face lift of the Students Union will be carefully analysed to ensure if anything goes ahead it will be within the interests of the student’s at QUB. The redevelopment plan was a result of suggestions made by former students who participated in surveys taken in 2011 which focused on how the SU building and the University as a whole could be improved. A factor which has been debated over, is the estimated and eventual cost of this proposed expansion, the new student centre were it to take place would cost approximately £24 Million.

Further questions have been raised regarding the existing bars located near the veteran Mandela Hall in the current Students Union building. The building also houses Speak Easy, Buna tee Bar and Bar SUB which have been a calling card for young musicians, all eager to play gigs in a lively setting in a bid to get their voices heard. “Queen’s Radio” hosted their successful “QR Underground” event which encourages local buskers, bands and solo acts to showcase their talents. It’s feared if Mandela and the current Students Union is replaced, despite best intentions that this may not only harm the student experience but could have an effect on young up-coming artists whom have performed in the SU building possibly for the first time in their lives. Which allows them to gain confidence and experience in a relaxed atmosphere giving them a feel for performance and allowing them to develop skills for their potential music careers.

Posing the question if Queen’s pulls the plug on Mandela what is the effect on the local music scene in the future. I spoke to students at Queen’s to get an idea of what they thought about the proposed redevelopment, many of them were appalled and worried about the impact that this would have on music opportunities for young people.

For example every year Queen’s Radio which is housed within the same building as Mandela Hall provides opportunities for local talent by getting gigs and also by getting people involved with music allowing them to gain skills and contacts for their future. However if the redevelopment goes ahead then the studio will be demolished with the rest of the building.

I spoke to Sarah Teggart, the current Station Manager at Queen’s Radio who said: “If the redevelopment were to go ahead I think that this could cause problems for many involved within the radio station. For example we have many students not only from Queen’s but also from Ulster and other forms of education as well, whom have become an integral part of the station. By presenting and hosting their own shows with their own desired content, we also welcome local and international Artists into the studio such as “Wolf Alice”. This allows young people to fully experience a high tech radio studio environment, enabling them to learn skills which they can adapt if the ever want to work in this type of industry in the future”.

Another factor which is also very important, if the proposed demolition of Mandela and the SU building takes place. Is the realisation that this would mean that facilities such as Queen’s Radio would be forced to stop broadcasting until the equipment was relocated to another part of the University which could take considerable time.

In connection with this I also spoke to Corey McKinney the Head of Music at Queen’s Radio who stated this: “In response to the idea of a new Students Union I feel that there are both positive and negative factors to this, there has been much talk of losing Mandela Hall and the impact that this will have. While I feel that Mandela is an awesome venue, it is only a small part of the entire Students Union complex. And in terms of the impact that this could have on local music, I think that this will be very minimal as Queen’s will make sure that whatever happens it’ll be within the interests and opportunities of students. There is a large following of people at Queen’s Radio who are very interested in the music scene, so I think that wherever the new studio is,  this won’t impact upon opportunities for students.  Also if the development happens there will be other music venues that will replace Mandela and while it will be sad to lose it. Overall  I feel that a new building could only be an improvement for the students”.

Furthermore I spoke to Rikki Loftus, editor of student magazine “The Tab” who expressed her concern about the impact upon different societies within the Students Union, she had this to say: “As a student at the university, I feel very concerned that not only will student opportunities to engage with local musical talent be disrupted by the move. It will also impact upon many of the clubs and societies such as The Dragon Slayers gaming society, whom organise many of the very successful events for Queen’s Radio such as QR24.  Where all presenters take up different slots on their own shows to participate in a 24 hour radio broadcast, which last year actually raised money for charity.  So all in all I feel that a new building would have many negative impacts like halting the progress of Queen’s Radio, disrupting upcoming events and also making it difficult for new students to become involved with different societies while all the building work goes on.  And I feel that this would have a bad impact on the students making their overall experience of university life less memorable which is so important especially in their first year”.
The final person I spoke to was Olivia Moore, a current presenter of her own Christian programme on Queen’s Radio to find out what her view was on the possibility of a new building, she had this to say: “I can definitely see the benefits of a new building, it would mean more facilities for students, however I don’t see the need or the reason to waste money. I mean people come to the students union and Mandela Hall in particular, because it is fun, it’s familiar and it’s a place where people can make new friends even if they don’t go to university. I mean Mandela Hall has a very special kind of atmosphere, it’s somewhere were all ages of people can mix and find things in common through their love of music. And because of Mandela’s uniqueness I just don’t see them being able to create that kind of buzz in a new students union, I mean there really is nowhere else like that in Belfast.”

Throughout my investigation for this article, Queen’s University have remained very tight lipped regarding whether this building project will happen and whether or not Mandela is to be completely replaced or improved. One factor that has been clear though is that this issue has created much diversity, dividing student opinion.

While the future of Queen’s students union and Mandela Hall in particular remains unclear, one factor which is apparent is that for many, the venue holds a very special place in their hearts. As somewhere to meet new people, have fun and to create memorable experiences, whereas for other students the venue doesn’t matter it is the people not the building that counts. For now though Mandela continues to do what it does best playing host to new international acts such as indie group “Little Green Cars” as well as providing a platform for new local acts like “The Fugues” and “Rebekah Wilson”.

Online Gambling and Match Fixing: What’s next for the Industry?

Gambling addictions are on the rise according to GamCare statistics.
Gambling addictions are on the rise according to GamCare statistics.

Whether it is picking a horse at the Grand National or backing your local football team to cup glory, gambling can be seen as something to keep the interest going for the occasional punter. But what about those individuals who have a serious gambling addiction? Jonathan McNabb investigates.

According to the GamCare – an online commission to help those addicted to gambling – it is believed that almost 30,000 people in the UK have contacted the organisation for advice in halting the addiction in the past year – a worrying rise of 18%.

See full range of Statistics:

However, it is not traditional high street betting shops that are now solely to blame for this rise as the presence of online gambling applications allows users to gamble money at the touch of a button like never before.

The online gambling industry is worth almost £3 billion in the United Kingdom and this figure is expected to increase as more and more punters are using online betting companies rather than calling into their nearest bookmakers.

Betting agencies like Bet365, Bet Victor and Coral entice new customers by offering free bets or refunding losing wagers in the hope of gaining new members. In the past year, all major betting applications have introduced a ‘Cash Out’ function which gives the user the option of selling their bet for a certain amount.

As one frequent online gambler told me, “I use online betting applications because it’s easy to place bets. You can do it on your phone, laptop and tablet. They have the latest odds in-play and you can cash out a winning bet with a few minutes to go. It saves you the hassle of travelling 10 or 15 minutes down the road to the bookies.”

You can hear the full interview here:

Online gambling has evolved so much, that punters can even do the lottery and play bingo – which is extremely common amongst women. According to a survey carried out by the BBC, the rise in women playing bingo has dramatically increased so much so that there are now over 350 operated websites to play the famous game.

According to David McCausland, a bingo hall manager from Portrush, he believes that the online versions of bingo have impacted the number of people coming through their doors.

“Unfortunately, over the past year we have noticed a decline in people wanting to play bingo on our premises. I have spoken with a few of our old regulars and they have basically said that playing a few games in the comfort of their homes is more appealing than driving on a cold, miserable evening to Portrush.

“It is something we are conscious and wary off, but unless there are changes to the way bingo is being played online, the future of bingo halls in the UK will be under threat.”

Why has there been a sudden increase in gambling?

Aside from the rise of betting applications, there are many other reasons as to why online gambling has emerged as one of the biggest industries in the UK. In 2005, the Labour Party lifted a ban on radio and TV advertisements related to casinos, online betting and bookmakers. As such, many day time television shows are sponsored by these types of companies such as

Advertisements like these are popular during sporting events.
Advertisements like these are popular during sporting events.

It is undeniable that punters are attracted to betting offers made during sports events as companies give the latest odds on certain markets to appeal to gamblers at half-time in a football match, or before a big horse race. In 2011, The Guardian revealed that such advertisements had risen 600% since the law was altered.

The high number of sporting events being sponsored by betting companies has also led to more punters placing wagers. It is common that snooker and darts tournaments are sponsored by major betting applications like William Hill, Stan Bet and This is coupled by many sports stars wearing the logos of these sites and making reference to them on social media platforms.

The widespread use of ‘in-play’ betting attracts a lot of gamblers to place wagers on sporting events as they happen – for example, punters can place a bet on who will score the next goal during a football match as the odds fluctuate during play.

Machines like these have been labelled as 'the crack cocaine of gambling.'
Machines like these have been labelled as ‘the crack cocaine of gambling.’

The introduction of fix-odds betting terminals, known as FoBT’s, in betting stores across the United Kingdom has come in for criticism due to the extreme nature of money that can be spent by a punter at any given time. These terminals feature casino games such as blackjack and roulette which allows users to bet £100 every 20 seconds.

This phenomenon is known as the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ as punters chase a winner but with odds stacked against them. In recent times, there have been many pleas to remove FoBT’s from high street bookmakers, as they have led to many users needing financial help and payday loans to halt their addiction.

According to Laura Christie, a former employee of a high street bookmaker, she believes that there should be restrictions on how much a certain individual can bet on a day-to-day basis.

You can hear the full interview here:

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband vowed to give local councils the opportunity to reduce the number of FoBTs in bookmakers as he explained their rise was “spreading like an epidemic.”

However, Labour’s demands were rebuffed when coalition MPs rejected the motion for tighter control on gaming machines. Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the debate on the issue and revealed there are “problems in the betting and gambling industry.”

Match Fixing: Illegal Gambling within sport is on the rise

You can be forgiven about thinking of something else in the tennis world right now after Maria Sharapova’s shocking self-confession to taking performance enhancing drugs, or the debate surrounding how much female players should be paid. However, only a few weeks previously, the sport was in disrepute over allegations of match fixing.

According to a 10 year investigation carried out by the BBC and BuzzFeed News, it was revealed that 16 former top 50 ranked players had caught the attention of the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) on numerous occasions for irregular betting patterns.

The TIU revealed that they have received 48 alerts of suspicious and unusual betting activity on matches for the first quarter of 2016 – an increase of 17 from the same period last year.

Consequently, Grand Slam champions such as Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams admitted to have been offered bribes, but failed to let the authorities know at the time. In addition, two umpires have been fully banned from the sport, with another four under suspicion for playing their part in the throwing of matches.

In worrying developments, the report found that betting syndicates across Europe won hundreds of thousands of pounds over three matches played at Wimbledon. There was also suspicions raised following a match in 2007 between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello, but both players were consequently cleared of any wrong doing.

During prolonged investigations into the match between Davydenko and Arguello, it was found that latter had exchanged almost 80 texts with the suspected head of a high profile Italian syndicate with a high proportion of bets coming from Moscow.

Former tennis player Daniel Koellerer was banned for life after being found guilty to breaching betting rules.
Former tennis player Daniel Koellerer was banned for life after being found guilty of breaching betting rules.

However, despite both players being found not guilty, the sport introduced the TIU to crack down on players throwing matches for vast sums of money. In 2011, tennis player Daniel Koellerer made headlines for being the first male tennis player to be banned for life in light of match fixing.

Two-time Grand Slam champion and world number two Andy Murray when asked by The Guardian if he would be surprised if fellow players fixed matches, he replied ‘no, not really.’

“I do think it’s important that from a younger age, players are better educated and made more aware of what they should do in those situations and how decisions like that can affect your career and affect your whole sport. Across all sports I don’t think that’s done particularly well.”

With the rumoured crisis of match fixing reaching a global audience, local tennis coach Paul Logan voiced his opinion about how these revelations have affected the sport at an amateur level.

“You are now seeing players throw matches for a six figure sum and this allows them to pay for travel expenses at different tournaments for a whole season,” he said.

“From my point of view, match fixing has been going on for quite a while but has only been highlighted since top 10 ranked woman players are getting caught.

“With social media reporting this news at a high level, children are seeing that tennis players have been cheating and will try to do the same with line calls and foot faults, so it is slowly creeping into the game.”

Tennis not the only sport involved

Unfortunately, tennis is not the only sport that has seen allegations of match fixing. In 2008, a football match between Accrington Stanley and Bury received irregular patterns that resulted in five players being banned by the Football Association.

Manchester City defender Martin Demichelis was issued with a hefty fine after betting on football activity.
Manchester City defender Martin Demichelis was issued with a hefty fine after betting on football activity.

In recent weeks, Manchester City defender Martin Demichelis made headlines after being charged with betting on matches throughout Europe. In 2014, the FA made a new rule that no players in England were allowed to bet on any football activity – meaning the Argentinean was fined. Luckily for the player and club, the allegations against the 35 year-old did not concern match fixing, but rather placing wagers on football activity that was not permitted under new FA protocols.

The 2016 World Championship Snooker tournament starts this month and more scrutiny will be on matches like never before in light of recent match fixing scandals within the sport. In 2013, Stephen Lee was banned from playing snooker for 12 years after being found guilty for fixing the outcome of seven matches between 2007 and 2008.

Snooker player Stephen Lee was banned from the sport for 12 years after being found guilty of match fixing in 2013.
Snooker player Stephen Lee was banned from the sport for 12 years after being found guilty of match fixing in 2013.

In an interview with the BBC, World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn insisted he has ‘no sympathy’ for Lee and would have liked to have seen his ban being extended because snooker’s ‘integrity is paramount.’

“The 12-year ban fitted the crime – I would have gone for a life ban, you have to send a message to the broadcasters and sponsors. Integrity is paramount.

“There is no sympathy when you are dealing with the future of the sport. It’s a sad situation for the individual, no-one wants to see anyone suffer, but he brought about it himself, therefore he has to pay the price.”

Match fixing has been pretty much a common theme in snooker since the game became professional. In 2011, BBC commentator Willy Thorne explained that “match fixing has always been a part of snooker and I don’t know how you can stamp it out.”

Match fixing in Northern Ireland

Carrick Rangers defender Gareth McKeown has been banned until the end of the season for breaching the IFA's rules on gambling.
Carrick Rangers defender Gareth McKeown has been banned until the end of the season for breaching the IFA’s rules on gambling.

Locally, Carrick Rangers defender Gareth McKeown was banned until the end of the 2015/16 Danske Bank Premiership campaign after being caught sharing information on local reserve team fixtures.

The Irish Football Association noted that while McKeown did not play in the matches, he shared information with family members that were in breach of betting rules when he was at his former club Glenavon.

According to Irish League striker Darren Henderson, players have to be extremely careful about how they gamble and can have no excuses if they are caught.

“The IFA have a strict opinion on gambling and they have sent out letters to all clubs in the league outlining that players aren’t allowed to bet on any games within the Irish League. They have a strict policy and any players caught will be dealt with severely.

“I don’t have any sympathy for Gareth as he should know the rules. However, betting companies like Bet365 shouldn’t give odds on reserve team football as it might entice a few players who know a certain team will win.”

You can hear full interview here:


Air Ambulance Dream Takes Flight.

From being the only province in the UK not to have one, Northern Ireland is set to witness a Helicopter Emergency Service (HEMS) take to the skies to help save lives. The news comes after the well publicised incidents at the North West 200 in 2015 whereby an Air Ambulance was summoned to the coastal circuit to airlift an injured spectator and rider to hospital. Thankfully, both Violet McAfee (spectator) and Stephen Thompson (rider) survived the horrific ordeal. It is believed, a sum in the region of £4 million has been allocated to help get the service up and running. Rodney Connor Trustee of the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance praised the news. “It’s fantastic news for the people of Northern Ireland. We have been stressing for a long-time the importance of this particular service and I’m glad it’s finally being put in place.”

Air Ambulance logo
Northern Ireland Air Ambulance logo.

Northern Ireland is home to approximately 1.8 million people and is the only region in the UK that is not serviced by an Air Ambulance. The latest introduction puts the province in accordance with the rest of the UK.  This latest development is welcomed news to those who have worked tirelessly to foresee that the dream has become a reality. Ian Crowe, a trustee of the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance said: “This has been ongoing for a number of years, I had been contacted by Arlene Foster MLA in 2013 to see if I could scope out the viability of the Air Ambulance service in Northern Ireland. Firstly, I involved the four other trustees’ and together we worked to make happen.”

Ian added, “We gathered information on the topic by visiting some of the other HEMS services and basically learned from them. Obviously we needed government approval so we put together the information we had gathered before presenting it to the then Health Minister Edwin Poots and Arlene Foster MLA who had approached me in the beginning. Both politicians were satisfied by our research and in August 2014 the assembly passed our proposal and we re-ignited the campaign in February 2015.”

The Air Ambulance is set to cost £1.8 million per year to run therefore the trustees’ established the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance Charity in order to help compensate some of the running costs carried by the Air Ambulance. However, Mr. Crowe outlined the Air Ambulance is a necessity in Northern Ireland regardless of the expensive price tag. “It’s crucial now that we have one here in Northern Ireland. We talk about the ‘Golden Hour,’ this is the most crucial moment after a trauma occurs. It’s the time when Paramedics transfer the casualties to trauma centres. Here in Northern Ireland it can take a long time to reach the nearest hospital, for example if a patient has to be taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast from Fermanagh, it can take a bit of time given the infrastructure of the roads in Northern Ireland.”

Ian added, “What the HEMS will do, is it will reduce the timescale from the place of a trauma until the injured party reaches the trauma centre. With the Air Ambulance a casualty can be at a trauma centre in approximately 20 minutes which is a great deal faster than land travel.”

MotoGP rider Eugene Laverty has recently promoted the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance charity during last weekend’s race at Jerez in Spain. Laverty displayed the charity logo on his leathers which helped promote the cause. The Toomebridge man steered his way to finish in ninth place onboard his Aspar Team Ducati during last Sunday’s race in southern Spain .

Rodney Connor another one of the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance Trustees’ has welcomed the news of the HEMS being introduced, Rodney said: “It’s a fantastic facility to have here in Northern Ireland and it’s something we have needed here for a long time. The Air Ambulance has already been a proven success in other parts of the UK and I have no doubt it will be a success in Northern Ireland also.

There has been some debate of where exactly the Air Ambulance should be located creating a difference in opinion amongst the powers that be. Many of the government ministers and trustees’ have indicated that the Air Ambulance should be based at Aldergrove airbase which is located outside Belfast. This would make it an easy place to be tasked from by the Northern Ireland Ambulance service, however Rodney disagrees with this proposal. “I feel the Air Ambulance should be located at St. Angello Airfield in Enniskillen because for me, this Air Ambulance should serve on both sides of the border, almost like a cross border partnership. Enniskillen is the ideal location as it is central to both Belfast and Sligo therefore it is easier for the Air Ambulance to access potential traumas both in the north and south of Ireland.”

One man who was also heavily involved with the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance campaign was the late Dr John Hinds. Dr John was an Anaesthetist at Craigavon Area Hospital but was better known for the medical cover he provided at motorcycling events throughout Ireland and further afield. ‘The flying doctor’ was tragically killed in a freak accident whilst travelling to provide medical assistance to an injured rider during a qualifying session at the Skerries 100 road races in July 2015. This fatality came just weeks after the Newtownards native had come onboard the HEMS campaign and since his death campaigners have been continuously working to achieve what John believed in.

Both Rodney and Ian had worked with Dr John prior to his death and outlined their heart-felt devastation and grief after his untimely death. Ian said, “It was such devastating news, in fact I was actually on holiday in Devon when I received the phone call to inform me of Dr Johns death. I was so shocked. Rodney added, “John’s death was extremely sad but one thing I will say is he put the Air Ambulance campaign on the map and his death brought the ideology to the fore.”

The death of Dr John Hinds impacted the lives of many, whether it is motorbike racers, event organisers or the patients which John provided with his utmost care. He was the type of character everyone could relate to and show gratitude to for his efforts within his work, motorcycling or his avid lust to secure an Air Ambulance for Northern Ireland.

Race photographer and colleague, Stephen Davison, described the impact of Dr John’s death on the motorcycling fraternity. “I was devastated to hear about John’s death. He was a talismanic figure in road racing and it seemed very, very wrong that we had lost the man who provided the care for the rest of us. The small, self-contained world of road racing seemed to have shifted slightly off the axis that it revolves around.”

Stephen also paid tribute to Dr John’s campaign surrounding the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance. “John had got involved with the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance campaign prior to his death. He was fully aware of the HEMS service in London having previously worked with Dr Gareth Davies, who heads up that service, as well as running the AirMed response team on the Isle of Man during the TT and the Manx Grand Prix. John himself was very opposed to unnecessary deaths and the statistics show that, perhaps, as many as 600 lives could have been saved in Northern Ireland since 2003 if an Air Ambulance had have been available. Many viewed the Air Ambulance as a luxury rather than a necessity but John viewed it as a fundamental need and this is why he began to push for its provision.”

One sporting event set to benefit from the introduction of the HEMS is the international North West 200 road races. An Air Ambulance has been utilised at the 8.9 mile street circuit at both the 2014 and 2015 events. The 2016 North West 200 is hoped to earmark the first flight of the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance should its assistance be required. North West 200 Event Director, Mervyn Whyte, has welcomed the reform, “The Air Ambulance is a major bonus in relation to the running of the event, and in particular, dealing with incidents. We as a club, have been stressing for a number of years how an Air Ambulance would help benefit those injured at these types of events. They talk about the ‘Golden Hour,’ and its crucial injured riders or spectators get to trauma centres as quickly as possible.”

Mervyn Whyte also commended the work of Dr John hinds in years gone by at the North West 200, he said. “I worked with Dr John Hinds a lot over the years. He was a caring, patient and hard-working character. Any injured riders knew they were in safe hands when John was dealing with them. Last year at the North West John worked tirelessly to help all involved with the incident on Station Road where both a rider and spectator were injured. Also in 2014 when French rider Frank Petricola had a serious accident at Primrose Dr John’s care and expertise subsequently saved his life.”

In many cases there are instances which can be adapted or changed for the better. In an ideal situation it would have been idyllic for Dr John Hinds to reap the benefits of his efforts alongside those from the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance charity. However, there is no doubt that the Air Ambulance will help save the lives of many throughout the province which is the ultimatum of all involved with the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance campaign.

An insight of what the HEMS could look like
An insight of what the HEMS could look like.

Further Information

The following link provides a brief insight of the exact function of the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service located in London. This service was encountered by Dr John Hinds prior to his death and indicates what the service will provide in Northern Ireland:

Stormont Elections: Why do so few young people vote?

Northern Ireland is gearing up to elect its' new Stormont Assembly ©
Northern Ireland is gearing up to elect its’ new Stormont Assembly ©

In just under a week’s time, the people of Northern Ireland will visit polling stations across the country to vote for the next Stormont assembly.  The struggle with every election is getting young people to vote, but why are the youth of the province so afraid of politics? Kevin Mc Stravock investigates

With the people of the Republic of Ireland having cast their votes for the Dáil at the end of February, all attention now turns to their neighbours across the border, Northern Ireland as they gear up for the Stormont Assembly Elections on 5th of May.

A key concern, as with all elections, surrounds voter turnout, particularly given that the voting numbers decreased by just under 8% between the previous two elections, falling from 62.87% in 2007 to 55.71% in 2011.

Northern Ireland officials are particularly keen to engage with those in the 18-22 age bracket, whose turnout in political elections tends to be lower than any other age group (just 51.3% of young people voted in the previous Assembly elections compared to over two-thirds of people aged 65 and older).

Encouraging voter registration

This is something NUS-USI, the joint British and Irish national students union, aims to combat with its’ #OwningOurFuture campaign which began with a voter registration tour in conjunction with the Campervan of Dreams earlier this year. Between the 1-5 February, NUS-USI toured universities and colleges across Northern Ireland to encourage young people to register to vote.

owning our future
NUS-USI have rolled out their #OwningOurFuture campaign ahead of the elections © NUS

For NUS-USI President, Fergal McFerran, encouraging young people to have a say in the formation of their local government is hugely important. “It’s so important for us, because for many of our current generation of students it will be the first time they’ll cast a vote in an Assembly election,” he said.

“As far as we’re concerned, this election should be a defining moment for the future of Northern Ireland.”

However, it’s not just NUS-USI who are rolling out registration campaigns. With a number of elections looming including Scottish and Welsh parliaments and London Mayor, the Electoral Commission have been targeting young people across the UK in particular with an ad campaign featuring a number of stars of the teen soap Hollyoaks which was aired regularly on Channel 4 in the run up to the registration deadline on the 18th April.

A spokesperson for the Election Commission said: “Amongst our key target audiences are young people, students and private renters and we have undertaken additional activity to reach to these groups.

“Like the Gogglebox campaign last year we have worked in partnership with Channel 4 again to promote electoral registration – this time working with Hollyoaks. This campaign is targeting young people across the UK given the numerous elections that will also be taking place on 5 May.”

At a more local level, the Electoral Commission has partnered up with a number of organisations to run Northern Ireland specific electoral registration campaigns. As well as their work with NUS-USI on the #OwningOurFuture campaign, they also partnered up with The Rainbow Project to encourage young people from the LGBT community to register to vote.

A ‘disconnect’ with the youth

But why are young people so reluctant to vote? Fergal believes that “there is a disconnect between what goes on at Stormont and the lived experiences of our young people and students.

“People regularly roll out the lazy line that young people don’t care about politics, I completely disagree with that. I just think many young people need to be better convinced of how devolved government in Northern Ireland can improve their lives.”

fergal mcferran

“Voting is an important part of the process in putting the hopes and ambitions [of young people] on the political agenda.”

Fergal wants to encourage all young people to vote


Dahviad Tierney, a second year Media Studies & Production student from Carrickmore is a registered voter because his parents encouraged him to.

“I only vote because my parents encouraged me to care about voting,” he told me. “They made me vote and I will always continue to do so. However, if they hadn’t done so, I doubt I would care, it’s a case of how young people are brought up to think about voting.

“If we have a chance to have a say, as minimal as it may be, we should take it”, he added.

Some young people believe that more needs to be done to make politics more appealing to young people. Connor White, a Media Studies student from Carrickfergus says that he’s undecided about voting in the Assembly elections.

“I’m registered to vote but I don’t know if I’m going to. Politics in Northern Ireland is stuck in the past, and doesn’t appeal [to young people].

“There are too many radical politicians on both sides who aren’t interested in change so nothing ever does change. They’re more interested in slagging each other off than they are in engaging with young people”, he added.

For some non-voters like Colin McKee, a Business Studies student from Newtownabbey, campaigners don’t do enough to educate young people on politics.

“A letter through the door doesn’t make me pick it up and want to vote for them.”

Colin McKee says politicians don’t do enough to encourage him to vote

“I don’t feel like I’m given accessible information on why I should vote or the importance of voting so it basically feels like I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said.

This is something echoed by Katriona Kirwan, a Modern Languages student from Newcastle who plans to vote this year having not voted in previous elections.

“I haven’t voted in the elections before because I wasn’t educated enough in school about politics to make an informed decision on who to vote for. There wasn’t much information available to me on how or where to vote and politicians don’t make much of an effort to engage with young people”.

David Cameron
© The Guardian

She added: “After the shambles of last year’s General Elections where David Cameron was re-elected and has since went on to cut disability benefits, I have now decided that I will definitely vote in future because if not then I’m positively contributing to people like that being put in charge.

“I feel like politics should be compulsory in school. We should be educated enough to make an informed decision on who runs our country. I think that young people don’t vote because they aren’t taught anything about politics and know nothing about it.”

Eoin Boyle, a Journalism student from Carrickmore thinks more young people will vote if the politicians here make a change.

“I think young people are not voting partly because of apathy, but more so because they are tired of the pathetic “green and orange” rhetoric still spewing from Stormont”, he said.

“Many feel that Stormont is a crèche for those who cannot/ will not face up to their responsibilities. They are angry because their future, and the future of those they love are resting on the arms of individuals who can’t behave or be trusted.”

However, Eoin also believes that the lack of political presence in universities is a contributing factor towards youth apathy. “This is a huge contrast to our parent’s generation. At university, politics was booming and it was part of the student experience.

“Now there is a void and that’s a great shame,” he added.

The void between young people and the older generations is part of the reason Computing student Gavin Corry doesn’t vote. “Voting has always felt like a thing for the older generation and I feel if I was to vote it would have no impact,” he explained.

“Me thinking that my vote will have no impact goes hand in hand with how I think voting is for the older generation. My one vote as a 22 year old is worth nothing so it seems pointless.

“I know 90% of my friends don’t vote and mostly for the same reasons. If it didn’t seem so pointless for our age group then there would certainly be a lot more people voting.”

An MLA’s views

claire sugden
Claire Sugden believes the previous Assembly was a poor representation of Northern Ireland © Claire Sugden

Clare Sugden, an MLA who is re-running for her seat as an Independent candidate in East Londonderry says that she’s “not surprised” to see the apathy of young people towards politics. She believes that engaging with young people is “about taking an interest in them and what matters to them”.

Claire believes that the disconnect between young people and politicians is due to the poor representation of young people in the Stormont assembly. “The most recent mandate that has now dissolved was not representative of Northern Ireland generally, and specifically not representative of young people.

“The average age of a politician was in his mid 60’s…so I do think there is a bit of a disconnect between MLA’s and young people. Stormont still seems to be talking about the issues they were talking about twenty years ago. If that’s the issues they’re going to talk about then of course young people are going to switch off.”

Listen to the full interview with Claire Sugden below:

Universities – No place for politics?

For Fergal, encouraging young people to engage in politics is a case of bringing politics to them. “If we want young people to make a genuine contribution to politics then we need to start bring politics to them, out of Stormont and into the places where they are.

“Our generation are quite often studying full-time, working at least one part-time job, volunteering alongside those activities and have lots of other pressures on their lives. Investing time and energy in politics, in understanding how Stormont works and in figuring out the details of the issues making the headlines is actually quite difficult.”

When looking at the political presence in Northern Ireland’s two largest universities, it could be argued that politics doesn’t appear to play the same role it used to.

Across the four campuses of Ulster University, just two politically affiliated societies are currently active. The Jordanstown campus, where Politics is offered as a degree also offers a Socialist society as well as a society for Politics students and those interested in politics.

Queens’ University offers few political societies on campus ©

Its’ rival university Queen’s also offers just a handful of political societies. This begs the question whether young people aren’t engaging with politics because their universities aren’t.

Claire believes that increased political activity in universities could help to engage young people in the voting process: “It doesn’t necessarily have to be politicial parties as such.

“People could take an interest as a pressure or specific interest group, for example ‘Free Education for Students’ if they were to start a petition on that, just to get people more politically active.”

However Fergal believes that political activism is just as healthy now as it was twenty years ago:

“Political activism today just looks slightly differently to what it looked like twenty years ago. Quite often we’re now given a seat at the table, whether that be a students’ union being involved in decision-making in their institution, or NUS-USI being consulted in bigger decisions by the Government.

“Students still protest, occupy buildings and do all the things they used to do, but I think as a movement we’ve become much more nuanced campaigners and that is of course only possible because of the work of the generations who came before us.”

Why vote?

So why should young people vote? According to Claire, it’s simple. “It’s that same old thing, you get who you vote for”, she said. “But, I think it’s also important to note that you get who you don’t vote for.

“If students and young people are frustrated with the politicians at Stormont, if they think they’re not representative, only they can change that.”

For Fergal, the only solution to the frustrations felt by young people here in Northern Ireland is to vote: “One thing that is abundantly clear to me is that our generation have massive frustrations with Northern Ireland politics, but beyond that, and perhaps more importantly, they have even bigger hopes and ambitions for what a better society could look like.

“Voting is an important part of the process in putting those hopes and ambitions on the political agenda.”

Regardless of your interest of lack thereof in politics, the message coming from Northern Ireland’s leaders, both inside and outside of Stormont is loud and clear;  your vote is your voice.

What has Game of Thrones done for Northern Ireland?

It has been five years since the epic fantasy drama first hit our screens—but as the chief filming location for the series, how has Northern Ireland benefited from  the show’s global success?

In April of 2009, America’s leading cable network, HBO, confirmed that filming for a pilot episode of their new television series ‘Game of Thrones’ would take place in Northern Ireland later that year.

The announcement followed a trip to Los Angeles taken by then First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin Mc Guinness, where the MP’s met with senior executives from the HBO network to help finalise the production deal for Northern Ireland.

HBO meeting
First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin Mc Guinness with HBO executive Jay Roewe .

Discussing the significance of the meeting at the time, Mr McGuiness said: “At a time of economic downturn, we have sought to bring a new and diverse range of investments here to create jobs and build experience. The creative industries are one area.” Negotiations around the HBO series were already ongoing with Northern Ireland Screen, which was able to offer finance to the exciting new production with support from Invest Northern Ireland.

Filming for the pilot episode of the first season, which is based on George R Martin’s novel ‘A Game of Thrones’ from the book series ‘A song of Ice and Fire’, took place between October 24th and November 19th in 2009. Various locations throughout Northern Ireland were used in the shooting of the episode, including a huge custom built set at Titanic Studio’s Paint Hall in Belfast.  However, despite filming taking place two years prior, the first episode of the epic fantasy series was not officially aired in the UK and Ireland until April 18th, 2011. This was reportedly due to some re-shooting and re-working of the original episode.

HBO committed to filming another ten episodes of the series in Northern Ireland in March 2010, and since then, both the network and the show’s connection  with the region has grown from strength to strength. Arlene Foster, speaking as Enterprise Minister in 2010, said that the commitment by HBO to film another ten episodes was ‘A development which will deliver major economic benefits, not only by utilising our growing film and television expertise but also in profiling our unique and attractive landscape to potential visitors around the world.”

Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons and former NI Tourism Minister Arlene Foster at the launch of the 2015 Game of Thrones campaign. Source: The Irish Post

Five years on from its first airing and the series has garnered both a global audience and critical acclaim. 2015 saw Game of Thrones win a record-breaking 12 Emmys, receiving more awards in a single year than any other show. And as the chief filming location for the Game of Thrones series, Northern Ireland has, as foretold by Arlene foster in 2010, reaped substantial benefits from its connections with the show—namely those for tourism, employment, and the economy.


In 2014, Tourism Ireland teamed up with Publicis London to create a global social media campaign which would run during the fourth series of Game of Thrones. Using the dramatic landscapes of Northern Ireland that feature in the hit HBO series, the promotion encouraged social discussion and drove fans to learn more about the real locations where the series was filmed.

Source: Tourism Ireland & Publicis London

Aimed at the show’s fourteen million viewers, the campaign was unrolled on Twitter and Facebook in North America and Europe. Running for just eleven weeks between April and June of that year, it received over one hundred million hits online. “It was the most successful Twitter Campaign that we have ever run,” said Niall Gibbons, Chief executive of Tourism Ireland. “The Campaign cost us £200,000. If we were to buy that publicity, it would have cost us 8.6 million.”

Source: Tourism Ireland & Publicis London
Source: Tourism Ireland & Publicis London

Interest from fans across the globe soared, and the first scheduled day trips linked to Game of Thrones began operating on April 5th  2014. This tour, set up by Mc Combs travel, (the same Belfast coach company who worked on 5 seasons of the series, providing cast and crew with transport to and from all filming locations), offers fans of the show a chance to explore some of its most iconic and breathtaking filming locations. Among the most recognisable of these are The Cushendun Caves, Ballintoy Harbour, and the now world famous Dark Hedges.

And it wasn’t long before entrepreneurs across Northern Ireland began to recognise and harness the huge marketing potential of the series.Game of Thrones Tours, a company solely dedicated to bringing the programme’s famous scenes to life for die-hard fanatics, was established by 2015.

Britain Northern Ireland Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones Tours offer a range of itineraries from Belfast and Dublin, many of which include a visit to The National Trust’s Castle Ward in Strangford, Co. Down, where a replica of the Winterfell Castle archery range has been masterfully recreated. Instagram @GameOfThronesTours

Operated by Clearsky Adventure Centre, the experience offered here is just another example of how Northern Ireland has been able to take full advantage of the so-called “Game of Thrones affect” to attract visitors from across the world to our shores.

As word of these unique experiences began to spread, foreign tourist searches for County Antrim on TripAdvisor increased by 65% in 2015, with an additional 47% increase from domestic travellers. With twenty Game of Thrones activities now on offer, these are one of the most searched for items on Discover Northern Ireland’s website.

For more information about Game of Thrones Tours,  visit their Website or Facebook Page. If you are interested in developing your business into a Game of Thrones visitor experience,  you can find further information and guidelines here.


The positive impact of Game of Thrones extends far beyond Northern Ireland’s tourist industry. Many local companies have profited from providing services during the production of the show, and it is estimated that the series has created more than 900 full-time and 5,700 part-time jobs in the process. Among those who have provided their services to the production are Glenarm Jewellers, The Steensons, who provide distinctive one-off pieces for the show, and even a Taxidermist, Ingrid Houwers, who provides stuffed creatures and furs created in her Belfast studio.

Local company Extras NI have provided casting services for all six seasons of the show, securing not only full-time jobs for Northern Ireland, but also opening doors to thousands of casual employment opportunities. For example, an extra on Game of Thrones can earn up to £500 a day, in addition to the invaluable experience of spending a day on a world class production set.

A Film and Media student at Ulster University in Coleraine, Liam Scott’s story illustrates just what Game of Thrones could mean for young creative people in Northern Ireland.

Liam uploaded a profile onto the Extras NI website in early 2015. Months later, the twenty-one-year old received a phone call from the company, enquiring about his availability to work as an extra on the HBO series. Liam jumped at this opportunity and took full advantage of his newly acquired contacts by distributing his business card, which advertised his photography and film-making skills. He told me: “I approached Tanya, one of the top dog’s at Extras NI, and gave her my business card. The next day she got back to me with a job offer.” Liam was offered a position as a crew member on the HBO production, something he described as “astounding.”  This experience has only cemented Liam’s future career plans: “Working on Game of Throne has solidified my decision to work in the TV/film industry, at my doorstep. I didn’t have to travel to LA to find out if it was worth doing. I’m grateful and proud of NI stepping in this positive direction.”

Game of Thrones has not just paved the way for future careers in Northern Ireland, but has also provided some businesses with greater financial security.

Demonstrating Ireland’s ability to cater for even the most unique markets, Tandragee farmer Kenny Gracey provides many of the rare pigs, sheep, chickens and horses seen on the show. When his farming business faced an uncertain future, a lifeline came from the most unlikely of places. “Farming has taken a downturn,” he said. “Costs are too high and we’re not getting enough for our produce.” Kenny has described the phone call he received about the production as a ‘godsend,’ and believes the use of his rare animals in the series has salvaged his farming business. “Where I would be today if it hadn’t been for the filming I just don’t know.”

Although, the value of Game of Thrones lies not just in its financial worth, but also in its impact on skills development. A report from Northern Ireland Screen commented that:

“Game of Thrones has so far proved unrivalled in its impact on skills development. A single season can be sufficient for a talented individual to advance one step up the career ladder, with many of the trainees from season one employed on subsequent seasons on full-time contracts.”

The unparalleled success of the series has put Northern Ireland on the map as a world-class production host for both film and TV. The executive vice-president of HBO, Jay Roewe, said that other studios have been attracted here because of their success: “People want to replicate that.”


Recently audited figures for Game of Thrones show that the production of season five injected a massive £26.3 million into the Northern Ireland economy, bringing the total amount across seasons 1-5 (including the pilot episode) to £115 million, with an investment of £12.45m from Northern Ireland Screen.

With the much anticipated sixth season set to premier in the UK on April 25th, Northern Ireland can only expect further boosts to its tourism, employment, and economy.