Assisted Dying in Northern Ireland: Where Do We Stand?

Dignity in Dying invited people of all perspectives to discuss assisted dying in the Hilton Hotel ©Dignity in Dying Northern Ireland
Last month’s Dignity in Dying event shone a new light on a topic often overlooked by Stormont. What causes our politicians to cast the debate surrounding assisted dying to the shadows, and how does that impact the people of Northern Ireland? Clare Hogarth investigates:

A discussion on the topic of assisted dying on 30th March was the first of its kind to take place since the cancellation of an event in 2011. The event in the Hilton went further than Dr Philip Nitschke’s banned Safe Exit Workshop six years ago, attracting an audience of all ages to discuss and share their thoughts.

While Nitschke planned a demonstration of the machine used in the euthanasia process, the event organised by Dignity in Dying was a night for “exploring different perspectives”, allowing people from all categories of thought to get involved.

Planned to coincide with the Association of Palliative Medicine’s Supportive and Palliative Care conference, the night revolved around the perspectives of palliative care professionals. Dr Richard Sheffer and Mark Jarman Howe addressed the room with their thoughts on how palliative care can work hand in hand with assisted dying.

It became clear the discussion of assisted dying was not exclusive to any age bracket, to the surprise of some in attendance as the observation “I thought I would be the only person under forty here…apparently not” rattled around the room.

Barbara Rima had planned to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland © Downtown Radio

First up on the panel was retired Queen’s professor Bert Rima, offering perhaps the most personal insight into the effect the current law on assisted dying has on those in need. Mr Rima’s wife Barbara had been suffering from a recurrence of breast cancer and MS, to the point she decided she would rather end her life.

However, under current legislation the closest place to legally allow assisted suicide is Dignitas in Switzerland, meaning Barbara would have to travel to get her wish. By the time the couple had solidified plans, Barbara was too weak to make the trip: Listen to Bert Rima  here.

While Swiss law allows a terminally ill person to administer lethal medication to end their life, the Suicide Act of 1961 means it is illegal in the UK to assist someone in their death. As a result, Barbara had to do this by her own means.

Mr Rima returned home one Sunday afternoon to find his wife had taken poison to end her suffering. He explains that it “was largely because of this event I have got involved in Dignity in Dying”, emphasising the effect the current law has on those suffering and beyond: Listen to Bert Rima here.


The facts

Assisted dying, also known as physician-assisted suicide (PAS), refers to the act of suicide assisted by another person, in most cases a physician. Assisted dying gives the subject control of when, where and by what means they die, with many seeing the use of fatal pills or injections allowing a more peaceful death than other suicidal means.

Jo Brand is one of many celebrity patrons for Dignity in Dying, including Sir Terry Pratchett and Sir Patrick Stewart © Dignity in Dying

There is a significant difference between assisted dying and euthanasia, where in cases of the latter the means of death is administered by the physician as opposed to the subject. In cases of assisted dying, the subject not only must voluntarily express their wish to die and request the means to do so, but must also administer the pills or injection themselves.

There are a number of different safeguards in place where assisted dying is currently legal, as can be seen in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. Similar “end-of-life” practice can be seen in California, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, known as ‘medical aid in dying’ as opposed to assisted dying.


Bringing it home – what do we know?

A survey of 100 people conducted for the purpose of this investigation indicated that 95% of the Northern Irish population were familiar with the term assisted dying.

When asked about their initial thoughts, 82% agreed with its use, with a majority citing mercy and ending suffering as their reasons for this. Both disagreement and uncertainty were balanced at nine votes each, with the latter justified by the question of where the line would be drawn in granting requests for assisted death.


Where do we stand?

After Lord Falconer of Thoroton’s 2014 bill to the House of Lords failed to progress due to a General Election, Labour MP Rob Marris introduced another to the House of Commons a year later. Based on Falconer’s proposals for assisted dying, Marris’ 2015 bill was the first opportunity the Commons had to vote on the issue since 1997.

The Green Party are the only Party to have a policy on assisted dying © Green Party NI

The bill was defeated 330 to 118, with 13 out of 14 Northern Irish MP’s voting against, while the other failed to attend.

This political rejection of the issue could almost be seen as complete detachment in Northern Ireland. Assisted dying is essentially non-existent in Stormont and can only be seen in the Green Party’s manifesto. Boyd Sleator, Operations Co-ordinator for Northern Ireland Humanists and advocate for assisted dying, does not see any Party including it on their to-do list for a long time: Listen to Boyd Sleator here


A medical perspective

The medical perspective on assisted dying is incredibly significant, with the role of prescribing and attending doctors crucial to the process.

The British Medical Association (BMA) “oppose assisted dying in all its forms”, giving particular emphasis on the high quality palliative care available and their concern for the pressure it would put on vulnerable people.

Another concern is the “slippery slope” of safeguarding assisted dying, with fears that passing time would see “…the law being extended beyond the limits originally envisaged at its inception.”

Dr Idris Baker, a consultant in palliative care at Morriston Hospital in Wales, shares the same stance.

Dr Baker opposes any changes to the current law © BBC

“A change in the law isn’t needed, would send the wrong  signals about life, and would make it harder to do what’s really needed for the dying.”


He echoes the BMA’s fears for the vulnerable, about which he debated in Belfast against Baroness Warnock: “…a few years ago she said that it was noble for someone to volunteer to shorten their life and so not be a burden.  What’s noble is for the rest of us to redouble our efforts to make sure that no one feels worthless.”

Dr Baker says it is his experiences with his patients that make him so passionate about tackling the gaps palliative care may have, not ending life: “You should see the way people reframe their hopes to realign them with a changed reality.  It is without doubt the most humbling thing I have seen in my career and I see it time after time, day after day.  So part of my job is to support people in trying to do that.”


The counterargument

After his wife’s death, Bert Rima has become a steadfast campaigner for Dignity in Dying. When asked about the arguments by those who oppose changes to the law, he had much to say on their effect in reality: Listen to Bert Rima here.

Boyd Sleator refutes the same arguments, with particular rejection of the theory assisted dying will place pressure on those in vulnerable positions: Listen to Boyd Sleator here.

While he acknowledges safeguarding assisted dying would have its difficulties, Boyd explains “by reviewing and revising the process we can constantly update and improve, and that is what we should always be looking at doing.”

Boyd makes the stance of Northern Ireland Humanists clear, in that they are not advocates of assisted dying, but advocates of choice: Listen to Boyd Sleator here.

People like Mark Jarman Howe, part of the panel at Dignity in Dying’s event, make it clear the stance on assisted dying in the medical world is not so black and white.


Dr Richard Scheffer, Bert Rima and Mark Jarman Howe shared their perspectives on assisted dying © Clare Hogarth

 “If we value how end of life and hospice care focus on the individual’s wishes, then why would we not want to extend that to the how and the when, not just the where?” asks CEO of Essex Hospice Mark Jarman Howe


Howe is not alone in the medical world. Dr Richard Sheffer, with 20 years experience in both palliative and hospice care, refutes that palliative care and assisted dying are mutually exclusive, but a team.

Where palliative care cannot relieve suffering, he believes we cannot ignore the need for assisted dying to step in: Listen to Dr Richard Sheffer here.


Where do we go from here?

Both Bert Rima and Boyd Sleator doubt there will be much movement on assisted dying in Northern Ireland for a long time.

However, while the politicians continue with other matters, the people of Northern Ireland continue to live, learn and have their say. When asked if they would vote to allow assisted dying in Northern Ireland, only 9% of survey respondents voted no. Of the 91% that voted yes, 25% said it depended on the circumstance and safeguards that were put in place.

In the current political climate, with an Executive struggling to be formed, it is clear assisted dying is at the bottom of an extensive to-do list, if at all.

Meanwhile, the people of Northern Ireland continue to discuss and debate, and Dignity in Dying’s campaign will persist until they see movement.

 

BACK IN BLACK 

And every other colour under the sun now. Vinyl is back and it could well be here to stay. With Record Store Day just around the corner thousands of eager vinyl collectors will be waiting outside record shops all across U.K in the hope of bagging themselves one of the prized, rare, limited edition pressings, released exclusively for Record Store Day.

The point of the event is to get people to visit their local, independent record store, and to promote the comeback of vinyl records. With 2017 being the 10th anniversary of Record Store Day, there could well be some very special and sought after releases indeed.

Some of the records rumored to be released for the event include;

Alice In Chains – What The Hell Have I/Get Born Again [2×7”] (gatefold, limited to 4000, indie-retail exclusive) 7″,

Buddy Guy – Sick With Love / She Got It Together [10”] (two brand new songs, limited to 1500, indie-retail exclusive) 10″,

Motorhead – Clean Your Clock [2LP] (Picture Disc, limited to 1500, indie-retail exclusive) LP, and Toto – Africa [12”] (Picture Disc, die cut, limited to 2500, indie-retail exclusive) 12″.

Not only does the event draw crowds of genuine collectors who want the release for themselves, but it also draws in people who want to buy the rare pressing because they know they can quickly turn a profit by selling them online.

Vinyl Records are becoming increasingly popular with sales overtaking downloads in December 2016.

2016 saw vinyl sales at their highest in 25 years. According to the Entertainment Retailers Association, in one week alone in December vinyl sales actually made £2.4m and overtook downloads which made £2.1m.

Many people think the reason download sales are declining could be due to the increase in popularity of streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora. With these services, you don’t actually own the music, rather you pay your subscription to the service and the music is then ‘rented’ to you.

Spotify offers a family package for £14.99 per month which allows up to six different user accounts. This means that between six people, you can have the service for £2.50 per month so it’s easy to see why people are moving towards services such as this. However, a lot of people still want to own their music and a hard copy of it too. This is one of the reasons that vinyl records have seen a revival over the past decade.

This isn’t the first time vinyl has made a comeback however. The first vinyl revival was largely due to teenage bedroom DJs in the 90s, who wanted to play in the top night clubs in Ibiza. They would buy their turntables and mixers and then all the latest records to use in their own mixes. This came to an end however, with the popularity of digital music on the rise. DJs were able to take their whole record collection with them without having to carry boxes of heavy vinyl around with them. Go to any night club today and you’ll most likely see a DJ using little more than a laptop and a mixer. Vinyl sets are more of a gimmick these days, played in more ‘alternative’ clubs or on ‘Old School’ nights.

What is the appeal of vinyl? 

Whether it’s a trendy youngster who is following the latest craze, a housewife who wants something to spin while she does the cleaning, or a middle aged man trying to rebuild his collection that the wife made him get rid of when we all thought vinyl was dead and buried, it seems that vinyl could be here be stay this time.

Just what is it everybody seems to love about vinyl though? Maybe it’s the ritual of browsing through the pile of records, taking it out of its sleeve and placing it on the turntable. Maybe it’s the initial sound of the needle dropping or the smell of old records. It could be the perfect imperfections in an old record that give it a sense of character.  Maybe it’s just about nostalgia for many people.

To find out more, I spoke to Connor Booth, an avid vinyl collector who has been adding to his collection for the past 7 or 8 years. He has traveled all over the country buying, selling and swapping records and audio equipment.

I then wanted to get some more opinions, so I took to social media to see just what it is about vinyl that means it won’t go away.

I asked the question, “Vinyl Collectors:- What is it about vinyl that you like so much compared to other formats?”

Some responses from Facebook included;

I then asked the same question on the ‘Metal Amino’ app. This is an app where you can interact with other users and talk about music.

A user by the name of Steven said, “To me vinyl has a raw sound to it compared to CD’s, the artwork is much bigger, the boxsets are usually filled with more goodies than most CD boxsets and you usually get a poster with the vinyl too.”

Another user by the name ‘Br00tal’ replied to this comment saying, “Don’t forget that almost all vinyl records now come with a free code for digital download too, so now you can have two formats!”

“Nostalgia, better packaging, good investment and the sound quality is superior to digital formats” said user, ‘GreyMatterSplatter’.

‘Lony’ agrees with the previous comments but adds, “I also enjoy the crackling sound my record player makes sometimes.”

‘Derek Wayne Buckner’ says, “It’s more collectable. It’s bigger. It sounds different. It can’t be pirated easily or copied. I feel like you get more of a product for the money. The artwork and stuff included is bigger and seems nicer.”

‘GreyMatterSplatter’ mentioned that vinyl is a good investment. This is actually a very good point. If you buy your music digitally, then it’s yours, but you can’t sell it. (Not legally anyway.) However if you buy vinyl records, you can usually sell them on for close to what you paid for it if it’s a new release. Of course some records also go up in value if they are limited edition. This also means that if you buy a record and you decide you don’t really like it, you can simply sell it on or swap it for a different one.

Independent Shops 

Track Records is an independent record store in Ballymena

There are quite a few independent record shops opening up across the country now. This is almost hard to believe as just a few years ago, big chain stores were closing down. In February 2013, HMV announced that they would be closing 66 stores throughout the UK. 9 of these stores were in Northern Ireland including one in Ballymena where a small independent shop is now open. This was a time where it was thought to be the death of physical media. Everything was being downloaded; not just music but also films, games and even books and magazines.

Track Records started out life when Joe Rocks was working for free in a café which also sold vintage clothes.  Some vinyl was then brought in to sell alongside the clothes and there seemed to be quite a demand for it. Joe, along with a 5-a-side friend then opened a small stall at a market on Saturdays selling vinyl. This led to the birth of Track Records which has changed location 3 times but has been in business for the past 5 years – quite an achievement for a small independent shop in a town where so many other businesses are having to close their doors.

 

I went along to Track Records, to speak with the owner, Joe Rocks about the vinyl revival and the impact Record Store Day has on small, independent record shops.

 

Owner, Joe Rocks is also a singer/songwriter

So whether it’s the big artwork and inserts, the little crackles you get from the needle, or just simply the collectability of it, it would seem that vinyl certainly has a place in our hearts and it may be here for the long run this time.

 

World Record Store day is happening on 22nd April and participating stores in Northern Ireland are; Head – Belfast, Sick Records – Belfast, Armagh Music – Armagh, Cool Discs Music – Londonderry.
But don’t forget to look in other independent stores too- you may find a great bargain or hidden gem!

For a full list of official releases check out RSD’s website here.

The Positive Impact of the Arts on Belfast City

 

Belfast City Hall – By Naomi Dowling

 

With the increase in funding for the local arts, and with the vast increase in visitors flocking to the city, Belfast knows only too well the positive influence of the arts. But how has this happened? and where can you experience it yourself? Investigated by Naomi Dowling. 

Back in 2012, Belfast City Council announced they would make a huge investment into the Arts, promising £150 million-pound contribution. It was the aspiration that, with the help of the local money and programming, by the year 2015 Northern Ireland would emerge as a city of vibrancy, passion, and talent.

“Some say putting local money into the arts is a waste, but without art you wouldn’t have the artistic enjoyment or the communal enjoyment that comes from this sector. Belfast has places that no other country can offer and its by time they were displayed.”, says Damian Smyth from the Arts Council Northern Ireland.

Now two years on from this goal, this positive progression oozes across the city. More people in Northern Ireland choose to interact with the arts than any other means of leisure combined, 80% to be exact, a vast growth from the 40% it used to be in the early 20th Century. This growth in interaction has thus contributed to the fact that, even with its dark past, Belfast has emerged as one of Europe’s most culturally celebrated destinations, for its history and artistic brilliance.

As a capital city, Belfast is best known for its political art, and it was during the 1970’s that many used murals to portray and express political feelings. However, the change from this heavy political influence to one of urban, colourful artisan cannot be denied. Hence, it will come as a surprise to many, that it is the art’s sector that has helped us to emerge from gloom to glory, in terms of educational, economic, and even political precedents. Hundreds of murals are scattered over the city expressing, not only political ideas but social opinions and peace, through expressions of love, food, and colour.

Smyth says, “Belfast is probably the most famous for its political murals, they are a territory marking, but in the 21st Century there has been a change in art, from heavy orthodox political influence over the last 10 years, to art becoming more open, more socially focused.”

Belfast’s new and emerging street art – By Naomi Dowling

It is this change in artistic vibes that have played a key role in the attractiveness of Belfast City to outsiders. Although, as Smyth points out, Belfast has grown from a dark demesne into greatness due to all art forms, be it film, music, dance. “All the art forms grow at the same time and the same speed in Belfast…and each have a tremendous effect…I think that is because Belfast is a very small geographical place with an intense artistic vibe, this puts pressure on artists to perform and they do not let us down.”

The beautiful aspect about this city is that each of these art forms has a place in the hearts of the community, the exhibitions, art festivals, markets, and visuals that surround Belfast, show the sheer stance of the love for this medium.

Moreover, ever since this surge in funding began, Belfast has also had an increased audience of 16 million coming from all walks, to not only see the art but partake in its creation. To emphasise the nature of this growth, I spoke with high-end Art’s Dealer Charles Gilmore, asking how he feels about the increase of the arts sector.

Listen to Charles Gilmore

This increase in audience for the arts is even more impressive when compared to its large competition against major cities such as London and Dublin. Local artist Emma Colbert, who regularly travels to and from Europe selling and creating her art agreed, declaring that Belfast is one of the best artistic cities she works in. “In comparison to a lot of Europe where I have been travelling to at the minute, Belfast is pretty great for its art. Even the variety of art shops and the number of galleries is a lot more than some of the major places in Europe.”

Colbert went on to emphasis the vital nature of the arts to the survival of this city. “Art will always have a place in society because of its positive impact. Creative people are a vital part of the mix, and their work has always shaped our perceptions…”

Essentially, it is because of this positive artistic growth that Belfast is now considered as a place of excellence to explore for its art culture, against places like London. The city is now set up as a place for alternative urban city breaks alongside the likes of Prague and Berlin.

But if “The visual arts occupy a way of life that only Belfast can bring”, as Smyth, and his fellow artisans believe, where, what and how can the traveller experience the arts? Let me tell you.

For any urban traveller coming to Belfast, the cities Cathedral Quarter is at the top of the list to discover. Mentioned by many other local travel writers, and a short walk away from Belfast City Hall, the Cathedral Quarter is the section of Belfast that gushes contemporary and traditional artistic vibes.

Upon walking into this area of the city you will be taken by the chic traditional architectural structures of the buildings, and the beautiful cobbled streets that would have felt the feet of the late Irish ancestors. Take a moment to look up at the tall steeple of St. Anne’s Cathedral, the magnificent detail, the painted fronts and the traditional arches of the pubs and shops.

Making your way further into the Cathedral Quarter you are hit with the alternative upbeat vibes that Belfast has to offer. Filled with quirky pub venues, try the Dirty Onion, or the Cloth Ear on a Thursday night to hear local bands, and quirky restaurants. However, what’s spectacular about this section of the city is the witty art that is used to decorate the surrounding alleys and walls.

As mentioned, murals have always been a famous part of Belfast culture. The murals are famous for holding much of the political history that went on during the 1970’s. However, there is also a vast amount of new and quirky murals that have made their way onto the walls. To fully appreciate their meaning and comparison against the heavy political, one can book a walking tour around the artistic quarter, where you can learn more about the reasons behind the pieces, and even offers you a worthy chance to use your expensive Canon camera.

Cathedral Quarter – By Naomi Dowling

A little further along the Cathedral Quarter, The Mac graces us, which is renowned for highlighting spectacular local and worldwide talent. Displaying a mixture of photography, film, abstract and fine art, The Mac is an exhibition center for contemporary art lovers, who want to divulge in a freshly roasted coffee afterward. It’s also a space where students from the neighboring Arts College set up laptop and pen to create their own artistic masterpiece, soaking in the vibes of the spectacular artistic inspiration surrounding them.

After enjoying the experiences of the Cathedral Quarter, tour back up towards the centre where, less than a 5-minute stroll away, lies the Ulster Hall. A stunning architectural building that has been at the basis of displaying the best musical talent in Northern Ireland for the past 150 years. This place has been graced with the likes of rock gods, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, U2, Coldplay, to one of Northern Irelands proudest achievements, The Ulster Orchestra, who perform, not only at the Ulster Hall but all around the UK each classical season. Just check out this performance from last season, you’ll be sure to recognise the piece and receive goose-bumps from the spectacular talent.

Why not have a look at the Ulster Hall website and plan your visit around a show of your choice? You will not leave disappointed. If you find yourself peckish after the show just step outside and you will be stuck for choice with the array of swanky bars and restaurants situated close to the building.

Titanic Quarter – By Naomi Dowling

Although, no visit to Belfast would be complete without a trip to the Titanic Quarter. One of the world’s largest urban spaces, the Titanic Quarter covers a 185 acre on the exact spot where the RMS Titanic was built. Hosting a combination of art, history, education, and commercial spaces, excitement, and eye-catching detail surround this area.

The true essence can only be fully appreciated with a guided tour, which is worthy of both money and time. Led around the monument, exploring both the outside and inside of the quarter, the standpoint of the tour must be the virtual reality lift that takes you around the interior of the ship in a sophisticated Edwardian fashion. Next to this has to be the virtual standing screen, where visitors get to peer below their feet at the ocean depths to see the Titanic as she sits today.

To see these places, and more, play the short video below and witness the range of the experiences this city can offer you.

 

Clubs, Drugs and EDM: A closer look at club culture in Northern Ireland

On 7 February 2014, emergency services treated over 100 young people outside a music concert in Belfast. The performer was Hardwell, a Dutch dance music producer and DJ. Small quantities of drugs were seized, Hardwell’s subsequent gig in Edinburgh was cancelled, and the situation was declared a “major incident” by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS).

Families across the country, in particular those who had children or family at the event, scrambled for more information as panic swept the nation.

Many of the young people were unconscious and in a life threatening state, as ambulances and police cars surrounded the venue. The whole thing, visually, was striking and reminiscent of what you would expect to see at the scene of some sort of major attack, not a music concert.

Police gather outside Hardwell’s 2014 Belfast concert

This event was one of many that helped shape the public perception surrounding both the clubbing scene in Northern Ireland and illicit, dance music associated drugs such as ecstasy and MDMA.

There was public uproar and mass hysteria, the type that previously surrounded breakthrough forms of music such as punk rock and heavy metal.

But just how warranted is it? Does Northern Ireland really have a problem with illicit drugs in club culture? How do the facts stack up? And what can be done to improve the image of the clubbing scene and, in particular, dance music?

Numbers don’t lie – an assessment of the problem

Firstly, let’s look at the facts. The Department of Health’s 2014/15 Drug Prevalence Survey reports that around 27% of respondents had admitted to using illegal drugs at some point in their lifetime. However, across all of the responses, cannabis was by far and away the most widely used drug.

Contrastingly, 61% of respondents, over three fifths, reported drinking alcohol in the past month, with a fifth of adults admitting that they should cut down. So, from the offset, alcohol appears to be much more widely used than illicit drugs – and the majority of those illicit drug uses are concerning cannabis, a drug that isn’t widely considered to be dangerous.

A very telling statistic is the fact that 13% of respondents said that alcohol had caused them to have relationship or family problems as a result of their usage, while it was only 5% for drugs.

So, statistically, “clubbing drugs” such as MDMA and Ecstasy are grossly underrepresented, while alcohol is very highly represented and leads to many more problems concerning quality of life than any of the illegal drugs do.

The NI Drugs Misuse Database from 2015/16 provides some clarity on these statistics: of those who reported to healthcare professionals for drug misuse, Cannabis was most represented (66%), with Cocaine coming in second (35%), and Ecstasy only accounting for 10%.

So, even when only illegal drugs are considered and not alcohol, traditional clubbing drugs like Cocaine and Ecstasy are still not as highly represented as you might expect.

Research conducted by St. George’s University of London showed that, surprisingly, the top five drug killers in Northern Ireland were all legal drugs, not illegal. So why isn’t there a perception surrounding painkillers, or a crackdown in policy surrounding such drugs?

An inside opinion

It appears that the numbers and the facts don’t match the stigma.

I went to get the perspective of someone who’s in at the heart of the Northern Irish electronic music scene, Belfast-based producer Jamie Lowry, notable for his chiptune alias Casion and his bass music duo Anchorite.

Casion performing at T13 in 2015

I asked him what he thought about dance music’s long term association with illicit drugs and overindulgence:

I can understand the association,” remarked Jamie.

“Drug use and dance music culture have been tied up together for a long time.

“However, a lot of music and art culture can be linked and is linked to drug use.”

When asked about what kind of people are attracted to the clubbing lifestyle, Jamie stated that, “Perhaps it’s that the kind of people drawn to those kinds of scenes are more likely to experiment with illicit substances.

Who knows? It’s very hard to make any kind of definitive statement,” and proceeded to give some advice for club goers:

“I think it’s fair to say that drug use is common at some dance music events but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing as long as people are careful, safe and well informed.”

 Eventually, the conversation turned to drug laws and the current policing regarding them. I asked Jamie what he thought on this front.

“I absolutely think that drugs should be policed differently. I think education and regulation should be the strategy adopted, as opposed to just locking people up because they’ve made a mistake,” Jamie stated.

“Too many lives are ruined for something that doesn’t harm anybody else, and I think it would be safer for society and safer for the individuals using them if drugs were handled in a more calm manner.”

I finished by asking him on his thoughts about “club culture” and the fear that many members of the public have concerning it. “I actually don’t think the majority of the public fear ‘club culture’, “Most people these days have experience either going out to bars or nightclubs of some description,” he went on to say.

“I think, however, there certainly is an element of hysteria concerning drug usage, and there has been for a long time. When you look at alcohol, and you see how much worse it is in terms of deaths and damage caused to society, it’s quite easy to be dismissive of the fear mongering.”

A rapper’s perspective

Another Belfast-based artist, Jasper Waddell aka “Mafya” was keen to share his views and opinion on Northern Ireland’s clubbing scene.

“To a certain extent there is a real association between clubs and drugs, but i think it varies quite a bit. Clubbing as an umbrella term probably means a lot of things to a lot of different people,

“I think a lot of it depends on where you go and who you are with. The nightlife scene is always going to attract drug users.”

Similarly to Jamie, Jasper considers it a matter of fact that drugs and clubs go hand in hand.  In terms of how this affects his gigs and live shows, Jasper made it clear that, “Most of the time, whether it’s a bit of cannabis or pills,  some people need it to enjoy themselves,

“Sometimes its refreshing to do different events and do different things where the crowd is more sober.”

When questioned about the dangers of certain club drugs, Jasper was very clear.

“What saddens me though is seeing young people, and kids around sixteen, taking pills,

“They are dangerous. Coming from someone who knows, they are fun but you are playing with your life.”

“At 16 your brain hasn’t developed. How can you focus on your studies, and becoming a normal young adult, if you’re always getting wiped out?”

Jasper’s words are important for any young person to consider, and perhaps if the young party-goers in Belfast in 2014 had heard the same advice they wouldn’t have gone so far.  On policing, Jasper believes that the police do perhaps need to be addressed differently.

“They (drugs) are over-policed to a certain extent.

Belfast, however, isn’t too strict, and there are far worse crimes to be doing to be honest. There’s a lot more that the police could spend their time doing,”

The topic then came up of hysteria surrounding club and dance culture, and I asked Jasper for his view of whether or not this fear is warranted.

“You know, one person dies from a pill and hysteria breaks out,
thousands of people die from alcohol abuse each year.”

“It’s similar to a plane crash, more people die in car crashes every year but because plane crashes only happen rarely and are much scarier, people tend to be more afraid of planes.”
“As I said, a line needs to be drawn regarding age, but education for drugs is important.”

The bottom line

It becomes clear from assessing both the perspectives of these two figures within the scene, and from analyzing the statistics, that the fear and concern surrounding Northern Ireland’s bustling club and dance culture is very overblown.

“If you are going to take substances which are harmful you should know the right amount, the safe way to take them, and when to get help”

Alcohol and many other legal drugs kill and damage far more people than the illicit drugs which the public fears.  Drugs, while indeed dangerous in the wrong hands, are not the sole problem, and the scene isn’t ready to give them up any time soon.

(Below you will find audio including the opinions and perspectives of several students on this issue, many of whom have had real life experiences involving pills. It’s clear from those I interviewed that the current regime of policing drugs is not working in the eyes of young people, and that greater education is needed.)

 

Investigation of the music scene in Northern Ireland

Investigation of the

music scene in Northern Ireland

 

 

“Giving it your all for the crowd, for the band and for yourself is what is vitally important at the end of the day.”

 

 

What draw does the music scene in Northern Ireland possess?

 

One of the things that Northern Ireland has to be proud of is its contribution to music. Take Van Morrison as an example, he is one of Belfast’s and music’s true talents. Receiving six Grammy awards, the 1994 Brit award for outstanding contribution to the music, as well as being inducted into the Rock and Roll and Songwriters hall of fame respectively. Northern Ireland also has celebrity fans such as: Liam Gallagher, of Oasis and Beady eye fame, describing the people of Northern Ireland as, “always so up for it- they just get it.” With regards to new talent in the Northern Ireland music scene, the Oh Yeah music centre acts as almost a bridge, for helping new talent find their way to the top. I have learned from researching Northern Ireland’s music scene and an article from Ireland.com, that Northern Ireland’s capital Belfast, is a place for music lovers of all genres. It is also clear that the Northern Ireland music scene has produced top notch superstars such as Van Morrison, and is currently producing the next wave of talented bands, duos and singer songwriters. This is the draw that the music scene in Northern Ireland possesses.

 

What successful acts has the Northern Ireland music scene produced of recent note?

 

One of the main awards ceremony in Northern Ireland is the NIMA’s, which stands for the Northern Ireland Music awards. The NIMA’s celebrate the best of local music. This clearly indicates that Northern Ireland’s music scene is fruitful in the acts it is able to produce, and later establish worldwide as successful acts. Back in 2011, an article from the Belfast Telegraph had a list that I was able to find, of Northern Ireland artists to watch out for. These bands included: Wonder Villains, And so I watch you from afar, Cashier no 9, The Japanese Popstars, Two Door Cinema Club, LaFaro and General fiasco. Since this article was written, these acts have produced albums and gained worldwide acclaim, especially the band Two Door Cinema Club. With their third studio album, Gameshow, being released in October 2016. These bands are proof of the quality acts that the Northern Irish music scene have produced over the past couple of years, and will all in well continue to produce in the future.

 

 

 

 

What venues in Northern Ireland stage the best music?

 

 

“The feeling of being able to play in a venue with a good crowd can’t be matched.”

 

Another article from the Belfast Telegraph reports on the best venues for country music. Trevor Campbell aka Big T from Downtown radio, gives his best venues that stage country music within Northern Ireland. He lists five venues including: Belfast Nashville songwriter’s festival, The Ramble Inn in Antrim, The Ryandale in Moy, Mourne Country Hotel in Newry, Tullyglass Hotel in Ballymena and Melon Country Inn near Omagh. All of the country venues listed by Trevor Campbell are spread out throughout Northern Ireland, meaning there isn’t just one area in Northern Ireland that has great venues for country music.

 

5 Gigs not to miss this March, is the tagline from an article on giggingni.com. This article talks about five gigs from artists that any music lover should not miss. These five acts include Frank & The Rattlesnakes in the Oh Yeah Centre, Russian Circles in the Empire Hall, Sonata Arctica in Limelight, Run The Jewels in Limelight and Stormzy also in Limelight in Belfast. All of these acts performing in the different venues aren’t from Northern Ireland, but the music scene itself in Northern Ireland has undoubtedly encouraged them to travel to the country, and perform for their fans. The venues in Northern Ireland like the Limelight have always been able to draw big acts from all parts of the world to perform there. The artists from near and far enjoy the atmosphere that the Northern Irish crowds bring, and that keeps them coming back to perform at sold out gigs. Due to the fact that big acts like Run the Jewels and Stormzy for example have performed in a venue like Limelight, gives it the status of fame. Upcoming acts in Northern Ireland can look at this draw that a venue in Northern Ireland can produce, and this encourages them to improve, and maybe play on the same stage one day that their idols have done in the past.

 

Speaking to Zakk Gowing the lead guitarist of Gozer the Traveller, he was able to tell me how he performed in a battle of the bands gig in Limelight with Gozer at the end of February. He explained how special it was to perform on a stage where some of his idols had performed before him, and that it’s so important that venues such as Limelight continue to draw big name artists, as it will give bands such as his own to look up too, and really believe that the sky is the limit. His band didn’t win the competition, but the feeling of being able to play in a venue with a good crowd could not be matched. Giving it your all for the crowd, for the band and for yourself is what is vitally important at the end of the day. This is what Zakk was able to tell me about his experience of playing in Limelight with his band, Gozier the Traveller.

 

Listen to the Zakk Gowing interview here

A link to Gozer the Traveller’s Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/Gozer-the-Traveller-293365147519890/?pnref=about.overview

A picture of Zakk performing in Limielight With Gozer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it difficult for Northern Irish acts to break into the mainstream of other countries?

 

“It will always be difficult for bands or stand-alone musicians starting out to make a mark in the Northern Irish mainstream.”

 

With any country it is an honour to be popular, but to be big in a country like America for example, is a next level honour. Northern Irish acts have been able to make names for themselves in the mainstream of other countries. Taking the Northern Irish band, Two Door Cinema Club for example, their debut album, Tourist History in 2010, charted in numerous music charts across the globe. Charting fifth in the US Heat Seekers Album chart, twenty-sixth in the US Independent albums chart, twenty sixth in the Scottish Albums chart and fortieth in the Belgian alternative albums chart. Their sophomore album, Beacon in 2012, was more successful in charting in other countries. Charting sixth in the US Alternative Albums chart, fifth in the US Independent Albums chart, seventh in the US Rock Albums chart, fourth in the Australian Albums chart and second in the Scottish Albums chart. Their latest album release, Gameshow, charted in a number of countries across the globe, but wasn’t as successful as Beacon. Charting twenty-fourth in the Australian Albums chart, twelfth in the Scottish Albums chart, eighth in the US Top Alternative albums chart and thirteenth in the US top Rock Albums chart.

 

Two Door Cinema Club are a great example of a Northern Irish band, that have been able to transition well into the mainstream charts of other countries. Although the band’s achievements by no means say that it is easy for any band from Northern Ireland, to be successful in other countries’ music charts.

 

Speaking to Zakk, and asking him about Gozier the Traveller’s chances in the mainstream, and about mainstream music in the Northern Irish music scene, he had an interesting opinion on the matter. He told me that being in a heavy metal band himself, would make it harder for them to break into the mainstream in Northern Ireland. Although it didn’t matter what genre of music it was, it will always be difficult for bands or stand-alone musicians starting out to make a mark in the Northern Irish mainstream. He believed that to be popular you had to stand out and be unique. This would in turn allow popularity to soar, and for music executives to recognise you, and sign you up for deals, tours of different countries etc. Zakk also believed that if a music listener was only listening to one genre of music, and not making contact with other genres, then they were simply missing out. Zakk believed that Northern Ireland’s music scene is currently vibrant, but it could be better when it comes to the appreciation of metal as a genre of music. Comparing Northern Ireland’s music scene to England and America, Zakk also thought that the reason there were so many, and have always been more opportunities in them countries, is because they are simply much larger than Northern Ireland.

 

 

 

Even though the scene may be smaller in comparison to England and America’s, Zakk believed that the Northern Irish music scene can only get bigger and better. With more and more new bands, singers and songwriters coming out of the woodwork. Restricting yourself to a specific genre of music would not allow the Northern Irish music scene to progress or get better. It would result in the scene always being inferior to other music scenes like in England or America for example.

 

Ulster University Coleraine’s South Building demolished as part of campus regeneration

As part of Ulster University’s regeneration program, the South Building on the Coleraine campus is currently being demolished.

The building that has been unoccupied since the last academic year is to be removed to clear the way for a more modern campus.

Student Vice President Kevin McStravock spoke about what this means for life at the university.

Is New Technology and Social Media Ruining Our Children’s Lives?

With new technology being ‘the way forward’ and ‘essential’ in our day-to-day lives, one question that is still something that parents often think about is, is technology today ruining our children’s lives? Ulster University student Aoife Reilly reports. 

 

Although we are in the 21st Century and digital technology is anywhere and everywhere, in 2017, it is not unusual for children to be seen walking about with a smart phone or a tablet constantly in their hands. From such a young age, we see children subconsciously swiping and confidently pressing buttons as if they were born knowing how to do it.

When we, as adults today, reminisce of our own childhood activities, we automatically think back to going outside to play hide and seek, cycling around on our bikes and even sometimes something as simple as kicking a football around with our neighbours we were at our happiest. These fond childhood memories play a major part and are essential for older people today to look back on to try to understand the issues that are facing children today.

However, for children now a days, because they are introduced to technology at such a young age, some of the games and outdoor activities that were popular a mere 20 years ago, are quite literally oblivious to them because new technologies have taken over and they would rather play a game on their iPad than outside in the fresh air.

It has gotten to the point in today’s world that many children, from as young as the age of 2 or 3, are now able to fully work and control tablets, laptops, smart phones and games consoles better than someone a lot older than them. With this, they can often begin to teach their own parents and grandparents new things and how to use them correctly.

‘growing up with lack of key life skills such as being able to read or riding a bike’

 

Since we are now in the digital media age where tablets and smart phones are a central part of our day to day lives, it is becoming somewhat clear that these pieces of technology are aiding children in ways, with iPads now being introduced into schools. However, from research conducted recently in 2014, it has been revealed that children, who have been introduced to new technology such as smart phones and tablets at a very young age, are more than likely growing up with a lack of key life skills such as being able to read or riding a bike.

It is often for some very hard to come to terms with the fact that we no longer can look out our windows on Christmas day and see children out playing with their new bikes or toys because they have either gotten the newest games console or a brand new iPhone.

Often when parents want a bit of peace and quiet they will hand their young children their tablets and games consoles, which will keep them occupied for as long as they need and more than often not, in restaurants you will see children sat at the table playing on their iPad or watching something on their parent’s phone just so they won’t kick up a fuss. While parents do give in to allowing their children to watch TV or use their tablets just so they can have some peace and quiet, they do secretly worry what this screen time is doing to their children’s brains.

 “I think it has got worse over the last number of years”

 

Speaking to social care worker Deborah Reilly, she expressed her opinion on the matter explaining, “I think it has got worse over the last number of years,” while believing that “children are at risk of bullying.” To hear the full interview with Deborah, click here.

It is not only parents and those who are much older who have become very much aware of how technology is taking over our lives, but more significantly, our children’s, but also young adults such as students. A post was written by a student on Facebook recently expressed, “Our elders will never understand how hard it is to grow up in this day and age…Technology (has) took over. We live most of our lives staring at our phones.”

Jonathan Maitland’s ITV Tonight programme, ‘Too young for technology?’ revealed that, by the time children start school at the age of 3 or 4, 70 per cent of them will already be confident in using a laptop, tablet or smart phone. In the same programme, it was also revealed that 47 per cent of parents think that it is important for a child to be familiar with technology before school, while 17 per cent of children under three actually owns their own smart phone or tablet.

 ’17 per cent of children under 3 own a smart phone or tablet’

 

For anyone who has children of their own, who allows them, from a young age to use these technologies, this will appear as a shock and often they will not realise the impact of technology on young children until they see statistics, like the ones above, placed in front of them.

On average, it is said that children from as young as the age of 3 are spending almost 8 hours of their day with their eyes glued to technology and it is now on the rise. Not only is screen time on the increase, most parents today are unaware of what their children are actually watching or viewing when they are online.

In recent years, it has come to the attention of media professionals, such as Ofcom and a huge concern that more and more children are watching real or staged violence online and are playing video games that are violent or contain other age-inappropriate content.

Although bodies such as the Games Rating Agency, GRA, deal with what age goes on the game, more than not children are getting their hands on games, which are not for their correct age group. With this, children are often led to believe that what they watch online or see in video games is ok to do and is somewhat legal which is why parents should be a lot more aware of what their children are watching online.

 

With social media on the increase and more and more people using it, it will be a shock to anyone at what the age restrictions are as it is often overlooked and forgotten about.

To create an account on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat etc., you have to be 13 years or older and to sign up to YouTube you have to be 18 years of age, although you can sign up at 13 with a parents permission. However, at least 78 per cent of users ignored the age requirements and are under 13 years of age.

 ’78 percent of users ignore the age requirements’

 

In 2006, the National Crime Agency (NCA), Jim Gamble and Peter Davies set up the organisation ‘Child Exploitation and Online Protection’, CEOP, to help protect the public from the most serious threats by disrupting and bringing to justice those serious and organised criminals who present the highest risk to the UK.

It is important to make sure that children are feeling safe online, so by parents keeping an eye on what websites they are visiting and whom they are talking to, this will be guaranteed.

The students at Ulster University, Coleraine and Queens University, Belfast expressed their thoughts on the topic with many sharing how different young children have it compared to their own childhood with iPhones non-existent.

 “not experiencing the kind of childhood that I did”

 

One student in particular, Malcolm Lyttle felt that “children are already too dependent on their devices that they have in their hand and they are not experiencing the kind of childhood that I did.” To find out what the other students thought, click here..

Although screen time does not just mean children being on their tablets or on their laptops playing games, this also involves watching TV and YouTube. With YouTube and catch up TV becoming increasingly popular over the last several years, it seems that a child would rather sit down and watch something from their tablet than sit in front of a TV.

Not only does this allow children to watch what they want when they want, it also means that they are able to find new programmes and new content other than what you’d find on TV.

For anyone who may feel at risk of being bullied, threatened or in any way attacked online should visit the website, www.ceop.police.uk, where you are able to get more information on how to report the situation.