PSNI hope simulator will make roads a safer place

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have created a car crash simulator in a bid to make the roads of Northern Ireland a safer place.

Aimed at students and young drivers, the simulator takes the passenger through a real story about a fatal car crash in Wales from around 10 years ago.

Starting from the beginning of the day, passengers will go through the events leading up to the crash, the fatal accident, as well as witnessing the role of the police after the accident.

Constable Crutchley, from the PSNI Road Safety Department, believes the simulator has a positive impact, “The purpose of the simulator is to try and make people think about the decisions they make when in a car.

“We get involved in education, we get involved in enforcement and we also work with other agencies to make roads safer through engineering.”

As the simulator was at Ulster University on an icy February morning, Constable Crutchley has some extra advice for motorists in difficult conditions.

“Don’t take chances,” he believes, “Be prepared and make sure that your car is defrosted properly before heading off in the morning.

“We hate to see motorists peering through a little gap in their front windscreen.”

Watch:

Fighting fees for a brighter future

Fighting fees for a brighter future

By Andy Gray (@AndyGrayNI)

With record numbers coming out to vote in the recent Assembly election, it is clear that politics has once again recaptured the interest of young people in society.

After Brexit, there were grumblings that “old people had taken away the future for young” people, but ultimately, not enough young people came out to make their voices heard.

But in the recent Assembly election, a vote sparked off the back of Martin McGuiness’ resignation as Deputy First Minister over the DUP’s handling of the RHI scandal, young people were determined to make a difference.

There are several factors that sparked the interest of the younger generation.

General Election Turnout % (Source: EONI) United Kingdom Northern Ireland
2005 61.4% 62.9%
2010 65.1% 57.6%
2015 66.1% 66.1%
2017 68.7% 65.4%

Firstly, the impact and fall out of the RHI scandal cannot be underestimated.  DUP leader Arlene Foster’s leadership over the scandal has been a disaster, with even many unionist voters moving away from their traditional vote in protest.

The DUP’s refusal to support equal marriage has also been heavily criticised by many young people. It’s no longer a generation of us versus them politics, manifestos and policies now do matter.

A demand for equality cannot be understated, and young people are leading the charge.

One factor that has played a part, and often went under the radar, is student fees. It’s attracted interest from young people right across the UK.

With constant threats to raise Student Fees from the Conservative Party, Labour have come out fighting and said they plan to abolish them altogether and create a higher education for the masses.

The issue of student fees has also grabbed attention back in Northern Ireland.

Unlike Scotland, England and Wales, students in Northern Ireland only pay a third of the price for an Undergraduate course, meaning that once again, Northern Ireland finds itself in a special position.

Speaking to students about the issue, the feeling is strong that students should not be hit by rising costs and more crippling debt that will hamper their future.

Luke Sunerton, who studies History and Politics at Queens’ University Belfast, believes that the student voice is stronger than ever.

“I think students, especially over here, have become frustrated at the same old excuses and bad relations between the different parties,” he said.

“But recently I think parties have recognised that they need to appeal to the younger voter too and there has been a real push to get the new generation on board.

“But I have to wonder really how much politicians want our vote, especially on equality issues and also with uncertainty over student fees.

“To get ahead when there is a push to get young people to go through university so that they can get a job when they graduate, but now after graduation there are few job prospects and a huge chunk of student debt.”

With student fees facing an uncertain future both locally and in Westminster, Mr Sunerton believes that it is a key issue among young people and first time voters.

He believes, “It’s definitely crucial for the young voter. Over in Westminster you have two contrasts with the Conservatives and Labour so I think interest has been peaked nationally.”

Cost of Undergraduate Tuition (Source: UniversityGuide.com) England and Wales Scotland (For Scottish Students) Scotland (For rest of UK) Northern Ireland
Cost (Per Year) £9,250 £1,820 £9,250 £4,030

Kevin McStravock, President for the Student’s Union at Ulster University, believes that government have to take students seriously about the issue.

“I believe strongly that students should have the right to access publically funded student tuition,” says Mr McStravock, “20 years ago, a lot of the now senior politicians would have been able to access tuition without having to pay for it and now students simply don’t have the same opportunities.

“I feel that everyone has a right to education and that everyone should have a right to try and better themselves. Everyone should be given an equal opportunity to progress their career without the financial burden that becoming a student can bring.

Ahead of the upcoming General Election, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to make higher education free and to write off any remaining student debt, something that Kevin believes is a positive step forward.

“It should be acknowledged that is budgeted so that is a good starting point,” he said, “I think there is still a lot more work that needs to be done to implement that. There is a huge cost associated with this but I believe that he has justified the reasons for it.

“I think it’s definitely achievable, it just depends on how the funding gap is addressed and the way in which it is paid for.”

With many Universities in the UK now run like a business, Mr McStravock believes that an open approach about the issue of fees is the only way to tackle the problem, “We are forward and the Chancellor of the university knows that we are opposed to fees.

“We understand that there is a huge funding gap in Northern Ireland but they know that we are fully opposed to any increase in fees.

“We’ve tried to find the areas in which we have common ground so we can easily work with the University to lobby with local government.”

Before the collapse of the Assembly in December, the Student’s Union organised a petition against the rise of fees which would be presented to the Assembly upon its return, and the President of the Union believes that it got a positive response.

“The vast majority of MLAs who replied to us were positive and recognised the need for additional funding for higher education. Some of them offered support which suggests that they would be in favour of tuition fees being scrapped.

“Obviously since then the Assembly has collapsed, but when it gets back up and running we will continue to lobby and provide a voice for students.”

With more young people coming out and voting in their masses, they are now deciding that it is time their voices are heard.

For the first time in many generations, young people are coming out in their masses and voting. Turn out percentages are up and are at a consistent level, meaning that it is now time for politicians to take note and listen to the future.

13 Reasons Why – Review.

 

 

If you haven’t heard of Netflix’s new series 13 Reasons Why, then you’ve probably been living under a rock. The aptly numbered 13-part series tells the story of 17 year old Hannah Baker; a teenage girl who has committed suicide, leaving behind 13 tapes directed at 13 different people, telling them how they contributed to her suicide. Each person must listen to the tapes in consecutive order and not pass them on until they have listened to each one.

The series is based on the Young Adult novel by Jay Asher, yet somehow manages to be embarrassingly out of touch with teenagers. In what world do 17 year olds say ‘FML Forever’ as a friendship catchphrase? Try lowering your age demographic to 7 year olds if you want this to resonate. Not to mention Hannah’s cheesy one-liners: “Once again you and the point are complete strangers” she sasses at Clay, in a laughably out of place Wednesday Adams-ridden tone. Its moments like this when I really can’t help but agree with characters who say that Hannah was a drama Queen.

The series manages to be more of a ‘tour de fail’ than a ‘tour de force’ as it tries to tackle a number of contentious issues such as voyeurism, bullying, rape, sexuality, addiction, suicide, and gun violence. This sickly concoction of tragic topics leaves little room to give each one the attention it deserves and leaves the viewer feeling unsatisfied. The main criticism I have is that the main issue -that of suicide – is robbed of its complexity. The show is based on the premise that other people’s actions can be the cause for suicide and ergo if you are nice to people they won’t have any reason to commit suicide. This message is of course reductive, and untrue. It seems somewhat beyond belief that the show gives not even one nod to mental illness or the word depression.

Indeed, some mental health charities have warned about the show’s misrepresentation of suicide and some schools have even sent letters home warning parents not to let their children watch it. Despite this, the series has worryingly still proven to be hugely popular. Ultimately, 13 Reasons Why falls at the first hurdle because of its simplistic portrayal of suicide and this poor execution of its primary concern makes it a no go for me in terms of TV viewing.

Figures show consultant waiting times on the increase in Northern Ireland

Figures show consultant waiting times on the increase in Northern Ireland

 

Recent figures published by the Department of Health have shown that patients in Northern Ireland are facing increasingly long waiting times for consultant appointments, despite Ministerial targets made last year.

A total of 253,093 patients were waiting for a first outpatient appointment in Northern Ireland as of 31st March 2017, which is almost a 20% increase on last year’s figures.

The Ministerial target set for this year stated that by March 2017, 50% of patients should wait no longer than 9 weeks for a first outpatient appointment, and no patient should wait longer than 52 weeks.

However, this target was not achieved by Northern Ireland as a whole or by an individual HSC Trust, with almost 70% of patients waiting longer than 9 weeks.

Almost two thirds of the 253,093 patients were waiting for a first outpatient appointment in one of the following specialties; Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery; Ear, Nose and Throat; General Surgery; Ophthalmology; Gynaecology; Neurology; and General Medicine.

 

Elaynee Ramsey, 43, from Seahill, Craigavad, said:

“I found a lump inside my mouth and neither my doctor or dentist could work out what it was.”

“Finally, my dentist referred me to an EMT specialist.”

“This was over a six months ago and I still haven’t received so much as a letter to confirm an appointment.”

The 52 week target was also not met by Northern Ireland as a whole, or by an individual HSC Trust, with 21% (53,113) of patients waiting longer than 52 weeks for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment.

Most of the 53,113 patients waiting more than 52 weeks for an such an appointment were in the following specialties: Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery; Ophthalmology; Neurology; Ear, Nose, and Throat, General Medicine; General Surgery, and Urology.

During the quarter ending March 2017, 1,722 patients decided to use the private sector as an alternative. This is more than double the figures from the previous quarter.

Serena Mills, 22, East Belfast, said:

“I was referred to a dermatologist about a mole on my back but the GP said it wasn’t urgent so I just waited.”

“But then I got a smear test and the results came back and I got referred and it was going to take ages so the GP recommended I go private. So I did.”

“The mole thing was about last year and I got seen in about three months, but it was meant to be about six months before I would have been able to get an appointment about the smear results which is why I went private for it.”

A Co. Down GP has spoken out against the excessive waiting times being endured by his patients who are forced to carry on with painful and debilitating conditions:

“This cannot be allowed to go on.”

“GPs are forced to manage patients’ conditions who are waiting a long time to be seen by a consultant.”

“I have seen patients wait a year and a half just to get an appointment with a consultant to have their tonsils assessed, for example, and then after that they have to wait another year for the operation to have them removed.”

“It’s sad that so many GPs have to recommend that patients go private because the waiting times on the NHS are so long.”

In February, the former Health Minister Michelle O’Neill unveiled a plan to address the waiting list crisis, requiring a £31.2 million cash injection.

O’Neill said that she hoped it would mean that by March 2018, no one would wait more than a year for a first hospital appointment or surgery.

The plan has six commitments which encompass a number of actions designed to reform elective care services to meet current and future demand.

A key commitment is to provide assessment, treatment and care to reduce the waiting lists backlog, while continuing the longer term process to transform secondary, primary and community care services

However, given the current political stalemate in Northern Ireland, it is not known if this plan will move forward.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said:

“The plan does not focus solely on hospitals, but takes into account all of our health and social care services working together to transform the delivery of care.

“Parts of this will involve maximising hospital capacity through innovations such as specialist elective care centres for treatment and the further development of ambulatory assessment and treatment centres, but it is also about making better use of the skills of our primary care professionals and doing more outside the hospital setting”.

Belfast Photo Festival 2017 launched

 

 

Belfast Photo festival returns this month and will run from 1-30th June with exhibitions, talks, workshops, masterclasses, tours, portfolio reviews, and screenings taking place across 25 venues within the city.

Launched in 2011, this major photographic event attracts over 80 thousand visitors a year, celebrating some of the finest National and International contemporary photography across 30 museums, galleries and public venues.

Locations include Victoria Square, the Ulster Museum, Writers Square, and St. Anne’s Square.

This year’s festival will explore the theme of sexuality and gender, with highlights including the Ulster Museum exhibition, Fashion – A Matter of Attitude, a talk by Mike Trow, current Picture Editor at Vogue; Juno Calypso’s photographic mission, The Honeymoon Suite; and the return of the Royal Photographic Society’s International Print Exhibition.

We spoke to Festival Director Michael Weir:

Free Fire (2016) Review

When an unlikely group of people are brought together in a black market arms deal, unforeseen coincidences set two gangs against each other in this action comedy.

 

Set entirely in a derelict umbrella warehouse in Boston during the 1970s, director Ben Wheatley has emulated Quintin Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’ with the plot and setting mimicking the 1992 cult classic.

 

With a hilariously mismatched assortment of characters, Free Fire opens with lowlife junkies Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and Stevo (Sam Riley) meeting IRA men Frank (Michael Smiley) and Chris (Cillian Murphy) who have employed their services in order to move the weapons the wish to procure.

 

Ord (Armie Hammer) and Justine (Brie Larson) act as intermediaries introducing the ragtag gang to the ill-assorted weapons dealing partnership of Martin (Babou Ceesay), an ex-black panther and Vernon (Sharlto Copley), a South African still firmly aligned with apartheid ideology shown in his dealings with his partner.

 

Just as agreement is reached and the weapons are in the process of being exchanged Martin and Vernon’s henchmen Gordon (Noah Taylor) and Harry (Jack Reynor), turn an unseen dispute the night before into the hilarious stalemate that characterises the rest of the film.

 

The hazard laden environment contributes to the confusion of this close quarter shootout, and whilst violence is the key element to the interaction between characters, it is not overtly gory until the finale.

 

Wheatley has created side splitting characters that remain lovable despite their seriously skewed moral compasses. The dialogue between those shooting at each other remains playful and upbeat regardless of the violent circumstances.

 

The movie is not without its face palm moments in which character dialogue is sloppy and unrealistic such as when IRA man Frank proudly remarks that he is from, “Holywood, County Down, Northern Ireland.”

 

Throughout the film, camera angels mimic the cramped conditions each character is placed in, making the audience sympathise with the severity of danger that all parties are in. The vibrant colours and striking uniqueness of the cast’s clothing contrasts to the damp, grimy and depressing setting.

 

Wheatley’s ability to develop each individual makes it difficult for the audience to select one character they wish to leave the victor, and the continual movement between mayhem and reconciliation, leaves viewers on the edges of their seats.

 

A hilarious ode to high tension standoff’s featured in movies such as ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. Free Fire stands strong as an enthralling action comedy that captivates audience members despite the singularity of its setting.

Over £12,000 raised at Limavady’s “Big Fight Night”

A cross-community fund raising event is celebrating another successful year, being hailed as one of the best events to have ever taken place in Limavady.

The “Big Fight Night” was held at Roe Valley Leisure Centre on Saturday 1st April between members of the Limavady Rugby Club and Limavady Wolfhounds.

The Limavady Rugby Club emerged as the overall winners of the night, with the event selling over 1,000 tickets and raising £12,750 in total.

 

The EU Referendum – what will the leave vote mean for Northern Ireland?

Brexit text with British and Eu flags illustration

On 23rd June 2016, the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, also known as the EU referendum and the Brexit referendum, took place in the United Kingdom (UK) and Gibraltar.
This referendum was ordered to determine support for the country either remaining a member of, or leaving the European Union (EU).

According to the BBC, the referendum resulted in 51.9% of voters voting in favour of leaving the EU. Northern Ireland voted 56% to 44% in favour of remaining in the EU, even though the largest party in the power-sharing executive, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), campaigned on the leave side.

Image result for bbc northern ireland brexit statistics

For some remainers – the DUP’s then executive partners Sinn Féin, in particular – the result demanded that special arrangements be made for Northern Ireland post-Brexit, ranging from associate EU membership to a north-south reunification. In other words the measures that need to be put in place, in order to avoid a hard border.

According to a recent Irish government survey, there are now around 200 border crossing points and an estimated 177,000 lorries, 208,000 vans and 1.85m cars that travel to and from Northern Ireland every month.
During the 30 years of the Troubles (1968-1998), it is apparent that the Newry checkpoint was perhaps the most dauntingly physical manifestation of the hard border that enclosed Northern Ireland.

However, in the wake of the IRA ceasefire in 1994 and the signing of the Good Friday agreement in 1998, this checkpoint disappeared, along with all the other checkpoints on the many roads that navigated the border.

The free flow of people on the new motorway is perhaps the most vivid symbol of the new Ireland of cross-border co-operation and bridge-building between the governments in the north and south of the island.
In spite of this evolution, the prevailing question now occupying people either side of the Irish border, is: does Brexit mean that checkpoints could reappear, to prevent the movement of goods and people from European Ireland into British Northern Ireland?

Image result for back to the future hard border in northern ireland

Furthermore, earlier this year, British Prime Minister, Theresa May revealed that the UK would leave the single market, explaining that she would negotiate a new customs union deal following the Brexit process.
But amongst many business groups, uncertainty remains around the impact this will have upon cross-border trade, particularly as the negotiations process could take years. Therefore, as well as the risk of a hard border with the Republic of Ireland and possibly a revival of Irish Republican extremism, leaving the single market could also affect trading with EU markets, especially pertinent to small businesses located in Northern Ireland.

Lisa Craig, founder of “Petit Amis” a childrens clothing boutique in Limavady, is uncertain on how her trade will be affected post-brexit.
“As a small business, I’m opened seven years. My store offers a wide range of children’s designer wear from newborn to 12 years,” says Lisa.
“I stock a variety of French designer brands such as Emile et Rose, Agatha Ruiz de la Prada and Nono, which the business prides itself on. These unique brands resonate the name of my store “Petits Amis” that means “little friend” in French”, says Lisa.
“So far I don’t see any affect on my business and I am hopeful that Brexit will not impact me too much. As well as French designer brands, I also stock a variety of UK clothing brands which include; “Timberland”, “Mayoral” and “Me Too”.
Lisa added, “If worst comes to worst and my trade is affected, at least I would have these brands to fall back on. However, it would be devastating if things did change and it would be a huge loss financially to my business.”

As well as small businesses becoming affected, grocery retailers such as Sainsbury’s and Tescos are at risk as inflation could signify a price increase for consumers. According to Kantar, the price of fish, butter, tea and similar staples have risen by over 5% this year. In comparison to prices last year, like-for-like inflation has doubled and is now at 1.4%. Therefore, because the UK is so dependent upon imported food products, higher import costs mean citizens will ultimately pay more for their groceries.

As a result, there will be uncertainties regarding farm incomes and food prices in the UK after 2020. This is due to the expectation that the UK Government will move from the EU system of single farm payments. In the post-Brexit environment, the UK objective will be to create a type of farm income support which is less expensive.

Therefore, it is apparent that the new post-Brexit situation for farming poses an immediate tension. However, the best answer for Britain may not apply equally for Northern Ireland and this is due to the fact that potential problems will surface. For instance, cross-border trade in cattle, sheep and pigs, as well as milk, will need to be monitored to measure cross-border flows to minimise subsidy manipulation (even if no cross-border tariffs or taxes were introduced).

Despite these potential problems, local farmer, Alan Dickie who works for Thompson Bruce in Garvery, Enniskillen, believes that Brexit will not be too hard-hitting on the industry.

Alan says, “European law introduced a lot of restrictions on farming enterprises such as the slurry ban which means you can only spread slurry approximately 5 months of the year. This forced us farmers to build large storage tanks to accommodate the slurry.

“However, farmers will still get a farming subsidy when we leave Europe and I can’t see it being any worse. I think stock prices will be better and our trade will be on the open market. Personally, I will not be sorry to leave Europe,” Alan added.

Overall, there is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland. As mentioned above, remain campaigners warned in the run up to the referendum that the introduction of a hard border would once again put North-South relations under strain.

They also warned that a Brexit vote is likely to trigger another Scottish independence referendum. For instance, if Scotland voted to leave the Union, this would undermine the UK constitutional settlement, with potential knock-on effects for Northern Ireland.
As mentioned, Brexit is expected to have a disproportionate impact on Northern Ireland’s economy which is reliant on exports to the EU, including in the food and agriculture sectors.

Ultimately, the actual impacts would depend on the type of trading relationship that the UK settles with the EU post Brexit. Until then, it remains unclear as to the type of environment Northern Ireland will resemble, when it is no longer contributed to the EU.

For more information visit:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32810887

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/how-would-brexit-affect-northern-ireland-and-scotland/

https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/brexit

 

Ed Sheeran – “Divide” album review

Image result for ed sheeran album divide

Following the success of his 2014 Grammy-winning and best-selling album, the Suffolk singer-song writer, Ed Sheeran has returned with yet another chart topping sensation. Released on 3rd March 2017, the album “Divide” allows us to delve into the life of Sheeran as many of the tracks feature snippets of his childhood, love-life and rise to fame.

“Divide” features sixteen tracks and to round it off, there is even a track exclusively dedicated to Sheeran’s 26th birthday.
Whilst many would argue that the album gives off an “ego-maniac” vibe, at the same time, with his bright ginger hair and adorable, quirky nature, we can’t help but excuse Ed for now!

The album is introduced with “Eraser”, a declaration of intent, mixing hip hop with a chorus of layered vocals (where Ed shows off his rapping skills). The track also addresses – in minute detail – the trials of Sheeran’s life, career and status in the industry. The lyrics mention everything from “singing in the Lord’s house” as a child and the dramatic shift of being without, “a nine-to-five job or a uni degree” to winning international awards.

However, unlike previous projects, Sheeran takes time in his new album to reveal his Irish heritage. The track, “Nancy Mulligan”, is a full on Irish traditional song whereby Sheeran pays tribute to his grandparents, particularly his grandmother (who the track is named after) from County Wexford, Ireland.

This track features Belfast based traditional band Beoga who also feature in the song, “Galway girl”, which depicts a blend of Irish folk tradition and Ed’s signature acoustic pop style. In his lyrics, Ed channels traditional Irish folk storytelling by describing an encounter with a vivacious Galway girl in a bar who “played a fiddle in an Irish band” and danced the night away with him. The instrumental influence is clear in the track, resonating with that of Van Morrisons, “Irish Heartbeat” with the similar fiddle and uileann pipe sounds.

The album features many incredible songs. However, I must admit, the track, “Castle on the hill” (a guitar-driven pop song that pays homage to Ed Sheeran’s upbringing in the English countryside town of Framlingham) is my preferred track of the whole album. The reason being, it is one of those songs whereby you cannot help singing along too, with its catchy beat including Ed’s impressive guitar rifts.
Since disappearing off the radar, Sheeran has returned with his finest album yet in my opinion. It is both well-timed and rip-roaringly fun, another example of his still-evolving craft.

For more information:

http://www.edsheeran.com/music

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ed-Sheeran/e/B001LHZOLG

https://www.youtube.com/user/EdSheeran