All posts by Gerard Walton

Dodds – Investment In Youth The Way Forward

Gerard Walton examines education policy in Northern Ireland.

Five years into Northern Ireland’s latest period of devolution, developing the next generation of young people is becoming a key political priority.

Diane Dodds MEP, speaking to a group of journalism students in Brussels, outlined the need for school leavers to ‘become stakeholders in our society’.

Recently a firm of business advisers (PwC) claimed that the youth unemployment bill had reached the substantial figure of £20m per week.

Without doubt such a figure is unsustainable in today’s economic climate, but the EU is ready to lend a helping hand to get Northern Ireland’s young people back into work.

The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, recently announced a task Force for Northern Ireland as the Commission prepares its funding and policy programmes for 2014-20.

Eight EU member states, such as Spain, Italy and Slovakia are also set to benefit from similar taskforces as unspent funds from within the Commission are directed towards employment programmes across the EU.

Success in schools is one way of delivering higher employment rates and Diane Dodds, the DUP representative for Northern Ireland said:

We need to look at the bottom tier of young people. Some don’t even have an attendance certificate.

Having previously spent time as a teacher, and relying on a strong Shankhill Road support during local elections, Diane Dodds believes early intervention and integration between youths from different social and religious backgrounds are important in the fight against the ‘systemic problems’ that Northern Ireland is faced with.

She claimed: “If you don’t get through to a child before the age of seven it is too late. Problems with reading and speech need to be dealt with early. We also need integrated services in primary schools.

Undoubtedly these words will strike a chord with many parents in Northern Ireland. Dodds will be hoping that action taken at local levels in conjunction with the EU taskforce will go a long way to helping Northern Ireland take a few more huge leaps into the peaceful and progressive society its citizens long for.

Feeder – Generation Freakshow

Feeder return – but do they still possess the old magic?

A review by Gerard Walton

There are some bands who don’t know when they are beaten. Since the release of debut album Polythene in 1997, alternative rock group Feeder have been chewed up and spat out by mainstream music fans, and even survived the suicide of founding member, drummer Jon Lee.

Previous album Renegades was a limited affair, with its self-conscious rock stylings quickly wearing thin compared to their earliest recordings. However the Welsh/Japanese group were clearly having fun and this new album continues the carefree approach without the constant break-neck speed.

For those fans who prefer the axe-wielding Feeder of old, there remains plenty to enjoy here. The title track piles on the distortion and is genuinely good fun, with shout-along lyrics such as ‘violent society, why did you lie to me?

There is even a straight-ahead punk rocker to rival Hole In The Head from their breakthrough album Yesterday Went Too Soon. The guitars and drums take a pounding for ‘Headstrong’ which lives up to its title.

There are no musings on world affairs to rival Stephen Fry, but that is not what Feeder are here for. What frontman Grant Nicholas provides are solid rock songs worthy of radio play.

Had the opening salvo of ‘Oh My’ and ‘Borders’ been released back in their long-gone prime it would have been a top ten hit.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUN3xCgauEA

Of course, these days the charts are filled with the likes of Rihanna and Calvin Harris. Feeder will most likely never again be popular, but that is through no fault of their own.

Admittedly, not everything here is deserving of praise. ‘Fools Can’t Sleep’ in particular is a dreary bluesy filler track that will test the patience of many.

However, coming so close to the end of the album, listeners should attempt to stay the course, as the closing ‘Children Of The Sun’ is one that will get festival lighters in the air.

At this stage of their career, Feeder have done all that could be expected. They have produced a record that will keep their dedicated fanbase happy.

Unlike their idol Kurt Cobain, and their old drummer, they are happy to slowly fade away rather than burn out.

7/10

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Queens Radio Thriving Against All The Odds

queens radio

By Gerard Walton

At the heart of every good university is a thriving Students’ Union. At the heart of every good Students’ Union are thriving clubs and societies. Queen’s University Belfast is no exception to this rule, and Queens Radio is a key part of this.

A controversial issue in these troubling financial times is funding, and QR is no different, with secretary Sarah Laverty claiming the society had been given “a quarter of what we need”.

This will obviously hinder any progress that is to be made but a Students’ Union Finance Department official claimed that:

“There is less money around the Union this year. We must cut our cloth accordingly. However we are confident that QR and our other established societies will continue to flourish.”

QR has been broadcasting since September 2003 and has been gaining deserved recognition of late.

In 2010, the station had three shows nominated for the Irish Smedia awards.

The society itself won Best Contribution to SU Media at the QUB Media Awards.

Perhaps most tellingly of all, the club was nominated for Most Improved Society of the Year, showing the upward momentum that has been gained.

To find out how this success would continue I spoke to deputy station manager Jamie Glover.

As deputy station manager, Jamie had a laudable aim when asked of the station’s hopes for the current year:

“(We aim) to improve members’ experience of the station by delivering more training and running more society nights.”

Last year QR ran two acoustic nights in the Students’ Union, and Jamie, recognising the popularity of these nights, promised a continuation of the events, alongside the occasional club night in surrounding Belfast venues.

However those expecting a return to the Treehouse venue in the Elms Village will be disappointed.

Jamie said, “The Union used to run the Treehouse, but it is being taken over a private company, who will charge a far higher rate and more than the society can afford.”

“It was pretty quiet there as well. We did a night in there for freshers week which was completely packed, but the popularity was only because it was the first or second night in Elms for new students.”

There is still reason for Jamie to be cheerful about QR though, as the station is looking into the possibility of an FM broadcasting license.

QR previously held a Medium Wave license between 2003 and 2006 and Jamie claimed that “the format is dead.”

He said: “You can’t get MW frequencies on all car radios.”

On the subject of cost, Jamie admitted: “It (FM) will probably be more expensive than the MW one but we aren’t sure how much exactly yet.”

Attracting new members to replace graduates will also be important in maintaining success for QR, and Sarah Laverty plays a key role in this as secretary, ensuring any interested students are kept well informed.

Sarah said: “I am the main point of contact for the society about any information in general. I organise voice training for new members, and keep track of the mailing list as a whole.”

A good measure of QR’s progress would always be how accurately it prepares members for a potential career in radio broadcasting.

Unlike many other universities, QUB does not have a media department and so the focus falls heavily on societies such as QR to pick up the slack.

Sarah revealed: “A lot of the people joining (the society) have no experience whatsoever. Therefore they get training right from the very basics. We’re not a huge station so people are free to run their own shows and make the inevitable mistakes which come with this.”

SU

We all know how tough it can be to get your feet on that first rung on the ladder, and Sarah was quick to assure potential new members that joining QR was worth it in the long run.

She said: “Those wishing to break into the NI music scene will have lots of opportunities to network and people can keep copies of all their own shows for use in a portfolio.”

Time will tell whether QR can deliver on its promises, but it will be through no lack of determination, as the society looks forward with great optimism in the face of adversity.