• Alicia Fox

Are concerns surrounding students well-being finally recognised?

Hallelujah! Student’s prayers have finally been answered. Someone in government finally recognises how unfairly we students have been treated throughout the pandemic, well don’t go thanking the lord indefinitely. Yes, it is good news that we students are the topic of conversation for something other than unruly partying. However, at the moment all there seems to be happening is just that of conversation, talking and not a lot of action. Although for anyone living in Ireland, North or South action isn’t something that we immediately think of when we think of its respective leaders. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, and assuming you haven’t clicked off already allow me to elaborate.

Recently Michelle O’Neill took to twitter to address a situation that many students have been dealing with for the course of the last 11 months. In this tweet she addressed the problem with student housing. In the tweet published 29th January she stated this “Students have been among the hardest hit during the pandemic. Many are being forced to continue to pay for accommodation that they cannot use.” Anyone who has been a student living in any form of student accommodation at any stage of the past year will very much agree with this comment. Speaking as someone who was forced to pay rent for a house she didn’t live in for 7 months during the peak of the pandemic, I know all too well the struggles of trying to make rent. My situation was worsened by the fact that I worked in the hospitality industry and therefore solely relied on the remainder of my student loan to pay for my rent as well as everything else. Mrs O’Neill continued on stating that “Sinn Féin are calling for a payment to all students to help them with the cost of rent and living.” As well as “Our students must be supported.” As admirable as these words are, nothing has yet been done to follow them up. I honestly hope that some form of action will be taken and that students will be compensated for their financial losses.

So, before you write me off as a complete cynic, I do see these words as a positive sign, the fact that someone is finally speaking out about the situation does bear promise and draws some recognition to the situation. But with the state of the Northern Ireland assembly, if anything does happen to rectify this situation it won’t be happening very soon. Sinn Féin MLA John O'Dowd similarly called on the Economy Minister to use funding available to help support students during the COVID-19 pandemic stating "Students have been among those hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic with disruption to their education and the restrictions impacting on jobs yet they still have to pay full fees and many have to pay rent. "I am calling on the Economy Minister to use funding available to support students by reimbursing some of the fees as a result of the disruption to learning as well as helping students with accommodation costs.” If any refunding or reimbursement was to happen I would be the first to gladly welcome it, but as this is my last semester in university it makes me question if someone were to graduate, in the time that it takes for the government to work this out, will they too qualify for any financial support?

Meanwhile in the Republic of Ireland, Sinn Fein is also waking up to the fact that student nurses have been treated appallingly throughout the pandemic. Speaking during Leaders' Questions in the Dáil, Mary Lou McDonald argued with Taoiseach Micheál Martin over the treatment of student nurses, as everyone knows we couldn’t have gotten through the pandemic without the hard work and dedication of all nurses. However, many student nurses have had to work throughout the pandemic in far from usual situations and of course for nothing but a thank-you in return. Mary Lou called the Taoiseach "an exploiter". She said other nurses are not to blame and she urged him to "drop that nonsense." She also said that student nurses show up every day for us, and it is time for the Government to show up for them. In response Taoiseach Micheál Martin claimed that Fianna Fáil had in fact transformed nursing education and this involved the largest investment ever in the area. He said if a student nurse is asked to work on a roster then she should be paid. Whether payment is introduced or not, I agree it is clear that the situation cannot carry on. For any student nurse working another part time job the cross contamination alone is a call for concern, and if payment for student nurses is agreed on will this be extending to all those students carrying out placement in the hospitals?

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