Bullying never ends

Louise Sweeney is a National Executive Committee (NEC) member and on the NUS' Welfare Team

Many people know the feelings; walking through school corridors afraid to look up, feeling worthless as you are publicly belittled in front of a laughing class, that feeling of dread when you reach the bus stop after school to see them waiting there and wondering why me? You leave school and society tells you; you've left the bullies behind too, that you're an adult now and so are they, bullying doesn't happen any more.

Jade Goody showed the word this week that no matter what age you are, bullying and pact culture still rears its head in all its ugly guises. Shock waves spread through the media as Goody and her pack, Jo O'Meara and Danielle Lloyd, made Shilpa Shetty feel isolated, insecure, and demeaned, through hurtful arguments, comments and jibes targeted at her differences, mainly her ethnicity, culture and class, whilst living in the Celebrity Big Brother House.

It was uncomfortable to watch somebody be treated in this way and frustrating to not have the ability to go in there and shout 'open your eyes, look at what you are doing!'. Sadly, what we witnessed through the boxes in our living rooms happens every day; right in front of our very eyes, on our college campuses, in our workplaces and in our communities.

When Goody was evicted by the voting public on Friday night she was shown her actions and given the chance to reflect on them. I am not surprised that Goody was shocked by her actions and nastiness, she didn't realise what she was doing in the house, and the house mates who stood back and did nothing will be just as shocked as well. As outsiders looking in it was very clear to us that bullying was happening.

Living in halls of residences as a student can bear many similarities to the big brother house; total strangers thrown together in a close and stressful environment, clashes in age, culture and class frequently occur, mammoth arguments occurring over trivial matters such as the washing up, and those that don't blend with the majority experience bullying by those that don't even realise they are doing it.

As a fresher, I did nothing to help someone living in the flat opposite me. He was bullied by my friends. Whether it was name calling, tipping the flat's rubbish all over him and his room when he was asleep, or getting ready in complete silence so they could sneak out together for a night out without having to invite him, he was constantly the subject of everyone's jokes and in an attempt to fit in with their new friends, nobody said anything about it. They were just having a laugh, he annoyed them, and we didn't think he'd leave Uni because of it. But he did. It wasn't until years later, reflecting on our first year of University that we remembered those first few weeks, and realised that is was bullying that had taken place - right in front of our very eyes.

Thanks to some very effective campaigning highlighting the terrible impact that bullying can have on school children and teens, and because of reasonably regular reporting on bullying in the work place being resolved in the courts, some types of bullying are very much on the political agenda. But why is the gap between work and school considered unworthy of proper attention- as if this period of people's lives is immune to the problem?

The experience I recounted above isn't a one off. It happens all the time. So how many Universities and Colleges have a policy on Bullying? How many awareness campaigns are run for students to highlight these issues? I can tell you - very few, if any at all. When elected to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of NUS, myself and fellow NEC member Ama Uzowuru, saw the opportunity to look into this issue nationally. NUS has launched its first survey to asses the level of bullying on our campuses, so far we have had over 1700 respondents from across the UK. This is a start but more must be done, more research is needed, students need to be made aware of their rights and support available to them, and that support needs to be there in the first place.

NUS will be equipping Students' Unions with the tools they need to fight for these improvements, supporting them in lobbying for anti-bulling policies and raising the profile of this issue with University and College staff, students and the Government.
Until bullying is recognised as a serious issue little will be done. The events on our screens this week have shown how too easily it happens. We must remember that this was no soap opera, it was a reality TV Show and that bullying is a reality everywhere. When the program ends we cannot forget the debate that has taken place; we must look to our own lives and those around us.

We can often act, and speak too quickly, with little thought to how those words will affect others. A few playful jibes can soon turn into constant, malicious behaviour. We reach a certain age and are told to toughen up or give as good as we get, well its time the bullies took responsibility instead of the bullied and think about their actions and the consequences.
Bulling is harmful to all involved, not just the bullied. The bullied can suffer from increased anxiety and stress, poor health, depression and even suicide. They may leave the course or job of their dreams just to escape the bullies; their whole life could change as a result. Its time to stop dismissing the issue in everyday life and to challenge it head on; the campaign will begin to lead us in this direction by challenging policy and perceptions but as individuals we all must act.

Photo: Getty Images
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What's going on in Northern Ireland?

Power-sharing and devolved rule are under threat. What's going on? Ciara Dunne explains. 

The UUP will formalise their decision to withdraw from the Northern Ireland executive on Saturday. The DUP then announced that it may consider voting to remove Sinn Fein from the executive effectively ending or at least suspending devolution. This is due to a statement by PSNI chief constable George Hamilton stating that former IRA member Kevin McGuigan may have been murdered by people connected to the Provisional IRA (PIRA). However Hamilton also stressed that there was no evidence to prove that the murder occurred due to PIRA orders and there are claims that it was a personal vendett.

The UUP declaring that they will withdraw from the Executive is not particularly destructive. They only have one minister and their vote share has been steadily declining since they signed the Good Friday Agreement to the benefit of the DUP. By acting so dramatically, they run the risk of this seeming like the death rattle of a party trying to remain relevant in a world so different from its heyday rather than a principled stand to protect the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement.

Nesbitt voiced disgust that the IRA was still in existence. However the IRA is not one group and many of its splinter groups such as the Continuity IRA (CIRA) and Real IRA (RIRA) didn’t sign up to the Good Friday Agreement and have been active since it. They were not the only paramilitary groups that did not sign up, fragments of extremism have existed since the PIRA decommissioned and it seems likely that they incorporated those who had been PIRA members who were disillusioned by the agreement. Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach and Good Friday Agreement negotiator, explained while the PIRA had to decommission as part of the agreement, for various reasons it was allowed to exist in a non-armed state. News of its existence shouldn’t come as a shock to the only major unionist party that engaged in Good Friday Agreement negotiations. If the PIRA were proved to be armed and active then this response would be understandable but that is not the case.

What this stand does however give the UUP is a unique selling point compared to theirwe rivals the DUP and it can somewhat tackle the perception some have that the UUP betrayed the unionist community when it agreed to work with Sinn Féin in government.

The DUP has been less drastic. Although they have stated that they would consider pulling out of government, they have described it as temporary suspension of government rather than a total breakdown of trust. Jeffrey Donaldson, a DUP MP, said that if they are to continue to power share with Sinn Féin, they must ensure the PIRA issue dealt with ‘in terms that gives everyone the reassurance that this isn’t going to happen again’. This is a reasonable request and something Sinn Féin must do. They should be unwavering in their condemnation of any paramilitary organisations. However so far they haven’t done otherwise, several senior figures have denied that the PIRA have rearmed. Pearse Doherty, a prominent Sinn Féin TD, insisted that when it came to the IRA “the war is over, they’re not coming back”.

The best way to tackle paramilitaries is to tackle the reasons people joined them. This can be done not by threatening to withdraw from the government but standing together against sectarianism. Parties must ensure that there is a functioning government that works for the good of everyone and gives people a genuine stake in society. It is important that representatives of both communities condemn paramilitaries, in actions as well as words. All parties will soon have the opportunity to move away from old associations, as the old guard age and move aside and the younger members who are untainted by such associations, take charge of the party.

However, it is vital that parties take a considered stance in anything controversial for this to work. In this case, it is not yet certain whether the connections are historical or current. Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan has stated she has no reason to believe that the PIRA are active in the military sense. Bertie Ahern pointed out that it is possible that ‘these atrocities are being done [by those] who might have been on the inside but are now long since on the outside?’ Political posturing could have terrible consequences for the Good Friday Agreement, especially if results in a party with a large electoral mandate being removed from government when there is no proof it has broken the agreement.

If the UUP and the DUP are truly concerned, a more constructive reaction is to push for the reintroduction of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). The IMC monitored paramilitary activity from 2004 to 2011 and its final report stated that ‘transition from conflict is a long slow process’. This latest incident shows this is true and it is likely that the IMC was disbanded too soon. Reconvening the IMC would offer a way to monitor paramilitary activity and to find patterns and evidence rather than allowing a single incident to destroy progress. If reconvened however it should address the issues that resulted in Sinn Féin’s criticism of the body. A more balanced panel, one agreed by all parties, would address this, the previous one was described as three spooks and a lord, but would still add value to the peace process.

If political parties pull out of the power sharing agreement over an incident that the police have not yet connecting to a sophisticated paramilitary organisation with political connections, they are handing extremism a victory while taking democratic choice away from the people of Northern Ireland. The majority of people in Northern Ireland have been clear, both in referendum and in their actions, they want peace and stability. If the parties of Northern Ireland don’t fight to protect this then they are betraying everyone who believed in the Good Friday Agreement and reconciliation.