Confusion reigns over Common Room dispute

Dr Stephen Farry.
Dr Stephen Farry.
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The Employment and Learning Minister says he is pleased a stand-off over the University of Ulster’s Senior Common Room on Coleraine campus has been resolved through dialogue.

However, staff and students who occupied the building to save it from closure insist that the dispute is not over.

A sit in by staff, students and other supporters lasted 18 days before Christmas.

Protesters claimed they had ended their sit-in because they had been served with an eviction notice by the university and were still clearly aggrieved at the situation.

The university shut off the electricity and water supply to the senior common room and also sealed up the toilets and blocked off two of the emergency exits.

Dr Stephen Farry told the Assembly that dialogue had resolved the dispute, but that has been denied by the chairman of the Senior Common Room Committee, the Reverend John Bach.

He said the university has acted in a high-handed manner and some staff stood down from the committee because they felt intimidated and that their jobs and studies may be at risk.

Senior judge Mr Justice Weatherup, a university visitor who has been asked to mediate, has met both the protesters and university management and has urged them to talk and work out a compromise.

The university has said it plans to improve facilities and will keep the Senior Common Room Committee fully informed.

A spokesperson for the university said: “The multi-million pound investment will deliver extensive improvements to hospitality, leisure and teaching facilities at the Coleraine campus.

“The university has discussed these improvements with the visitor and has agreed to meet the Senior Common Room Committee to ensure they remain fully informed of the university’s plans.”

Following the protest Occupy Coleraine said it was extremely proud of those who took part in the protest, “especially the few who coped without water, heat or electricity [over the last 36 hours]”.