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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 18 August, 1999, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
Row over student union 'bias'
University rejects claims of discrimination
University rejects claims of discrimination against Protestants
A row has broken out at a Northern Ireland university after a report appeared to show a disparity in the number of Protestants employed by the students' union.

The figures, compiled by Queen's University of Belfast's Equal Opportunities Unit, have led to unionists accusing the union of deliberately discriminating in favour of Catholic students.

But this has been rejected by the university who say they are committed to "equality of opportunity."

The report indicates that 14.8% of students employed in a part-time capacity in the union are Protestant.

Source of employment

It adds that 88.7% of bar staff, the largest source of student employment, are Catholic.

It also says that there are no Protestants working as part of the entertainments crew, who organise and publicise union activities.

And it claims no elected officer of the students' union comes from a unionist background.

The Chairman of the QUB Unionist Association, Simon Hamilton, has hit out at these findings.

He said: "It is not surprising that students from a unionist background have no confidence in the students' union, when they realise that they have absolutely no representation in the ruling executive, despite consistently receiving over 35% of votes.

"We are calling upon the university and the union to commit themselves to a thorough overhaul of the electoral system at Queen's, in line with fair employment best practice and to encourage a genuine neutral working environment."

However, a spokesman for Queen's University rejected the discrimination claims.

He said: "The university and the union have taken the initiative, commissioning independent reports into the use of the union by students with particular reference to perceptions that Protestants were not welcome.

"They have already taken significant steps to remove any chill factor for Protestant students."

Jobs advertised

The spokesman added that advertisements for jobs in the union carry a welcoming statement for Protestants, and are advertised widely throughout the campus.

He pointed out that bi-lingual signs have also been removed from the union building and "strenuous efforts have been taken to develop a more inclusive atmosphere."

"The university's equal opportunities unit is constantly monitoring the situation and the university is working closely with the Fair Employment Commission to ensure every possible step is taken to ensure equality of opportunity."

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BBC Northern Ireland's Paul McDaid reports on the dispute
Links to more N Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.


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