If this was Paris the place would be in flames. I can’t get over the patience and resilience of our young people, especially those going to college or university.

Criminalising students who have been treated shabbily during the pandemic is not the answer

Do you remember in the run up to St Patrick’s Day when everyone was directing their angst at students and demanding they put their funny hats, inflatable green hammers and barrack busters away in the interest of public health? And they did that.

Remember how the same young people endured lock down at home with parents, still paying their tuition fees and all of their rent, despite their digs being empty for months? And they did that.

Remember how they were told not to congregate, not to see boyfriends and girlfriends or mates, and to sit at home playing Tic Toc with their siblings and parents? And they did it.

Remember how despite their employment being low paid, zero houred, and with non-trade unionised conditions they were asked to continue to pack shelves, mop floors and keep the place running while others made sour dough?  And they did it.

How they sat final exams in their bedrooms, got degrees in their kitchens, forwent leavers’ dos, first holidays with friends and generally surpassed their duties as citizens? 

What did we do in return? We turned them into animals in a zoo. We have told those we call the brightest of their generation that they can be turned into the brunt of all frustrations and vilified and even criminalised while the entirety of society struggles with consistency or adequacy of policy making in the face of the pandemic.

In August and September students were told to go back to college, that their mad fees, anything from £4-9grand will have to be paid, but they would get face to face education. What happened? They are getting online classes, without a reduction in fees. They were told to cough up and pay for college accommodation, anything from £3-5grand for the year, some of it pretty nasty and disgusting. And now they are told they can be made prisoners in said accommodation. 

Curfew, isolation, fines and whatever you are having yourself, is being thrown at these young people, all while they supposedly retain their status as equal citizens. We have created an open-air prison for this generation. The sight of isolated students in Belfast waving out a window at breathless reporters is shameful and an indictment of policy failure. And the only question is whether Asda will deliver pizza to them.

To top it off then we have a clown in London telling us we should be glad to see them at Christmas. Of course, threatening any different had no basis whatsoever in law, but no one is buying the Father Christmas act from a British Tory minister who looks perpetually lost.

For the lonely, shy, isolated student the past three weeks tells them that abiding by the rules is taken for granted and not only is it not repaid, their debts will perpetually increase.

Our young people are not responsible for the pandemic but they will have some of the solutions to its challenges. They can be trusted to do the right thing. But treat them like caged animals or criminals and they may just decide they have had enough. 

Their only fault is they aren’t as angry as they have every right to be.

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