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Fossil Free Queens University Belfast’s occupation this week. Image: Divest QMU.

Tuesday, 10am, and student activists at Queen’s University Belfast begin occupying the Senate Chamber, disrupting the business of the highest governing body at the university.

The occupation was conducted by student group Fossil Free QUB and demanded representatives from the Senate lay out a clear timeline for divestment from fossil fuels for the university.

Representatives from the Senate meeting entered the chamber and spoke briefly with the Vice President Campaigns and Communications at the university’s Students’ Union, Sean Fearon, who told them that they wished to discuss a timeline for fossil free divestment. Unhappy with the group’s demands, the Senate members closed the doors of the room and left.

The Senate meeting was moved to the Queen’s Graduate School, where the activists attempted to gain access to. Here they joined forces with UCU members protesting about the imposition of grant income targets. They were then denied access to the Graduate School by security officials that had locked the main doors and were standing guard outside. Several members of the assembled crowd, some students, some teaching staff, requested entry to the building, stating that it was their right to enter, requests that were denied.

One door to the side of the main entrance had apparently been left unlocked and when one activist discovered this a considerable portion of the crowd assembled streamed in, despite attempts from security to block them. Activists were then blocked from entering further than the foyer area, but increasingly managed to slip past guards and advance through the building. At one point one student gained access via his student card to a computer room and was then temporarily locked in by university staff before being let out again.

The Senate meeting eventually managed to go ahead whilst the protestors were in the foyer outside the room.

Speaking to Bright Green, Sean Fearon, Vice President at Queen’s Students’ Union and one of the activists present stated that: “Queen’s University invest over £5 million in fossil fuel corporations, our demand is that this public money is used for more ethical purposes.

“Our action today was an attempt to force this issue on the university’s agenda, and judging by the chaotic and aggressive response by security and university figures, this is an issue they wish to see put to bed.

“Our message is clear: we will continue to demonstrate, to protest, to agitate until Queen’s University washes the oil from its hands, takes a stand for a cleaner and safer future and divests from fossil fuels.

The occupation is the latest in a long line of Fossil Free QUB activities aimed at securing a pledge from Queen’s University to divest any of their money away from the fossil fuel industry, a move supported by 83% of the student body in a recent referendum. So far the only commitment from Queen’s University has been a ‘comprehensive review’ of their investment policy.

Bradley Allsop

About Bradley Allsop

Bradley is currently studying for his PhD in youth political engagement at the University of Lincoln and writes on democracy, political engagement and political psychology.