University of Ulster students plan Coleraine Christmas sit-in
Actor Baldwin backs common room protest
Movie star Alec Baldwin is among figures backing a University of Ulster student sit-in set to continue through Christmas.
Students at the university's Coleraine campus are in the 12th day of a sit-in at its senior common room, which faces closure.
The group claims the room will be turned into a corporate dining room for management and clients under university plans which were announced without consultation. But the university says the space will be used for meeting rooms and teaching facilities.
The last of Northern Ireland's university senior common rooms, it has become a hub for live music events, poetry readings, talks and even ecumenical services.
Residents deliver food parcels to the peaceful protesters, who reached around 160 on Tuesday.
They see the university's plans as the last straw in what they claim is a wider rush towards corporatisation and cutbacks in higher education. They point to the loss of services, including counselling and other student support, in a series of cutbacks.
Tweeting as #occupycoleraine, a 16-strong group man the room day and night. They have messages of support from as far away as Brazil and Guatemala.
Actor Baldwin's arts-related foundation added its support over Twitter this week. Alliance MLA Anna Lo has given her backing, along with the students' union and a DUP councillor.
The protesters say they are open to talks. An offer from the university has yet to come forward. In a statement, the university insisted the room will be replaced with a more inclusive, free room. But it has yet to approach students to clarify the situation or offer talks, say protesters.
"The new staff common room is a room with a kettle and a coffee machine," Chloe Gault, a final-year student, said. "We will call off the sit-in if they relocate the senior common room on another part of the campus or change their mind to close it."
Students describe it as a neutral space during the Troubles, and currently one of the few places to meet on the Coleraine campus.
"People are willing to stay here for Christmas. I will certainly be here over Christmas," Ms Gault added. "The support we have got is amazing."
Organisations which have given their backing to the University of Ulster's students' sit-in include: the Alec Baldwin Foundation; Socialist Youth NI; the University of Ulster Students' Union; Belfast's student newspaper The Gown; NUS-USI (national unions of students); Causeway Trades Council; Paul Murphy MEP, and various international student groups.