Join us for a series of presentations on how COVID-19 has impacted us as individuals and as a society.
COVID and the aftermath: What did we learn and what must we learn?
Join us for a series of presentations on how COVID-19 has impacted us as individuals and as a society.
Watch the Presentations
Read transcripts from our Q&A sessions:
The Impact on Mental Health
From Ann Butler, Lead Project Nurse, Public Health Agency NI
Q: Could Recovery Colleges help with co-produced educational programmes
A: Yes, and they have launched co-produced mental health educational programmes recently
From Alison Millar, NIPSA
Q: Could you give us your views on Mental Health First Aiders. This is a hotly debated issue within our trade union. Both for and against.
A: Mental health first aid provides trainees with info on the symptoms of mental illness but it is not at all necessary to have this information in order to signpost someone to mental health support.
One danger is that people who take the training can start to think that they are experts (and can lead to gaslighting and obtrusive practices where people are inappropriately asked about personal matters). I am a big fan of the “show you care, ask the question (how are you feeling? suicidal thoughts? struggling?) and call for help (help people seek support or call lifeline if someone is suicidal).
The other danger is that the training is viewed by employers as a way of addressing the mental health implications of harmful practices that create stress, rather than working to create a flexible, respectful work environment where people are not discriminated against because they have mental illness.
Q: Also issues around pregnant women and the vaccine - not necessarily for you but the messaging around this is very confusing
A: I would recommend that people take advice from their GP on this as they would have the most up to date information.
Impact on our Economy
From Alison Millar, NIPSA
Q: There is significant concern about the unavailability of people with certain skills e.g., IT, Law and Accountancy with organisations and companies experiencing difficulties in recruiting. Could the university do some research on the rationale for this.
A: The UUEPC produces the NI Skills Barometer which identifies skills areas of over and under- supply. This is based on our forecast for economic growth and employment growth across sectors and occupations in the local economy. We also look at skills trends across sectors to make an assessment of the demand for qualifications at different levels (e.g. a sector may have employed 10% of graduates 10 years ago, which has now increased to 14% and in 10 years’ time this could increase further to 18%). We also found that in some instances the issue is with wider ‘employability’ skills e.g. there will be sufficient supply of law graduates but perhaps those applying lack other skills which employers’ value. The challenge then becomes about developing those skills alongside the technical/ qualification specific skills.
The Skills Barometer research was due to be updated this Spring but fell victim to COVID as there has been delays to the release of data and so we are now planning a new release towards the end of this year.
From Victoria Moore, Senior Programme Director for NI, Common Purpose
Q: To what extent will the green economy contribute to longer term financial sustainability of NI?
A: First of all, it is worth thinking about what that phrase “financial sustainability” means. Taking a narrow definition of financial sustainability, it could refer to the balance (or lack of balance!) between the level of government spending in Northern Ireland compared to how much tax revenue is raised from within the region. The most recent data suggests that Northern Ireland had a “fiscal deficit” (government spending exceeding tax revenues) of £10.3bn in 2019-20.
If, as seems very likely the accelerated shift to a de-carbonised economy (“green economy”) is accompanied by an increase in public spending and also (possibly) by a decline in output in some parts of our private sector then the growth of the green economy could be accompanied by a growth in Northern Ireland’s fiscal deficit: less financially sustainable according to this narrow definition.
However, there is also a broader definition of “financial sustainability” whereby it is understood to correspond to economic prosperity in the sense of more jobs, decreased unemployment, greater economic activity and higher GDP.
What impact might the green economy have on that wider prosperity. If the world is going in the direction of zero-carbon (which it almost certainly is although we can argue about how fast it will actually more or, indeed, how fast the adjustment SHOULD happen) then countries/regions which are ahead of the curve (“early movers”) will create market opportunities for themselves not just in their home markets but in terms of exports. Northern Ireland’s position in this regard is probably (at best) mixed or at worst not that favourable.
I don’t see much sign that we have much if any presence in technologies like electric vehicles or solar and we are perhaps unlikely to see such production units set up in Northern Ireland given the extent of economies of scale (the very large factories required are more likely to be set up in the midst of large economies like China, USA, Germany or GB). It is true that Harland and Wolff have had some success in terms of producing turbines for offshore wind.
But if we are going to be realistic about the prospects for the green economy, we need to recognise just how costly it will be in terms of the scale of the investment required. Even if we restrict our consideration to just two issues, how we move around (cars and vans) and how we heat our homes, the sums of money could be astronomical.
Let’s take a typical household/family wanting over the course of the next 20 or so years to shift to an electric car plus some form of renewable heating: the combined up-front cost of the car, charger and either hydrogen or heat pump heating could be as high as £50,000.
Now, I know there a number of responses which are made when one questions the economic cost of the green economy, but these responses vary in the extent to which they are convincing. One response would be saying that much of the cost could be shifted from the individual to government. Well, even if government gives most of us very generous grants to buy electric cars or heat pumps and even if government borrows to fund this, we will ultimately be paying as taxpayers.
There is the optimistic view that as more and more electric cars (or heat pumps etc.) are produced costs will come down. This is a standard microeconomic prediction and we have seen signs of its so far in parts of renewable energy. So, there probably will be some cost reduction but how much?
Then there is the argument that any sacrifices we make to move quickly to net zero represents us setting a good example as global citizens. This is a respectable moral/ethical argument, but it remains unclear how far what we do will really influence decisions made in China about how many coal fired power stations to build each year.
There is of course the argument that people would have been investing in a change of car or home heating in any case so why not adopt the cleanest technology. Well, yes but the point about the green economy is that we are accelerating the obsolescence of the fossil fuels technology and there is a real economic cost to doing that.
Finally, there are the claims about how many jobs will be created in the green economy (and not just in terms of electric cars and home heating but also home insulation and waste management). And, yes, a lot of jobs will be created in these sectors but this in no way deals with the issue of what economists call opportunity cost- because of the money we are going to have to spend on renewables that same money cannot now be spent on, say, better schools or healthcare. Against the jobs which will undoubtedly be created in the green economy we have to be set the additional jobs which we will not now be able to fund in other sectors.
None of the above should be taken to mean that we shouldn’t invest in moving towards a greener, less carbon based, more renewable economy but it is a plea for transparency about the costs and sacrifices involved. We do need a (better) political debate about the policy trade-offs and particularly about the distribution of the cost burden (the issue of government spending and taxation).
And I haven’t even got into the very important detail, particularly for Northern Ireland, of what net zero implies for the farming and food processing sectors. I suspect by 2050 those sectors in Northern Ireland will be much higher productivity, more carbon efficient and less government subsidised but will also have declined in size relative to the scale of the overall regional economy- but I also guess representatives/advocates of those sectors would take a different view about the latter!
Professor Paul Bartholomew - Vice-Chancellor
|10am||The Contribution of Scientific Research|
|11:30am||The Impact on Mental Health|
Siobhan O’Neill - Professor of Mental Health Sciences and Interim Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland
The Impact on our Economy
|3pm||Young People and Youth Work: Risk and Resilience under COVID-19|
Jenny Pyper - Chair of Ulster University Council
There will be an opportunity for attendees to ask questions after each talk
Professor Tony Bjourson
Professor Tony Bjourson, Director of the Northern Ireland Centre for Stratified Medicine which he established at Altnagelvin (C-TRIC), led the Ulster University COVID-19 Task Force that incorporated the COVID-19 viral screening and serology testing as a member of the Northern Ireland COVID-19 Testing Scientific Advisory Consortium.
This consortium reported to the Department of Health through the Expert Advisory Group on Testing. The consortium was composed of Ulster University, the Queen's University of Belfast, Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and the Almac Group.
He currently leads a COVID-19 research program (COVRES) funded by the Department for Economy in Northern Ireland and Science foundation Ireland in the Republic of Ireland in partnership with Trinity College Dublin that has recruited 1000 COVID-19 patients across Ireland. COVRES sequences the genomes of patients and aims to find out what human genes are associated with mild versus severe COVID-19 symptoms.
I am extremely proud of Ulster University’s academic, clinical and public partnerships that has enabled us to address the urgent societal need of developing rapid testing and tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the outset, we assembled an Ulster COVID-19 Task Force, and we were supported by generous public donations that enabled the purchase of vital equipment to develop and roll-out new COVID-19 virus and antibody testing across Northern Ireland. A Northern Ireland COVID-19 Testing Scientific Advisory Consortium composed of Ulster University, the Queen's University of Belfast, Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and the Almac Group was also established at the request of the Department of Health to assist viral testing.
In partnership with the Western Health & Social Care Trust (WHSCT) Laboratories and C-TRIC based at Altnagelvin Hospital, we continue to expand specialist testing and we are recruiting and training additional scientific teams to undertake high throughput COVID-19 screening during the ongoing pandemic.
It is still unclear why some COVID-19 infected individuals experience only mild or no symptoms, while others have severe symptoms with rapid disease progression and death in the worst cases.
We know our genes can determine what diseases we are at risk of developing, how severe our symptoms will be, and indeed what treatments each of us are personally likely to respond to - that is the core focus of our personalised medicine team.
Our personalised medicine team, in partnership with Trinity College Dublin recruited 1000 patients across Ireland and we are sequencing or reading the patients genomes (in partnership with Genuity Science) to find out which of our individual genes influence COVID-19 disease severity. This will also enable the development of more advanced tests and personalised medicine treatments.
Dr David Gibson
Dr David Gibson is a Senior Lecturer based in the NI Centre for Stratified Medicine at Ulster University.
During the COVID-19 pandemic Dr Gibson was appointed to an NI Serology Task Force to assess and implement new antibody assays in a series of ongoing NI population studies to estimate past infection. He is currently leading the setup of a quality assured laboratory, which will screen asymptomatic healthcare workers for the SARS-CoV-2 virus with a novel LAMP based saliva test.
Professor Siobhan O’Neill
Siobhan O’Neill is a Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University, and Interim Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland. Her research programmes focus on trauma mental illness and suicidal behaviour in Northern Ireland, and the transgenerational transmission of trauma.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the mental health of a population who were already known to have higher rates of mental illness than nearby regions resulting from the conflict and its legacy, and the high rates of deprivation and inequality.
Professor O’Neill will discuss what we know about the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of people in Northern Ireland, including the impact on people with caring responsibilities, the economic impact and the impact on children and young people. She will examine the impact of the infection itself and long COVID, the effects of the restrictions, and the impact on health services, staff and mental health services.
As Interim Mental Health Champion, Siobhan will outline her recommendations for a trauma informed recovery plan alongside the mental health strategy, which recognises that the stress of the pandemic has been disproportionately felt by people with existing adversities, and that many have experienced benefits.
Colum is head of the Genomic Medicine Research Group and Lead for Strategic Academic Partnerships for the Biomedical Sciences Research Institute.
His work in epigenetics has been widely cited and he has secured substantial funding from the UK Research Councils for his work, most recently in interdisciplinary areas involving colleagues across several Faculties. During the COVID-19 crisis he has been assisting in SARS-CoV-2 testing as part of the University/HSC consortium and has worked hand in hand with the Public Health Agency team in the development of new tools for Contact Tracing.
Is it fair to say we were unprepared for a new disease like COVID-19? Or truer to say we were unprepared for the scale of the problem? In the nerve-wracking period that preceded the development of viable vaccines, enormous energy was poured into trying to limit the spread of infection through testing and tracing. It was not that we did not know what to do in order to test and trace, but rather that attempting to do them at such scale brought significant logistical problems not previously anticipated.
It was this step-change in magnitude which forced in the end the development of new technologies and approaches. Having worked at both testing and tracing at ground level alongside my clinical colleagues through this period, I have seen how problems around supply chains, requirements for rapid turnaround and the limitations of existing software and reporting systems bedeviled efforts at the beginning of the crisis, and how over time these problems have been surmounted and solved.
Going forward it will be important to build on what we have learnt regarding redundancy in supply, flexibility in platforms and the ability to handle huge amounts of data in rapid yet reliable fashion. Importantly, it has also underscored the importance of academic/clinical partnerships to bridge the cultural divide separating us and allow the rapid application of cutting-edge techniques. Further, we need to continue to build local provision, both in technology and training, to provide for future resilience.
Gareth Hetherington is Director of the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre. The Centre carries out a broad range of economic policy focused research to inform Government on key policy and strategy decisions.
Gareth provides regular economic commentary in the media and is often invited to provide evidence to Stormont Committees on economic development policy in areas such as non-domestic rates relief, mitigation measures against COVID-19 and responding to the Executive’s Draft Budget.
Gareth will provide an overview of recent Economic Policy Centre research, which will include analysis of those in society most impacted by COVID-19 and discussion of changes in the labour market. He will also outline the prospects for the local economy as we recover from the pandemic and provide some insights on the longer-term implications for key sectors.
Dr. Breda Friel
Dr. Breda Friel's doctoral research area is suicide prevention policy in Ireland. Breda also researches Autism Spectrum and CYW and the importance of relationships in practice and current research is Museums, Crisis and COVID-19.
Specialising in trauma debriefing and critical incident responses, Breda is an accredited therapist and clinical supervisor with IACP and BACP. She works with statutory and C&V agencies in managing resources and support following critical events and current research is focusing on the unfolding narrative and practice themes emerging from COVID-19.
Dr Breda Friel will examine how crisis and trauma recovery and management theory offers a knowledge base in understanding Covid-19. This chronic crisis has impacted all aspects of functioning, at individual, community, and societal levels.
The assumptions/beliefs that we had previously made or held, based on our experience of the world, have been tested, shaken, even upended. The narrative arising from the pandemic is redefining the sense of community, constructing the knowledge base, and informing the skills and themes for practice in communities emerging from the pandemic.
To revive young people and communities requires a framework and strategy of community recovery. The application of strength-based approaches and post-traumatic growth theory will be considered in articulating emerging themes and essential practice considerations in Community Youth Work practice with young people.
Eliz McArdle is a lecturer in community youth work at Ulster University and Course Director for the Certificate in Youth Studies. In addition, Eliz is Project Manager for YouthPact, a support and training project supporting the workforce for the Peace IV Children and Young People’s programme.
Previously she worked for 10 years as Team Leader for the Equality Work with Young Women team in YouthAction NI (previously the Gender Equality Unit). Her research and teaching areas include: gender equality and work with young women; youth work for peace-building, and professional and practice development.
Along with Simon Ward, Eliz developed the LIFEMAPS positive mental health model. She is actively involved in the management of Critical Voice, an online platform for creating youth work dialogue.
Eliz McArdle will present the words of local young people and how youth work responded to these challenges. Locally, life changed for young people in March 2020, when the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Dáil in the Republic of Ireland imposed restrictions on many areas of life due to the global pandemic.
Recent research has consistently recognised that young people have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, but the experiences have been complex, with somewhat contradictory emotions and a wide range of circumstances to navigate.
YouthPact Young Voices ‘2020 in 4 - something to say about Covid-19’ was a youth engagement process to capture the direct words and expressions from young people. A Gallery of Voices displays over 90 contributions from young people and the Peace4Youth projects that helped young people make sense of their pandemic experience.
One consequence of Covid lockdowns was the inability of youth workers to meet face to face with young people, while continuing to respond to the persistent and growing needs of young people. YouthPact’s ‘At the threshold’ research captures practice during this time of unprecedented disruption to the delivery of youth work; pivoting to online delivery, remote engagement and responding to isolation, disenchantment and demotivation. The youth work response was creative, adaptive and engaging.
Dr Gail Neill
Dr Gail Neill is a lecturer in the School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences at Ulster University. She is the Programme Director for a Fast Track Community Youth Work degree programme alongside which she teaches and convenes undergraduate and post graduate modules. Her teaching interests include critical thinking; support and supervision; reflective practice; mentoring and gender and diversity.
Gail has been a member of the Community Youth Work team at Ulster for 4 years. Prior to this move to academia she worked within the voluntary and community sector, as a youth work practitioner. Her career in this field spans 20 years and reflects her research and practice interests in gender and sexual (in)equalities; lobbying, campaigning and grass roots youth activism; and participatory research.
Dr. Gail Neill will present findings from the COVID under 19 global study conducted by the Centre for Children’s Rights (QUB) All children have rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
#CovidUnder19 is a multi-stakeholder initiative that brings together children, civil society organisations, academia and other partners to work together in understanding children’s experiences of their rights during the COVID19 pandemic.
A goal of #CovidUnder19 is to create a space for children across the globe to be meaningfully involved in the discussions around issues triggered by the COVID19 pandemic and contribute towards shaping the post-COVID19 world.