All power to the president
Pierce Farrell explains why students should vote no in the upcoming constitutional referendum
A close examination of the proposed SU Constitution reveals that a great deal of power will be transferred from the Union membership to the Union President, store who will still have a backdoor out of their responsibilities.
Firstly, troche let’s look at the “Ents Forum” being proposed to replace the democratically elected Entertainments Vice-President. This is detailed in the proposed article 23. The closest this power-centralising document comes to mentioning a ‘professional Ents Manger’ is where it states: “The President may invite any Union staff member that they deem appropriate to be a member of the Entertainments Forum.” This begs the question: who is this staff member and by what process were they appointed to the Union’s staff in the first place?
The SU President stated in an interview with the College Tribune that: “No constitution would ever stipulate the terms and conditions of employment of a staff member.”
It seems odd that de Brún makes this claim when Article 15 of the proposed constitution and article 16 of the current constitution (as well as the relevant articles of past constitutions going back to almost the start of the millennium) lay out “the terms and conditions” and indeed the process by which the Editor of the Observer is appointed. The agents of this proposed power-centralising document are trying to have it both ways: conditions for an existing Union employee but none for a new one – why?
Perhaps because the proposed constitution mentions nothing about an ‘Ents Manager’, ailment including who might appoint them, what conflicts of interests they must declare or even what budget they would be required to draw up and present. Yet the SU are happy to place such terms and conditions upon the Observer Editor. In spite of this double-standard, the Yes campaign will try to convince ordinary students that the ‘Ents Manager’ position will be a guaranteed part of the Union’s future, even though the proposed constitution makes no mention of it.
The proposed constitution basically abolishes the democratically elected Entertainments Vice-President and replaces it with a forum. The majority of this proposed forum’s members are elected by Union Council at a meeting at the end of the academic year, i.e. when most students are too busy preparing for their summer exams to even think about which nightclub might appeal to them next October. True, the President is on this proposed forum and if he or she deems the Union’s Graphic Designer or one of the lovely, hard-working, middle-aged shop managers to be the most appropriate staff member to sit on the Ents forum, then so be it. Shopkeepers are legendary for their boogying ways!
The second reason this proposed document should be rejected is the blatant, but well concealed, lie about financial transparency. Those who have studied the Russian revolution will know the phrase ‘circular flow of power’. The proposed Finance Committee has a minimum of six members. The Union President is one, with four of the five others being “nominated by the President”. While these nominees have to be ratified by Union Council, made up largely of Class Reps, only the Union President gets to nominate two-thirds of the Finance Committee which is meant to: “Examine the Union’s annual audited accounts”, “determine, set and regulate the executive’s terms and conditions of employment” and, interestingly, “set expenses rates for all officers, committees, and staff of the Union.”
It certainly appears to be a very useful facility for a Union President who, like USI president Gary Redmond in the current job market, has opted to serve two consecutive terms. There is the possibility for SU shop managers, who do the day-to-day running of the shops to “attend at the invitation of the President or Chairperson when they deem appropriate”. Probably the most intriguing line in proposed Article 24 is this: “The Finance Committee and the President in acting on behalf of the Union shall be indemnified against risks and expenses out of the assets of the Union.” Google the word “indemnified” and you’ll see just how much the Yes side is fudging the issue of taking financial responsibility and keeping ready a ‘get-out’ clause!
Finally there’s the issue of Union Council being somehow empowered to deal with the Union’s finances. While Council gets to see the budget, it cannot propose amendments to it. Council has always had the power to demand to see the Union’s accounts and hear explanations regarding any discrepancies – but most Class Reps are never told this! It is proposed that Council will have the “power to borrow, raise or secure the payment of money for the purposes of the Union” but only after the Finance Committee makes a recommendation that’s approved by the Union Executive.
Oh, and Executive is being given the new power to overturn the policy set by Union Council. Is the Yes side telling you that if 8 of the 12 members of Union Executive (7 of whom will have their weekly wage part-set by the President) decide that Council has given them a job they don’t want to do they can throw out that demand? Have they told you that the Council Chairperson, like the Finance Committee Chairperson, would be nominated by the President alone?
Basically, the very body that’s meant to hold the Union President to account will have its meetings steered by an appointee of the President. See the circle yet?
Pierce Farrell is a two-time Class Rep, former Vice-Chairperson of Union Council, Chairperson of the 2004 – 2005 Constitutional Review Group and former Communications and IT Officer of UCDSU. He now lives in Australia.
*This article was amended at 16.28 on Wednesday, 22nd Feburary. The original introduction to the article stated the author is a former UCDSU vice-president. This is incorrect.