Regardless of what the students of UCD will vote for on the 25th and 26th of October, there is no good outcome of this referendum for our Union. Right now, our Union is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. The incredible talent, drive and passion of many of the officers and activists involved in our Union is being drowned out by one question; impeach or not to impeach?
As we all know, concerns have been raised about decisions of the SU president and they have triggered the impeachment process. The campaign to impeach Katie has focused on her actions, which have mostly affected the pro-choice mandate of the SU. Since then, it has also emerged that the leadership of the Union has been dysfunctional in recent times, with strong disagreements between Katie and the executive officers. As a result, the SU’s reputation, and by extension our reputation as a student body, has been damaged significantly. Our money, time and energy have all been wasted on disputing whether or not Katie should remain in power.
Katie’s actions have been a cause for concern among those who care about the SU, but we can’t deny that the impeachment debate has turned into a student drama, played out mostly on social media platforms and online news outlets. Did Katie make the right decision in terms of Winging It, or not? Was she intentionally blocking pro-choice activities on campus, or just creating a space for students who are not comfortable to voice dissenting opinions on the matter of abortion access in UCD? Even Breitbart, an alt-right news outlet which has no relevance to student politics in Ireland, added two words to the discussion, ‘Thought Crime’.
As a student who wants nothing else but a democratic, effective and representative union for UCD, I am very uncomfortable with how this debate has gone. Many of the debates about the impeachment have been heated and sustained online by voices which have nothing to do with our university. It’s people outside of UCD, who have no interest in our SU and are using this situation to progress their own agenda in terms of the debate about the 8th amendment. They do not care about the actual welfare and wellbeing of our union.
We have to be clear that this referendum is not a free pass for the pro-choice and anti-choice fringe camps to insult each other. It is not an excuse to target students with different views. It cannot be used as an opportunity to conduct a witch-hunt on someone who has won an election, just because they have anti-choice views. Similarly, in running this referendum campaign, it is not okay to frame the Yes to Impeach side as a group of bullies and to ignore their concerns.
We must remind those outside of UCD, who choose to express opinions about our SU that they should be respectful and that it is never acceptable to target someone with hateful comments, only because we disagree with their views on access to abortion. We must make it clear that as a community we will not stand for such attacks on our fellow students.
This referendum is about the voice of UCD students and who gets to lead it. It is about creating a strong SU, which is necessary in order to enhance and shape the university and to put the interests of all students at the heart of changes. It is about whether or not we trust Katie to make our SU powerful enough to campaign, lobby and lead on a variety of issues on our behalf.
Fixing the internal trust within UCDSU and finding ways to rebuild the reputation and strength of our SU should be at the core of the impeachment debate, not just the future of a single element of the SU’s workload. Of course, we need to think about the future of the pro-choice mandate of our SU, but this is only one part of its job. It’s brilliant to see more students engaging with what’s going on in the SU, but we need the same passion and energy in other campaigns which are of massive importance. The housing crisis, potential loan schemes to pay for education, lack of health services and mental health supports for students, and so many more issues, need large student numbers to lobby behind them. Our SU needs to be able to work effectively on all of those things, and we should be asking whether or not Katie’s leadership can achieve strong outcomes for students across all of them.
If impeachment is the only way to restore confidence and strength in the SU, we must consider how much time, money and energy it will take to remove the current president from office and refill the position. However, if Katie should remain in power, we must be sure that she will be able to restore trust in herself and her leadership. We also have to know that she will respect her fellow executive and college officers’ opinions and follow her constitutional mandates without any more outbreaks of controversy, which we are all so sick of at this point. We need to take into account the full extent of the consequences of both decisions before we make up our minds about this referendum, and not only focus on what had triggered it in the first place.
Both outcomes will have knock on effects and the dysfunction within the SU is causing students to lose out either way. Now, we have to decide which option is the lesser of two evils. As we are considering the impeachment, we need to have an honest discussion about the future of our union, we must be respectful and fair to both sides and always think about the best outcome for students and the ability of our union to carry out its work properly.
Joanna Siewierska – Politics Writer