The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) remains intact following a decision by the students of Trinity College Dublin to maintain their affiliation with the organisation. In a referendum held last week, treat those campaigning against disaffiliation won with 61.5% of the vote. UCD students are expected to cast their vote on the same issue in November.
In a debate held in TCD by The Phil and The University Times in the run-up to the vote, the USI was described by David Byrne, arguing in favour of disaffiliation, as a “bureaucratic, undemocratic mess”.
When questioned about the legitimacy of the USI, given that its officers are not elected directly by students, its President, John Logue, revealed that “one thing we’re looking at this year is actually having an on-the-ground ballot for the presidency of the USI”.
This however, is in conflict with the opinion of the UCD Students’ Union Campaigns and Communications officer, Paddy Guiney, who responded to a similar question by saying “I wouldn’t agree, certainly not, with having campus wide elections for USI sabbatical officers, even though they are national representatives”.
According to Guiney, holding further elections throughout the year could lead to students becoming “completely disenfranchised”. Instead, he emphasized the importance of engagement “from Union class reps to their own class … on every single issue, and one of those issues is certainly the candidates for USI”.
Logue and Guiney made respective references to the fees preferendum and upcoming disaffiliation referendum as examples of students directing the policy of the Students’ Union. Logue was also keen to stress that the goals pursued by the USI were not decided by USI officers but rather by the annual student congress, saying “our whole direction for the year is based on the outcomes at congress”.
Logue also noted that “institutions like UCD or TCD have a huge say [at USI congress]” and when questioned further as to whether students can be guaranteed that the best candidates will be chosen, given that delegates could potentially go against the prevailing view of the students they represent when voting for USI officer board, he again referred to the possibility of direct elections taking place.
“Anything that will increase the democratic nature of the organisation has to be looked at” Logue stated. Asked if the USI would be looking at instituting a more directly democratic process, Logue again cited the possibility of the next President being elected by the student body but also said he doesn’t “think it’s possible to open it up to the entire officer board this year”.
“I’m totally open to looking at it, and we are at the minute, I just have to consider the pros and cons”, suggesting that a number of factors such as financial capacity, as well as available time off work and study, may offer certain candidates an unfair advantage over others in being able to travel to colleges around the country in order to campaign.
The perception that there has been a lack of significant reform within the USI, despite rhetoric to that effect, will be a potentially important factor in UCD’s forthcoming referendum on disaffiliation. While direct elections would certainly represent a realisation of this rhetoric, the lack of unity between UCDSU and the USI would call into question the likelihood of such elections being seen this year.