Members of Ógra Sinn Féin staged a protest at the main gates of the university this week against their lack of representation in this year’s Freshers’ Tent. The party, thumb which won 14 seats in February’s general election, has no official society recognized by the college.
Chair of the Sinn Féin Party in UCD, Simon MacGiolla Easpaig, told the College Tribune that this protest was all about seeking society status for Sinn Fein in UCD. “What we believe in is that the students have a right to a wide range of representation on campus”. MacGiolla Easpaig also commented that the application was not to be reviewed in time for Freshers’ Week, leaving the party at a disadvantage compared to other political organisations.
“The process for official society recognition started last November, when I [MacGiolla Easpaig] approached the various bodies dealing with Freshers’ Week and societies in UCD. Since then there’s been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with trying to get documents together.” The party had assembled the relevant documentation by late July, however the group was informed that there would be a moratorium on the financing and resourcing of new societies. The Recognition Committee, which reviews applications for society status, will not meet until sometime during term to review the party’s case. “Basically, we had no official society status and so couldn’t be present in the Fresher’s Tent this year. Now what we’re saying is that in a situation where Fresher’s is at the beginning of term, the Recognitions Committee should have the capabilities to meet before the term begins to review applications of new societies; that’s where we stand.”
Richard Butler, UCD Societies Officer, stated that, according to his records, “the society application paperwork from Sinn Fein was submitted in mid August 2011. The Recognition Committee has not yet met this academic year, and will meet later in the semester. This, and many other details, have already been communicated, on multiple occasions, to the applicants in this case. There is no possibility that the applicants are unclear about the details or timeframe of the process.”
Vice-chair of Sinn Féin in UCD, Aaron MacDaid, has called for reform in the application process. “I started a PhD about two and a half years ago, and maybe 12 months ago I sent an email to a few people [in UCD] assuming that there was a Sinn Féin organisation; we met regularly at the start, every couple of weeks, and Simon in particular was following up the procedures and getting everything in place; I was under the impression that we were told by the authorities that if we get these signatures we will be a party, but it seems the rules weren’t fully communicated to us.”
MacDaid continued, “There was a party a few years ago and it was a recognised society, but it lapsed the year before last. We were pretty quick trying to get it recognised and do everything by the book; I expected to be joining an existing party.”
Thomas Forde, a supporter on the day and a second year student, expressed how he was “very disappointed that last year there wasn’t any Sinn Fein society. I know I’m not alone as a lot of people said it to me last year. I looked around and saw no stand in the Fresher’s Tent. It leaves a big void, and I would like to see it filled.”
Lisa Connell of Young Labour said that they’d obviously like to see all political parties up at the Fresher’s Tent, “especially Sinn Fein as they’re a big party gaining force in Ireland, and they have got a Presidential candidate running”.
Kieran Cawley of Young Fine Gael expressed disappointment that Sinn Fein were without a stand this year, but conceded that “the powers that be in UCD decide and sure, whatever decision they make, that’s it”. This view was echoed by Greg Moroney, of Ógra Fianna Fail. “At the end of the day it’s down to individual committees getting their own headquarters to organize the actual making sure they’re allowed be on campus; I suppose you have to respect UCD’s policy and if you don’t abide by that you can’t expect to be set up on campus.”