By Aisling Kett
Class reps will decide whether a second referendum on funding higher education will be held this semester when they vote on a motion at next Wednesday’s Class Representative Council for a new referendum to take place.
The results of a similar referendum in semester one were declared null and void by SU president Ed Leamy after the voting system used was deemed to be in breach of the SU constitution.
The proportional representation (PR) system was used, but according to Article 9 of the SU constitution, “The counting procedures shall be in accordance with the system of proportional representation by the single transferable vote [PRSTV] method”.
The second referendum would offer students a choice between the mandates with the highest number of votes in the first referendum. These were mandates four (continuation of the status quo with student contribution) and five (free fees funded by the taxpayer). Mandate five was declared the winner after the first count.
The previous results showed that a majority of students were not in favour of free fees (41% supported mandate five, free fees). Those in favour of fees were divided on how fees should be dealt with.
Speaking to The College View, Leamy, who will support the motion for a new referendum, explained that if PRSTV had been applied, as per the constitution, mandate 4 would have won. He said that mandate five was not “transfer friendly”.
Class Rep Council chairperson Sean Cassidy said: “If you look at the overall voting pattern, 60% voted for four other options. The [legal] advice would be to re-run it. But it’s up to council class reps.’’
FEE DCU (Free Education for Everyone) accused the Students’ Union of using a ‘constitutional technicality’ to change the outcome of the referendum and insisted that the students’ democratic choice was reflected after the first count.
Cassidy added: “It wasn’t one person’s mistake, council should have seen it number one, the original proposer should have seen it, council should have seen it, exec should have seen it, FEE should have seen it. Re-run, do it again and do it properly.”
The referendum website (dcusureferendum.ie) stated however that the “funding model with the greatest first preference [PR] wins. If you wish you can also express a second, third, fourth and fifth preference. The additional preferences will not carry, but will instead allow the Students’ Union to better measure the spectrum of opinion, strengthening our lobbying argument”.
After the referendum it was suggested that the Electoral Committee should resign for not spotting the constitutional breach. A post on the FEE website suggested this would make it hard to find a new committee as “those on the Electoral Committee are the only ones who had an interest in the position, and it was damn difficult to fill those”.
When contacted about this issue, the returning officer and chair of the Electoral Committee, Sean Rooney, would not divulge how much was spent on running the referendum, but insisted that the committee had been “using the method outlined on the referendum website”.
An article on the FEE website dated December 15th, 2011 states that FEE DCU “decided to bring a motion to Class Rep Council to have the result of Friday’s first count respected as a ‘democratic survey’, which should now mandate DCU SU to campaign for free education for everyone”.
This move was vetoed at the Class Rep Council meeting by Leamy. Derek McKenna, leader of FEE DCU, said that after this move he was given an “official warning”.
After the article was put on the website McKenna claims he was warned by the SU president that a solicitor’s letter would be issued for “false online writings” about him. This action was not followed through, and McKenna maintains that he has not committed libel.
McKenna believes that if mandate five is declared the winning model from the first referendum or if a second referendum is held, the SU won’t support it. He believes it is public knowledge that the SU is “definitely not going to support the winning mandate” if it turns out to be mandate five.
When asked about this issue Leamy said that as chief representative of the SU he is bound to support it. However, when asked if he personally supported free fees, Leamy said that while they are a “lovely idea”, free fees aren’t feasible in the current economic crisis.
When asked whether the referendum should have been held before the Budget last December, both McKenna and Leamy said no. If held before the Budget the SU would have had a clear mandate to lobby the government with.
However, Leamy said that “budget time was ideal” as the issue of fees was topical. McKenna said there was a reason for having the referendum after the Budget, there was “political momentum” at that time.
The referendum was held between December 7th and 9th, while the Budget was announced on December 5th and 6th. McKenna also said that though the referendum was declared null and void, it was “still relevant to have it”.
A decision on the second referendum will be made at the Class Representative Council meeting on Wednesday 15th February.
‘‘free fees aren’t feasible in the current economic crisis but as chief representative of the SU I’m bound to support it.’’ – Ed Leamy
Why a second referendum could change the initial result:
The second referendum will offer students a choice between the mandates with the highest number of votes in the first referendum. This means mandate four (a continuation of the status quo with student contribution) or mandate five (a fully free system funded by the exchequer) could become the funding model that the Students’ Union executive will be mandated to lobby on. Although mandate five won the first referendum with 41% of the vote, the rest of the students voted in favour of keeping some form of fee paying model. This means almost 59% of students are not in favour of free fees.