Confusion has arisen over whether a referendum will be held this year on re-affiliating with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) after a student petition last week.
According to the DCU Students’ Union Constitution, under article 9.1.1, the petition needed 200 union members (students) signatures and was to be submitted in to either the President of the Students’ Union (SU) or Chair of the Class Representative Council (CRC).
However, SU President Paul Doherty has told The College View he was not aware of any such petition when asked to comment.
When asked by The College View about the petition, Doherty said he could not comment until he officially receives the petition.
Doherty also expressed concern over the student’s decision to petition anonymously. “I would also be quite concerned that this petition is being done anonymously and at the beginning of a new academic year when the majority of first year students may not fully understand the issue.”
The DCU student, who did not want to be named, asked students to sign a petition on Monday last, the first day of semester one calling for a referendum to be held on re-affiliation with the USI.
The petition read, ‘Do you want DCUSU to affiliate to the Union of Students in Ireland?’.
The petition secured the 200 signatures needed and the student told us they informed the SU about the petition on Monday. The College View understands it took three hours to get the 200 signatures.
Article 9.1.5 of the DCUSU Constitution states “A referendum shall be held not less than two academic weeks, and not more than four academic weeks from being called”. A referendum will not be called until the President of the SU or Chair of the CRC has received the petition. The student told The College View they notified the SU about the petition and plans to officially hand in the petition to the SU in semester two as they want the referendum to be called during semester two.
When we questioned the student on why they petitioned on the first day of semester one if they do not plan on handing it in until semester two, we were told; “DCU students need a long time to think about their relationship with regards to national issues. The last USI referendum was rushed. People will have enough time to think about the issue.”
The Student told The College View a large number of students who signed the petition were first years and have “in their entrance to college encouraged the democratic process and hopefully a hearty and honest debate on whether they should join the national students’ union, the USI”, but said they did not aim it specifically at first year students.
The Student said, when asking students to sign the petition, they “aimed to be as unbiased as possible, informing students that this [signing the petition] did not mean they held a position on affiliation, rather it would ensure that students in this union [DCU Students’ Union] could vote on the issue.”
The student revealed to The College View they plan to campaign for DCU to re-affiliate to the USI. “I think we are failing our students in not giving them a wider view on national issues and that this has been detrimental to fostering original thought and critical thinking which is the mandate of both students and staff in university.”
Under Article 9.1.9 of the DCUSU Constitution, “If the Students’ Union takes a stance, other than a neutral stance, on a referendum, the Union will fund an equal amount to those who run a contrary campaign”.
When asked if the SU will take a stance on the referendum, Doherty replied; “There are definitely pros and cons for joining USI so we would be very cautious of the Students’ Union taking a stance on this. If the time arises where a referendum is called on USI we will take everything into account and take a stance which would benefit the students of DCU”.
Doherty also raised the issue of problems within the USI, which has led to a referendum in Trinity College on disaffiliation.
“USI is currently a very hot topic at the minute especially with the pending referendum in Trinity College Dublin to dissaffiliate. Speaking to some Universities within USI, over the summer, some are still concerned with internal problems and structure so I think we need to very careful when addressing the issue of re-affiliation.”
In a statement on their Facebook page, DCU Sinn Fein welcomed the petition as a “clear sign of healthy interest from students in student politics”.
Labour DCU joined Sinn Fein in welcoming the move but told us they will refer to their membership before taking a stance in the debate. They “hope that a honest debate will be had on this campus” and assured us “scare-mongering and mis-truths will not be present on our campus if the necessary number of signatures are obtained”.
DCU Young Fine Gael told The College View, “If it’s the will of the student body to at least have a discussion about the merits of the USI, then so be it. DCU YFG is presently content with the current status of our relationship with the USI.”
DCU disaffiliated from the USI in 2002 following a referendum. A referendum to re-affiliate to the USI was defeated 771 votes to 339 votes in 2010. During the campaign, DCUSU refused to allow the USI on campus to campaign.
Aoife Mullen is our News Editor