The campaign for the USI referendum was unfair, according to DCU Students’ Union President Paul Doherty.
Responding to the results of the referendum, Doherty told The College View “you can’t compete with an organisation the size of USI”.
At the start of the year at Class Rep Council, where regulations pass, Doherty spoke against allowing USI on campus. “I said if you give any organisation free reign they can just take over campus, and that’s what they did.”
According to Doherty, the USI’s presence on campus won them the referendum. “In UCD, John Logue was the only USI Officer allowed on campus because he was an alumni. Now I don’t agree with that much restriction, I think the officer board at least [should be allowed on campus].”
He continued: “But we had sabbaticals from Queens, Trinity, Tralee, from all over the country. I mean our organisation here is 12,000 students and three sabbaticals. Theirs is 250,000 students and how many hundreds of sabbaticals. So when you look at it like that, I don’t think there was any way the no side could have won.”
Doherty told The College View: “There was a lot of students saying the USI were standing outside classrooms directing them to polling boxes, some people saying it was within 10 metres”, however the SU didn’t receive any official complaints.
The SU chose to take no part in the campaign, however Doherty told The College View: “I always made my comments clear last year, even when I ran for election I wasn’t very positive towards USI. I’m still not, but we’ve to play the cards we were dealt with and see how it goes.”
The SU president has been criticised for not speaking out against the USI. “We’re out over 10 years, so I’ve even had past presidents of DCU ringing me saying it was terrible and why didn’t we speak out. But it’s not our place to speak out at the end of the day.
“What every sabbatical passes on is ‘don’t join the USI’. Some people will say I dropped the baton on that one but look, that’s the way it goes. In 10 years time we could be coming out for another 10 years.”
However Doherty told The College View if he wasn’t a member of the SU, he would have spoken out against the USI. “I know that from me saying that now in this position people might think I’m wrong to say it but I’m going to be honest, I would have really been against it. But at the end of the day, students voted and we have to go with what students want.”
Despite being openly opposed to the USI, Doherty said they will co-operate with the national union as it joins up with DCU. “It’s up for us to build the bridges for the next sabbaticals to come in and I think as the years go on and if we stay in USI for a while the attitude will change.
“ I’ve said this pretty publicly in the past; DCU seems to have always been like the rattle was thrown out of the pram in the fact that we weren’t talking to them, they weren’t talking to us.”
He added: “They’ll be interested to see what we’ve been doing for 10 years, we’ll be interested to see what they’ve been doing for 10 years. I think it’s a bit late in the game for us. We wanted a referendum in semester one to get an answer.”
The turnout for the referendum was disappointing for Doherty, who put it down to student apathy.
“We were expecting to get maybe 15% turnout and I think there will be a backlash from students with obviously the student levy being increased next year. Some students are going to be asking questions, but you got to stay strong and say all the information was out there. That’s why we pushed for people to make informed decisions, so we’ll see how that goes.”
Asked if he would have run for president if he knew he was going to be a president of a USI member college, Doherty told The College View: “To be honest I think being part of USI changes the dynamics of who runs for sabbatical positions.”
The majority of sabbaticals in DCU over the last number of years have come from clubs and societies according to Doherty, unlike other colleges where sabbaticals have a more political background.
Doherty hopes this doesn’t change in DCU with a USI presence on campus. “It’s happened in a few places. I wouldn’t like to see that change because it increases student apathy because people just don’t want to go through the rigmarole of big political speeches on stuff that don’t 100% affect people.”
He continued: “But it’s an interesting dynamic. People come to the SU looking to go onward into the USI and it could be a stepping stone that way. I hope it doesn’t go that way but again, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
With UCD leaving the USI, Doherty thinks DCU might have “a bit of egg on our face in that case”. However the future of the USI is unclear with referendums continuously being held in colleges across the country and Doherty told The College View: “You never know what could happen next year, there could be a big flux to leave again. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the USI in the coming months.”