USI referendum would have failed without USI

The Electoral Committee would have failed to reach quorum in the USI referendum if it wasn’t for the USI’s presence on campus during the campaign, according to the President of the Union of Students in Ireland.

In an interview with The College View, John Logue hit back at criticism from DCU SU for the USI’s presence on campus during the campaign and labelled the ‘no’ side as “non-existent”.

Logue said there would be a “legitimate cause for concern were we coming on and misinforming students but the fact is we had our officers on campus, we had other representatives from other students’ unions, at times, who wanted to come and explain how they benefited from life in the USI and I don’t see any issue with that whatsoever.”

Logue said he was certain the referendum only passed because of the USI’s presence in DCU during polling and slammed those opposing the referendum for not engaging with students.

“We would have struggled to reach quorum because the no side was non-existent for prolonged periods of time during that referendum.”

The USI President’s comments were in direct contrast with DCU Students’ Union President Paul Doherty’s claims in the last issue of The College View that the referendum campaign was unfair.

Logue insisted: “The no side had every right to bring in anyone that had negative views about USI and ask them to canvass.”

Logue said he had a good relationship with Doherty and that it was his view that “if Paul felt so strongly about it, I know Paul would have come out on this because he’s good at what he does. I’m not going to take that away from him”.

“He was caught between a rock and a hard place. I’m not sure to be quite honest with you what his position prior to the referendum was, all I know what that he was constitutionally bound to say no to it”.

However there is no mention in DCU SU’s constitution that the SU aren’t allowed take a stance in a referendum. Under article 9, section 1.9 of the 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”, indicating the SU may take a stance on a referendum if they wish to do so.

The USI were aware of the ‘historical legacies’ that were in DCU in relation to the organisation and Logue said it was evident from talking to students that they feared joining them. “We had not only the debate that everybody attended, but a lot of students were asking ‘Do USI do this that I don’t like? Do USI do that?’ So there was an awful lot of quelling worries.”

Logue was critical of the ‘tactics’ used by the no side in both DCU and UCD, particularly the claims there is a lack of financial transparency in the USI.

“This idea that we’re not a financially transparent organisation; our accounts are published every year, they’re voted on and passed by students. Every year they’re published in our congress programme and every member students’ union gets a copy of the booklet that the budget is disseminated in.”

Logue expects DCU’s membership will bring “more credibility” to the organisation. With DCU taking more interest in national issues, for example, the referendum on fees last semester, Logue reckons “DCU can bring back a signal of intent to the Minister that students are swarming around key issues again.”

Now that DCU has voted to re-join the USI, the Union of Students in Ireland constitutionally requires DCU SU to make a formal request for membership. Logue explained that “at that point we will take not only our officer board but some members of our steering committee trustees and discuss the entire process with the students’ union.”

DCU SU’s constitution must also abide by the USI’s constitution. Logue said he has already looked at DCU SU’s constitution and said there didn’t appear to be any problems. However it has to be passed by the USI’s national council.

Logue said DCU SU and any DCU student is more than welcome to attend the USI’s congress, due to take place in Ballinasloe, Galway next week and any events that take place between now and when DCU officially joins so “they’re not coming in from the cold.”

There is no set time period by which DCU has to join the USI, however Logue explained: “In order to get votes at the next subsequent congress, you have to join before the official start of a year, so it would have to be before July 1st 2013 in order to avail of votes at the next congress.”

During hustings for the USI referendum, there was confusion on the financial implications for DCU students and DCU SU on joining the USI. Logue told The College View: “The only thing that USI receive from DCU students is €5 if you’re a full-time student and €2.50 if you’re part-time.”

He went on to explain that the lump sum that comes from the SU “is decided on official HEA figures for the previous year, so that is in stock now so we can give Paul an estimate of what the likely affiliation fee is.
“At that point Paul is completely entitled to say we actually have less than the HEA figures or we have more than the HEA figures; we now have less part-time because we had a dropout rate. Whatever the case may be. Then we’ll come to a negotiation there. That’s all that USI gets.”

The SU may decide to charge students an additional levy on top of the contribution of €5/€2.50 for additional expenses incurred by the union when they attend USI events. Logue said that decision is up to individual unions and not the USI.

Logue was shocked by his former college, UCD, and its decision to leave the USI but is confident they will hold a referendum within 12 months and rejoin. UCD have yet to give official notice to the USI of their intention to disaffiliate and will remain within the organisation for 12 months after they give their notice. Members of UCD SU will attend the USI congress next week.

As well as financial transparency, another issue that came up numerous times during the campaign was the USI’s method of lobbying on the student contribution charge in recent months which included occupying TD constituency offices and Logue himself being arrested in the Dáil.

Logue said he’s unapologetic for what the USI have done this year.

“I’d like to think we’ve made USI a much more recognisable voice for students and also that people out there in the mainstream media and in the public really know what it’s like to be a student in modern Ireland.

After the USI’s ‘Fed up? Stand up!’ campaign, Logue believes students in Ireland are taken more seriously. “I know local politicians take us a lot more seriously. I know parents feel that USI have done an awful lot for their sons and daughters in college. I know local businesses and now national businesses now understand not only the importance of higher education but also the negative effect on their own businesses when higher education is cut.”

Asked whether he undid the USI’s hard work when he was arrested, Logue replied: “If political opinion is anything to go by, we gained from it. If media coverage was anything to go by, we gained from it. Families and students themselves finally saw someone who walked their talk, even though I had no intention of doing that and to be honest with you, I was terrified the whole way through it.

“A lot of the coverage was ‘glad to see students back on the streets’ and a lot of students got involved in our campaign because of that. I don’t make any apology for it.”

Aoife Mullen

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