News Editor Aoife Mullen gives an overview of the timeline of events which led to the USI re-affiliation referendum being made null and void last night.
6th February: Labour DCU Chairperson & Second year BCL student Sean Rooney proposes the following motion at Class Rep Council:
“Council notes that it has been over two years since our last referendum on re-affilation to the national students’ union, USI. Council notes that in this time the DCU student body has significantly changed. Council further notes that in this time major changes have occurred in the higher education system and in the national union. Council therefore believes it is again time to re-examine our relationship with the national students’ union. Council therefore mandates that a referendum be held at the same time as the Reproductive Rights Referendum on re-affilation to the USI. Council mandates that students should be informed that if membership to the Union of Students in Ireland is ratified a charge of €5 per full-time students and €2.50 per part-time student will be added to Student Contribution to cover the cost of membership. Council also mandates that the question on the ballot paper should read: Do you wish to re-affiliate to the Union of Students in Ireland? YES/NO.”
The motion is amended and passed by Class Rep Council.
7th February: Newly elected Returning Officer Aideen Holden informs the student body by email the USI Affiliation Referendum will be held on February 26th & 27th, in conjunction with the Reproductive Rights Referendum. The email states the wording on the ballot paper will read:
“Do you wish to re-affiliate to the Union of Students in Ireland? (in order of preference)YES/NO”
12th February: It is announced that Labour DCU and the USI will campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum. Sean Rooney acts as the USI’s student sponsor on campus as the USI are an external body to DCU, they must have a DCU student sponsor on campus who can be held to the DCU SU Electoral Committee Regulations.
DCU Young Fine Gael will campaign for a No vote and campaigning begins on 18th February.
20th February: Hustings for the USI referendum is held. Speaking for the Yes side is USI President John Logue and Labour DCU Chairperson Sean Rooney. Speaking for the No side is DCU YFG Chairperson Ryan Hunt and DCU student Nathan Wheeler.
26th February: Voting in the referendum begins at 10am. Members of USI from around the country campaign on campus.
27th February: An emergency CRC meeting is held in the early afternoon to allow the Electoral Committee to defer voting until the next day due to internet servers crashing on campus. The online polling system used at polling stations meant the electoral committee couldn’t regsiter students when they voted and so voting is suspended.
Meanwhile in UCD students vote to disaffiliate with the USI.
28th February: Polls open from 10am to 4pm. Counting begins at 4.30pm.
55% of students vote in favour of DCU re-affiliating with the USI, with 786 students voting Yes and 642 students voting No.
29th February: In an interview with The College View, DCU Students’ Union President Paul Doherty says the USI affiliation referendum campaign was unfair and suggests the reason for the Yes vote was because of the USI’s large presence on campus.
Meanwhile DCU Labour Chairperson and the USI’s student sponsor on campus, Sean Rooney defends the USI’s presence on campus.
4th March: At a Class Rep Council, Paul Doherty states that he is seeking legal clarity on whether or not it would have been a violation of Bunreacht na hÉireann to not allow the USI on campus during the campaign. At the beginning of the year CRC voted against restricting access to campus believing DCU was public property.
12th March: In an interview with The College View, USI President John Logue hits back at criticism of USI’s campaign in DCU and states that he believes the referendum wouldn’t have reached quorum if the USI were not allowed to campaign.
25th March: At a Class Rep Council, former Returning Officer Steve Conlon reads a statement, saying DCUSU have no authority to ban anyone from campus, referring to the case of SPUC V Grogan.
DCU SU President Paul Doherty responds saying the university have given DCU SU permission to run referendums themselves without the university interfering. Doherty says the university is private property and the SU therefore have a right to ban people from campus if they wish.
DCU SU Executive have a motion to put to council to declare the USI referendum null & void because of confusion over who will pay the student levy. The student levy that would have to be paid by students to the USI was not included on the ballot paper. The motion reads:
“Council recognises the outcome of the recent USI affiliation referendum and the following result in which students voted YES for re-affiliation to USI. Council respects the views of the student body and the outcome of this result. Council recognises that due to the fact that a student levy was not included on the ballot paper the University have no obligation to collect this levy for the SU.
Council understands that financially this would leave the affiliation fees to come from the SU Budget. The figure stands at (?). Council recognises that this would cause severe financial strain on the SU next year and that current services offered may have to be cut. Council believes that in light of this the USI affiliation referendum should be declared null and void and should be run again this semester with the ballot paper to include the respective student levy. Council realises that this will have an effect on EC but they will be supported by all means in their efforts to run this referendum.”
Doherty tells CRC that the majority of students he has talked to since the referendum said they would have voted no if they knew they had to pay the levy and therefore it is unfair to stand over the result. Doherty says he has no vested interested and that he is acting on behalf of 11,000 students.
CRC discuss the implications on the SU if they were to pay the student levy and it is estimated that it would be approximately €55,000 (a quarter of the SU budget).
Steve Conlon says the SU have no authority to question the decision of the student body and proposes a motion to not put the Executive’s motion to council until they have further information on the matter. The motion is passed by council and the motion to declare the referendum null & void isn’t put to council.
27th March: Following a meeting of the Office of Student Life, the OSL inform the SU executive they are challenging the constitutionality of the referendum based on Article 9.1.6 of the DCU SU Constitution, which states:
“The Students’ Union shall be responsible for the posting of the wording of proposed constitutional changes and the promotion of each referendum.”
The SU did not run an information campaign on the USI affiliation referendum.
The Society Life Committee also raise concerns with the SU executive “about the recent USI affiliation referendum regarding the lack of clarity on the potential financial impact the result may have on Society Activity.”
28th March: Following a meeting of the SU Executive, SU President Paul Doherty informs the student body by email that he is declaring the USI referendum null & void following the concerns raised by the OSL. The email reads:
This is an official statement from the DCU Students’ Union President.
Concerns have been raised by DCU Office of Student life about the constitutionality of our recent USI affiliation referendum.
The constitutionality has been challenged in relation to Article 9.1.6 which states that “The Students’ Union shall be responsible for the posting of the wording of proposed constitutional changes and the promotion of each referendum”
In the case of the USI referendum DCU SU Executive did not to hold an information campaign or promote the referendum.
Therefore, as protector of the Constitution I must now declare the USI affiliation referendum null and void.”
Following Doherty’s email, the USI issue a statement vowing to protect DCU students’ decision to affiliate to the USI:
“Our primary focus now is to protect the democratic decision of DCU students to affiliate to USI. It is evident from the events that have transpired since the result of the referendum that a small cohort in DCU is intent on subverting the students’ decision by any means necessary. This has culminated in the highly questionable decision by DCU Students’ Union today to declare the referendum null and void. USI will now take any measures necessary to ensure that the constitutional right of DCU students to join and form a union is vindicated.”