Should SU membership remain automatic?

By Gabija Gatevackaite

The very moment that each and every third level student in Ireland is enrolled in a university, they automatically become a part of the Students’ Union. This means that students can avail of any of the services the SU have to offer for example, take part in events and initiatives, mental health services and help on offer for students during their time in the university. The SU is funded largely by contribution fees that every student must pay when they enrol, but should membership of the union stay mandatory? I believe so.

The Katie Ascough fiasco in UCD has seen a students’ union president to be impeached by popular vote for the very first time in Ireland. One way or another, the referendum was mostly just another debate of whether abortion is morally acceptable or not and in this case, the pro-choice side won.

A UCD society have now launched a petition campaigning for the SU constitution to be changed so that a way to opt out of the union is more clearly defined. This campaign is led by the ISFA, Irish Students for Freedom of Association. Speaking to The University Observer, group member Charles Crowley noted that “quite clearly this year [UCDSU] has been a farce…In terms of what it’s achieved. Granted the Union has done some good things, but recently it hasn’t achieved any of its real goals,” is motivation for the campaign.

Leaving your SU can be a very foolish decision. Truth be told, some unions spend most of their time organising parties and giving out free passes into clubs, but most do very valuable work, for example Mental Health Week and SHIFT Week. Giving out free condoms, encouraging students with mental health issues to get counselling and just being there for students is a very important job and not one that should be taken for granted just because you don’t utilise it.

We never know when an issue may arise and when we may need help, so why leave a union that is always ready to offer guidance in any way they can? And even if you never use any of their services, why not support a union that helps so many other students?

Leaving a students’ union is like setting out into a violent ocean with only a makeshift raft for support. There is only one union in the university, so once you leave you’re on your own.

Stances on social issues are something that unions are very passionate about. DCU, for example, is pro-choice. An anti-choice advocate may decide to leave the union on this motion alone. But does the union’s stance on a political issue affect their delegation? It absolutely shouldn’t. Ascough let her personal beliefs get in the way, decided to support motions that UCDSU didn’t and so lost the support of her fellow sabbaticals.

Is it ever justified to leave your SU? Perhaps. Ultimately, the SU is there to help students. If it’s not doing its job correctly, then its officers need to reconsidered. A student leaving a students’ union that fights for their rights and wellbeing defeats the entire point of a union being in place.

By Gabija Gataveckaite

Image Credit University Observer