DCU student group petitions for an Opt-In Students’ Union

Fionnuala Walsh & Kyle Ewald

Students for Fair Representation logo Credit: @DCUSFFR facebook page

Two petitions launched by DCU Students For Fair Representation involving SU membership and SU abortion stance have been put forward to the Returning Officer.

The Returning Officer is currently in the process of verifying the signatures of both petitions and dates will be organised for referendums if accepted.

The student-led movement launched two petitions on November 13, the first calling for a campus referendum on DCU SU’s stance on abortion. This movement comes after a debate held by DCU Debate Society on the topic “Students’ Unions should be neutral on abortion”.

The second petition is calling for a campus referendum on the membership structure of DCU Students’ Union.

DCU Students For Fair Representation (SFFR) said there is no visible, well publicised mechanism to opt-out of the SU and sees this as a violation of student rights to freely associate with the Union.

Similar petitions have been launched in UCD and Trinity and a student group has been formed in NUI Galway to discuss the possibility of leaving the union. According to DCU SFFR,  the groups have banded together to form one national movement.

“It is extremely clear that there are students all over the country who are dissatisfied with how their Student Unions are functioning, indeed there is a great degree of dysfunction in many S.U.s at the moment and it is no wonder that students wish to enact positive changes to their representative bodies. We have come together to highlight that change is necessary,” said an SFFR representative.

“DCUSU has shown us that it has more than enough money to function. If they can afford to waste €20,000 on a marquee then we shouldn’t be worried about their ability to keep the lights on,” said an SFFR representative when questioned on the sustainability of a non-mandatory SU.

In relation to the SU abortion stance referendum, SFFR said “[a] major problem that arises when a Student Union takes a stance on highly divisive topics such as abortion is that it serves to establish the “correct” stance for the entire student body to sign up to.”

DCUSU president Niall Behan commented on the matter saying, “on a personal level if you’re pro choice or pro life that is completely your choice, that is your opinion, but the opt-in referendum would disrupt way more than the political nature of the Students’ Union. It also would have much more ramifications as well as completely waste resources and time of the union in the next few weeks to run this referendum now when we should be busy doing other things for students, which is what we do.”

“This should have been done though the class rep council and this does feel like a rogue bunch of students who are dissatisfied with the union, who are doing these things that they think that their opinion is the majority opinion and obviously we’ll have to wait and see that, but I think that it’s a massive waste of time and money,” said Behan.

Business Faculty Rep Bryan Mulry said he understands the request for a referendum on a neutral abortion stance, but the idea of an opt-in SU could be “very damaging”.

“I’ve not heard a coherent argument for an opt-in. I’ve heard nothing, I’d love to hear one. For example that we voted pro-choice pre incorporation, now that’s a fair point, I would have no problem with that, that’s fine,” Mulry said.

“Under this model you come into DCU there’s no freshers week, there’s no supports if you have problem in week one, there’s actually no body to go to at all because there’s no sabbaticals because they’re not being paid,” he added.

Fionnuala Walsh & Kyle Ewald