USIXIT: Should I stay or should I go?

Emily Sheahan

DCU LGBTA Society and Feminist Society published the letters on social media, expressing discontent with how the SU went about calling a referendum.

DCU Students’ Union sabbaticals and executives have voted to put the matter of affiliation with Union of Students in Ireland (USI) to referendum.

Should the subsequent petitions pass, the student body will vote on whether or not it wants to stay affiliated with USI. DCUSU President Vito Moloney Burke said it was likely that the issue would first be brought to the Class Rep Council, whose vote would mandate and  trump that of the SU.

“The executives decided that from our own personal perspectives, as a collective, we think that the organisations just aren’t really compatible,” said Moloney Burke. “I personally think that the DCU Students’ Union and the DCU student body would benefit from a disaffiliation.”  

Moloney Burke said that students must decide what they think the cost benefit is. As they spend “well over €100,000 worth of students’ money” every year to be members of USI, he said its “right and proper that on a regular basis they get to answer the question: ‘do you want to keep spending that money?’”

This money is sourced from the student levy, which is paid by all students, regardless of fee status.

Moloney Burke said that one of the final straws for the SU was the lack of support they received from USI during their bigger campaigns.

“You look at times of crises, for example, Shanowen Shakedown or Save Our Shepherd, and you have to say really that is when your national union should come into its own and really step up to the plate for us, for DCU students, and from my own personal perspective I don’t believe they did on either occasion,” he said.  

USI President Síona Ní Chatháil said that USI very much placed student accommodation on the national radar during Shanowen Shakedown.

“The thing is that nothing happens swiftly at a national level,” she said.

“We have used all the information available to us and built on the work of DCUSU to bring this into the Ministers’ attention and also into the department’s attention as a national issue and made sure that housing has been a priority on the agenda.  

“When it comes to Save Our Shepherd, we supported the DCU Students’ Union in any possible way, we supported solidarity actions, and anything they asked us to do in relation to Save Our Shepherd. This semester in particular we’ve put a focus on students in direct provision.”

Moloney Burke said USI is “stretched too thin” and unable to provide quality support. “It’s very difficult to cater for all of these different groups, with these different problems, all over the country. From what I can see it’s obviously almost impossible.”  

Moloney Burke said that the smaller unions across the country benefit greatly from being members of the USI, however, he knows that there are definitely frustrations around the country.

“Some of the larger unions do have similar frustrations to ourselves.”  

Ní Chatháil said she’s “not concerned about disaffiliation from other unions.”

“I think what is important is to focus on each member individually and the issues that are on each campus,” she said.

The USI president said it’s not possible for local students’ unions to focus on national issues if they branch out on their own. “I’m constantly in and out of the Department of Education  and the Higher Education Authority and it’s simply not possible to do that from a local level.”

While he commended the work the USI have done on previous campaigns, Moloney Burke still sees the DCU student body, “that is really active in recent years,” doing a sufficient job independently in these situations.

“USI is an organisation of great intentions and in the past they have run really, really wonderful campaigns looking at Repeal and the Marriage Equality referendum…If you look at perhaps UCD or UL, who aren’t members of USI, [they] have also done a lot of work on those campaigns.”

As members of USI, DCUSU are required to attend all training they provide, all national councils, and other USI activities. Moloney Burke said that when they attend the training sessions, they have often received the training themselves weeks previous.

“I think this adds not just a great cost in terms of financially to our students but also an opportunity cost in so far as it takes us out of the office for a substantial period of time throughout the year, meaning that we don’t necessarily get to focus on our own specific students at these times,” he said.

“There’s still a few bits and pieces that we need to drill down on if this referendum is to go live,” he said. “I do know there’s a group of DCU students who do go to Pink Training every year – and that is again a wonderful resource.”

Pink Training is a weekend-long, USI run event that focuses on LGBTA issues and activism. 21 DCU delegates and VP for Welfare and Equality Aisling Fagan attended the 26th annual Pink Training in November 2018.

It is currently unclear whether DCU students would have the option of attending Pink Training should the student body vote to disaffiliate.

However, Moloney Burke said he personally hasn’t “attended an event this year that would be a big loss to the student body should we disaffiliate, or couldn’t be replaced.” He said they need to be having that conversation over the coming weeks, regarding whether there can be an alternative and how students feel towards it.

Ní Chatháil said that certain positions in USI would be at risk should DCU vote to disaffiliate.

“The reality is, we only have as many officers as we can pay for,” she said. “It was one of the things called for by DCUSU in previous years, that we put more of a focus on postgraduate issues – so we brought in a part-time Postgraduate Vice President. And it was called for and supported by DCUSU that we would have a fulltime Irish Language Officer.

“DCU has taken a very prominent position in USI and really influenced the wealth of policies of the USI particularly over the last couple of years since the last referendum when the DCU body voted to remain affiliated,” Ní Chatháil said.

A date has yet to be decided on for the referendum that will take place should the petitions pass. At least two referenda will take place during the SU elections, with voting open from March 5th to 7th. Moloney Burke said he imagines it would be “likely” that the matter would got to referendum this semester.

USI represents 374,000 students across the country. Current members of USI include higher institutions such as University College Cork, NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, Dublin Institute of Technology and Trinity College Dublin.

 

Emily Sheahan 

Image Credit: DCUSU and USI