USI to campaign on campus for re-affiliation referendum

Both Labour DCU and the Union of Students in Ireland are to campaign for a yes vote in the upcoming USI re-affiliation referendum.

The referendum will be held in conjunction with the Reproductive Rights referendum on February 26th and 27th after CRC voted in favour of holding a referendum at a meeting on February 6th.

DCU disaffiliated from the USI in 2002 following a referendum. A referendum to re-affiliate was held in 2010, and although only 10% of students cast their ballot, a large majority voted against joining the student representative body.

However in a survey carried out by The College View on 350 students last week, 56% said they would like DCU SU to be a member of the USI.

The USI were not allowed on campus to campaign for the 2010 referendum. Returning Officer for the Electoral Committee, Aideen Holden told The College View that because 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.

Sean Rooney, the student who proposed the USI referendum motion at the CRC meeting, will act as the USI’s student sponsor on campus. Therefore, Holden explained, the USI can campaign on campus for the USI referendum.

Ronan Costello, Media and Communications Executive for the USI told The College View they will be working directly with Rooney throughout the campaign and are delighted to be allowed on campus to canvass students.

Costello said: “In all our campaigns, we have found that the most effective way to communicate the benefits of USI membership is face-to-face canvassing. We will talk to as many students as we possibly can and we’ll distribute manifestos outlining the arguments for a united national students’ union. I am confident that DCU students will see that a united student movement will benefit all of Ireland’s third level students.”

National representation and LGBT and equality campaigns are reasons Costello outlined for DCU students to re-join the USI. Costello said the “USI is recognised as the sole national representative organisation for undergraduate and postgraduate students. When student issues are in the public domain, the USI President is the only recognised spokesperson.”

Costello also cited the work USI have done to protect the student maintenance grant as a reason to vote yes to re-affiliation.
“This year, USI has strived to highlight the inadequacies of the new SUSI grant awards agency. USI President John Logue made regular media appearances, calling for more staff and resources to be allocated to SUSI.”

Costello continued: “In Budget 2013, the Government reduced the income qualification threshold for the maintenance grant by 3%. USI strongly condemned this move. However, 97% of grant recipients were not affected by changes in the Budget and this was a direct result of USI’s effort to protect the most vulnerable students in Ireland’s third level institutions.”

DCU Young Fine Gael are to campaign for a no vote in the referendum. Ryan Hunt, Chairperson of DCU YFG told The College View the majority of the branch believe “DCU Student Union is more capable of representing student interests than the USI ever could in its present form”.

Hunt said claims that DCU SU will be left behind if they continued to be un-affiliated to the USI “is blatant scaremongering and untrue. Our SU holds close ties with Student Unions from America and the United Kingdom, and are only a phone call away.”

DCU YFG believe students are disenchanted with the USI following the recent arrest of President John Logue and the occupation of state department offices. “The arrest of the President, John Logue was an utter embarrassment of behalf of all students, as was the occupation of state department offices. We feel this has ruined the reputation of the USI, and therefore is reason enough for DCU to not join.”

Hunt also outlined recent problems with the USI, following an affiliation referendum in Trinity. “We believe that that the organisation is simply unwilling to reform. Many have argued that it’s better to be inside and seek change but as yet, we have seen no reform, of any substance. It’s much more likely to reform if Student Unions across the country leave the organisation, forcing the USI to rethink its approach.”

In his proposal to CRC, Rooney said students should be informed that if membership to the USI is ratified, a charge of €5-€7 per full-time students and €2.50-€3 per part-time student will be added to Student Contribution to cover the cost of membership. The student contribution is currently €38.

Hunt said DCU YFG believe there is very little to be gained from the USI membership charge and that DCU SU currently do better with less. “Our SU, which you directly elected and is accountable to you, is far more capable of running campaigns which are relevant to DCU student needs. DCU also provides training for our sabbaticals, free for charge. This is something the USI want to charge you €3 for.”

The USI hold week-long training events in the summer, Costello told The College View. “We run workshops and modules that provide the support and skill set your Students’ Union Team will need for helping and assisting students for the coming year. USI also organise training events throughout the year for SU officers and students alike. USI’s Part-Time Officer Training is a t day event aimed at SU Executive members, Class Reps and student activists that provides training on campaigning, media skills and public relations.”

The wording on the ballot paper will be as follows: “Do you wish to re-affiliate to the Union of Students in Ireland?”.

Polling is from 10am to 9pm on Tuesday and 10am to 5pm on Wednesday, with polling stations in the Hub, the Street, the library, the canteen and in the nursing, engineering, science and business buildings. Students are reminded to bring their student ID cards if they wish to vote.

Aoife Mullen

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