A public apology from the Students’ Union following their alleged involvement in the mishandling of sexual assault allegations is not necessary, the Student Council has ruled. The decision on the motion was made at an emergency meeting of the council on Friday 19th of March, one which featured lengthy debate on the powers of the SU and whether or not those powers were abused, or unused, when allegations of sexual assault were made against a prospective SU election candidate in early March.
Two motions were put forward to the Student Council, one which would require all incoming Students’ Union officers to complete training which would enable them to “become a better avenue for support to students in need” and a second, which wished for a public apology from the SU due to their “inadequate response to the recent election controversies.”
The first motion passed following an amendment by current UCCSU Welfare Officer Jamie Fraser who clarified “training” to mean the completion of “compulsory Active*Consent and Bystander Intervention training,” two programmes dealing with issues of consent and sexual violence available to students at UCC.
Debate surrounding the second motion calling for a public apology from the SU was lengthy and divided, ultimately resulting in a tied vote which required the Council Chair to vote down the motion as there was no majority in favour. “As students, we are not happy with how the SU has handled the controversy surrounding this election,” one student who proposed the motion said, stating that it was “not a witch hunt, not a call to action against the Students’ Union” but instead an opportunity to apologise “in a show of good faith” where issues “could have been handled better.”
The ensuing debate focused on a number of issues, principally upon whether or not UCCSU’s handling of the allegations could be classed as “inadequate” and whether a personal apology was more pertinent rather than one to the student body as a whole.
In opposition to the motion, Eimear Curtin, current Deputy President and Education Officer of UCCSU, highlighted the responsibilities of the SU to “act in a representative, supportive and referral capacity” as liaison between students and the university. The Deputy President stated that, following the posting of allegations to Twitter, the Sabbatical team notified the relevant people within the University and provided a list of supports online. Any further action would be an inappropriate substitute for professional intervention and “beyond the scope of the [SU’s] remit,” she said.
Executive officers of UCCSU reminded Council members throughout the meeting that, under Election Regulations and in the interest of maintaining the credibility of SU elections, neither the current Union or the University have the capacity to remove any candidates from running for election. The responsibility of investigating any breaches of election rules and overseeing the election lies with the Returning Officer, a position external and independent to the SU.
A number of students alleged that Executive members of UCCSU had cautioned them in relation to their behaviour online in relation to the allegations on social media and in protest of the prospective candidate, one stating that “the incident boiled down to a personal issue between a member of my group, and a member of the UCC Union.” The details of this incident were not shared during the meeting, with another student later affirming that “not all members of the student body are aware of the details of this situation” and a public apology would put those involved at high risk of public scrutiny and disrupt official procedures in relation to sexual misconduct.
Upon voting on the motion which would require the SU to apologise for “caution[ing] students over their behavior online” in an “inadequate response to the recent election controversies,” the Student Council could not form a majority in favour of the motion. In the event of a deadlocked vote, the Council Chair must act as the tie-breaker, compelled to vote against the motion as “it is not the role of the chair to create a majority, when a body has not created a majority itself.” In a convention called Speaker Denison’s rule, the Chair votes down the motion not on the basis of personal opinion, but on the grounds that “if a body cannot decide to take an action, it is not my role as Chair to create a majority such that action is taken,” the Student Council Chair said.
The Emergency Council closed after a two hour session with the decision made that all incoming Student Union officers will be required to undertake Active*Consent and Bystander Intervention training at the beginning of each academic year. This decision will be applied to the incoming SU, whose election will take place from March 29th to 31st.