Voting on the Students’ Union elections opened today on campus, with students filing into the Boole Basement, O’Rahilly Building, Kane and Brookfield (and CEC, CUH and Copley St.) to vote for their favourite candidates. Also on the slate is the USI affiliation referendum, with the following question put to students:
Should UCC Students’ Union remain in the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), at a cost of €5 per Student (€92,525 per year)
The previous affiliation referendum was three years ago, in 2015, and the vote was carried by 91.4% (2,468 of the 2,699 valid votes).
The UCC Students’ Union first gave notice to students through a post on their Facebook page on Wednesday 28th of February. A member of the Students’ Union, who has asked to remain anonymous, highlighted to the Express that this post would not give students enough notice as specified in the Students’ Union constitution.
Under the constitution’s section on referendums, it says that:
There must be at least five teaching days and no more than fifteen between the notice of a Referendum and the day upon which it takes place.
A teaching day is also defined as ” a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday during teaching term time, on which the University is open and operational.” While there were five teaching days between notice (28th February) and the first day of voting (March 6th), UCC was closed on Thursday & Friday (March 1st & 2nd) due to Storm Emma.
The Union of Students in Ireland’s (USI) President, Michael Kerrigan, spoke to the Express about this minimum requirement:
“Although the storm is something that was beyond all of our control, I believe it is up to UCC students to determine and interpret their own constitution. In regards to the USI affiliation referendum, as with any referendum, it is important that students are well informed of the question and are given the space to discuss and debate”
-Michael Kerrigan, USI President
The illegitimacy of this referendum was also raised by the UCC branch of the Labour Party through a post on their Facebook page yesterday evening, raising the issue of proper notice as well as noting that no official call for the referendum had been made through student council as, the society claims, is required by the constitution. While a referendum may be called by a motion at Student Council, it may also be called by the SU Executive, or by any student who has a petition calling for one with 500 signatures.
The Express contacted UCC SU President Martin Scally about the validity of the referendum, and Mr.Scally told us that they are awaiting advice from the SU’s legal team.
Reading the constitution, one could consider the required notice to only be for referendums that are called for by a student petition, as the section regarding notice is exclusively in the part regarding student petitions. Indeed, one could also consider the students’ union’s Facebook post a significant call for referendum from the Executive, as is allowed under the constitution.
Several students have contacted the Express regarding the idea that a USI affiliation referendum must be held every three years. Having contacted former SU officers, it is believed that this was a mandate that was passed in Student Council prior to 2014/15, the slate was wiped and all previous mandates were ruled invalid. Currently there is no requirement for a USI affiliation referendum to be held every three years.
It is expected that the vote will again carry, as there is no substantial disaffiliation campaign, and this is reflected in a straw poll ran by the Express, which suggests that UCC students will vote to re-affiliate by a margin of 73.2%, with the remaining 26.8% being split between those who intend to vote no (disaffiliate, 17.2%) and those who do not intend to vote in the USI referendum (9.6%).