Following the well-publicised and controversial impeachment of Katie Ascough, a campaign group has begun voicing their dissatisfaction with the performance of the UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU).
The Freedom of Choice Coalition (FOCC) UCD has begun campaigning for opt-in membership only of UCDSU, criticising the way the impeachment referendum was handled.
“The ‘KAsco Fiasco’ has destroyed any credibility that our Union has on the national stage. It has been a remarkable show of petty power struggle – it’s been like House Of Cards, only it’s painful to watch. No politician is going to listen to the demands of UCD Students’ Union for a long time after the immaturity and ineptitude exhibited by our fine sabbatical officers in recent months.” FOCC UCD said, speaking to the Express.
FOCC UCD began collecting signatures for an amendment to the UCDSU Constitution requiring written consent for UCDSU membership.
“We see a gross misspend of student money. UCDSU is funded largely by the University, which pays a capitation based on membership of the Union from the pool of student contribution fees. As such, it is student money that is being spent on sabbatical officers rather than on the students themselves.” They highlighted the cost of the impeachment campaign, giving the total as €24,000: “That €24,000 could instead have been invested in the Student Welfare Fund, campaigning for lower fees, or even employing a sixth member of the heretofore useless sabbatical officer team.”
Two candidates have come forward in the by-elections for UCDSU presidency, to be held on the 22nd-23rd of November.
Rebecca Hart, who came third in March’s election, announced her intention to re-run for the position; “There is no hiding from the past few weeks where UCDSU has faced huge challenges but also saw record levels of engagement. We need to capitalise on this and I feel I am the best person to unite students and to maintain those engagement levels.”
The current Communications & Campaigns officer and interim President Barry Murphy also announced his intention to run for the position. “I’ve stood up when doing nothing was the easier option,” writes Murphy, “I am running for UCDSU President now, not for my own gain, but for the needs of UCD students and the SU. That’s what I was originally elected to do and, as always, you have my full commitment.
“My experience and recent events have taught me the importance of our SU mandates and the direction they give us in fighting for what students want.”
FOCC UCD announced their “bewilderment” at Murphy’s presidential bid: “To abandon his role for the sake of political climbing – with the apparent support of his colleagues – is indicative of the crass ineptitude of UCD Students’ Union and those running it.
“There is a rhetoric on campus that the impeachment of Katie Ascough improved student engagement, but this is false. Only 30 students from UCD turned up to the March For Education. That’s 0.1% of the alleged SU membership. If student engagement had actually increased, we would see a much higher percentage of UCD’s 30,000 students taking to the streets for important student issues such as this.“ 62.5% of UCD students voted for an SU mandate of lowering University fees. The March for Education, which took place in October 2017, had approximately 5000 attendees overall.
FOCC UCD also criticised the political mandate of the SU, arguing that they do not fairly represent all political viewpoints. “In recent years, we have seen students’ unions around the country adopting militant stances on divisive issues, stifling balanced discussion on campus and misrepresenting students who do not hold similar points of view.”
Students’ Unions have been known for their influence on political issues, with recent mandates being put in place in SUs around the country relating to the marriage referendum, the Eighth amendment and Irish unity, as well as speaking out on issues relating directly to student life such as educational fees. SU political mandates are generally decided by referendum.
“Did you know that the current membership structure of UCDSU is actually unconstitutional?” the group claimed. “Under the Constitution of Ireland (Art 40), every citizen has the inherent and unalienable right to freedom of association. The FOCC UCD SU Campaign seeks to vindicate this right for students. If students wish to join the union, they should have the liberty to do so, but equally, membership of such a depraved group of self-serving political wannabes should not be forced upon anybody,” says FOCC UCD. “UCD students deserve better. Most importantly, they deserve a choice. The current system is illegal under Irish law. While we respect that UCDSU cares about nothing more than flaunting the laws of our country, they exist to represent students, not to oppress them.”
Similar groups have recently been set up in DCU (Dublin City University) and TCD (Trinity College Dublin).