USI Congress 2013 not without its drama

It’s hard to get this many students with strong opinions in one place and not have a bit of drama. Jessica Thompson reports…

NUI Galway's delegation at USI Congress this year.

NUI Galway’s delegation at USI Congress this year.

Last week brought with it a very successful annual USI Congress, with dozens of worthwhile motions being passed. However, congress was not without its drama.

Queen’s University Belfast delegate and NUS-USI Womens’ Officer Aisling Gallager was removed from her delegation and barred from Congress on Tuesday 26 March, following claims that she voted against her Union’s mandate on abortion services. Ms Gallagher’s vote was against QUB’s policy of remaining neutral on abortion rights.

Jason O’Neill, the QUBSU president released a statement regarding Ms Gallagher’s case; “The actions of the individual in question will be considered by the Students’ Union Council on 18 April 2013.”

Speaking to The Cambridge Student, Ms Gallagher said; “In comparison to the other unions, we are put to shame in terms of organisation […] The fact that they’re trying to pretend that I have to vote in line is ridiculous. They don’t know their own constitution or how their democratic structures work. The QUBSU Executive Management Committee decided themselves that this would be the rule – not the student council, not the wider student body.”

QUBSU President Jason O’Neill, however, spoke to Trinity College’s University Times about the matter; “The policy at Queen’s University is to regard live policy as mandate. Delegates were pointed to the pro-choice motions before Congress and warned that they had to vote as democratic representatives of the student body. There have been precedents in the past where students have had to vote according to mandate. Delegates were told that they could abstain on motions. We have nothing against someone speaking their minds.”

According to rabble.ie, Miss Gallagher had this to say about Congress 2013; “This has probably been the most isolating, lonely, disheartening and miserable week I’ve ever had. Left out to dry by my own Students’ Union, I stood up for what I knew was right and was hounded for it. I called out the fact that the atmosphere of Congress is horrendously sexist, and was screamed at publicly by a delegate I don’t even know, who then tried to engage others in shouting at me too.”

She also said; “I have met some wonderful people and have appreciated all of the support so, so much – but unless we come back with a motion declaring Congress ‘owns’ delegates once they’re on the floor rather than delegate leaders, for my own health and sanity I won’t be back to USI. This is a poisonous environment for those willing to break the status quo and I just can’t do it anymore.”

This was not the only drama at this year’s USI Congress. An overwhelming majority of UCD’s delegation chose to leave the Congress floor on Thursday last when they were refused the chance to speak against a motion which proposed that the USI starts to work with other anti-austerity campaigns.

This motion was passed as a majority of Congress voted in favour, and UCD took this as their cue to stand up and file out of Congress. One student remained to represent the interests of 25,000 UCD students who will be affected by the passing of this motion.

Among those who left was Paddy Guiney, USI Campaigns Officer elect, who previously expressed his hopes to re-affiliate UCD with USI.

On the subject of Mr Guiney, a recent post on Irish Student Left Online by Joseph Loughnane said; “One would hope that any person who is taking up such a position would be ‘anti-austerity’, and willing to broaden the campaign of the largest student body in the country to include those affected by measures not directly related to education.

“A constant criticism of student protests is how we fail to mobilise those who are also suffering to demonstrate in solidarity with students. Such a stance by the new Campaigns Officer does damage to any links the USI hopes to create.”

A recent post on rabble.ie featured a lengthy statement by UCDSU President Rachel Breslin who said; “Members who walked out after the vote had differing views on the motion itself, but were frustrated by the stifling of debate and the subsequent reaction by the Congress floor to UCDSU’s delegation.”

She added; “UCDSU acknowledges that it is difficult for other colleges to respect and understand UCD students’ decision to leave while they remain members, but at delegation meeting, UCD delegates reported increasingly hostile reactions. This was particularly prevalent during this motion […] When it became clear that it was no longer going to be possible for the UCDSU delegation to positively engage in the debate, a majority of the delegates chose to leave Congress floor.”

Paddy Guiney has expressed intention to re-affiliate UCD with USI if he can.

 

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