The Union of Students Ireland’s (USI) annual Congress kicked off Tuesday 3 April in Ballinasloe with over 300 student delegates from across the country arriving for the three-day event. Day one marked the launch of the ‘Students for Choice’ campaign, with students also voting on USI policies that are due to expire, and the USI 2018 election hustings taking place.
During Congress delegates from each college cast votes on policies and the USI agenda is set for the upcoming academic year. NUI Galway’s 19 delegates arrived this morning, voting cards in hand, with four proposals planned for the congress.
Delegates were rallied at the start of the day at the launch of the USI’s ‘Students for Choice’ campaign with speeches from various pro-choice activists such as Orla O’Connell from The National Women’s Council of Ireland and Maxine Brady, a former USI President.
The USI’s mandate, and NUI Galway’s, is pro-choice and they are actively campaigning to get students to utilise their vote to repeal the 8th amendment. The delegates also heard real-life stories that were submitted by anonymous students, two of which were read by NUI Galway delegates Cameron Keighron and Alex Coughlan. Michael Kerrgian, current USI President, told the room that if he was asked five years ago which way he would have voted he would have said it didn’t affect him but he learned how much it affects people during his years working with students. Warning about the ticking time limit before the vote he announced the launch of the campaign and asked that “the students of Ireland stand as one on this issue.”
Next on the agenda was the vote on current USI policies that are due to expire. These included everything from postgraduate issues to mental health, student loans, the SUSI grant and cross-border student mobility. NUI Galway’s former SU President and current USI Vice president for the Border, Midlands and Western region Jimmy Mcgovern, spoke early on about disability conferences in Universities. He proposed for training and networking event for students with disabilities to be organised and urged the need to reduce stigmas surrounding disabilities. He said that people were not happy with their Students’ Unions and that “we have not done enough” before the motion was passed.
The topic of capping the number of students within Irish universities was a highly contested subject during the debates. The USI’s current mandate is that they will campaign against any sort of cap and numerous students went up to debate whether or not this stance should be changed.
NUI Galway’s first delegate to speak was Eoin Walker, who thought that certain caps were needed in college, saying that there was “no point in dancing around the issue”. His colleague Muireann O’Sullivan joined the other side of the debate voting to carry on the motion. She told the room about how she was a HEAR and DARE student who would not be where she was if there was capping, because these would be these college places would be first to be cut. This motion was also passed and will be carried on next year.
We heard our first full-time Students’ Union officer speak when Megan Reilly suggested an amendment for a motion to support part-time students, a topic she spoke a lot about in her recent successful campaign for NUI Galway Students’ Union President.
The next highly contested debate was about public funding for private schools and whether or not the USI should continue to campaign against it. Nearly 20 different delegates spoke for or against the funding including NUI Galway’s Alex Coughlan, who argued passionately against using tax payer money for private schools.
“We need quality funded public schools. I am a taxpayer and I want my money,” Alex stated.
Explaining about how all children should grow up with equal opportunities, Alex said that: “We have to stop the privatization of our schools”. After many interruptions and numerous opinions, the motion to carry on the current stance eventually passed after students called to move on.
Haley Myatt covered the first proposal from NUI Galway, speaking about how international students are not “here to fund universities” and shouldn’t be cast away. She said that more support is needed, especially for the students who pay double or nearly triple fees. This motion also passed.
The last NUI Galway delegate to speak was Sinead Ruane. Sinead, Alex and Megan Reilly queued to have their voice heard on the topic of women’s leadership but the motion was unfortunately moved along quickly because of time limits. Sinead, who is the auditor of GiG Soc in NUI Galway, proposed to carry the motion on LGBT mental health. Sinead highlighted the importance of focusing on the mental health of members of the LGBT community and said that, “it is really important that our officer boards work with LGBT communities” so that proper policies and procedures are put in place. This motion also passed.
Some noteworthy motions that didn’t pass include accreditation for class reps the introduction of universal fee payment dates.
In the evening, hustings were held for the USI nominees for next year. NUI Galway’s vote is already set on the candidates due to a mandate in place where class reps cast their votes before Congress and delegates vote accordingly. Voting takes place tomorrow Wednesday 4 April.
By Martha Brennan