USI Congress 2018: Day Two

It was good news for Longford girl Síona Cahill today 4 April as she was deemed elected USI President 2018/19 on Day Two of USI Congress 2018 in Ballinasloe. However, the day was not without its controversy.

A call was made to stop social media trolling against delegates during the afternoon. Fake twitter accounts were created by someone at the event that were insulting certain delegates this afternoon and those in charge needed to step in to warn against any insulting of other delegates and urged people to only express their opinions on the floor.

Day Two was dedicated to academic affairs, welfare, union organisation, the Irish language and equality – a jam-packed schedule with many motions being pushed because of time limits. Numerous motions had to be “9A’d”: a system where a vote is called on whether to move on from the debate without letting all speakers finish.

Some notable moments in the discussions on academic affairs included whether to add the arts and humanities to STEM and a passed motion to restore paid placement for pharmacy students.

The STEM arguments took up most of the allocated time for academic affairs, with numerous delegates queuing to debate for each side. Hayley Little was the first to the podium for NUI Galway today 4 April, speaking in favour of LIT’s proposed motion. Hayley argued for the importance of the arts and told the room “if you need proof of the value of the arts, look at what we’re doing right here, right now”. The motion was 9A’d and failed to pass.

Georgia Feeney also spoke in the academic affairs category about improving current class representative policies rather than introducing new motions.

Union Organisation was next on the agenda and gender equality in the finance committee was the most contentious issue. Lines formed to debate for each side early on with a noticeable divide in the genders of those going for versus against the motion. DIT’s SU President presented a knowledgeable and thought-provoking argument against the motion while Alex Coughlan of NUI Galway gave a passionate speech about cutting out gender bias.

“There has been no point where our society has not been exclusionary,” Alex argued. Alex said that the motion was fundamental to ensure fair representation. “We are all raised to be discriminatory. A guaranteed gender balance makes sure that we check ourselves and that women of every creed and every nationality get represented,” Alex concluded. The motion passed.

The debates on Welfare policies got off to an emotional start when LIT’s SU President spoke about losing his colleague and proposed a motion for the importance of mental health for SU officers. NUI Galway’s incoming SU President Megan Reilly spoke for the motion and highlighted its importance, this motion was also passed.

Georgia Feeney took to the podium again to speak on introducing timetabled wellness hours for students. She told Congress that students were developing bad habits in university because of packed course schedules and that these habits will carry on beyond university.

“It’s a nasty cycle,” she told the floor. The motion was forwarded to next year’s council. A motion to introduce a national Niteline service was another contested subject in Welfare. The motion failed after a lengthy heated debate.

We heard from our SU President for the first time during the last motion discussed in Welfare. Lorcán spoke on the importance of educating students about the dangers of smoking and debated for national campaigns on smoking cessation.

Later in the day policies for Irish were discussed. Grainne Hamill proposed a passed motion on the inclusion of Irish in USI roadshows and spoke about the importance for the USI to strive to include Irish in all USI campaigns.

The evening session covered Equality and Citizenship and offered lively debates with many passionate speeches including two from NUI Galway delegates early on about the importance of gender recognition. Cameron Keighron told everyone about his own difficulties as a transgender student in university. Cameron told the floor that “our colleges are failing our trans and non-binary students”.

Alex Coughlan spoke after Cameron and received a standing ovation from the floor after a well-expressed speech. Alex explained how the chance was never given to them to “explain who I am” in college and that a student card should match a person’s identity.

“There were no options for me to exist safely in my classrooms because I couldn’t be myself when my records didn’t match my real self,” Alex stated.

“We are queer, we are here and we aren’t going anywhere until our universities recognize us for who we are,” Alex concluded to cheers.

Clare Austick proposed a universal learning design on behalf of NUIG toward the end of equality discussions. She explained how it would improve accessibility to learning for students and dismantle barriers.

“We are all so diverse and unique in our own way so why is there only one way of learning?” she said. Clare also proposed a motion for University of Sanctuary to be put into policy later in the evening. Both motions were passed.

Victoria Chihumura brought all to their feet during citizenship discussions when she shared her personal story about direct provision. The inspiring speech was applauded by all on the floor after Victoria called for an end to direct provision and for the Irish government to be held accountable for the system.

“The government needs to apoligise for the trauma that they’ve caused to the hundreds of thousands of people in direct provision,” she stated. The motion was unanimously passed.

The evening concluded with a passionate speech from ITT SU President Jason Kavanagh on the topic of the 8th amendment. Kavanagh shared a very personal experience with abortion and discussed the suffering that he and his loved ones went through because of the amendment. He told the standing audience that the 8th amendment “doesn’t affect you until it does” and made the first contribution to the floor swear jar with his conclusion: “The 8th amendment doesn’t belong in our f***** constitution”.

Congress continues tomorrow morning at 9am.

 By Martha Brennan

Pic: @antaobhhrua on Twitter

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