USI Congress 2018: Day Three

Day Three of Congress Thursday April 5 went at a slower pace compared to the long day of motions the previous day. National and international affairs were discussed as were constitutional amendments. Any undiscussed motions from the previous two days were also voted on and a debate took place on EU refugee quotas between delegates from DIT Students’ Union and Maynooth Students’ Union.

The morning saw heated debates early on when national issues were discussed such as homelessness and sustainability. NUI Galway SU President Lorcán Ó Maoileannaigh told the floor about Galway’s struggle with the accommodation crisis and spoke about students’ struggles with finding somewhere to live in Galway.

He spoke about the students living in hostels and told the floor about how he got a call this year at 1am from a student who had to leave their hostel and had nowhere to go. Lorcán said he himself couldn’t find accommodation for three months at the start of this year and urged congress to pass the motion to adopt the Coalition for Homelessness and Housing policies so that more can be done.

“What we know now in Galway is that the city cannot accommodate its volume of students,” he told Congress.

He also stressed how this is happening all over Ireland and that homelessness isn’t exclusive to Dublin.

“This is a national issue.”

Former NUI Galway SU President and current USI Vice President for the BMW region Jimmy McGovern proposed the next motion in national affairs. McGovern spoke about sustainability and carbon tax and the importance of the USI working with campaign groups to actively lobby government on meeting sustainability targets. NUI Galway delegate Eoin Walker backed McGovern on the motion saying: “This is not a student issue or any particular person’s issue. This is a global issue and it is the most important issue”. The motion passed unanimously.

The Palestinian conflict was the main discussion in international issues. Passionate arguments went back and forth between delegates until voting and the motion was passed. One well-spoken DIT delegate stood up with a personal story of surviving a bombing and stated that the motion will help the fight to ensure that “no seven-year-old ever experiences that again”.

There was a return to academic affairs when matters such as anonymous marking and class representative recognition. NUI Galway delegate Alex Coughlan returned to the podium to speak about the marketisation of third-level education. Alex debated vehemently about the marketisation of third level and warned of the damage and undermining it can do. “We need to protect our education,” Alex said.

NUI Galway SU Education Officer Andrew Forde spoke about the quality of teaching in higher level education next. Andrew spoke about how many lecturers in college have never been taught how to teach and noted how much university learning has changed in modern times.

“The way students learn has changed,” Andrew stressed.

“We need to show teachers and academics how to teach.” The motion was passed.

NUI Galway’s Grainne Hammel and Eoin Walker spoke against the motion for accreditation for class reps. However, the motion passed after much debate.

Constitutional amendments were tackled next. The USI entertainment committee created a brief uplifting moment by starting a debate over whether or not the speaker could hold a microwave at the podium and Mexican wave was created. Things got a little more serious as the delegates got back to work.

Andrew Forde took to the microphone again to stress the importance of introducing a USI part-time Postgraduate officer. Andrew talked about the workload involved with postgraduate issues. He said: “As USI we tend to be miles ahead of the rest of the country on a lot of issues…but for some reason we are falling behind on postgraduate issues.”

The proposal was passed to introduce the new position.

Perhaps the most solemn moments of USI Congress 2018 came when the discussions moved back to undiscussed Welfare motions. The motion on abusive relationships, sexual violence and harassment brought on many emotions for the students in the room and what seemed like an endless line of delegates formed to speak in favor of the motion. Niamh Murtagh, USI Vice President for Welfare, proposed the motion and said, “this motion was something I had to bring to congress this year”.

Numerous delegates came up to share their very personal stories to motivate the room to vote for the motion. A DIT delegate provided some shocking statistics, with only 8% of rape cases in Ireland are reported to the Gardaí.

“Rape affects 1 in 3 people in Ireland. Look around the room. That’s a third of us here today,” she stated. NUI Galway’s Cameron Keighron spoke to the floor about the importance of teaching consent as soon as students start university.

Clare Austick also spoke from NUIG on the motion. She said that she wanted to tell anyone affected by the issues that: “you are important. You are valuable and you matter”.

The crowd gave standing ovations for numerous more brave students, of various genders and backgrounds, as they shared stories. The Vice President for Welfare closed the arguments by stating: “We are strong. We are united. And we do not accept rape cultures anymore.”

No one contested the motion and it was passed to a valiant floor of students standing in solidarity against sexual violence.

The last day of Congress resumes today at 9am.

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