New Observer contributor C Na G asks what would a vote of no confidence in the current VP Welfare mean for the student’s union?
Today, at noon, Union Council will sit to decide the fate of our current and current elect VP Welfare & Education, Liz Murray. Early yesterday class reps were notified that an Emergency Union Council is being called to raise a motion of no confidence in Liz.
Rumours abound as to what Liz may or may not have done which warrants such an unexpected and perhaps harsh motion to be raised against her. But as these are literally rumours and it wouldn’t do to spread them in case they’re wrong, it is perhaps better to examine what is going to happen procedurally later, and what the implications would be for the Student’s Union.
The Union Council, for anyone who does not know, is literally a council or group of student representatives elected by their classmates back in October who gather every month to discuss SU business. At a typical monthly meeting, they can comment on more or less anything related to Student Union activities; they can bring difficulties their classmates are having to the attention of the exec; they can propose motions to influence how the students’ union works and yes, occasionally they can enjoy tea and free chips for their troubles. Today’s meeting is not likely to involve chips though as it is an emergency Union Council, and so slightly different to the usual procedure.
What I expect will happen is that the motion of no confidence will be raised, and arguments for and against it will be heard from whoever is proposing and from Liz (who I presume will be opposing). The motion will then be opened ‘to the floor’ – meaning class reps who are in the room can give their views. This may get nasty. Eventually, probably after some time, a vote will be taken on the motion. Personally, I will be asking the Chairperson for a secret ballot on what is likely to be a highly contentious motion. This will ensure reps don’t feel pressured into voting one way or the other by other representatives, and also prevent personal resentment from rearing its ugly head against reps depending on how they voted.
For the motion of no confidence to pass, it needs 2/3 majority of class reps present to vote in favour of it (Article 18.2 B of the SU constitution – link provided below). Basically, this means that if more than a 1/3 of the reps vote against the motion (in favour of Liz), the motion will not pass and nothing will come of it. However, if 2/3 or more of the reps vote yes, Liz will be obliged to resign.
The decision is by no means guaranteed either way – judging by activity on Facebook, most class reps are withholding judgement until they hear the facts. Some, of course, will go in and vote in favour of Liz, or in favour of the motion according to their own opinions and regardless of the arguments made. However, in the interest of fairness, hopefully these are a minority.
If it does pass, however, the union will be left in an interesting predicament. As Liz is both the current VP Welfare and Education, and has been re-elected to the position for next year it is not entirely clear what will happen if she has to resign. Will she resign until the switch-over of exec in two weeks time and then re-gain her position, or will she have to give that up too?
The constitution is not clear on this. In normal circumstances, when a sabbatical office ‘falls vacant’ (i.e. when the President or either of the Vice-Presidents resign their position on the exec, for whatever reason) a by-election must be held within 15 days (Article 17.10 C). However, if the position falls vacant within 8 weeks of the end of their term, the SU exec can elect a replacement officer for the rest of the term, if they think it’s necessary (Article 17.10 C, again). With a mere two weeks left in the term, it seems unlikely that the exec will do this. The difficulty arises here in that Liz has been re-elected so her term has been extended to June 2011. Can the exec, then, co-opt someone during the last 8 weeks of their term to a Sabbatical position, and does that mean that this year’s exec could co-opt someone to sit the rest of Liz’s term, as in until June 2011? It seems unlikely, but not beyond the realms of the imagination. The alternative is not much better either though.
The constitution seems to have been written presuming that, in the case of a Sabbatical position falling vacant, the office will be filled in June by whoever was elected for the next year. As this is Liz again, if she has to resign and give up her position as next year’s VP this would essentially leave the SU with no VP Welfare until a new election can be held next year (not an ideal situation as you can imagine). If Liz does have to resign for two weeks, but does not have to give up her position for next year (which seems unlikely in the event of a vote of no confidence, but possible) it makes something of a farce of bringing the motion in the first place.
The easiest solution, then, would be to reject the motion of no confidence and let Liz carry on in office. Whether or not this is the decision Union Council will make remains to be seen.
In closing, it is worth pointing out a few things about this motion which seem, well, off. Firstly, the timing is really bad. It is being held during NUI Maynooth’s reading week, and St. Pat’s exams are already underway so quite a few class reps will be unable to attend. Why was it not put last week, when people were less busy? Secondly, the secrecy surrounding the motion is unbelievable, and fuel to rumour-mongering gossips. All day yesterday rumours were flying around cyberspace and, whether or not these were true a small amount of clarity from the SU regarding why the motion was being put could have cleared many of these up. In short, the conduct of the SU in regards to this vote has been disorganised and inconsiderate.
The emergency Union Council will be open, as all union councils are, to students who wish to observe. The vote will take place in The Venue, in the SU bar at 12 o’clock if anyone would like to join us there. It is worth pointing out that unless speaking rights are granted to observers they will have to remain silent, or leave.
-C Na G