In the weeks immediately following the National Student March in Dublin, DCU held a referendum asking its students whether they wished to re-affiliate with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). Many in NUI Maynooth believed that DCU students would have voted in a similarly overwhelming fashion as many see DCU as a form of sister college as it comprises of similar structures and student make up. In fact they did, but in the completely opposite direction.
The USI re-affiliation was defeated with a 70% majority against the union which is a stark contrast to Maynooth who, nearly a year ago voted to re-affiliate with an overwhelming 74.2% voting Yes. This will no doubt come as a blow to the USI who, in the wake of recent threats to cuts and changes in various elements of third level funding would have hoped for a renewed interest in student unity nationwide.
Though what must be said is that when we look beneath the surface of this result, what develops is the impression that the USI campaign was doomed before it began. Out of a student population of over 10,000, only 1,110 voted equating to just over 10% of the student body taking part. The results of the referendum not only failed to illustrate a majority view of DCU students but runs contrary to the idea that students today are becoming ore politicised. Could it be that these tales of student politicization are a self perpetuating myth, or was something amiss with DCUs handling of the referendum? One must consider both why the USI was defeated so roundly and why the turnout was so low.
Last week, in an attempt to answer some of these questions, the Observer paid a visit to the DCU campus to get a feel for things in the wake of the result. Walking around the college’s Henry Grattan Building and attempting not to get lost, the only pieces of evidence from which we could discern that a referendum had even taken place was from several pieces of anti-USI literature still tacked to doors. These posters seemed to find the USI in dereliction of duty by failing to stop previous increases in registration fees. Whether these accusations are true or not it seemed odd that these posters would remain and that there seemed no evidence of a pro-USI argument. Having discussed the matter with the few DCU students to whom the Observer is acquainted with, it would appear that DCU SU prevented the USI from campaigning on their campus. As stated in the College View on Nov 17 by News Editor Ceile Varley:
“Union Council decided that USI would not be allowed onto campus to campaign”
It seems strange that while granting the USI a democratic referendum, they forbade balanced campaigning and restricted USI presence in DCU. The only occasion in which USI were allowed openly canvas on the campus was in a special referendum debate where USI President Gary Redmond, who at this point many believe has just become a parody of himself, backed the Yes cause. However debates are usually not that well attended. Furthermore Redmond was being invited into a very hostile atmosphere by a college that did not want him there.
At this point it would be fair to question whether DCUSU conducted itself appropriately during the course of this referendum. DCUSU should strive to be apolitical in these matters and allow its own student body to decide for itself, offering the USI a chance to campaign on an equivalent level. By allowing USI to campaign on campus, DCUSU would not have come across as pro-USI, but merely being democratic. Its failure to do this however makes a very open anti-USI statement which could conceivably have had a detrimental effect on the outcome of the referendum.
Speaking to The College View in the aftermath of the vote, DCUSU President Megan O’Riordan said the DCUSU hoped to continue its relationship with USI despite its failure to re-affiliate. At the same time she continued to say that USI was in need of internal reform which hopefully they would begin to look at in the wake of DCU’s “No”. This apparent mixing of messages gives the strong opinion that DCUSU want to have their cake and eat it too. While they would happily take part in various USI initiatives such as the National March on Nov 3, they fail to grasp the concept that a USI with DCU is far more likely to incourage reform than without and at the same time present a more united student front in the wake of threats to cuts in education and beyond.
It is interesting to consider that whereas the NUI Maynooth referendum was brought about by the Union itself, it took the influence of an independent student newspaper, The College View, to bring the issue to a vote in DCU.
Interview removed by third party request
-Dave Ryan & Juvenal
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