CnaG provides a very detailed breakdown of Wednesdays’s MSU constitution referendum.
It’s been a (surprisingly long) while since it was proposed, but after two years of deliberation Maynooth SU has finally gotten its act together and drafted a new constitution.
There are several substantive changes made to the constitution, not least of which include simpler language, a more logical layout and the removal of several typographical errors. More importantly though is the introduction of a fourth Sabbatical officer (a paid, full-time member of the SU executive), considerable restructuring of the exec more generally, and clearer disciplinary guidelines around the impeachment (removal) of exec officers. Some modifications have been made to Union Council procedures, and to the position of Returning Officer. The Guardianship of the Constitution has been abolished completely, and a new Board of Trustees introduced.
Other changes have also been made, but the focus of this article is on providing a more in depth and evaluative analysis of the changes listed above, as well as briefly considering what could be considered missing from the new constitution. First, however, a quick overview of the constitutional review process to date.
Quick overview of the constitutional review process to date
The current constitution (Constitution 2008) was ratified in March 2008, on the same day that the elections for the 2008/2009 exec were held and Henry Durka was elected SU President.
Constitution 2008 has been contentious almost since it was voted in. It was the second constitutional change in two years (a referendum had also been held in 2007) and yet still failed to a) eliminate typographical errors and b) adequately address the need for reform of the SU.
It came into effect immediately after ratification though the changes made to the executive (the abolition of the Equality officer and removal of the mature student rep) would not be effective until the 2009/2010 term. The logic behind some of the changes were questioned during Durka’s reign by Equality Officer Declan Meenagh and Mature Student Rep Catherine Stokes, among others.
Despite promises of a revised document being forwarded before the next elections, in March Brian Murphy and a new exec were elected to for the 2009/2010 term under Constitution 2008’s provisions. A new draft constitution was not circulated until very late in the 2008/2009 term. This was viewed as rushed and ill-put together, though had it been ratified it would have made some interesting changes – including the creation of ‘Union Senators’ (one per department) to liaise between class reps and the union exec. Ultimately though, discussion of the document was postponed until October 2010. In October 2010, the draft was effectively discarded and another constitutional review committee was tasked to come up with a suitable document.
The new constitution should have been ready before the 2010 election and indeed, this Student Observer writer was promised a draft copy by committee member and SO favourite Jason Whelan at that time. It never materialised. Another Exec (Aengus Ó Maoláin and co) were elected according to Constitution 2008, and the constitutional review process has only produced a final draft within the last two weeks. This is the draft which will be put to referendum on February 16th 2010. Detailed below are some of the changes that will be made.
Changes to the exec, to Union Council and the introduction of a 4th exec officer
Probably the most obvious and most discussed change, Constitution 2011 sees the introduction of a Clubs, Socs and Union development Sabbatical officer. This officer – who will be paid an amount yet to be determined – will assume the role of both previously unpaid clubs and societies officers. They will also contribute to the general functioning of the union and be responsible for the development of a working class representative system.
This latter task should be facilitated by the creation of four Faculty Reps on the executive (Arts, Celtic Studies & Philosophy, Social Sciences, Science & Engineering and Theology). Much like the Senators of the rejected 2008/2009 draft constitution, except considerably fewer in number, the Faculty Reps liaise between the exec and the class reps of their various faculties. In theory, this should make the executive more inclusive, and could up the level of participation of class reps which has been consistently awful over the past few years.
It is interesting that responsibility for education has shifted from VP Education and Welfare to the President of MSU, and that the VP Welfare becomes VP Welfare and Equality. None of the other changes to the exec seem hugely important though, and are unlikely to raise any eyebrows.
The most substantial change to the structure of Union Council is its new capacity to elect a chairperson and secretary from among its ranks. Previously the Returning Officer and Deputy Returning Officer filled these positions. The change will most likely be a welcome reprieve to future ROs and allows UC a degree of autonomy it did not have before. It is discussed in more depth later in this article.
Whether the addition of a new Sabbatical officer and the proposed changes to the structure of the exec and UC will be sufficient to revive flagging participation is questionable, but it is certainly a step in the right direction, and it is nice to see the re-inclusion of Equality in the Exec’s mandate.
Prompted, no doubt, by the fiasco at the end of Murphy’s term when half the exec tried to impeach (remove from office) the VP Welfare/Education Liz Murray, Constitution 2011 contains changed procedures to be followed should it happen again. It also rectifies what seems like a glaring oversight in Constitution 2008. Hypothetically, if Murray had been forced to resign in May she would have resumed office in July, as she had been re-elected in March. The inclusion of Article 11.6 in Constitution 2011 is a sensible response to the quandary. Should an officer of the exec be impeached in the future, he or she may not assume any executive office in the SU for three years regardless of whether or not they have been re-elected.
On the other hand, the power of Union Council to force an exec officer to resign (Article 18.2 b of Constitution 2008) does not exist in Constitution 2011. Officers may only be removed subject to the provisions of Article 11, which limits the role of Union Council in the matter to passing a motion that an officer’s behaviour be referred to the disciplinary committee of the new Board of Trustees. Previously a 2/3 majority agreement at an emergency union council meeting was sufficient to impeach an officer.
Abolition of the Guardianship of the Constitution
One of the bigger changes which has been glossed over so far is the abolition of the Guardianship of the Constitution in favour of a new Board of Trustees. On this topic President of Maynooth SU, Aengus Ó Maoláin simply comments in a blog post that “The duties of the former Guardianship of the Constitution have been merged with the Board” without exploring the implications this has for the union.
Previously the Guardianship consisted of undergraduate students, postgraduate students, past officers of the union and university staff members (seven in total, no more than two of each). None of these guardians were allowed hold their position for more than two consecutive years, except the Student Activities Officer (Ian Russell). Their main role was to ensure the constitution was being upheld. Motions passed in union council were often referred to the Guardianship to check if they were constitutional before they became Union policy.
Under Constitution2011 the procedure has changed. There does not appear to be any formal way of checking that policy is in fact in keeping with the constitution. In many ways, this is a positive development as past referral to the Guardianship was generally used as a way to delay policy in UC. The lack of a clear process here could prove problematic though, if the constitutionality of a motion was questionable.
Role of the RO
The confusion extends to the role of the RO. In Constitution 2008, the RO’s role as defined by Article 14 included responsibility for running elections and referendums and for organising all Union Council meetings and Union General Meetings.
In Constitution 2011, Schedule 126.96.36.199.5, the stated role of the RO is to “supervise and execute all elections and referenda during his / her term of office”. Responsibility for UGMs is assumed by the elected Chairperson of Union Council (Article 7.2). On the other hand, responsibility for EUCs is assumed to fall to the RO in Article 8.6. And while Article 8.8.4 states that the RO is responsible for organising and chairing the first UC of the year, whether it is the RO or the chairperson who must organise subsequent UCs does not seem to be included.
In sum, Constitution 2011 divides the roles of RO and Chairperson of Union Council, but is inconsistent and unclear on the exact division of their responsibilities with regards to organising meetings. Though not insurmountable, it could make life difficult for both parties involved.
Board of Trustees and “Administrative Manager of the Union”
A new figure in Constitution 2011, the “Administrative Manager of the Union” features heavily on the Board of Trustees. When pressed, two members of the current exec did not appear to know who this Administrative Manager was, which is surprising considering that he or she will sit on the club management, the shop management and the catering management committees, and could potentially sit on pretty much every standing committee of the Board of Trustees if they had the ‘significant experience’ required.
Fortunately, Aengus Ó Maoláin could confirm that the Administrative Manager of the Union is, in fact, Student Activities Officer Ian Russell. Without doubt the lynchpin of the previous Guardianship, ROs appointed under Constitution 2008 were answerable to Russell. Russell also spoke on constitutional matters on several occasions at Union Council and, if memory serves correctly, it was Russell who gave the presentation on the draft constitution at the final UC of Durka’s term.
As Student Activities Officer, Russell will sit on the SU’s Capitation Committee, and its two sub-committees – the clubs and socs capitation committee, the recognition and ratification committee, as well as the Clubs and Socs awards committee, in addition to those listed above.
Indeed, Ian Russell has had considerable influence over SU affairs for the past few years and the role he has played seems to have gone far beyond the scope his official capacity offers at times. If the Administrative Manager of the Union is in fact Russell, it could see his official influence widen considerably. Whether or not this is undue is uncertain – Russell’s influence in the union is not often discussed. It could be that this is a formalisation of existing arrangements, or it could be a considerable expansion of his power base.
Either way, the use of a title he either doesn’t have or nobody knows about was probably not wise. As it stands, this not a topic to be glossed over, and which merits further discussion now or at a later date.
Summary and closing comment
Several considerable changes are proposed for Maynooth SU under Constitution 2011.
A new Union Sabbatical Officer position is first and foremost among the changes. The separation of RO and chairperson is essentially a good idea to relieve overburdened ROs, while simultaneously granting UC more autonomy. UC’s power to impeach is reduced, though the permanence of impeachment is increased. The Guardianship of the Constitution is abolished, leaving a constitutional black hole should challenges to the constitutionality of new SU policy arise. Introducing a board of trustees is quite important for the increased independence it seems to give the SU, though the yet to be justified presence of Ian Russell on so many committees must surely throw the true independence of the SU into some question.
Overall, the referendum is a welcome development which has been a long time coming. Despite this, the campaign around it does seem quite rushed, and there was not really sufficient time allowed for a No campaign to develop. Perhaps that was the point.
It seems unlikely that this will be the last constitutional referendum Maynooth SU ever has, but at least if it passes the union will have an officer in charge of union development who can take care of any small changes that do have to be made. Hopefully this article will be of some use to Student Observer readers who have yet to make-up their minds on the issue, and be sure to check back for our coverage of the fallout on Wednesday and Thursday.
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Some of this article is based on recollections from time spent as a Class Representative. I sat on Union Council for two years, 2008/2009 and 2009/2010. I have tried to be as factually accurate as possible in the information given.
If you’re interested in reading about the changes from a SU official’s perspective, Aengus has written a brief overview here (link to http://aengusmaynooth.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/a-new-better-union/).