In the wake of the last two weeks of campaigning, Leonie Delaney writes of the problems a lack of election protocol is causing the student body.
For the third consecutive year, the VP for Welfare of NUI Maynooth has taken time out to canvas in the Student Union elections. While all students are perfectly entitled to canvas for whoever they choose, it has become apparent over the past few years that there hasn’t been any protocol put in place to accommodate students who may need to go to the Welfare Officer. Over the course of the recent hustings and candidate debates, important issues such as the lack of a consultant psychologist and the long waiting list to see the University’s counsellor have been to the fore. This was especially true in the hustings for President and for Vice-President Welfare and Equality. All candidates who spoke on the subject, which included the current VP Welfare and Equality Fiach O’Neill, were extremely disappointed and lambasted the current lack services available to students, given that stress and depression are quite prominent in today’s student population.
Last year the VP Welfare and Education was criticised for taking time out to canvas for a friend. Why then after such a vocal outcry by students was a protocol not put in place to accommodate students who need the Welfare officer when they are absent from their office? Why have students with urgent needs been left out in the cold with nothing left to comfort them other than the assertions from aspiring candidates that ‘the current situation is not good enough’? Why has no candidate put forward a suggested protocol to help students who are in need of the Welfare Officer?
This brings me on to the subject more generally of officers stepping down to canvas. There is nothing in the current SU constitution to say that incumbent officers, whether they are Executive or Sabbatical, have to step down in order to canvas in an election.
This year, the VP CSUD, the VP Welfare and Equality, the Irish Language Officer, the Finance Officer, the Faculty Rep for Arts Philosophy and Celtic Studies and the Chair of Union Council have all stepped aside from their positions. The President of the Union has also stepped down from certain committees, all in the name of impartiality. A similar scenario arose last year, but the focus was on the Welfare officer given the importance of the job.
All jobs in the Student’s Union are important. It is a privilege to be elected by ones peers to represent them. Why then does it appear to be so easy for people to step aside from these positions in order to canvas for their friends? If the Minster for Education was to look for a meeting with members of the Executive to discuss increases to fees, who would represent the students? Surely it would be unfair and undemocratic to a certain extent to have the responsibility fall on the VP SEC?
What this author would suggest is that a handbook for election protocol to be produced. This handbook would set out clear guidelines and protocols for officers. It has been suggested in certain circles that there should be an embargo on officers standing aside to canvas, aside from ones that are seeking re-election.
I would argue the officers stepping aside to canvas for friends, whether they are current officers of the union or not, is not an image that looks good for the union. It perpetuates an elitist culture and a clique system that would disenfranchise people from getting involved with the union. This would no doubt breed a sense of institutionalism that would be contrary to the aims of the Union. The union should strive for diversity and dynamism, not a reliance on the tried and trusted.
Instead of having important issues like this reduced to the ramblings of an old hack, perhaps ambitions class reps could bring it up at union council. It raises its head every year. I would argue that it’s better to be proactive about it and get a protocol in place, before this becomes a bigger issue than it needs to be.
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