So here we have it, The Observer is at Congress and what a first day it has been.  This post will be short and sweet as it is now almost half past the eleven. The main items that were on the agenda today were policies that were expiring (a three year time limit), the preferendum, followed by the presidents debate.

There were no major issues surrounding the policies, it seemed everyone was waiting for something. It was not long until we found out what this was, the preferendum. This is where all of the drama started resulting motion (9D: sending it back to congress to be reshaped into something that may be in fact viable) in a split of 92 votes to 84, in other words Union that is divided. The preferendum debate was as farcical as the manner in which it was carried out, if at all in the various colleges that are affiliated with USI.

Each of the motions to be voted on were proposed and debated by various delegates. The most interesting events were the passionate and well crafted speeches for and against ‘exchequer funded’, the student loan and the graduate tax. Gary Redmond, current USI president spoke on behalf of a graduate tax as something he ‘believes in’. Needless to say this caused a bit of a stir. Many also spoke in favour of voting for ‘none of the above’ in protest over the manner in which the preferendum was carried out.

This motion came about as a result of a closed meeting of presidents earlier this year. At this meeting the preferendum was proposed and then rolled out with little or no consultation to other sabbatical officers. What resulted then was rushed preferendums in various colleges. Trinity, a college of over 17,000 students got a turnout of 442 students in favour of a student loan scheme. The college then deemed the vote to be a mandate: a vote of under three percent. Maynooth Student Union ran one during Sabbat elections, but decided that there had not been enough consultation with students on the options that they were voting on so deemed the ballot null and void.

Rob Munnelly, current president of Maynooth Students’ Union stated “this all started about a week ago in a conversation amongst Maynooth Students’ Union sabbats. After deciding, though we agree with the preferendum in principle as a means of student feedback, that this incarnation simply was not representative of Irish students’ opinions. So we decided to work towards a 9D.” Maynooth Students’ Union along with other students unions got on board with the 9D. There was a clear divide in the room when the vote was taken with mainly Dublin colleges opposing, with 66 of the votes against the 9D were from Dublin colleges.

The 9D was then proposed for the motion to be referred back to Special Congress as it considered the Preferendum to have not been carried out in a democratic manner that accurately reflected the students that USI represents. The debate then descended into farce as the room was split between those who wished to rush this through and those who wanted a fairer process. In general terms those wishing to send it to a vote were in favour of some sort of graduate tax and those for the 9D were proponents of exchequer funded (free fees).

Further controversy ensued when the 9D was proposed by a student and in the midst of this Gary Redmond, who spoke passionately for a graduate tax attempted to interrupt the speaker. This resulted in a number of delegates shouting at Gary Redmond to stop. Eventually the 9D was carried, but by a very close margin.

What may also be worrying for the fight for free education, a platform that USI has claimed to fight on up until now is that neither of the presidential candidates advocate free fees, but one of either a graduate tax or a student loan scheme.  In their debate they both came across as very competent speakers. The entire debate centred around a boat … yes a boat, the boat being a metaphor for USI or some such.

The outcome of this debate was a divided house and further delay on an issue that many of the candidates on both sides deem a ‘crisis’

Shane Mc Nally


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