After a group of the university’s students collected more than 900 signatures, UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) will hold a referendum on re-affiliation with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). If passed, each full-time UCD student would be charged an additional €5 per year to fund USI’s operations.
At first glance, discussion on the affiliation issue seems neither new nor particularly topical, apart from the somewhat arbitrary fact that the referendum is being called now. A similar debate occurred when UCD voted to leave USI by an impressive margin of 64.5 per cent in 2013. Trinity held a similar referendum in 2012, ultimately rejecting disaffiliation from USI.
But USI’s work is now as immediately relevant to every Irish student as it ever has been. Local students’ unions know their local issues and how to solve them, but only a unified national organisation can comprehensively lobby on issues ranging from fees and loan schemes to the accommodation crisis to national mental health policy. USI exerted influence in the most recent general election, most notably by pushing SmartVote into the national political discourse as a first step toward improving the quality and quantity of civic engagement.
A national students’ union cannot operate at its utmost efficiency without the membership of one of the nation’s largest and most impressive population of students. Its political pull relies on the carrot and stick dynamic of student voting. If the union can systematically drive above-average turnout among young people, then politicians have no choice but to listen to the issues that matter to that demographic. Fees and accommodation are prominent examples, but so too is access to abortion, along with many other social issues. And even with a general election just behind us, there remains a strong possibility of another in the near future.
No individual university’s students have the time, expertise, or comprehensive mandate needed to contribute to national politics. As students, we must recognise that the biggest issues we face every single day stretch far beyond the walls of any single institution. We will either fight for progress together or face the consequences alone.