Michael Kerrigan has been elected President of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) at the union’s annual congress today. He was the only candidate for the position.
Kerrigan, who ran on a platform of fighting for publicly funded education and protecting the autonomy of students’ unions, was elected with 96 per cent of the vote.
Kerrigan is USI’s current Vice-President for the Border, Midlands and Western Region, and has held multiple sabbatical roles, including President of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology Students’ Union (GMITSU). In his manifesto, Kerrigan states that the coming months, as decisions are to made on the future funding model for higher education, are likely to be a “defining moment in the history of education in Ireland”.
Speaking at hustings at USI’s congress on March 27th, Kerrigan stated that “we’ve seen the strength of the student movement” as well as its weaknesses this year, saying: “We need to ensure that every member of USI is aware of what we do and how we can help them.”
On the issue of the autonomy of students’ unions, Kerrigan stated that “it’s an issue USI have hidden from for far too long and it’s a problem that’s only going to get worse”. The issue of students’ union autonomy has been a topical one this year, notably when Dublin Institute of Technology Students’ Union (DITSU) was left without funding after “unacceptable” demands from the College with regards to internal auditing.
In an interview with The University Times earlier this month, Kerrigan stated his plans for if a loan scheme looks like the most likely model for the future funding of higher education. “I think we’d need to have a lot more than 12,000 students on the street”, he said. “We’d have to do everything we can to stop it. It would be a complete disaster for higher education and for accessible higher education in Ireland if this was to come in.”
Kerrigan was endorsed by the councils of every students’ union that he spoke at before congress, including Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union’s (TCDSU) council.
Oisín Hassan, the current Education Officer of Queen’s University Belfast Students’ Union (QUBSU), was elected Vice-President for Academic Affairs with 98 per cent of the vote. Hassan, who was uncontested, ran on a platform of protecting international students from being treated as “cash cows”, supporting member organisations during the transition to technological universities and addressing the under-representation of postgraduate students. At hustings he spoke against loan schemes, stating “the need to lay down what an alternative looks like”, and on the importance of access, stating that “widening access must remain a key focus” when it comes to postgraduates and adding that “widening access efforts don’t stop when students walk through the door”.
Niamh Murtagh was successfully elected Vice-President for Welfare. Murtagh, USI’s current Vice-President for the Southern Region and a former two-term welfare officer with IT Tralee Students’ Union (ITTSU), ran on the platform of providing mental health training, creating a cyber-bullying strategy and assisting unions with educating students on consent.
Síona Cahill was successfully re-elected as Vice-President for Equality and Citizenship, receiving 96 per cent of the vote. A former Vice-President for Welfare and Equality of Maynooth University Students’ Union (MSU), Cahill emphasised her experience, including preparing USI’s submission for the Citizens’ Assembly on the eighth amendment and chairing the Students for Choice taskforce. Cahill was endorsed by the Coalition for the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment and was supported by figures such as Monnie Griffith, head of youth LGBT charity BelongTo, online.
The Vice-President for Campaigns race, which had three candidates, saw Amy Kelly elected with 59 per cent of the vote, beating Sean Cassidy from Dublin City University (DCU) and Dylan McGowan of of Letterkenny Institute of Technology Students’ Union (LYITSU).
Kelly, the current President of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology Students’ Union (GMITSU), spoke passionately throughout the campaign on the need for more lobbying and more direct student engagement, emphasising the need to get more students onto the streets in support of publicly funded education. Speaking at the union’s congress hustings on Monday, she prioritised campaigns for workers rights and student accommodation, saying that she shared the “vision for a better future for students”.
Michelle Byrne was elected Vice-President for the Southern Region, beating Shane Falvey of Cork Institute of Technology (CITSU). Byrne, who received 55 per cent of the vote and who is President of Waterford Institute of Technology Students’ Union (WITSU), pledged to improve engagement with campuses and with class reps, and to improve communication through social media and in-person visits. Byrne’s manifesto also promises to support unions through the technological university development and to help union’s with the national campaign, which typically includes the annual demonstration and the lobbying of TDs.
In another contested race, Jimmy McGovern, current President of NUI Galway Students’ Union (NUIGSU) was elected Vice-President for the Border, Midlands and Western Region, beating Kevin Ronan of Athlone Institute of Technology Students’ Union (AITSU). McGovern, who received 78 per cent of the vote, ran on a platform of union development, including support and training for officers, team building and engagement, as well as leading the region’s involvement with the campaign for publicly funded education and working actively in the areas of welfare and the Irish language.
Laoighseach Ní Choistealbha, former Irish Officer of NUIGSU, was elected Vice-President for the Irish Language. Highlighting how she learned Irish as a second language, Ní Choistealbha’s manifesto states that she wants to get rid of “the ‘baggage’ that comes with the Irish language” and the idea that the language is a “political stance”. Ní Choistealbha was elected with 96 per cent of the vote.
Correction: 10:43, March 29th, 2017
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Síona Cahill was elected with 63 per cent of the vote. In fact, it was 96 per cent.