A group of students in University College Dublin (UCD) is hoping to trigger a second referendum in weeks that, if successful, would give students the option to be a part of University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) or not.
Speaking to The University Times, spokesperson for Freedom Of Choice Coalition UCD Charles Crowley, a third-year economics student in UCD, said that he feels the union “haven’t achieved anything”, not only this year, but over the last number of years. “There is an ongoing ineptitude”, he added. “This year has been a complete show.”
In a press release, the group, called the Freedom Of Choice Coalition UCD, stated the reasons for the petition: “In light of the continuous failures of UCD Students’ Union to vindicate the Constitutional right to Free Association and prompted by the recent failings of the Union to represent all students fairly.”
This would be the second referendum in weeks for UCDSU, which impeached President Katie Ascough two weeks ago for removing abortion information from a freshers’ guide. The move cost the union €8,000 and caused outrage among students in UCD, with many arguing that it undermined the union’s pro-choice mandate. Students voted in November 2016 to maintain the mandate.
Crowley expressed the concern that the union is funded through student contributions, and that there is “no incentive to spend” this money “correctly”.
Currently the union’s constitution, in article three, says that all students in UCD are members, and there is no provision for opting out of the union and therefore all members pay a small charge to the union each year. The group is calling for a referendum that will change article three of the union’s constitution. The change would insert the words: “Membership of the Union shall be optional, and no person shall be registered as a member of the Union without first obtaining their express written consent.”
The group is calling its campaign to promote the signing of the petition “Stand Up!”.
Crowley added that the group has been growing in numbers. He said that there is a diverse range of students in the group, with different reasons for joining, including the fact that individuals are paying money to an organisation and “not seeing any tangible benefits” from their contribution. But he said that the one issue that unites the growing group is that there is “no choice and no freedom to choose…you have no say”.
The group said that volunteers “will be on campus over the next week collecting the necessary signatures before submitting the petition to the Union Returning Officer”. However, the group will need to collect signatures from 3.5 per cent of students, just under 1,000 people.
They hope to have the signatures and the petition handed into the union’s returning office so that the referendum can be held alongside the presidential by-election, which will see students vote for Ascough’s replacement on November 22nd and 23rd, with nominations remaining open until November 9th. The group said that this is to “allow for substantial discussion on the issue while also taking into consideration the economic efficiency of running referenda together”.
However, for a constitutional referendum to pass, 12.5 per cent of students will need to turnout to vote, and the majority needs to vote in favour of the change to the constitution. In UCD, the only way to amend the constitution is by referendum.
Over 6,600 turned out to vote in the impeachment referendum last month, making up 27 per cent of students.
Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), along with the majority of Irish students’ unions, has no provision for students to opt out of the union, and most have a small, mandatory fee they charge students at the beginning of each year.