The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) today voted against a motion that would have seen the president actively reach out to youth and student wings of all political parties “to unite students of all political persuasions”.
The “sensitive” motion stirred a lengthy debate, with proponents arguing that students of particular political beliefs felt alienated from the union. Those who opposed the proposal said that it was “unrealistic”, and could compromise USI’s apolotical stance. One argued that it could see the body become a union for youth political parties, rather than for all students.
Despite the backing of USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick, delegates at USI Congress – which is taking place over Zoom this week – rejected the proposal.
Fitzpatrick said: “It gives us the opportunity to reach out to everybody. People can choose to engage if they wish to do so.”
“Our movement should be open to all from different political backgrounds and none. Our constitution and our constitutional values will uphold and will stand over any motion that we pass here”, she said.
“Working against racism discrimination and inequality is key and core to the USI constitution”, she added. “Support of this motion will not mean that we move away from those.”
The motion said that “the student movement must unite students of all political persuasion if it is to meet its full potential to defend the fundamental educational, welfare, economic, political, social and cultural interests of its members”.
Speaking in favour of the motion, Julian Nagi from Maynooth Students’ Union said that voting for the motion was “a vote for empathy”.
Sorcha Ní Chonghaile of Dublin City University Students’ Union added that “involvement of all of our students regardless of my personal views — anyone’s personal views — should always be encouraged. This is a union for all of our students.”
“It’s okay that not everyone is going to agree all the time”, she said. “But an effort to reach out to those who dont agree, and trying to learn where theyre coming from and trying to educate them is quite a useful way to do things.”
Speaking against the motion, Tadgh MacCionnaith from University College Cork Students’ Union said the motion was “a bit unrealistic”.
“What unites us is our shared experience as students”, he said, “not party political backing or influence”.
MacCionnaith added that the USI should “keep party politics out of the one big union”.
Barry Egan of TU Dublin Students’ Union added that “we can’t invite those who want to harm the wellbeing of others – may that be those who are for homophobia, racism, those who are for transphobia”.