Delegates from the Technological University of Dublin Students’ Union (TUDSU) have walked out of the Congress of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), following a motion proposed by the USI President to conduct a review of the fee that the national students’ union charges member organisations for affiliation. Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President Shane De Rís, and Education Officer Aimee Connolly, also walked out in protest.
The motion was due to be debated before a motion proposed by TUDSU, which, if passed, would have reduced and capped the affiliation fee so that no member organisation of USI would pay more than €70,000. Currently, USI charges every member organisation €5 per student for affiliation, meaning that the newly-formed TUDSU would have to pay around €160,000. Because of a procedural rule stipulating that Congress cannot debate two contradictory motions in the same session, the passage of the motion to conduct a review meant that the TUDSU motion could not be discussed.
The walk-out followed a heated debate on the floor of Congress. Among the speakers in opposition to the motion was De Rís, who said that “the fact that we’re not going to have a chance to discuss what a member organisation wants to discuss doesn’t sit easy with me”.
In a statement to Trinity News, De Rís said: “We believe that motions from member organisations should have the chance to be debated and discussed on Congress floor. While I completely agree that a review is necessary, considering the last one never materialised, members shouldn’t be blocked from having their motions put before Congress”. Regarding his decision to walk out of Congress, De Rís stated: “Alongside several members of the TCDSU delegation, we left as we didn’t feel comfortable being complicit in denying members the opportunity to have their motions heard.”
Incoming TUDSU President Pierre Yimbog, speaking afterwards to Trinity News, said: “I have full respect for the procedures and processes of USI, but I question the way that this decision was made. The risk is that we may not have the finances [to pay the affiliation fee] and may not be a member next year.” He criticised the floor debate, saying that “the other SUs spoke against us and not on the motion itself, in a way that I found disrespectful to our SU”.
Trinity Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) President, Oisín Vince Coulter, said: “I strongly believe in the principle of a national students’ union that is appropriately funded, but a far greater threat to USI than funding is a lack of internal democracy within the organisation.”
USI has faced criticism in the past year from some student representatives, who have accused it of lacking energy in campaigns on accommodation and the housing crisis. In October, TCDSU President Shane de Rís labelled USI’s response to the government’s budget as “reserved”. USI President Síona Cahill denied this, saying: “We did nothing but slam the government throughout the day on media along with dozens of other organisations in key positions of influence.”