The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Congress commenced this morning at 9am.
Today’s congress was the first ever to take place online, as Covid-19 restrictions prevented a full in-person debate. Elections for the Union’s executive officers are to take place this afternoon.
Presentation of accounts
The Congress live-stream began with the presentation of the financial accounts for the last academic year. Since the end of June 2019, the union has produced a surplus of €80,000, which is almost double that of last year.
However, USI accountants warned that the body is developing a “dependency on grant income which relates to specific projects”.
Since the end of the last academic year, USI has received over €250,000 in project income. This is more than 20% of the organisation’s total income for the year.
The Union scaled back its campaign expenditure compared to 2018, where USI was heavily involved in the “Repeal the Eighth” campaign.
USI accountant Gareth Williams, said: “It is very encouraging that USI continues to report a surplus each year”. He added that the numbers have been “consistent” for a number of years.
The largest expenditure for the union was its salaries. This amounted to approximately €400,000, including the union’s executive officers.
The president of USI earns an average €28,000 a year, with the other executive officers earning around €27,000 a year.
Policies within USI
Next discussed at the congress were the policies and motions to be carried by USI, that were proposed by students throughout the country. The motions for debate included reform to the Irish Language, class representation reforms and motions on easing students back into education following the pandemic.
First discussed was student participation in the governing of colleges. This first motion of the Union’s “nothing about us, without us” was proposed by National University of Ireland Galway’s Students’ Union (NUIGSU) Michelle Mitchell.
The proposal stated that congress believes that “students and student representatives are partners in their education, and should have a key role to play in governance throughout structures in their institutions”. This motion was passed.
USI also passed a motion to compile and share all events in the USI’s calendar, as many events may now have to take place online due to Covid-19 social distancing measures. USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick, who is running for re-election this week, said that the motion “makes sure” USI has “inclusive and open” events.
A motion to lobby for “radical reform” of the SUSI grant was proposed by Luke Daly, a member of Technology University Dublin’s Students’ Union (TUDSU). The motion stated that the criteria for the grant is “outdated” and “does not reflect the reality of struggling students”.
The motion mandated USI to lobby for eligibility criteria to be changed to be more available to students and to “lobby for radical reform” to the grant with the support of other organisations. This motion was carried.
A motion was also passed by the congress on behalf of the Academic Affairs Working Group (AAWG) on “learning in a digital world”. This aims to help students adapt to a “blended” learning that they will have to engage in come the reopening of colleges.
Craig McHugh, who is the current Vice President for the Dublin Region, and is running this week for Vice President of Campaigns, proposed a motion for a “student nurses and midwives campaign”. McHugh stated that “long before the pandemic, healthcare workers have been the heroes of our societies”.
McHugh proposed that the Union campaign for better pay and conditions for student nurses and midwives. Delegates voted to pass this motion.
A motion on period products for students was proposed by the current Vice President for Equality and Citizenship, Megan Reilly, to provide all students with free sanitary items. Reilly said that students “shouldn’t have to choose between buying a meal and buying period products”.
She stated that these products should be free and should be considered as a “necessary provision of healthcare for anyone who needs them”. The motion mandates the Vice President for Welfare and the Vice President for Equality and Citizenship to campaign for free sanitary products in universities. The motion passed.
Policies on campaiging for the decriminilisation of sex work, encouraging use of the Irish language on a larger scale thorughout universities and campaigning for car insurance reform were also carried at todays’s congress.
A motion for free public transport for students was also passed by the congress.
Trinity College Dublin’s Students’ Union (TCDSU) took to Twitter to show their support for USI, commending the national Union for “running so well during this difficult time”.
Voting to elect executive officers to USI runs today from 3pm until 7pm, with the results of the election being announced tomorrow. Ten executive officers are to be elected into the union, with only four contested positions in the campaign race.