Students of Munster colleges have been left without representation at a national level following the sudden and unexpected departure of Kris McElhinny, formerly Southern Area Officer for the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) from the Officer Board. The Southern Area Officer position is currently a full-time, paid position within USI and as such, any individual taking the position may not be engaged in full-time education. In this instance, Sin (NUIG student newspaper) understands that Mr. McElhinny ran for election despite his intention to continue in full time education the following academic semester. Mr. McElhinny said in his defence, “When I stood for election I was always open that I hadn’t decided if I would or wouldn’t be going back to College.”
Mr. McElhinny, last year’s SU president in UCC, had applied for a Master’s in Information Systems. As no-one else put themselves forward for the elections, he ran for the position on the premise that he would “do it for a few months and see how it went.” His intention was to focus on the non-policy work of the USI. Having been offered a place on the Master’s course in August, Mr. McElhinny had the option to defer up until the first of September. However, he decided to continue with his studies. Although he initially attempted to juggle both commitments, this quickly proved unfeasible and after just two months with the USI, he resigned. Mr. McElhinny commented, “I’m really disappointed, the Union of Students in Ireland are having their strongest year in a long time. It’s a great team and I’m disappointed not to be continuing with them.” He added that to continue in his position as Southern Area Officer while in full-time education ultimately “wouldn’t be fair on the people involved.”
At the time of writing, no official announcement had been made as to the next step and USI press office also declined to comment. Two main options exist for resolving this situation. Either a by-election could be held for this position, or the remaining members of the USI Officer Board could instead opt to share the duties and responsibilities formerly held by Mr. McElhenny for the remainder of his elected term in office.
Due to the complexity of organising elections for a full-time sabbatical position mid-term, it is widely believed that the latter of these two options is the most likely to be adopted by USI. This has led to concerns from students in the southern area colleges, who fear that they may not have the same level of representation as would be normal. Concerns have also been raised by students in other regions who fear that having their elected officers dragged away to deal with what is essentially another constituency may seriously dilute the amount of time they spend dealing with local issues.
This resignation is another blow to USI, which was so spectacularly rocked with scandal last year when a memo outlining plans to call for a vote of no confidence in USI President, Richard Morrisroe, allegedly written by the then Equality Officer, Steve Conlon was leaked over the internet. Further resignations followed and the officer board was left decimated by the events. These events caused opinion articles in Sin at the time to question the competency of USI, calling them “a bunch of cowboys” and led to discussions at Class Representative Council level whether or not NUIG should disaffiliate from USI, the council voted by a handful of votes not to let the issue be put to a student body referendum.