CSC bars Duges pro-choice stance, clarifies remit

Rónán Burtenshaw

CSC opposes “corporate” stance on abortion; Duges members permitted to attend events under society banner; society may make members aware of events; funding for Don’t Be That Guy campaign withheld due to constitutitonal restrictions.

The DU Gender Equality Society (Duges) has been barred from adopting a pro-choice stance or espousing any corporate opinion at a meeting with the Central Societies Committee (CSC) on Monday.

The meeting, set up to clarify Duges’ position over the weekend, repeated some of the positions stated by the CSC on Sunday. It concluded that Duges members were allowed to attend marches as individuals and to do so under a corporate banner, but the society itself was not allowed to express a corporate opinion on issues.

The CSC also maintains a specific exception on the issue of abortion. At the meeting the CSC expressed the opinion that societies which espouse corporate opinion on abortion issues would be likely to offer advice to people in crisis pregnancy situations and that this advice could open the organisation up to prosecution. The CSC rejected the proposal that this could be prevented by a specific statute of a constitution by saying that, even if it was, it would “happen unofficially anyway”.

Aside from this issue, Trinity News has seen email correspondence from the CSC to Duges on Friday which suggests the society was aware of much of its terms of reference vis-a-vis corporate opinion and attending marches before the weekend. However, we understand that there was confusion about whether the Savita march was one of remembrance or pro-choice which led Duges to remove a post about it from their group after consultation with the CSC.

CSC Chair Cian McCarthy commented that “the only constraint on Duges in this case is that they are not allowed to explicitly say that all members collectively have a given opinion on the issue.” Outside of this they are “allowed to march and organise a march, poster-making and bring a Duges banner.” At present Duges does not own a banner, but the possibility of getting one has been raised by members of committee and supported by Mr McCarthy.

The meeting went on to clarify that notices may only be posted to members on internal society feeds. The Societies Committee emphasised its preference that non-party-political societies which may be considered to have political issues as part of their remit are to act as discussion forums.

The CSC further proposed a change the Duges constitution in the manner that Q-Soc had recently undertaken, to permit a campaigns officer and a degree of democratic mandate for society positions. However, they maintained that abortion would have to be explicitly excluded.

In addition, it has emerged today that the CSC have refused to fund Duges for their participation in the Don’t Be That Guy anti-rape campaign. At a grant meeting on November 7th the CSC said that the society’s engagement with that campaign had been an expression of corporate opinion and refused to reimburse the funds – which were spent on a launch event and posters.

In response Mr McCarthy commented that this was “not… a constraint CSC have placed, but one that is placed on [Duges] by their own constitution.”

Trinity News understands that Monday’s meeting produced no document codifying Duges’ position beyond the existing minutes of the executive meeting where they were provisionally recognised in 2006 and society constitution.

When Trinity News attempted to contact members of Duges committee to discuss this issue yesterday they declined comment on the grounds that they “were asked not to discuss the contents of the meeting”. Following a thread on the Duges Facebook group today, it was clarified by CSC Chair Cian McCarthy that this was not the position of the organisation – saying that “the purpose [of the meeting] was to clarify Duges’ terms of reference” for its members.

Following the release of this terms of reference on the Facebook group this morning Duges committee were criticised by some members for not commenting on Monday’s meeting earlier, and for not operating in the space they were permitted to over the weekend. Ms Dennison responded, “we didn’t have a meeting until Monday. We didn’t feel we had clarification then. We do now. We will do these things for future events.”

Responding to the meeting Duges Chair Polly Dennison told Trinity News that they were happy with its outcome “all-in-all”. “We got what we wanted going in, which was clarification. And we now have the possibility of changing our constitution, pending all the appropriate approvals.”

She said that she “understood” the CSC’s position on the pro-choice stance. She conceded that she could not “speak for the members on this”, but pointed out the permitted scope of activity was at “a good level”.