CSC bars Gender Equality Society from pro-choice position, suspends political activities

Ian Curran, News Editor
and Ronan Burtenshaw, Editor

Duges prohibited from “espousing corporate opinion” on political issues;
CSC maintain specific objection to pro-choice and pro-life societies in College;
Discussions about TCDSU referendum to institute long-term policy on abortion.

Trinity News understands that the Central Societies Committee (CSC) halted all political advocacy activity by the Dublin University Gender Equality Society (Duges) pending a meeting on Monday between the two bodies. The instruction, made over the weekend by the CSC, led to Duges pulling plans to attend the march in memory of Savita Halppanavar on Saturday.

The move comes after a Duges representative group attended both the Wednesday night vigil for Ms Halappanavar at the Dáil and last month’s “March for Choice”. Attendance at these events with Duges was promoted on the society’s public Facebook group.

After Wednesday night’s vigil a society member suggested on that page that a poster-making session be organised for the march on Saturday, to which society chair Polly Dennison replied that CSC were “cracking down” on the abortion issue. Further communication at the end of the week and weekend led Duges to postpone all campaigning, including their engagement with the “Don’t Be That Guy Campaign”, with which they intended to participate in an event on Monday with the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union.

Responding to questions posed by Trinity News, CSC secretary David Doyle said that the CSC had stated “that Duges may advertise marches to its members” and that members, as individuals, “may attend such marches under the Duges banner.” He confirmed, however, that the society may not “espouse a corporate opinion” on a political issue.

The statement went on to say that “the activities that [student societies] partake in are governed by their constitutions and the stipulations upon which they were recognised.” CSC also maintain a specific objection to the foundation of pro-choice and pro-life societies on the grounds that “there is an inability for such societies to exist beyond a limited period of time surrounding national debates on the issue.”

The CSC statement also said that since the Students’ Union was the “only representative body for all students in Trinity College”, political advocacy “necessarily fell under their remit”. TCDSU does not currently have a mandate advocating a position on reproductive rights, although it does have a schedule ten, long-term policy about providing information on abortion.

Responding to the situation yesterday TCDSU President Rory Dunne said that he “saw logic and reason” in students wanting to pass a mandate advocating a stance on the issue of abortion. He added that he was aware “there were discussions about the possibility of a referendum to institute a long-term policy” on abortion, but did not know how advanced these discussions were.

The CSC’s position is a reaffirmation of the agreement stipulated in the minutes of the executive meeting at which Duges received provisional recognition as a society in 2006. These show that a specific agreement between the society and the CSC was made that the society “cannot espouse a corporate opinion” on issues.

This agreement came after what is described as a significant “degree of discussion” which had occurred “prior to the group’s constitution being presented for consideration”. Trinity News understands that the issue of abortion formed part of these discussions. It is recorded in the minutes that “College” had expressed opinions on the issue.

At the time of writing, Duges were “not commenting” on the situation until after their meeting with the CSC this evening. However, society members had posted in support of the group pursuing a pro-choice mandate on the public Facebook group – with Ms Dennison indicating that she felt that this would be prevented by the CSC.

Full coverage of this story to appear in our print edition tomorrow, including extended news article and analysis.