The Students’ Union is elected by Trinity students to work in their interest and to represent them as members of the College community.
Similarly, the Dáil is elected by the citizens to represent the views of the people in important law making and administrative decisions. The Dáil is to citizens as the Students’ Union is to students.
In essence they have the same role: to represent. But they represent two very different groups of people, and therefore, their roles are slightly different. Or at least they should be.
Trinity is diverse. We are diverse in our nationalities, in our gender, in our age and stage of life, in our backgrounds, in our political views, and in our moral convictions. This diversity leads to the question: should the SU should be taking firm views on national issues, or should they be focusing on Trinity issues?
It seems that the Students’ Union is becoming more and more definitive on political issues. We have voted to oblige the SU to campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment.
The idea of a mandate is not necessarily a bad thing in itself. Some of the issues involved are extremely important and personal to students, and it is crucial for a student to feel supported and represented by their SU.
Moreover, the majority of students are of the same opinion in these matters, so it is not entirely unreasonable for the SU to support their stance. National issues are quite often student issues, so it is fitting for the SU to take a stance and devote time to these causes.
However, once the SU is mandated to campaign, this cuts out a whole group of students who are of a different opinion, and the Union becomes no longer fully representative of the student body. Moreover, every minute spent campaigning on a national issue is a minute not spent dealing with the many areas that could do with improvement within Trinity itself.
No issue is straightforward, and there may be elements of the minority view that are worth noting, something that the Union cannot do if mandated otherwise. The danger with strict stances being taken is that the SU no longer acts as an SU. Instead, it risks becomes a quasi-political party.
Moreover, if the SU becomes too political and too involved with national issues, it can forget its first and primary role: to work on behalf of Trinity students, in relation to Trinity-specific issues. National issues should only be dealt with if Trinity issues are adequately covered first. Luckily, this has not happened yet, and it must remain this way.
Furthermore, representation is not always representative. Representatives speak for the majority, as it was the majority that put them there. This can leave any minority group within college unrepresented by their SU, the very group that’s meant to be their voice.
It is outlined in the strategic plan adopted by the SU in March 2015 that their goal is to represent “Trinity students on Trinity issues.” It is then stated that they will participate in social and political campaigns “which serve the interests of our members.”
Therefore, the SU should choose carefully what it asks the student population. It should be sure, when taking a stance on a national issue, that this national issue directly affects Trinity students themselves. All other national issues, such as a position on water charges, the direct provision system, and boycotting Israel, although important issues of our time, are neither directly relevant to students, nor to the SU.
Where there is controversy, there is often a division of opinion. We do not know who is right or wrong, and when the question is of an ethical or moral nature, finding the answer becomes even more unclear, next to impossible.
Every country will have divisions in opinion; left-wing – right-wing, pro-choice – pro-life, pro-water charges – anti-austerity, socialists – privatists, and the list goes on. Each side asserts firmly that they are correct.
These differences are unavoidable in government, and there will always be an underrepresented minority. But at least in government, the minority groups have seats. They also have a platform to express their views. If a Students’ Union, on the other hand, is mandated to represent one view, and one view only, this leaves no space for the voice of the minority whatsoever.
When one is of the majority opinion, it is very difficult to understand why the minority don’t agree with you. It seems perfectly clear what stance the SU should take, because you truly believe it is the right position. But the reality of any society is that opinions differ, and so some issues are better left to the students themselves.
For example, although it seems that a huge majority of the country support the pro-choice movement, there is in fact a strong and active pro-life movement, supported by many students, which argues some reasonable points. This issue is not clear-cut. There are different scenarios in which abortion could be allowed, meaning that it is not a simple “yes or no” question. It really is a debate with many different avenues and many different viewpoints. One can be pro-choice in a number of different ways, under different conditions.
So even though the SU must campaign to repeal the 8th, even at that it is not fully representative of all pro-choice students, as there are varying degrees of this stance.
Rather than taking stances on national issues, the SU should instead be facilitating and encouraging dialogue between opposition groups from within the College community. This would allow students to have adequate exposure to multiple sides of a debate before reaching their own conclusion.
It would be more beneficial to students for these debates to be facilitated, and to allow societies based on these issues to develop. It evens out the platform for debate and gives students who have yet to make up their mind an opportunity to hear different arguments be played out before making their own decision.
If the SU were to take a stance on every issue, it would be borderline oppressive, as any student societies expressing or supporting a view other than the mandate would have to receive support from the SU. A referendum for the SU to oppose water charges was defeated last year, leaving this particular debate open to flourish within campus.
There is much more to a student body than our support of 21st-century battles with equality, sexism, consent and more. A student body is extremely diverse, and contrary to common belief that all students are chronically left-wing, there are some right-wingers among us.
The SU should leave controversial politics to be expressed by cause-specific groups, thereby ensuring the opportunity for everyone’s voice to be heard.