Campaigning in the Irish reunification preferendum officially started at 9am this morning. The campaigning period will last three days, March 9, 10 and 13, before voting on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. Voters will decide what stance, if any, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) should take on the issue of a united Ireland.
Speaking to Trinity News, the two campaign managers for the pro-neutrality side, Sally Anne McCarthy and Samuel Jackson, emphasised the need for the Students’ Union to represent all of its members. Jackson, who is from Northern Ireland, said that since coming to Trinity in first year, he has enjoyed an environment of open debate and discussion. “The Students’ Union should be a body that represents everybody… whether you’re a republican, a unionist, or you don’t really care, the union is there to represent us all,” he said. McCarthy pointed to the rapid nature of the campaign, progressing from a discussion item at Council to a vote in a matter of weeks. “We maybe haven’t had enough time to think about what a united Ireland would actually look like,” she said.
Meanwhile, Conall Moran, campaign manager of TCD for Unity, told Trinity News: “The reason I wanted to have this campaign, is to give Trinity the chance to show unity with the people of Northern Ireland. It is a topic that doesn’t get a lot of attention but this preferendum sends a message that the Trinity students are welcome to the idea of unification and would actively like to see it happen.”
Speaking to Trinity News on the campaigns, TCDSU President Kieran McNulty said: “I’d certainly hope that the campaigns are able to engage people. I would also like a clear indication of what role students campaigning for unity see the SU as playing – obviously the neutral stance is a bit more obvious as to what the SU would do! This would be a striking issue for our Union to take a stance on, and I hope that there’s informed debate.”
There will be three positions for voters to choose from on the ballot; that TCDSU should campaign for a united Ireland, TCDSU should campaign against a united Ireland or TCDSU should remain neutral on the status of a united Ireland.
TCDSU have announced that the result of the preferendum will not be binding. In a Facebook post on March 5, TCDSU said: “If there is a clear preference for a certain position, then this may lead to a referendum which will be binding on TCDSU.”
The vote follows a decision made at the fifth TCDSU Council in February. The motion was proposed by Naomi Walsh, Junior Sophister Psychology class representative, and seconded by Cornelious Lenthe, Junior Sophister BESS class representative. The motion read: “Northern Ireland has never been closer to having a referendum. It’s fast becoming a student issue. Council mandates TCDSU to hold a preferendum to have a stance on the reunification of Ireland, with three options in the preferendum, these being neutrality, reunification or to oppose unification.”
The vote comes after a wave of similar referenda at three other Irish universities. National University of Ireland, Galway Students’ Union (NUIGSU) voted last week to support reunification and call on the state to hold a national referendum on the issue. The motion, proposed by the Sinn Féin society within NUIG, passed by a 74% majority. Meanwhile a similar motion, also proposed by the Sinn Féin society in University College Cork (UCC), passed with 63% of the total votes. University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) have been voting on the issue over the past two days. At the time of publishing, the result was not yet known.
Additional reporting by Cathal Kavanagh and Sinéad Harrington.