Polls opened across campus today for the referenda on the option to ‘opt out’ of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), and supporting the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Students have been campaigning on both sides of each campaign, launching their Facebook pages on Monday to gather support. Both the BDS and opt out campaigns launched petitions in November and each gained the 500 signatures necessary for a referendum in late February.
The opt out campaign are seeking to amend article 1.1 of TCDSU’s constitution, to state that the Union’s membership is composed of “all capitated students who have not opted out of the Union by notifying Trinity College Dublin or the Union of his/her wish not to be a member of the Union”. The constitution currently states that membership of the union is composed of all capitated students and sabbatical officers. James Martin, Public Relations Officer for the Vote Yes to Optional Membership, told Trinity News that campaigning is going well.
Speaking to Trinity News in February, Martin said: “We feel very confident that students will recognise that their constitutional right to freedom of association is being violated by TCDSU and will vote for them to take action.”
Some students have pushed back against the option to opt out, launching the Students United against SU Opt-Out Referendum campaign. Their Facebook group features testimonials from students outlining their reasons for voting ‘no’ in the referendum.
Both sides of the campaign were sanctioned by the Electoral Commission yesterday. The opt out group were banned from online campaigning from lunchtime until 9pm yesterday, as Trinity Young Fine Gael (YFG) printed and handed out flyers urging students to vote yes in the referendum. The Students United against Opt-Out Referendum campaign was fined after two unaffiliated students posted about the campaign into an online group and group chat.
The BDS movement calls for a political, economic, and academic boycott of the state of Israel, the international campaign for which began in 2005. The campaign group wants TCDSU to comply with the “principles of BDS in all Student Union shops, trade, business and other Union operations”. In addition, they are looking for the establishment of a “BDS implementation group open to all members of the union that will ensure compliance” with the movement, and to “lobby government and relevant external organisations to support BDS and the Palestinian anti-apartheid cause”.
The BDS campaign had their promotional materials confiscated yesterday, after receiving a strike from the EC. In a statement to Trinity News, Sean Egan, a member of the campaign group, said the strike was due to “confusion about how [the group] financed [their] campaign materials”. Campaign materials have been returned to them today.
The BDS campaign had requested the referendum on the issue be pushed later into the year as, Reddy explained to Trinity News, many of its members are currently involved in the Take Back Trinity protesting. TCDSU did not grant their request, however, and the group have been campaigning since Monday. Speaking to Trinity News last week, Reddy said that the group was “more than a little disappointed” that the SU did not change the date of the referendum.
“It’s ridiculous and bad faith to push us towards a referendum that we understood to be cancelled. We’re exhausted, this is not fair to our campaigners or supporters,” he told Trinity News on Friday.
A counter-campaign are calling on the SU to remain neutral on the issue. Last April, SU council voted against a motion calling for the SU to support a campaign for an academic and economic boycott of Israel in Trinity.
Voting began in the Arts Building at 11am and will close at 5pm today, reopening at the same time tomorrow and closing at 4pm. Meanwhile, students in St. James’ Hospital and TBSI will be able to vote from 11am to 1pm today, and those in Tallaght and D’Olier street will be able to cast their votes between 12pm and 1pm tomorrow.