The contents of Budget 2019 have evoked fiery responses from student political leaders all across the country. Some of them have even managed to become fiery with one another. TCDSU President Shane de Rís circulated an email to all USI sabbatical officers denouncing the USI response to the budget as too lukewarm.
The email, which he ironically signed off with “Ní neart go chur [sic] le chéile”, described the USI’s post-budget statement as “extremely and disappointingly weak”. In particular, he criticised the USI’s emphasis on voting and ballot boxes, saying: “The amount of students registered to vote…is irrelevant unless efforts to mobilise these students as a block are taken.”
Leaving aside the fact that the USI’s response to the budget was bland and predictable, and leaving aside the bizarre fact that it included a photo-shoot of leading USI figures standing outside Leinster House with umbrellas, it’s hard to see what the point of all of this pinning of colours to mastheads from Shane de Rís is.
Most of all, it isn’t by any means clear what de Rís actually wants the USI to do. He says that students can’t wait until the next election, but unless he wants students to overthrow the government, it’s hard to see what more can be done than the massive marches that have already taken place. As for strength of tone, the USI statement is no weaker than these things normally are. This paragraph, for example, is pretty strong stuff: “This is a ‘no budget’ budget for students. This government have decided who their electorate are, but we’ve registered 90,000+ students to vote in the last five years. They must be heard, and they’ll be heard at the ballot box.”
It’s possible, though, that the actual contents of de Rís’s email have little to do with its real purpose, which is to challenge the USI position on housing. Numerous figures in the USI have described a clash between Dublin universities who want the USI to be more aggressive on housing, and universities from elsewhere in the country for whom housing is less of a priority. If de Rís is trying to evoke this conflict, and make a play with threatening hints of disaffiliation, in the USI Game of Thrones, it’s hard to see how this would win anybody over. It’s surely obvious that the USI leadership won’t reverse their position, since doing so after such an email would be a humiliation.
Or maybe he wants to galvanise support among other Dublin student unions for future election runs, although if that were the case, he shouldn’t have signed the email alone. Or maybe it’s all part of some grand strategy. Or maybe there’s no strategy at all. In any case, the relationship between Trinity and USI management is about to become more strained than before, with no apparent upsides.