TCDSU referendum on Irish Times boycott scheduled for November 24-26

The decision to hold the vote was taken at the first Council meeting of the year

Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) is to hold a referendum on whether to boycott the Irish Times November 24 to 26.

The wording of the proposal, if passed at referendum, would mandate that “TCDSU boycott The Irish Times in all TCDSU shops, trade, business and other commercial Union operations” over the newspaper’s coverage of issues of trans rights.

This would include refusing to stock or sell the newspaper in TCDSU shops, and refusing advertising and printing services from the Irish Times. TCDSU Sabbatical Officers would also be required to decline media requests from the Irish Times.

It would also mean that TCDSU would join several other students’ unions and activist groups in boycotting the newspaper, including the unions of University College Dublin; Dublin City University; National University of Ireland Galway; and the Institute of Art, Design and Technology. The effort is led by the Trans Writers’ Union and has received support from author Shon Faye, Community Action Tenants Union, and former Irish Times contributor Louise Bruton.

Because the pro-boycott stance would constitute a “long-term policy” (LTP) of the union, it must be approved by the student body at referendum before it can enter into force. Existing LTPs of TCDSU include its support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and its stance in favour of abortion on request. LTPs remain in force until rescinded, which must also be done by referendum.

The vote will run concurrently with one on calling for Trinity to divest from arms manufacturing. College currently has approximately €2.5 million invested in the sector.

Anyone interested in running a campaign on either side of either referendum is invited to contact the union’s Electoral Commission.

TCDSU’s LGBT+ Rights Officer Jenny Maguire authored the proposal to hold the vote. It received approval from the Union Forum on October 11, and then was brought to the union’s Council on October 19. The motion was seconded by Sierra Mueller-Owens, the union’s Welfare and Equality Officer. After a brief discussion at the Council meeting, it passed by a margin of 88% to 12%.

Speaking at the October 19 meeting, Maguire said: “The Irish Times has recently been platforming an anti-trans ethos, rife with scaremongering and medical misinformation surrounding transgender people.”

She continued: “It is a must that we join [the Trans Writers Union] in this boycott”.

Both the SU’s Gender Equality Officer, Rebecca Kelly, and Disability Officer, Chloe Staunton, urged everyone at Council “to vote in favour of this motion’’. Staunton highlighted the union’s “T-fund” supporting trans students in socially transitioning and said College “is not a welcoming place if we’re still supporting the Irish Times”.

Yannick Gloster, Undergraduate Studies Committee Representative, stated at Council that the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland (TENI) and ShoutOut are “not in support” of the boycott from the Irish Times and asked Maguire if she had “consulted with University Times” since the newspaper uses their printers.

Maguire said that she had not heard any indication anywhere that the two LGBT+ organisations mentioned by Gloster are actively against the boycott, and that she had “numerous discussions” with the University Times when writing the motion.

Gabrielle Fullam, the union’s Ethnic Minorities Officer, then concurred with Maguire, saying she believes that the motion is ‘’really important” and that the SU “have to look at our prioritisation of issues”. She believes taking a stance on the issue was more important than “the convenience of printing with the Irish Times”.

Speaking to Trinity News before the meeting, Maguire said: “Essentially, I’m proposing this motion as we simply cannot advertise for, stock or do business of any kind with a group that platforms medical misinformation, scaremongering and hate for transgender people on a national level.”

She continued: “There has been minimal media coverage of the Irish Trans Writers’ Union’s boycott of the Irish Times, and it is a must that we stand in solidarity with them.”

“Supporting the transgender community is nonnegotiable, we cannot prioritise partnerships of any kind over the well-being of some of the most vulnerable people within Irish society, it’s as simple as that.”

According to Maguire’s motion, “an anti-transgender editorial stance does not serve in the interest of debate or journalistic balance, but only seeks to prevent trans people from living lives free of persecution”.

In early October, the University Times, which is affiliated with TCDSU and printed by the Irish Times, said that it was “aware” of calls for boycotts of the national newspaper. UT’s editorial team said that the publication would no longer feature advertisements from the Irish Times and was “actively exploring alternative arrangements” regarding printing.

Trinity News has taken an editorial stance in support of the Trans Writers’ Union campaign and severed its relationship with the Irish Times in August. The print edition of this newspaper is no longer produced by the Irish Times, and Trinity News no longer features its advertising in print or online.

Last week, the BBC partially retracted an article which claimed trans women “pressure” lesbians into having sex with them. The outlet received widespread criticism, which noted that much of the article’s claim of the existence of a trend hinges on a social media survey of just 80 people.

More than 20,000 people have signed an open letter asking the BBC to apologise for the article, but the outlet has maintained that the piece fits within its editorial guidelines. It did later amend it to remove quotations from one source after critics pointed out that she had publicly expressed a desire to commit genocide against trans people.

Additional reporting by Kate Henshaw, Jamie Cox and Sarah Emerson.

Jack Kennedy

Jack Kennedy is the Editor-in-chief of the 68th edition of Trinity News. He is a Computer & Electronic Engineering graduate, and a former Assistant Editor, Online Editor, and Deputy Online Editor.

Bella Salerno

Bella Salerno is currently a Deputy News Editor of Trinity News. She is a Senior Fresh Middle Eastern, Jewish and Islamic Civilisations and French student.