Analysis: The UT Editor has never been impeachable

Trinity News has confirmed with an original drafter of the TCDSU constitution that the UT Editor cannot be impeached constitutionally 

The Editor of the University Times (UT) was never impeachable according to an original writer of the union constitution. 

This afternoon, Trinity News spoke to an original writer of the 2014 Trinity College Dublin Students Union (TCDSU) constitution. He confirmed the constitution was deliberately written so there is no possible interpretation where the UT Editor is a sabbatical officer. Therefore, there is no possible interpretation where the UT Editor can be impeached via a referendum.

The 2014 TCDSU constitution is the current constitution of the union and lists five sabbatical officers; President, Education Officer, Welfare & Equality Officer, Communication & Marketing Officer and Entertainments Officer. Speaking to Trinity News, this member of the original drafters also confirmed that the UT Editor is constitutionally not a sabbatical officer saying: “The omission from the sabbatical officer list was deliberate and appropriate at the time.” 

When asked if he believes there is anything in the TCDSU constitution that would provide the basis for the impeachment of the UT Editor, the original drafter replied with a firm “no”. He added that they were “quite deliberate at the time that there would be no way” to impeach the editor, and this is “reflected in the difficulties people are having now”.

Prior to the current constitution, the Communications & Marketing Officer held responsibility for the editorship of UT. During this period, they were impeachable. In 2014, as specified by this writer, the two roles were separated completely with no intention for the Communications & Marketing Officer to have any role in UT going forward. 

The writer highlighted that this was done in the interest of giving UT complete editorial independence from the union. This editorial independence was the “main reason” for separation of the UT editor from the TCDSU and the other five sabbats. He noted that at the time of writing the constitution there was a concern that any connection between the UT Editor and the union could cause issues should there be a “major rift” between UT and TCDSU in the future. 

They also “deliberately” intended that the UT Editor could not be subject to an impeachment proceeding through the union unlike the other sabbats so “the union cannot go after the editor”. He noted that the TCDSU President “was up for impeachment” during the time of writing the constitution, hence how deliberate this choice was on the part of the drafters.

Trinity News also questioned the drafter in relation to UT Editor elections. Given that TCDSU co-ordinates the election of the editor, why do the impeachment rules not apply in the same way as the election rules? Though the same election rules apply, this is purely coincidental according to the writer. UT Editor elections are subject to the rules set out in Schedule 3 of the constitution. These rules also apply to the other five sabbatical elections. However, the “mechanism of election being the same is the only real similarity” between the sabbatical officers of the union and the editor. He specified that Schedule 3 “covers elections once they’re called, not the details of calling one”. As a result even though Schedule 3 applies to UT Editor elections it was “intended that there would be no way to impeach an editor” unlike the other five sabbats. Schedule 3 was simply not re-written for the UT Editor election in order to differentiate it from the others, but the same rules apply in different ways. He also noted that a potential impeachment of a UT Editor was not seen as a concern at the time of writing.

According to this original drafter, there was no alternative constitution proposed for UT in 2014, hence why it is covered in the current constitution. As for why the union still coordinates the election of the editor, the writer cited logistical and functional reasons saying that the intention was for “editorial independence, not functional independence”. UT is funded through TCDSU. The 2014 constitution set out to grant the paper editorial independence in spite of this funding, hence why the constitutional rules for the other five sabbats do not apply. He noted that they did not foresee an impeachment mechanism ever used against an editor.

In a letter leaked on Twitter last Saturday, senior staff members within UT stated that they had “begun impeachment proceedings” against the current editor. There is also no constitutional mechanism for the UT Editor to be impeached by their staff. The logic behind this, the original drafter explained, was that if the student body cannot impeach their editor, there should not be a provision for a small percentage of the student body, i.e. the UT staff, to do so. 

The original writer highlighted to Trinity News that the conversation around the 2014 constitution at the time of its proposal was not met with much engagement. He said at the time “there was a more controversial proposal” put forward and much of the disagreements were either internal or from this opposition. They “didn’t get [the constitution] through in time for elections”. He noted that there was not much engagement with the process from students at the time and that they did not foresee a circumstance where there would be a movement to impeach the UT Editor arising. 

In a statement yesterday, the current Electoral Commission (EC) of TCDSU confirmed this saying: “There is no mechanism in the TCDSU Constitution to impeach the Editor of the University Times. The Editor is not a Sabbatical Officer of the Union and is not subject to the removal procedures outlined in section 6.2.1 of the Constitution.” 

The statement also said: “UT is not a Union body, but an editorially independent newspaper with freedom of governance, which receives funding via TCDSU, as per Chapter 10 of the TCDSU Constitution” and “as such, it would be inappropriate for the Union to have the power to remove the Editor and a violation of the paper’s independence”.

Despite UT staff claiming they had “begun impeachment proceedings” against their Editor, it appears based on the current TCDSU constitution that this is not possible. It was deliberately written at the time so that this was not possible. On the question of whether TCDSU, UT staff or anyone else has the authority to begin impeachment proceedings against a UT Editor, the answer appears to be a resounding no.

In 2020, the 2014 constitution was amended following a motion brought to Council, in which students voted to accept 76 amendments. While the “cleaning up” of the constitution referred to fixing “typos, contradictions and errors”, some other changes to the constitution were proposed under the referendum. A number of roles within the union were amended, and a change to a motion to impeach was specified, that it would take place under a secret ballot at Council. References to UT, or specific regulations according to UT, were not amended in 2020.

Kate Henshaw

Kate Henshaw is current Editor-in-Chief of Trinity News, and a graduate of Sociology and Social Policy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.