Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Council last night rejected a motion to hold a referendum on the Union’s support for Irish reunification.
The motion, brought by a group of 21 students, proposed to hold a referendum on whether the union should express “its support for the reunification of Ireland” and “actively and inclusively campaign for Irish unity with recognition for all communities on this island”.
Although the motion received a majority of votes from members, it failed to secure the two-thirds majority required to go to a member-wide referendum and so failed to pass.
The students who proposed the motion were Brandon McGrane, Liam Kiernan, Megan Tynan, Sionainn Nic Cána, Kennedy Fiorella, Lillian McCarthy, Yusuf Murray, Donal Cronin, Michael Keogh, Saul Sweeney, Eva Carroll, Tiffany Walsh, Patrick Roche, Danny O’Neill, Patrick Keegan, Eleanor McDaid, Cara Nic Giolla Chomhaill, Christine Graves, David Flanagan and Padraic Shaw. The motion was seconded by Social Sciences and Philosophy (SSP) Convenor László Molnárfi.
The motion presented to Council said that “partition has a deeply negative effect on students and society both North and South by stifling social and economic progress and imposing educational barriers”.
It further argued that “the reunification of Ireland will allow for better access to Trinity for Northern students, and will open up new opportunities for all the people of this island”.
Speaking for the motion at Council, McGrane claimed that “students from across the border still face unnecessary barriers” to studying in the South, and asked Council members “who are we to decide who is less entitled” to study at Trinity.
McGrane also argued that Irish unity would allow greater access to abortion services for people from Northern Ireland.
He asked TCDSU to be “on the right side of history” and to support the motion.
Following its proposal, AHSS Faculty Convenor Eoghan Gilroy rose to speak against the motion, saying that to enact a long-term policy of support for Irish unity, without knowing what exactly that may look like, was “in itself is incredibly dangerous”.
“Associating ourselves with something that could be so wholly sectarian and exclusionary, that’s dangerous in itself,” Gilroy said.
Gilroy added that College “are constantly talking about” how to encourage more students from the North to attend, saying “there are virtually no barriers preventing students from the north studying at Trinity”.
McGrane responded by saying that he had spoken to several northern students about the barriers that they face, though others refuted this, saying that they had also talked to students from the north.
JF PPES Class Rep Eoin Connolly argued that the main obstacle to students from Northern Ireland attending Trinity “isn’t the border, its f***ing housing”.
Connolly responded to McGrane, saying that he agreed with his sentiment “who are we to decide”, asking “yeah, who are we to decide?”
Former TCDSU Education Officer Bev Genockey argued strongly that the decision should be put to the entire student body as a whole through a referendum.
International Student Officer and Chair of TCDSU Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) Implementation Group Zaid Albarghouthi voiced support for the motion, arguing for the benefits of officially adopting a long-term policy.
Albarghouthi said: “The mandate would provide the union with a way to take meaningful steps towards [making this] more of a TCDSU issue than it is at the moment.”
Citing his personal experience with BDS, Albarghouthi said that “a referendum did us well” in terms of bringing a lot of information about a political issue “even more remote than this”.
He added that “a lot of academics in Trinity are part of groups studying the viability of this” and that students should be allowed to contribute to this discussion by putting it to referendum.
STEM Convenor Sean Lysaght said that while “I am in support of Irish unity and reunification… I think we need to be very careful before taking these blanket views”.
“There has been peace in Northern Ireland for 25 years, who are we to bring this up again? In this time of peace when there is movement towards unity, why are we making such a powerful statement?”
At this point it was suggested that the motion be deferred until next Council, where it could be discussed further before being voted on, but this was rejected.
In response to this suggestion, Genockey emphasised that only the resolution to go to referendum mattered, regardless of other arguments made or reasons for doing so.
Postgraduate representative Jeffrey Sardina, who is also vice-president of the PhDs’ Collective Action Union (PCAU) supported the motion for the benefits it would bring for the Irish language movement: “If you want Irish language rights in the North, you need a government that respects Irish language rights.”
Finally, Molnárfí, who seconded the motion, echoed Albarghouthi and pointed to the precedent of the union’s BDS long-term policy, adding that “it reminds [him] of the time that the [students’ union] got embarrassed about the BDS motion that later passed”.
McGrane wrapped up the discussion by emphasising that “it should be put to the student body” and the result of that vote be respected.
Additional reporting by Kate Henshaw, Aidan Cusack, Charlotte Kent, Eva O’Beirne and Shannon Connolly.