Explainer: Union of Students in Ireland

The organisation works to provide students with a collective voice

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) is a student-led organisation which provides representation to over 370,000 third level students on the island of Ireland.

The organisation is funded by the students’ unions of its over 40 member institutions, including Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU). USI uses its collective strength to campaign for students across a wide variety of issues.

USI policy is created by representatives sent by their respective students’ unions. Each institution’s union is assigned a number of representatives apportioned to the size of its student body. TCDSU is currently represented by 20 delegates in USI.

These delegates form the USI Congress which the group describes as the “supreme policy making body of the Union.” This congress is also responsible for establishing USI principles, amending the organisation’s constitution, and electing all members of the USI Executive Team excluding the NUS-USI president. Members of this team are paid a salary which is matched to a predetermined grade in the Irish Civil Service.

This group, in addition to a representative from each member institution, forms USI’s National Council. According to USI this council is required to meet at least 8 times per year and is responsible for implementing “effective campaigns to protect and advance the interests of students in terms of the education system and society.”

USI’s past campaigns

USI’s previous campaigns have sought to combat issues ranging from underfunded mental health supports to discrimination against LGBTQ+ peoples. The group’s main focus, however, is on the cost of attending college, and the cost of and difficulty in securing accommodation.

The union’s most notable actions in recent times have come in the form of the Cost of College campaign. This broader campaign can be divided into the No Keys, No Degrees campaign, and the F*ck the Fees campaign.

These campaigns make a variety of demands such as the abolition of the €3000 student contribution charge, the reform of the SUSI grant system, and the funding and planning of more affordable purpose-built student accommodation.

Budget 2023 saw the Student Contribution Charge temporarily reduced by €1000, this move was criticised by USI who argued that the change should have been a step toward permanently abolishing the charge.

Many students will also remember USI’s National Walkout. During this walkout, thousands of students gathered in third level institutions across the country in order to share their experiences. This included thousands gathering in Trinity’s front square to demand improved conditions for students, and an immediate eviction ban. 

USI’s future

This year USI will be led by former Munster Technological University (MTU) Students’ Union President Chris Clifford.

Students’ unions around the country struggle with engagement and USI is no different. Clifford says that his top priority for the year will be increasing engagement with students in order to allow for more effective policy making.

Clifford’s efforts to attract the attention of students have been apparent since the start of his campaign. The new president’s manifesto was titled Da Manifesto and attempted to attract students through comedic promises such as fees proportionate to people’s heights in solidarity with “short kings” and a return of €13 Tesco vodka.

The lack of a serious manifesto may leave some wondering if Clifford lacks the skills required to implement meaningful change. This concern was highlighted in an open letter by TCDSU President László Molnárfi which asked Clifford if he has plans to publish a “real manifesto”. While Clifford’s methods are unorthodox, it is important to recognise that he is an experienced student politician. It is also notable that the MTU’s Students’ Union has the highest level of engagement in the country.

The new president believes that union politics have a tendency to be overly political and hopes to show students that the focus is on them and their issues.

Clifford is joined by a team of vice presidents including TCDSU’s Zaid Albarghouthi who will serve as Vice President for Campaigns. It is also notable that the positions of Vice President for the Border, Midlands and Western Region, and Vice President for the Irish Language have not yet been filled. These positions will likely be filled in future by-elections.

Alan Nolan Wilson

Alan Nolan Wilson is the current News Analysis Editor of Trinity News, and a Junior Sophister Geography and History student. He previously served as Correspondent for College.