The Oversight Commission (OC) has ruled that the voter registration Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) campaign calling on students to vote against the current government, is unconstitutional.
It comes after the Electoral Commission (EC) referred the contents of the campaign material to the OC last week, considering the messaging to be potentially “problematic”.
The material in question, a poster featuring the faces of the leaders of the three government parties, read: “They think students are too busy to vote. Prove them wrong. Vote them out”.
The campaign was launched this afternoon by TCDSU President László Molnárfi and Citizenship Officer Ella MacLennan.
The EC deemed the campaign to be “incompatible” with section 1.4 of the TCDSU Constitution, which states that the union must remain neutral and independent of any political ideology or party.
The ruling, seen by Trinity News, states: “An official TCDSU poster campaign containing the phrase “Vote them out”, in reference to the government party leaders does constitute an official statement of the union’s position on those parties and politicians and is therefore a breach of [section] 1.4.”
The OC also determined that the use of the first TCDSU campaigns email of the academic year by Molnárfi, calling on students to “come out and demand the end of the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil-Greens coalition”, also breached the constitution, saying it “goes beyond what is [in] line with the aims of principles of the union”.
The voter registration campaign was brought to the attention of the EC last week, with the Commission clarifying in its report that it would be acceptable to run a poster featuring the first two sentences alongside imagery of the party leaders as it concerns “the government’s approach and policy [towards] student engagement in politics”.
“With such a poster, it is clear that the campaign would be focusing on specific issues relevant to the aims and principles of the union outlined in Chapter 1.4 of the Constitution,” the EC said.
However, it concluded that the use of the phrase “vote them out” would be “problematic”, and could be interpreted as an “overarching political argument”, thus putting it in breach of the aforementioned chapter of the TCDSU Constitution.
As a result, the EC said it would refer the potential breach to the OC for “further consideration and possible action if it is deemed necessary”.
“If a breach of [the Constitution] has occurred, it is a matter for the Oversight Commission to determine in accordance with Chapter 5.3.5(c) of the Constitution,” the EC clarified.
According to the TCDSU constitution, the aims of the union must be achieved “independent of any political, racial or religious ideology”.
The anti-government voting campaign encourages students to register to vote, noting the government has done “undeniable harm to our communities”.
Following the campaign launch, Molnárfi said: “Being neutral and lobbying them is not enough – we must, at the next general election, boot them out of power, remove them from their positions, every single last one of them.”
“The time for respectability, lobbying and sitting down with the Ministers for a cup of coffee is over. This government deserves to be called out at every possible occasion, wherever they go. Their representatives deserve to be held accountable in a public way, exposed, shamed and embarrassed in the press.”
Molnárfi and other union members have also campaigned to change the current wording of the union’s constitution to make it more explicitly political.
A petition to change the current wording to one that states the union will achieve its aims “in a radical, egalitarian and autonomous way” reached the necessary signatures to go to a student-wide referendum, due to happen later this semester.
The proposed wording also clarifies the union will “not affiliate with far-right groups, including, but not limited to, white supremacists and Christian extremists”.
A motion to change the constitution was previously brought to the TCDSU council, but failed to reach the necessary 60% support.