On Monday 19th November, UCDSU held their final meeting of Council for this semester. The ‘Town Hall’ style, chosen over a more formal Council gathering, was deliberate and allowed for a number of special guests to address Union representatives. Unveiling a draft document which the Student Body will vote on in sabbatical elections in March 2019, representatives from the Union’s Constitutional Review Group (CRG) outlined their proposal for a new UCDSU Constitution.
The members of the CRG that addressed the Council were Virgin News journalist and former-Deputy Editor of The University Observer Gavan Reilly, Chair of the Board of Directors of UCD Students’ Union CLG Ciara Reilly, and UCDSU Office Manager Deirdre Carr. Their review is complete – but what are some of the most significant recommendations?
Many will note, in particular, the return of an Entertainments Officer to the sabbatical team. Members of the CRG explained on the night that, although an additional sabbatical officer is a direct cost, it is preferably to hiring a full-time staff member to run the Union’s events at a greater cost. Additionally, it is hoped that the presence of a full-time Ents will ultimately pay for itself by running events and foster a greater sense of community on campus.
Making a return to the Union is the Entertainments Forum, headed by the Ents Officer and made up by 6 positions including a Production Officer, a Promotions Officer, a Non-Alcoholic Events Officer and a RAG (Raise And Give) Committee Coordinator. Notably, the Ents Forum will take up seats in the Union Council, which will in turn be tasked with mandating their activities. All Ents Forum members will be required to submit reports to the Council twice per semester. Union Council would be entitled to alter the positions on the Ents Forum but may not reduce the number of positions below four or increase them above ten.
The draft constitution would make it slightly more difficult to impeach a sitting sabbatical officer. The proportion of signatures needed from Union members to kickstart an impeachment referendum would increase to 7.5 per cent from 5 per cent, meaning that any future petition would need roughly 2,000 signatures.
This is seen as a guard against a potential ‘domino effect’, whereby impeachment referendums become more common into the future. Furthermore, the Union’s Returning Officer would be obliged to provide a petitioner with a petition template, ensuring that all signatures gathered are valid and avoiding a repeat of last year’s first, invalid petition to impeach Katie Ascough.
Additionally, for any future constitutional or impeachment referendum to pass, 12.5 per cent of the student body would need to have cast a valid vote.
The Campaigns Forum would see a new addition in the form of a Diversity & Inclusion Coordinator. While, the Union’s current constitution allows for a Gender Equality Coordinator and LGBTQ+ Coordinator, this new position would see the chosen Officer promote diversity on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion and culture.
This is largely down to efforts by former-UCDSU Presidential candidate Rosaleen Aljohmani, who, at the last Council meeting of 2017/2018, called for a more formal position for the Ethnic Diversity Officer. In a speech given at the time, Aljohmani stated that she was given the position “because she was the only person of colour” and that such a position would combat the “horrible, horrible results from some people’s ignorance”.
The Sports & Societies Coordinator, a position which usually remains vacant in the Campaigns Forum from year to year, would be abolished under the proposed constitution. Union Council would also be given the opportunity to form no more than 2 new coordinator positions which would continue until the end of the final Council meeting of the academic year. This would expand the Council’s role in reacting to political circumstance.
Notably, the Education and Welfare Officers would be required by the draft constitution to run at least two campaigns relevant to their portfolios throughout the year, in conjunction with the Campaigns & Engagements Officer. The C&E Officer will effectively replace the current Campaigns & Communications Officer.
In some ways, the CRG’s draft constitution is a much needed housekeeping exercise, clearing up a number of operational uncertainties that could have lead to explosive results.
For example, under the current constitution, it does not stipulate whether the total number of valid votes is to include spoiled votes. On the surface, this uncertainty may seem trivial, however in a closely impeachment referendum, it could easily prompt a constitutional challenge, resulting in an endless debate over whether a sabbatical was properly impeached. The draft constitution makes clear that only valid votes cast would count towards the 12.5 per cent needed to pass a constitutional or impeachment referendum or the 10 per cent needed for a policy referendum.
Without a simple correction, the current constitution opens the Union’s Returning Officer to criticisms of bias and unfair decision-making in such a situation, unlikely as it may be.
Other tweaks to the constitution include placing the onus of minute-keeping and publication of in Council and Exec meetings on the President, allowing for the appointment of a Secretary for this purpose. This might encourage future Presidents to properly account for Council records following a dearth of Council minutes over the last number of years. The University Observer has previously reported that numerous minutes, budgets and executive reports to Council remain unpublished.
In addition to the abolition of the role of Stream Representative, the size of the Class Rep constituency is to be lowered from 170 to 120. This will mean an increase in the number of Class Reps.
Amendments made to articles concerning the Independent Appeals and Disciplinary Board (IADB) make it clear that there is no further right of appeal to its decisions. The CRG believes that this should insulate the Union against any recourse to the Irish courts following a determination.
Changes are also being proposed to the publication of The University Observer, which is funded by UCDSU. The new constitution proposes that the paper be published “at least once every four weeks” as opposed to the current three week requirement. The position of Deputy Editor is given constitutional standing for the first time, as is the role of Designer. A financial allocation would be presented to the Editor by the Board of Directors and the Editor would then be required to put a fully-costed budget forward to the Board. The draft constitution would require the Editor and Deputy Editor to undergo relevant training in the summer period, which is not required under the current constitution.