UCDSU Propose Constitutional Reform

UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) is set to propose a range of changes to its constitution, and will put a constitutional referendum to students later this semester. The current constitution was introduced by former President, Pat de Brun, during the 2011/2012 academic year.

The biggest proposed change will be the return Campaigns and Communications Officer (C&C) position to the Union. Before the role was abolished, Paddy Guiney served as the last C&C Officer, during the 2012/2013 year. The position includes organising campus and national-based campaigns.

Feargal Hynes, UCDSU President, is hopeful that students will engage with the proposals and vote in the referendum. He said he understood that having a constitutional referendum is not the most “sellable” thing, in light of past turnouts. However, he believes that the return of the C&C Officer will encourage students to vote.

Currently, UCDSU’s part-time Convenors share the role amongst themselves. Originally, UCDSU had hoped that there would be greater accountability if its roles were spread out amongst Convenors. Hynes said that “the part-time officers haven’t been able to supplement the role of the C&C Officer,” and feels that the role would be better placed to achieve one of UCDSU’s main aims, that of greater engagement with the student body.

Alongside the President, there will be four officers; Welfare, Education, Graduate Education, and Campaigns and Communications.  As part of structural changes, C&C would also absorb responsibilities from other Officers. Equality will fall under the C&C position, along with the Campaigns Forum. C&C would also take over as chair of the ENTS forum, and become the official spokesperson for ENTS, a link which UCDSU has been lacking. The Graduate Officer will deal with all matters pertaining to graduate students, including graduate welfare and education issues. The ENTS Manager is set to be renamed the Entertainment and Events Manager, in recognition of the logistical role they play in organising events. It will continue as a professional role.

Also making a return will be the non-binding referendum, known as a “preferendum.” Hynes sees it as a way to gauge the student population’s opinions on “contentious” issues, without having to be tied to the result. There will also be a provision for online voting, which Hynes feels may attract some opposition. Preferendums could be held online, at no great expense. Under the new constitution, there will be a clear distinction between a binding and non-binding referendum.

As part of the reform, Convenor wages will also be abolished. These wages are costing UCDSU approximately €20,000 per year. Part-time Convenors are paid for their work, up to a maximum of ten hours per week at the current minimum wage of €8.65 per hour. Hynes stressed that they are only paid for what they are elected to do. Convenors are entitled to be paid one hour of wages for attending Executive Council.

The savings will be used to finance the wage of the new C&C Officer, who will be paid around €400 per week, the same as the other Sabbatical Officers. This reform proposal has seen support from some Convenors. Conor Rock, Arts Convenor, said that the C&C Officer will take the pressure off the Convenors, allowing “more free time for student engagement.” He said that the idea of Convenor pay is “not a bad one, but it is certainly not a necessity.”

Éanna Ó Braonáin, Irish Language Convenor, said that Convenors were consulted about the move. He said that being paid for their work helped them as they “didn’t have to worry about working as much outside the Union.” For him, removing the Convenor pay is a logical move, as the Convenors will have a lessened workload.

Hynes said that the original decision to remove the C&C position was mainly a financial decision, coming at a time when the Union was struggling with financial issues. He said that he was concerned the SU did not “question everything,” something he noticed after first taking up his role as President, saying they have “often did things because they’ve done it that way.” The Board of Directors conducted a review into staffing structure, finding that wage levels in UCDSU were more than 10% higher than any other Students’ Union in Ireland. Instances of role duplication were also discovered.

A sub-committee of the Board reviewed the report, which was attended by an external, professional HR consultant. The Board then decided that the current system of staffing structures was unsustainable, and made a decision in consideration of the debt level facing UCDSU, which resulted in the termination of the position of UCDSU General Manager, held by Philip Mudge. Hynes defended the decision saying that they “don’t want to get to a stage that we’re not achieving the core aims of the Students’ Union just to be … popular, or just to make the easy decisions. It was about taking the tough choices now for the benefit of the long-term.”

UCDSU will be hosting public consultation meeting over the proposed constitutional changes on Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st January, at 1pm in the Red Room, in the New Student Centre.  Brian Mahon, UCDSU Research and Communications Assistant, explained that this would involve laying out the proposed changes to those in attendance, and expects them to be agreeable with students. However, he did say that UCDSU would take another look at certain proposals if they faced large opposition.