Welcome to the UT blog of USI Congress 2012. In case you don’t know what USI Congress, it’s the annual meeting of delegations from each of USI’s constituent organisations (or member colleges). It’s the main policy-making instrument of the organisation and it’s where USI’s sabbatical officers are elected.
In this blog we hope to document the events of the coming days, with discussion of the more contentious motions, commentary on the elections and a report on how USI’s performance this year has been judged by colleges from around the country.
The highlight of the week’s schedule will be President Michael D. Higgins’ address to Congress on Wednesday at 11am. Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn was scheduled to address Congress, but cancelled last week despite efforts to accommodate his busy schedule. This cancellation is a sore point for USI President Gary Redmond, who contrasted Quinn’s willingness to participate in photo opportunities with USI before the General Election with his current policy of dodging tough questioning from USI’s members.
Looking at today’s schedule, the highlight of the day will be the election hustings, which begin at 4pm this evening, to be followed by an address from the President of NUSUK (USI’s UK equivalent) Liam Burns. A discussion of the preferendum on third level funding will then begin at 7.15pm, to be followed by a debate between the two candidates for USI President, DIT’s Ciarán Nevin and UCD’s John Logue.
The discussion of the preferendum motion (on which delegates will be asked to vote tomorrow, will likely prove contentious. While Trinity’s vote is bound to a student loan scheme, other Students’ Unions will come to the debate with vastly different political viewpoints and ideologies and may view the notion of any compromise on lobbying for 100% exchequer funding as a capitulation to current government policy.
As Congress begins, some signs emerging already that both the Presidential election and preferendum will be divisive. John Logue election posters adorn the walls and doors outside the conference hall, with no sign of similar election materials from Nevin, who has fared poorly with colleges who have already decided to vote as a block. Logue has an advantage heading into this contest. However, vocal opposition to Logue has already arisen as RON posters were put up by a representative from Galway. The posters made specific reference to Logue’s alleged party political allegiance. As the posters directly targeted a candidate, they were taken down by the Election Committee.
Congress was opened by an RSA Animate-style video, going through the 50 year history of USI from a pro-USI view point. Redmond then admonished Minister Ruairí Quinn for cancelling his scheduled appearance at Congress. ‘Minister, why won’t you come and explain yourself,’ asked Redmond as he berated the Minister for ducking hard questions regarding the pledge he signed to block a rise in fees and protect the grants from further cuts.
As Congress resumes after the break for dinner, President of NUSUK Liam Burns begins his address to Congress. After this, we get into what will be the meatiest debate of the entire week – the preferendum on third level funding. With two large television screens on each side of the conference room displaying tweets that carry the USI12 hash tag, the bitter divide between the left and the centre is already evident and is fully expected to spill from the the Twitter feed onto the speakers’ stage.
[Written at 9:57am the next day] Anyone hoping for a contentious and passionate debate on the funding preferendum were not disappointed. The room seemed evenly split between those proposing various options in the motion and those who wanted the motion referred back for additional work to be done on it before Congress could support any of the options.
UCDSU President Pat de Brún argued for a graduate tax, as did USI President Gary Redmond. TCDSU President Ryan Bartlett argued for a student loan scheme, pursuant to the result of Trinity’s preferendum on the matter. DITSU argued for the student contribution option, as did IADT. Representatives from NUI Galway, UCC and NUI Maynooth argued for the motion to be referred back to national council, saying that students had not been properly consulted on the question and that any vote which would change the the current USI policy on funding would be undemocratic. In the end, the latter got their way and the issue of third level funding was not voted on.