Mar 11, 2020

USI Deputy President Resigns After Burkean Controversy

Michelle Byrne wrote that it is 'with deepest regrets that I tender my resignation as Deputy President and Vice President of Campaigns in the Union of Students in Ireland'.

Donal MacNameeEditor

Michelle Byrne, the deputy president of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), has resigned from her position, in the wake of revelations that she had appeared willing to hand over the names of right-wing activists to a purported anti-fascist group that said it wanted to “slap them around”.

In a letter to USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick, dated today, Byrne wrote: “With deepest regrets that [sic] I tender my resignation as Deputy President and Vice President of Campaigns in the Union of Students in Ireland.”

On Sunday, Fitzpatrick confirmed to The University Times that USI had launched an investigation after Byrne appeared to tell students associated with right-wing publication the Burkean – posing as members of an anti-fascist group – that she would pass on the names of particular students so that they could then be placed on a “watch list”.


A statement from USI’s executive team said that the “Union of Students in Ireland has today accepted the resignation of the Vice President of Campaigns”.

“The former Vice President for Campaigns recognises that she showed a willingness to engage in activities which fall far short of the standards of probity and transparency members expect from USI officers”, the statement said.

“We would like to thank the Vice President for Campaigns for her work towards achieving this mission. These values are central to our mission to support and represent the interests of students without fear or favour.”

In her letter to Fitzpatrick, Byrne wrote that “I believe that the important work of the Union of Students in Ireland will only be overshadowed if I remain in post”.

She added: “My actions were driven by a concern and anxiety around the direction of society in modern Ireland. It will always be my desire for Ireland to move in a more progressive direction.”

On Saturday evening, the Burkean – which has been condemned for articles promoting racism, antisemitism and eugenics – published a recording of a conversation of a conversation with Byrne, in which she said that “this phone call basically never happened”.

On the call, the person posing as a member of Irish Students Against Fascism told Byrne that “when you supply names, we can pass it onto people that could slap them around”.

“Absolutely”, she responded. “No, that’s good, and I could probably send on a couple.”

In her letter to Fitzpatrick today, Byrne wrote that “we live in an age where the phrase ‘social justice’ is seen as an ideal that is to be scorned or opposed and seems no longer to be part of respectable public discourse”.

“What I have learned over the past week”, she wrote, “is that we need to redouble our efforts to champion and protect the more marginalised in society, such as those in the direct provision system”.

She added: “It’s been an honour to serve as not only Vice President for Campaigns in this organisation but also your Deputy President, making USI history as the first time two women have led the organisation as President and Deputy, a trend of which I hope to see more often.”

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