Students could be given the option to disassociate from Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), according to a draft proposal put forward by the union’s constitutional review working group.
The draft constitution will be brought to Union Forum and TCDSU council, and could then be brought to a referendum.
The draft document contains a rake of changes to how the union operates, including new provisions to deal with officer absences at TCDSU council and changes to the relationship between the union and The University Times.
Chapter one of the draft text states: “Any member may disassociate from the Union by notifying the Secretary of the Electoral Commission in writing of their wish not to be a Member of the Union.”
However, it also says that “the Union shall provide services for all Registered Students of the University without discrimination based on membership of the Union”.
Eligibility to vote in union elections or referendums would be restricted to TCDSU members. Only members would be eligible to stand for election.
Under the new proposed constitution, all part-time officer (PTO) positions must be renewed every two years. It also includes provisions for “non-campaign” PTOs, who would deal with matters such as union graphics.
The chairs of the Electoral Commission and Oversight Commission would be considered officers of the union – known as the Electoral and Oversight Commissioner. The Electoral Commissioner would serve as the chair of council and the Oversight Commissioner would be the secretary to council.
It also includes three new executives: Operations, Campaigns and the “Joint Executive”. The Operations Executive would comprise all sabbatical officers and all faculty convenors, as well as the electoral and oversight commissioners as non-voting members. Its role would be to “assist and advise on the management of the services of the union”, “formulate policy to be discussed at Council” and “foster relations with other external bodies with a view to maintaining and improving the Union’s services”.
The Campaigns Executive would “assist and advise the President in setting campaign strategy”, as well as formulating policy on TCDSU campaigns to be discussed at council.
All sabbatical officers and “any additional Part-Time Officers appointed by Council” would sit on the Campaigns Executive as voting members.
The Joint Executive would “act as a joint meeting of the Campaigns Executive and Operations Executive”. It would “review the overall operation of the Union”, “review and approve the budgets of Union Bodies”, “review and approve the budget of the University Times” and propose motions for council.
All sabbatical officers, faculty convenors and all other voting members of the Campaigns Executive would sit on the Joint Executive.
An addition in Chapter five – governance – would give the chair of union bodies the power to “eject” an attendee who is, “in the opinion of the chair, disrupting the ability of the body to conduct business”.
The draft chapter six, commissions, sees the structure of the electoral commission (EC) changed. The EC currently comprises the chair of council, the education officer, two biennial ordinary members and four annual ordinary members. The proposed draft would see the EC consist of the chair of the EC, the secretary to the EC, five ordinary members and the education officer as a non-voting member.
Chapter eight, which concerns voting in elections and referendums, includes a change on how bye elections are run where there are no initial nominees: currently, if nominations close with no valid nominees, the first person to submit a valid nomination is deemed elected. Under the proposed changes, nominations would remain open for one week after the first valid nomination is received.
The structure of TCDSUs long-term policy would also change: currently, long-term policy does not expire, but it is proposed that such policies expire after four years. There are also new provisions for the nullification of long-term policy.
The proposed constitution also expands the chapter concerning The University Times. If this chapter is voted in, TCDSU support for the newspaper will be ”given on the condition of the University Times meeting their obligations” under section 11.2, which concerns the paper’s budget.
The draft also includes an obligation for The University Times to produce a charter which lays out the organisational structure of the paper and its editorial policies. It also adds a Board of Advisors to the paper, comprising the editor, a University Times staff member and between four and seven additional members.
The Board of advisors ”shall once per annum produce a report on the economy and efficiency of The University Times in the use of its resources, on the effectiveness of its operations, and on any relevant issues arising regarding The University Times”.
The constitutional review working group has been tasked with reviewing the current TCDSU constitution. Its terms of reference state that the review is being carried out in line with the 2019 to 2023 strategic plan.
The group was due to produce a report and a proposed new constitution by January 31st of this year, but its deadline was extended to July 1st.
A motion was passed at TCDSU council last April which extended the deadline by six months.
The University Times reported last week that the group’s final report was incomplete, and its members are still writing the remainder of the report despite the group having disbanded.
The group was originally tasked with producing a review and, “should it see fit”, propose a new constitution to be voted on alongside the 2021 TCDSU sabbatical officer elections.
Minutes of the first meeting indicate that the review group was considering the creation of a “totally new document”.
“Should treat as starting as scratch. Nothing is holdover until we decide it is, and nothing at all should be directly copied – improvements can be made everywhere”, Cian Walsh, the then secretary to council, said at the meeting, according to the minutes.
The TCDSU president chaired the group and the secretary to council was its secretary.
The TCDSU education officer and chair of council sat on the group, as well as three ordinary members selected by application, three ordinary members selected by council and one ordinary member selected by the chair.
The ordinary members selected by appointment were Eoin Forde, Isabelle O’Connor and Leon Caroll. The ordinary members selected by council were Daniel O’Reilly, Mia Brzakovic and Liam Kavanagh.
The administrative officer of the union and the remaining sabbatical officers also attended the meetings.
A majority of those on the last constitutional review working group, which led to 2014 changes to the constitution, were external or non-members of the union. They included then-President of the Union of Students in Ireland Joe O’Connor and former TCDSU officers, including 2010/11 president Nikolai Trigoub-Rotnem and 2011/12 welfare officer Luisa Miller.
This year’s group, however, had no external members.
Applications from students for ordinary member positions were assessed by the president and education officer.
The group’s minutes were submitted to council and the president gave a verbal report to the minutes as a discussion item.
Meetings were held on an ad-hoc basis and the president could invite members or employees of the union to “participate in a specific agenda item”.
The group must also “invite written testimony from any member of the union who wishes to contribute” and “individually engage, in whatever form they deem appropriate, with every member of the Union Forum to gather detailed testimony”.
In September 2017, TCDSU announced plans to review its constitution, with hopes of bringing any proposed changes to a referendum that February. However, the referendum never took place.
Speaking to The University Times in 2017, then-TCDSU President Kevin Keane said that the process would not be a “sabbat-led project”. The union, he said, would advertise the opportunity to the wider student body, allowing people to get involved in the future of the union.
Speaking to The University Times at the time, former TCDSU Education Officer Jack Leahy spoke about the importance of getting input from multiple sources including past officers, current students and the current sabbatical officers themselves.
Leahy carried out the most recent review of the union’s constitution in late 2013, which included an amendment that led to the separation of the roles of editor of The University Times and TCDSU communications officer.
Pointing out that the constitution is particularly “robust and well thought through”, Leahy praised the proposed 2018 review, citing the union’s evolution over the past number of years.
Leahy added that it was a “real struggle” to get students involved in the process, but that it was vital to do so. This was also one of the main issues that he had with his own review, he said in 2018.
Correction: 9:06am, July 5th, 2021
An earlier version of this article stated that students who disassociate from TCDSU may not be refunded the cost of their membership fees. In fact, students do not pay membership fees directly to the union. TCDSU receives funding from College’s Capitations Committee