Jan 24, 2022

GSU Accused Postgraduate Workers’ Alliance of ‘Abuse’ During EGM

A confidential report commissioned by the union broadly blames the problems with the EGM on the independent campaign group.

Emer MoreauEditor
Emer Moreau for The University Times

The Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) president and vice president privately blasted the Postgraduate Workers’ Alliance for its members’ conduct at a now-notorious EGM, The University Times has learned, saying that the events of the meeting made them feel “harassed, attacked and disrespected”.

A confidential internal report carried out by the GSU after the meeting, a copy of which was obtained by this newspaper, broadly blames the problems with the EGM on “a small specific group” of postgraduates who “hijacked the meeting”.

The current and former chair of the Alliance have vociferously rebuked the GSU’s version of events, calling into question the motives for compiling the report.


Criticism of President Gisèle Scanlon and Vice President Abhisweta Bhattacharjee was led by the Postgraduate Workers’ Alliance, an independent lobby group which the GSU voted to formally back last year.

Bhattacharjee, who chaired the meeting, said in her testimony that she felt “absolutely bullied, harassed, attacked and disrespected” by the conduct of some attendees in the virtual meeting, though she did not name the Alliance specifically. Scanlon accused the group of displaying “disrespectful behaviour”.

Scanlon blasted “the antics and bizarre efforts” of a handful of members to disrupt the meeting, claiming that members of the Postgraduate Workers’ Alliance took to Twitter to “abuse” her after the meeting.

The report was presented to the Senior Dean last year but the entire contents were redacted by the GSU.

The Capitation Committee suspended the GSU’s funding last year until it dealt with the issues with the EGM. Funding has not been reinstated.

The meeting prompted outrage from many GSU members – issues raised included the use of a voting system that did not verify whether users were actually entitled to vote, and the enacting of a new GSU constitution which did not allow members to vote on individual clauses of the document. Instead, the new constitution was presented in three parts with a vote after each presentation.

The GSU Board received two complaints about the events of the EGM. The former members of the GSU board, after an investigation, said it could not make any “substantive findings” on the EGM as it did not receive “adequate engagement” from Scanlon and Bhattacharjee.

The report said: “We are aware of the fact that this issue has become a highly publicised and indeed a highly politically charged one.” The report’s recommendations aimed to “help the GSU in repairing its good name which has been questioned in recent times by many parties”.

Many attendees protested the decision to disable the chat function on Zoom – they held up handwritten signs to their cameras conveying their disapproval, or changed their names to phrases such as “putsch”, “corrupt” and “this is a coup”. Some used a paint tool to write messages on Bhattacharjee’s screen such as “let people speak”.

She said: “I became increasingly distracted by members drawing on the screen where the slides were being presented and drawing on disrespectful signs. I instantly realised it was an attack. It was a different way of disrupting proceedings, similar to what was done at the November AGM. Not surprisingly, these distractions were brought about by the same people on both occasions.”

At the November AGM, the GSU clashed with the Postgraduate Workers’ Alliance over the results of a survey distributed by the former and designed by the latter. Several attendees of the AGM used the Zoom chat function to criticise Scanlon.

Bhattacharjee said: “The same group of participants changed their names to hostile comments, which, to anyone, can be mentally draining … After the hardwork [sic] the GSU put in for the community the entire year, none of us deserve this.”

Scanlon said in her testimony that she met Tom Dinneen, the then-chair of the Postgraduate Workers’ Alliance, over Zoom with a number of other GSU members in advance of the EGM. “Knowing how confrontational the AGM was for other postgraduates, I wished to avoid this at the EGM”, she said. She added that Dineen requested that a number of motions be removed from the agenda, or for the meeting to be postponed.

The meeting was postponed to meet the requirements in the old GSU constitution to give members 14 days’ notice of a meeting. The motions were not taken off the agenda.

In an email statement to The University Times, Dineen said: “The TCD PGWA did not intentionally disrupt the EGM … Members of the group, who are also members of the GSU, attended the EGM with the intention to speak against some of the motions and to engage in a fair debate. This is within their rights as GSU members.”

“The TCD PGWA, the UT, Trinity News and other upstanding College members are all lambasted and blamed in this report, however, the GSU accepts no responsibility for the disastrous EGM or the litany of constitutional breaches throughout 2020/2021”, Dineen continued. “The TCD PGWA and I have only engaged with the GSU in good faith and in the interests of postgraduates … I feel I have been targeted as I was the chair of the group at that time.”

“It is even more worrying that the GSU views this as appropriate treatment of its members and other upstanding College members”, he said.

Following the meeting, the GSU sent an email to members clarifying the results of the meeting, but had to send a correction email due to an error. Scanlon said in her testimony that she received multiple emails from members of the Alliance, and “members of the group took to Twitter to abuse me”.

Dineen said describing the Alliance’s conduct as abuse was “a completely false characterisation”.

“These are serious and false allegations of upstanding College members and should not be tolerated by College or capitations”, he said.

The external examiner of the report, who is not named, said in their recommendations that “I have no option but to recommend that the GSU Executive and indeed the College as a whole look into this harassment and examine what they can do to protect their students from such scurrilous and perhaps actionable behaviour”.

The examiner said that the alleged constitutional breaches at the EGM “have not been proven and no evidence has been shown bar hearsay”. They recommended that “an investigation is launched into the treatment of the Executive by the PGWA” and “protocols are designed in which Executive Officers can make complaints through College in relation to their treatment”.

The Alliance’s current Chair Conor Reddy told The University Times in an email that allegations of intentional disruption during the meeting “could not be further from the truth”.

“As members of the GSU, all attendees had a basic right to participate in democratic debate at the EGM”, Reddy wrote, “but this was denied when the Chair refused to allow members to speak at the meeting. When concerns were raised about the stifling of debate and about the conduct of certain votes, the meeting’s online chat function was disabled. This was an affront to democracy and accountability within the Union”.

“TCD PGWA find it deeply regrettable that postgraduate students have been left without a functional representative union as a result of the actions of the GSU President, Vice President and others on the Union’s leadership. We absolutely reject the allegation that any of our criticism of the Union Leadership was personalised, intimidating or in bad faith and we see the publication of this most recent report as an attack on our campaign, its members and working postgraduates within College.”

The Alliance, Reddy continued, is “a campaigning Alliance whose sole purpose is to improve the conditions of working postgraduates in Trinity. Our organisation is diverse, open and in no way seeks to undermine the GSU, an organisation that we believe to be critical to the realisation of our goals and the welfare of all postgraduate students at TCD”.

In a statement to this newspaper, Scanlon said: ​​“I have given no public statement on this to date, and as someone who has supported many students though difficult situations, I believe that when any student speaks about their experience in confidence it should be treated as such.”

Sign Up to Our Weekly Newsletters

Get The University Times into your inbox twice a week.