The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) will no longer provide the Irish Times with comments or interviews, after its annual congress voted in favour of a boycott of the newspaper.
After a tense debate, Congress voted to back the Trans Writers’ Union boycott of the paper due to its publication of an op-ed with the headline: “Bill to ban conversion therapy poses problems for therapists.”
Speaking in favour of the motion, Jenny Maguire of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union pointed to the British media’s increasing coverage of trans people, saying that it has “directly led to an increased scrutiny of trans people in their day to day [lives]”.
“When the UK catches a cold, Ireland usually starts to sniffle”, Maguire said. She added that that the Irish Times had “given voice to hateful rhetoric”.
“I, as a trans woman, am not up for debate”, she said. “It is incredibly naive … to think that the Irish media will not go the way of the British press.”
“Stand with trans people. Stand with the Trans Writers’ Union”, she said.
Having voted previously at Comhairle Náisiúnta to implement an interim boycott of the Irish Times, #USI22 Comhdháil has now voted in favour of a motion mandating the USI Coiste Gnó to boycott the paper in solidarity with the Trans Writers Union
— Union of Students in Ireland (@TheUSI) April 12, 2022
Speaking against the motion, Fionn Collins of TU Dublin Students’ Union said he did not believe a boycott was the best way to empower trans students. He said the Irish Times had written about him and his experience as a trans man several times and it would be more productive for USI to seek to “change the views of the Irish Times“.
Sierra Müller-Owens, the TCDSU Welfare and Equality Officer and the sole candidate for USI Vice President for the Dublin Region, spoke in favour of the motion. She said: “There are very few times in our lives where we have an opportunity to directly and collectively take action against bigotry and hatred. And I think we are in one of those very rare times.”
Before all speakers had contributed, a procedural motion was raised to put the boycott to a vote. Vice President for Campaigns and sole presidential candidate Beth O’Reilly spoke in favour of the procedural motion, arguing the debate had become “incredibly heavy” and continuing “could be more harm than good”.
“Most people in the room know their opinions on this [already]”, O’Reilly said.
The text of the motion stated that “the student movement on the island of Ireland exists to promote and defend the rights of all students studying across third-level colleges and this extends to that of all transgender students”.
“This boycott will include, but is not limited to the refusal to take interviews for the Irish Times by all officers of the union [and] the severing of any and all relations between the union and the Irish Times.”
In an email statement to The University Times, Séamus Dooley, the Assistant General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists said: “The freedom not to buy a newspaper is a matter of individual choice. Boycotts by retail outlets deny consumers that choice.”
A boycott, he continued, “would have implications for many publications and radio stations which, although owned by the Irish Times, operate independently of the Irish Times newspaper. The independent exercise of editorial judgement is important and individual editors do not operate a ‘whip’ system on any issue”.
“Readers who disagree with editorial content can make complaints to the Press Council and can exercise their individual right not to buy a newspaper. From time to time individuals and groups can feel genuinely aggrieved and hurt by particular opinions or reports. Minority groups deserve to be treated with respect.”