Designing a blueprint for battle
MY EDUCATION WEEK:John Logue, president of USI, on a week spent persuading Trinity students to stay in the union, and planning for Budget 2013
SUNDAYThis week could define our year. First, the students of Trinity College will decide if they want their students’ union to remain affiliated with the Union of Students in Ireland. There’s no getting around the fact that losing Trinity would be a serious blow to the organisation and its political credibility. Second, by the end of this week we have to decide on our pre-budget campaign plan. The blueprint for battle. If it isn’t up to scratch, our members will hold us to account.
Normally, I look forward to Sunday evening. USI officers almost invariably work six-day weeks, so Sunday evening is a brief period of rest before the hectic schedule resumes. But not this Sunday. There’s so much to do and even more to think about. I doubt there’ll be much rest between now and December 6th. The highs of Donegal lifting Sam two weeks ago are a distant memory.
MONDAYUSI officers hit the cobblestones of Trinity College. Last year some Trinity students objected to the way USI pursued its policy goals. They felt their views weren’t being reflected in the national union and questioned their affiliation with it. Our mission is simple: show them that they’re better off with USI.
I finish canvassing early and begin preparations for an affiliation debate organised by the Philosophical Society and the University Times, one of the college’s student newspapers. The theatre is packed and the atmosphere is tense. The advocates for disaffiliation speak well, but we counter effectively. This debate won’t decide the referendum result. Tomorrow we will hit the cobblestones again.
TUESDAYWaking up this morning, the only things on the schedule were an engagement at Áras an Uachtaráin with President Higgins, pre-budget planning and canvassing in TCD. USI is supporting the President’s “Being Young and Irish” initiative, and he invited us to the Áras to thank us for our support. However, like most days in USI, the schedule was quickly torn up by events.
News broke that Clare Co Council was sending letters to students who had applied for a maintenance grant, asking them to provide proof of payment of the household charge. If students didn’t provide this documentation, the council would delay the processing of the application and possibly withhold the grant altogether. The council was essentially victimising students for the decisions of their parents. For students whose college term had already begun, this could result in significant stress in paying fees and rent.
Within half an hour we had organised a protest outside Clare County Council offices, with busloads of students travelling from NUIG, GMIT and UL to lend their support. I did back-to-back radio interviews, on national and local stations. President Higgins’s communications director was even kind enough to let me use her office to take a call from Matt Cooper on Today FM.
The word was out: students would not accept this. By day’s end the county councils had backed down.
WEDNESDAYWith the council debacle behind us, it was time to prepare for my first official meeting with Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn. Scheduled weeks in advance, our meeting with the Minister would set the tone for negotiations with the department in the run-up to the budget.
In the months leading up to my election, I began doing my homework on Ruairí Quinn and quickly concluded that any campaign that targeted him alone would be ineffective. Having spent decades in public service, Quinn has signalled that he may not run for re-election, thus neutralising a representative group’s most potent weapon: removal of voter support. He was also a minister for finance, so our arguments would have to be logical and financially viable and could not rely on evoking sympathy from him and his team.