Slim vote points UCD out of USI
Students in UCD have voted to disaffiliate from USI by the narrowest of margins. Only nine votes separated the two sides following a recount in the university on Friday. Just over 4,300 students voted in the referendum, held last Thursday. After the first count on Thursday, UCD students had voted in favour of disaffiliation by only seven votes. Later, an extra vote in favour of disaffiliation was found in a ballot box, bringing the margin up to eight votes. A recount was duly called for Friday by the returning officer, Rossa Fanning. Fanning brought in a barrister to advise him and both the pro and anti-disaffiliation sides were assisted by experienced electoral staff. Following the recount, the margin in favour of disaffiliation had risen by one to nine votes.
USI had campaigned strongly during the week of the referendum, concentrating on the issue of national representation and campaigning hard in outlying faculties. The agriculture faculty, not usually known as a hotbed of student political activism, reportedly polled almost 270 votes, of which over 240 were in favour of remaining in USI.
UCD had previously held a referendum on USI membership in 1993, when 63 per cent voted in favour of remaining in USI.
The decision to disaffiliate means that UCD will leave USI next July, though the UCD students' union has said that a second referendum could be held if certain changes to the national organisation are introduced, including a greater focus on research and campaigning and a reconsideration of its regionalisation policy. If UCD does not vote to reaffiliate before July - and it is widely believed that a second referendum will be impossible to arrange in time - it will deprive USI of about £40,000 in affiliation fees, more than 15 per cent of the national union's total annual income.
USI receives about £250,000 each year, a combination of £2.50 in affiliation from each full-time student (part-time students pay a reduced fee) and £1 from every USIT card sold. The disaffiliation vote also leaves most of the university sector - TCD, UCC, UL, Maynooth and now UCD, a total of almost 50,000 students - outside the national union. Of the universities, only DCU and the University of Galway remain in membership; there are rumours that USI could also face a referendum campaign in DCU.
Two questions now remain for UCD. The first is the destination of the USI affiliation fee after disaffiliation. UCD students' union says this money should go back to the union, a position detailed in the wording of last week's referendum - though it is unclear if the university's governing authority will concur with the spirit of the referendum vote.
The other question is one of national representation. There are moves afoot to formalise existing arrangements between the non-affiliated universities in an effort to create a representational body for university students, which it is hoped would be recognised by the Department of Education. It is now a matter for UCD students' union to decide whether or not to ally itself which such a body.
College News is compiled by John Connolly