'The more voices we have, the louder we become'
Students have always been good at protesting social issues like abortion access and LGBTQ+ rights but fall down on issues such as education and fees, argues Rachel O'Neill
"Some 6,600 students voting in total is a massive achievement for both sides of the campaign. It’s just a pity that we can’t seem to mobilise the same numbers to fight against fee increases, introduction of income contingent loans or rising accommodation costs." Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
The dust has now settled on Katie Ascough’s impeachment. It was an historic campaign for a number of reasons. It was the first time a UCDSU sabbatical officer has been impeached from office.
A total of 6,572 votes were cast which makes it the biggest turnout in recent UCDSU history and the result itself was pretty substantial; 69 per cent of students wanted Ms Ascough gone. As she said herself before polls closed on Thursday ‘it’s good to see so many students voting’.
In her concession speech Ms Ascough said ‘This is a sad day for me, but it is also a sad day for our university. Universities should be a place of freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of association’. This line in particular has stayed with me since Thursday night. UCD students used a democratic process to remove a democratically elected leader which entails the use of freedom of speech, thought and of association. You cannot make the argument that UCD is undemocratic because it simply isn’t.
However, Ms Ascough wasn’t entirely incorrect because Thursday was a sad day in a way. Over 6,000 students mobilised themselves to remove Katie Ascough from office. Yet, only approximately 30 students showed up the March for Education to protest fee increases and the possibility of income contingent loans.
I am not for one second suggesting that the impeachment referendum wasn’t important or shouldn’t have gone ahead. However, it does make me question why UCD as a student body doesn’t mobilise more because as the impeachment showed us, when we mobile, we can effect some real change.
Student apathy caused Katie Ascough to be elected last March. She received a total of 1,244 first preference votes out of a total of 3,237, half of total votes cast in the impeachment referendum. Why are only 10 per cent of the student body choosing our SU?
Why are students so disillusioned with our SU and college in general? It’s not as if the SU isn’t working for us. Barry Murphy our current C+C Officer managed to get government funding for his accommodation campaign for the first time ever.
Rob Sweeney our current Education Officer has managed to convene a committee to discuss resit and repeat fees. These issues, (particularly resit fees) which students have been calling for someone to deal with years are now being addressed but yet students seem disinterested.
Some 330 students turned up to the March for Choice which is a massive achievement for our SU given the national referendum on abortion that is set to take place next year.
However, UCD students have always been good at protesting social issues like abortion access and LGBTQ+ rights. It is on issues of education, fees and UCD’s projects that we always fall down on.
Fine Gael failed on their promise to put more funding into higher education with just €36 million of the €100 million promised invested. We need to be holding our government to account for this failure because it is us and our children that will suffer from inaction.
Last year it was revealed by the Tribune that UCD had to pay €3 million to China to avoid a diplomatic incident over the controversial Confucius Centre. That €3 million could have been used in so many different ways and yet where was the outrage?
UCD has already spent €340,000 on consulting fees and design plans to relocate President Deeks office into Ardmore House. There are also plans to build a private club that students can’t even access. UCD is turning more and more into a private business, made for profit and not students and yet we just don’t seem to care.
What this impeachment campaign has shown is that when students want their voices to be heard, they vote. Some 6,600 students voting in total is a massive achievement for both sides of the campaign. It’s just a pity that we can’t seem to mobilise the same numbers to fight against fee increases, introduction of income contingent loans or rising accommodation costs.
UCD students must now take a long hard look at themselves and ask why? If we can mobilise ourselves to impeach our own SU president for the first time ever, why can’t we mobilise ourselves to fight fee increases? In 20-30 years time, it’ll be us having to pay these massive fees for our own kids. Surely it is in our best interest to start fighting now?
This is my 5th year in UCD and what happened on Thursday was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. If students care enough, we can actually change things. The more bodies we have, the more voices we have, the louder we become and the harder we are to ignore. It’s time that we held both the UCD president and our own government to the same standards.
Rachel O'Neill editor of UCD's College Tribune