In a campus referendum special Politics editor Oisín MacCanna and Editor Jack Power sat down with both sides of the campaign to get their views, motivations and arguments. Representing the Yes side, to change the UCD Students’ Union position on abortion from pro-choice to neutral was UCD students Donal Lynch and Christine Doyle.
Lynch, a second year Science student, said the referendum was about getting “fair representation for all students, a neutral stance represents all students fairly, it doesn’t take any bias for one side or the other.” He continued to say “this particular issue is very contentious at the minute. in my personal experience if I’m talking to somebody about this issue, a lot of the time the response that I get is – it’s a very sensitive topic, and I don’t actually have a decision on it yet. If that’s what people are saying I think personally that its mad the SU have such a one sided stance on it.”
“This particular issue is very contentious at the minute … it’s mad the SU have such a one sided stance on it.”
When asked if the referendum to change the SU’s position on abortion was due to the current stance diverging from their own views, or if they personally were pro-life the two representatives stated they felt their own personal beliefs were not relevant to the debate. “Regardless of personal opinion we all want fair representation from UCD, I don’t think personal opinion matters per se” said Donal Lynch.
He continued, “I think everyone in UCD deserves to be fairly represented, whatever stance you may take on it personally, if you vote Yes to this every UCD will be fairly represent in it because we will have the neutral stance. And as well again from the information that we garnered when we were getting our signatures, it is on the minds of the students. And the students themselves would like this to go through”.
“Everyone in UCD deserves to be fairly represented, whatever stance you may take on it personally”
The Yes side have built on from the original ‘UCD Students for Fair Representation’ group who formed to gain the required 927 student signatures to call a campus referendum on the SU’s policy stance. Christine Doyle spoke about their campaign to gain the required signatures, stating it showed there was a definite level of support behind what they were trying to do. She said that in “under the two weeks we got 1,000 signatures really really quickly so it clearly something that is important to students.”
Christine continued so argue that “universities should provide a platform for this kind of debate, and intellectual discussion. I think if you’re only hearing one voice that’s not a true representation of what universities are supposed to provide for students.”
Both representatives from the Yes side felt the main feature of the coming campaign should be that each sides is respected and an orderly debate is allowed to take place on campus. Lynch was critical of previous abortion debates or talks that have been held in UCD and the toxic or heated atmosphere the issue can create. Recalling past debates on the issue he stated, “they’re violent, people had to be taken out the back entrance of Theatre O in Newman once because things had gotten so heated. We don’t need that on campus, we need fair debate, and we need orderly debate.”
He continued, “I do find on this position we’ve been campaigning for, there have been a lot of scaremongering tactics being used from particular individuals on the other side. It can be quite a hostile environment to campaign in … I can’t say that I personally have been attacked. But I have seen other people being attacked.”
Lynch’s main criticism of the Students Union’s current pro-choice policy stance was that it alienates opposing views on the topic from the student body. “It’s your classic case of groupthink to be honest, groupthink is quite a dangerous thing. If people get sucked into it it doesn’t help democracy whatsoever. The same applies to student democracy. If you have groupthink happening, then it contributes to an unfair debate.”
Students are automatically registered as a member of the Students’ Union upon registering to UCD, and around €28 euro out of the €247 ‘Student Levy’ UCD charge students goes towards the UCDSU, with the rest funding sports clubs, societies and the new Student Centre. But for Donal this automatic registration meant students were paying for something that they may fundamentally disagree with on a major issue like abortion. “If people want to campaign [individually] to repeal [the 8th Amendment], yes that’s absolutely fine, but to have the Students’ Union campaigning for that, something that students can’t opt of but are automatically brought into – I personally think that’s a bit mad.”
The Yes side have claimed as the last referendum on the SU’s abortion stance was back in 2013, the majority of UCD students haven’t had an opportunity to have their say on the issue. Lynch said “it is a completely new student body in UCD right now, if we can just get some kind of a sense about what students want now I think that would be great for UCD”
Both Lynch and Doyle stated that if the vote doesn’t reach quorum (the minimum percentage of turnout for the referendum to be valid), or if the pro-choice ‘No’ side win a majority that they wouldn’t give up trying to push for a neutral stance on abortion. “I’d say we’d just push for it again if that’s the case. I think we’d just try again and try again and again. Because it is important for students” explained Christine. This determination was echoed by Donal, “this is an important issue to me, it’s an important issue to everyone involved. So yes we would of course keep going.”
Looking ahead to the vote Donal Lynch confirms the group were “very hopeful” of winning the referendum. Voting takes places next week on the 2nd and 3rd of November.
Jack Power & Oisín MacCanna