James Grannell delves into the College Tribune archives in an intrepid exploration of past USI referenda
Above: results in UCD for the last USI disaffiliation referendum

February 1993 and a referendum is being put to the students of UCD asking if they wish to remain affiliated to the USI. Maynooth, who along with TCD, UCC and UCG were outside of the Union, had recently held a referendum asking if their students wished to reaffiliate with USI with the motion being defeated.

The Irish Times reported that USI officers on the Maynooth campus were called “Commies, Trots, Sinn Féiners and Provos.”

At the time UCD SU paid USI £27,000, which worked out as £2.50 per student.

With so many Universities outside the USI at the time there was a real fear that, were UCD to leave, the USI would become “just another fringe group talking on the sidelines.”

The Referendum took place on March 10th 1993 with 38% voting for disaffiliation and 62% against, but controversy surrounded the event as it was alleged that the same individual wrote a number of signatures on the petition to call the referendum.

Jump forward to 1997 and the president of UCD SU, Ian Walsh, was backing the campaign for disaffiliation. Walsh outlined why UCD Students’ Union backed disaffiliation from USI, “ UCD Students pay nearly £40,000 to be affiliated to USI each year. That is almost 50% of what they pay to be a member of UCD Students’ Union. The argument to redirect that money to UCD-specific research is a very attractive argument.”

At the time, Trinity, UCC, UL, and Maynooth were disaffiliated from the organisation.

At a meeting of the USI in Belfast that year Walsh stated, “it would be far more beneficial if USI concentrated exclusively on research and lobbying. We do not believe that USI should seek a profile on the ground, we do not believe that USI should engage in entertainments.”

At the time Walsh saw disaffiliation as an opportunity for the USI to reform with UCD reaffiliating when appropriate.

The then USI Education Officer, Malcolm Byrne, who now works as a spokesperson for the HEA, told the College Tribune that: “There is a need for USI to reform and I think that if there is healthy debate in UCD this will help reform USI. However we in USI still maintain that the best way to reform is from within, effective dialogue within the union will improve and strengthen it.”

In the end we did disaffiliate, but it came down to just nine votes with 2,151 voting in favour of disaffiliation and 2,142 voting against the move. In percentage terms the motion was passed by a margin of just over 0.21%

As promised the following year, 1998 saw the question put to the students of UCD again. While the world of student politics was rife with bitter infighting over the issue the College Tribune weighed in on the debate. UCC rejoined USI this year adding strength of numbers to the ailing union.

This was the last time until now that UCD held a referendum on USI affiliation and with just over 10% of the electorate turning out to vote USI marched back into the corridors of UCD.

The referendum held on January 28th 1999 saw students vote to reaffiliate by a margin of 1,236 votes to 522. The total valid poll of just 1,758 represented a paltry turnout of 10.1% less than half the turnout of the previous years referendum. Yes won 70.3% with No claiming 29.7%

Then Welfare officer, John Moynes, was quoted as saying, “it won’t make any difference to the average student, there are no advantages to be had. We will never squeeze anything out of USI.” Let’s see what happens this time around and if he is proven right.