Chris Lee, a campaigns manager for the pro-disaffiliation campaign, has accused the USI of ignoring the democratic process through the preferendum vote, stating that the general feeling among students is that the USI is constituted of “300 hacks”.
In an interview conducted by the College Tribune, Lee outlined that he had decided to join the Disaffiliation campaign as one of the campaign’s managers following what he believes was the USI breaking its mandate, “I decided I wanted to be involved when USI delegates broke mandate at special congress.” He went on to elaborate that, “The students of Ireland voiced their opinions through the preferendum, the delegates at USI ignored it. It was an insult to democracy. Unfortunately in my experience of USI mandate breaking has become the norm, and thus the policy of the Irish student movement has become the opinion of the 300 hacks who attend congress.”
The reason the students should be in favour of the disaffiliation, he believes, is also down to money and a poor return on investment, “There’s also a lot of people who simply don’t know what USI is, when they hear what we spend on it and compare it to the front-line services they are losing in UCD (the bar, Sunday library, Copy Print ect ect) there is anger. I think the feeling is that regardless of all else, right now we simply can’t afford USI.”
He went on to make specific reference to the fact that the UCD students do not benefit from the estimated 120,000 euro that they give every year. “The vast majority of that money subsidises services that USI offer other colleges but not us,” he outlined.
“Small institutions get quite a lot of help from the USI Academic Affairs and Welfare officers, Western and Southern regional officers help those institutions but…we pay the most, and I would struggle to think of a college that receives less.” Lee went on to comment that if the economic position improves then re-affiliation could take place as constitutionally a referendum on the issue will have to be held in four years. “We are constitutionally obliged to have another referendum within 4 years, if our financial situation is better we can re-affiliate and think of this exercise as a 480,000 euro loan,” said Lee.
Lee remarked that by disaffiliating from the USI he hopes it will encourage the national Union to reform after what are perceived as the failed efforts of the “Fed up, Stand up” campaign known in UCD as the Gilmore 250 campaign. He also pointed out that 20,000 euro was spent on telecoms.
“At a basic level this will also force USI to tighten their belts, which would be no harm. They spend over 20,000 euro a year on telecoms. Western and Southern officers are the most expensive and seem to do little. The only real control we have over USI is this bit of budget we provide, so I think there is an argument to be made that disaffiliation is a type of a reform, and just the act of leaving will make USI better”.
“Once on the outside it allows us to contact other outsiders and put together an alternative to USI, a slimmed down union that only acts as a lobbying organisation perhaps,” said Lee.
In a scathing criticism of the USI, Lee said that they “let us down quite a lot over the years. Fees increased from 90 pounds in 1997 to 1000 euro in 2007. That is an incredible stat. That is a fee increase of 90 euro a year for 10 years, which is only just short of half the increase we are seeing per year right now. They’ve neglected reform, the organisation is blighted by a lack of institutional memory. It is incapable of reform. It has consistently failed to campaign beyond the budget each year. Each officer board seems to concede defeat when the budget is released and give up, knowing full well that next years budget is their successor’s problem.”
Lee also lays the blame for student apathy squarely at the feet of USI themselves. “I think student apathy is in some ways caused by USI,” contends Lee. “Students feel too distant from the student movement. I think bringing control over our student movement to a local level will enfranchise students more and help fight apathy.”
–Matthew Hugh Farrelly