By Ellen O’Donoghue
Co News Editor
The Union of Students in Ireland’s annual Congress took place online on Tuesday the 6th of April, beginning slightly behind schedule, owing to technical glitches.
Because of these difficulties, the proceedings were changed and broadcast on Facebook Live.
The Congress began with hustings involving the election candidates for each position, with questions prepared and submitted beforehand.
Results were announced on the third day with Clare Austick, former NUI Galway Students’ Union President and Welfare and Equality Officer was elected President of the USI for the 2021/22 Academic year.
Her elected executive team consists of Jenna Barry as Vice President for Postgraduate Affairs, Trinity College Dublin’s Muireann Nic Corcráin as Leas-Uachtarán don Ghaeilge, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology’s Victor O’Loughlin Vice President for the Border, Midlands and Western Region, University College Cork’s Beth O’Reilly as Vice-President for Campaigns, Somhairle Brennan as Vice President for Welfare, TCD’s Megan O’Connor elected Vice-President for Academic Affairs and Bukky Adebowale of NUI Maynooth’s Student’ Union elected Vice-President for Equality and Citizenship, becoming the first person of colour to be elected on to the USI executive team.
Student’s Union President Pádraic Toomey stated “We are delighted with Clare’s win. Clare organised USI’s Women Lead this year and went on to prove it’s importance by becoming what I understand to be the first time a woman to be president for three years in a row. Clare will do amazing things carrying on what she experienced as a student in NUI Galway, as SU officer and President of our SU. As a friend, I’m so happy for her and can’t wait for her to do great things. She is always a friendly voice and someone who cares for students.”
On the first day of congress, delegates were brought through how things would run over the three days.
Standing orders were adopted and a mock motion was brought forward to explain them in their entirety. Delegates then moved onto policies due to expire.
Orlaith McCabe was the first NUI Galway delegate to speak on a motion, being in favour of EQ1, Gender Recognition of Students, which was due to expire.
Vice President for Equality and Citizenship, Marie Lyons, also spoke in favour of the motion which passed with a 96% majority.
Clare Austick spoke on the USI’s cyberbullying policy, which was passed with a 97% majority.
NUI Galway Vice President, Welfare and Equality Officer, Róisín Nic Lochlainn spoke next on a motion due to expire proposed by Vice President for Academic Affairs Kevin McStravock.
The motion was based on cross-border student mobility, owing to the difficulties faced by students from each, studying across the border.
The motion was passed with a 97% majority.
Clare Austick then proposed a motion which Róisín Nic Lochlainn spoke in favour of on abusive relationships, sexual violence and harassment. This motion was passed with a 99% majority.
Numerous other policies due to expire were discussed before the guillotine fell and day one of congress was concluded at 3pm.
This meant that the un-proposed motions were to automatically fall.
Day Two began with the congress delegates hearing USI’s accounts for the previous year, before moving onto the Academic Affairs motions.
Toomey was the first NUI Galway delegate to speak on a motion at the second day of Congress.
The motion was based on being against sanctions on students who are late paying their fees, which Toomey spoke in favour of. This motion was passed with a 97% majority.
Toomey also proposed the next motion, which was to lobby Universities to abolish repeat fees, a motion that sparked the #RipOffNUIG movement on Twitter earlier in the year. This motion passed with a 99% majority.
NUI Galway’s Education Officer, Emma Sweeney, spoke in favour of a motion proposed by USI President, Lorna Fitzpatrick, which related to alternative admissions to third level institutions.
This motion passed, with 97% of delegates voting in its favour.
Neasa Gorrell was the next NUI delegate to speak on a motion.
She spoke on a motion which mandated the USI to adopt The USI Position Paper on Digital and Distance Learning.
This motion passed with a 99% majority.
Toomey next spoke on a motion proposed by USI’s Vice President for Postgraduate affairs, relating to clarity on postgraduate and international fees.
This motion passed, with 96% of delegates voting in favour.
Gorrell then spoke again on a motion, this time on lecture recordings.
Aine Kane of Technological University Dublin’s Students’ Union proposed the motion which 96% of delegates voted in favour of.
Sweeney also spoke on a motion about the position of proctoring, speaking in favour of said motion which mandates the Union to investigate proctoring, and produce a paper outlining the uses of Proctoring, how it relates to Academic Integrity, and the impact it has on student experience regarding assessment.
This motion passed with a 97% majority.
Seb Bierema of NUI Galway’s Students’ Union spoke next on a motion relating to clarification on the USI Postgraduate workers’ rights charter. This motion passed with a 94% majority.
Emma Sweeney was the last NUI Galway delegate to speak on a motion relating to Academic Affairs, proposing that the USI mandate Universities to provide subsidies on textbooks for students who pay more than €50 on textbooks a year.
This motion passed with a 99% majority.
Discussions then began on welfare motions, as the Academic Affairs finished before scheduled.
Ciarán Watts, Welfare and Equality Officer of Maynooth Students’ Union then proposed that Congress go back to the motions due to expire that were not completed the previous day.
This standing order was voted on and passed by more than the required two-thirds majority.
Gorrell was the first NUI Galway delegate to speak on a welfare motion after the lunch break, speaking egarding the promotion of consent and ending sexual violence and harassment, proposed by Austick, USI’s Vice-President for Welfare.
Delegates voted to pass this motion with a 99% majority.
Joe Mee of NUI Galway also spoke on a welfare motion that was passed with a 99% majority, regarding social support for students both during and in a post-Covid-19 world.
Gorrell spoke again on another motion proposed by Austick about USI grant reform position paper 2021-2024.
This motion passed by 98%.
Thomas Forde was next to speak on behalf of NUI Galway’s Students’ Union, on a motion regarding the expansion of provision of free HIV support, but the motion was put back to the next Equality and Citizenship working group meeting.
Aoife Buckley of NUI Galway spoke on a motion asking for a remit-specific training day for both deputy presidents and campus conveners, which was passed by 87%.
Kirsty Moran, NUI Galway’s Clubs Captain spoke next on a motion mandating USI to form a relationship with Student Sport Ireland to ensure adequate student representation for sport at a national level.
Delegates voted to pass this motion with a 92% majority.
Sweeney spoke again on a motion to provide a Covid-19 handbook for Officers who will be working in the next academic year, which passed with 93%.
Róisín Nic Lochlainn, Welfare and Equality Officer was the last NUI Galway delegate to speak on a motion on day two of congress, one that bystander intervention training be provided to all Sabbatical Officers.
This motion passed with a 94% majority.
Day three of congress began with the Governance Committee Reports, before moving onto the Equality and Citizenship motions.
Toomey spoke on a motion about insurance for international students, which passed with a 96% majority.
Barry Sugrue of NUI Galway spoke on a motion mandating sustainability in USI campaigns and events, which passed with a 99% majority.
Sugrue spoke again on the next motion, which passed with a 92% majority.
This motion was regarding a sustainability festival to promote sustainability.
Sugrue also spoke on a Constitutional Amendment which was proposed by Leas-Uachtarán don Ghaeilge, Clíodhna Ní Dhufaigh, which would change the primary name of the Executive Team to Coiste Gnó, the National Council to Comhairle Naisiúnta and the name of Congress to Comhdháil.
This amendment originally fell, however, as 118 votes in favour were needed, and it only got 108 votes.
Lorna Fitzpatrick, USI President, then called a procedural motion 9E of no confidence in the chair’s decision, as she claimed the vote was not open for 60 seconds as it should be.
This 9E passed with 89% of delegates in favour, and upon the second vote, 132 delegates voted for the motion.
Therefore, it passed.
After the election results were announced, Gaeilge motions were discussed.
Sugrue spoke on a motion mandating USI to note the importance of the síneadh fada.
This passed, as did the next motion spoken on by Sugrue.
This next motion was regarding bilingual signage on campus.
Sugrue also spoke on a motion about Seimineár na Gaeilge, asking that USI mandate it be run separately to Seachtain na Gaeilge, this also passed.
Nic Lochlainn spoke on the motion about USI co-operation with student groups in Europe regarding Irish and their languages.
This motion passed with a 92% majority.
Nic Lochlainn spoke again on a motion regarding modules in Irish, which passed with 93% majority.
Sugrue then spoke on a motion regarding the preservation of the Gaeltacht which passed with a 94% majority.
McCabe and Nic Lochlainn spoke on a motion to de-platform and reject fascism.
This motion passed with 85% voting for and 15% voting against.
Nic Lochlainn then spoke against a motion for gender quotas.
This motion fell with 56% voting against.
Gorrell spoke in favour of a motion for supporting students in Direct Provision which passed with a 99% majority.
Nic Lochlainn then spoke in favour of a motion about the right to disconnect, which passed with 92% majority.
Toomey then proposed a motion about sanctions, fees and fines, which passed with a 94% majority, before officer reports were taken.