News Analysis: Reviewing your future

 
 

With the Students’ Union looking to review their constitution, Amy Bracken questions how regularly such a process must occur

Just under four years after the last review, the UCD Students’ Union Council has passed a motion for a review of the Students’ Union constitution.

SU Sports Officer Brendan Lacey proposed the motion and cited a number of reasons for doing so. Mainly, that his experience in the Students’ Union and his friendship with a number of members of the Students’ Union Executive and of the Sabbatical Officers, as well as the significant amount of motions being put to Council and Executive, would require a constitutional amendment in order to be enacted. This was in line with the fact that the Students’ Union is mandated to review the constitution every four to five years.

SU President Paul Lynam seconded the motion on the basis that “it’s a good motion”. While it is not proposing a whole new constitution to be written per se, it does require that “the SU President convene a committee to hold a full and thorough constitutional review process over the next twelve months, which will include a review of the current document, seek suggested amendments and ultimately make recommendations to go forward to referendum for next year”.

Although not a member of SU Council, as a regular attendee, I can testify to the vast number of motions that are put to Council that require a referendum of all students to change the Constitution.

On the face of it, regular constitutional review seems to be a good thing that is beneficial for all students. But of course, it has its drawbacks. Who is going to be on the committee? What specific aspects need the most attention? And the burning question on everybody’s lips these days: how much is it going to cost?

In relation to the matter, Lynam said: “I think it’s a necessity, and we probably should have included it in the motion, that outsiders belong to the Constitutional Review group.” Therefore, it seems imperative that these outsiders would have to be paid for partaking in the review group.

He explained that ironically there is no point in simply assessing the UCD constitution if the aim is to better and improve the current one. It is undoubtedly necessary to isolate what has worked and the potential pitfalls of other Students’ Union constitutions.

Lynam does not see constitutional review as a costly process, stating the only outside contributions will be through interviews, and that the review group themselves will be working within UCD, meeting once every week or fortnight. Consequently, neither interviewer not interviewee would need to be paid. This serves to further add to the credibility of enacting the review group.

Meanwhile, Lacey is of the opinion that regular constitutional review every four to five years is far more economical than having constant referendum campaigns. This is feasible. For every referendum, the Students’ Union is expected to provide funding for pamphlets, posters, and anything else that is required.

Considering that there were two constitutional amendments originally intended for proposal at the last Council meeting, it is easy to see how much this could actually cost the SU over the mandated four-to-five-year period that the constitution is enacted for. From this perspective, it could be argued that perhaps four to five years is even too long to wait to have a constitutional review.

However, holding a review in such a short period of time would be very unfeasible, given the lengthy process and cost involved in implementing it. As was acknowledged in the text of the motion, it is expected that the review proposed last year would take twelve months, so an annual or even bi-annual review of the constitution is impossible.

To summarise, when we hear the words “full review of the Constitution”, we instinctively think of the cost and whether it’s necessity. These concerns can be alleviated when we consider how a significant number of constitutional amendment motions have been put to Council recently. And additionally, when the fact that referendums cost the Students’ Union vast amounts of money is taken into account, resolving the issue by regular constitutional review is a logical step.

While annual reviews are unfeasible, four to five years is perhaps too long to be leaving the constitution un-reviewed, especially given the lengthy process involved. The Students’ Union has the right attitude going into this review, undoubtedly, by looking to other universities instead of simply reviewing the current UCDSU constitution. The outcome should thus hopefully be a more workable and efficient document to be enacted by the 2012 academic year.

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