Campaigners on the ‘No’ side of this week’s referendum to overturn the ban on the sale of Coca-Cola products in Students’ Union shops have accused the Union of deliberately stifling debate on the subject.
Aideen Carberry, the official agent for the pro-boycott campaign, said in a statement that the Union’s Returning Office had made “a deliberate attempt to stifle a proper debate on the referendum” by refusing to supply the No side with campaign posters ahead of polling on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
The Returning Office decided to allow each side in the referendum to produce 40 posters and 1,000 A4 sheets of flyers, in comparison to candidates in the concurrent sabbatical elections who are allowed 200 posters, 1,000 manifestoes and 1,000 sheets of flyers. No material for the Yes side has been published, as no students have come forward to take formal leadership of the campaign.
Carberry’s campaign was fined all 40 of its posters after the UCD branch of Labour Youth – of which Carberry is chairperson – erected posters around campus last Thursday, 25th February, encouraging students to continue boycotting Coca-Cola products. Although the posters were not produced by the No campaign itself, these posters were found to have breached the Union’s electoral rules as they constituted “a financial advantage [and] the display, distribution or other use for campaigning of printed materials other than those produced by the Returning Office”.
Carberry has appealed the decision, saying that the Labour Youth posters “are part of a national campaign by Labour Youth and has formed part of their policy since 2003”. She added that the posters “did not mention any referendum on them, nor did they openly state that people should vote ‘No’.” She had also intended to appeal the decision to supply the referendum sides with fewer materials than the election candidates, on the grounds that either side of the campaign would struggle to command attention with a smaller amount of campaign material.
The SU’s Independent Appeals Board had yet to hear the appeal as The University Observer went to print. The Union Returning Officer, Morgan Shelley, declined to comment on the allegation that the fine was a deliberate attempt to stifle debate on the topic, but confirmed that an appeal had been lodged with the IAB and that it was under consideration.
It is understood that Carberry submitted the designs of her campaign’s posters and flyers almost 24 hours after the deadline imposed by the Returning Office, but asked for her materials not to be printed until the appeal had been heard. However, it is unsure whether Carberry had actually submitted the appeal on the amount of material permitted, as earlier intended.
The No campaign’s materials were sent to print on Friday morning and were due to arrive for distribution on campus yesterday (Monday). Carberry could not be contacted for further comment.