STUDENTS in UCD have recently voted for their Union to retain a pro-choice stance on repealing the 8th amendment. 64% of people voted in favour while 36% voted No, which means that UCDSU can continue to campaign to repeal the 8th. At the very least this means that all the planning the union have put into their campaign over the summer was not a waste.
What surprised many people was that a large number of decidedly pro-choice students voted Yes. This would have meant that the union would remain neutral and could not get involved in any official capacity for the repeal movement.
When the result was announced, many pro-choice organisations around the country celebrated it as a part of the repeal movement in general. Yet it is not simply a microcosm of the wider country’s opinion/
People who would vote to repeal the 8th amendment without any hesitation were also among those voting Yes last week. That is not to say that there were no elements within the Yes campaign that are anti-abortion and religious. Just that the proposed mandate was not as cut and dry as a repeal the 8th referendum would be.
The mandate asked if the students’ union should be neutral, which is not an insane idea. Almost two years ago when the new constitution was passed, also by a campus-wide referendum, the role of Campaigns and Communications officer was reinstated. This role, as voted for by students, has a constitutional mandate to campaign on behalf of the union on national political issues.
This is largely taken to mean issues that affect the student population, which the laws on abortion most certainly do. Of the Irish women that travel abroad for a pregnancy termination, most of them tend to be between the ages of 20-29.
Yet the union cannot represent students’ views if it does not know them. This was why there was a referendum on whether the union should campaign for equal marriage in early 2015. This passed with 97% agreeing that the union should support a Yes vote. In fact students’ union across the country were highly important during the campaign, in part through the large voting registration drive held in the months leading up to the vote. This saw over 4,500 UCD students register, the largest in any Irish university.
While students’ unions can be extremely influential on social issues, not all of these issues are as straightforward as marriage equality. In the UCDSU referendum on whether to support a Yes vote on marriage equality, there were still 3% of people who disagreed. On the issue of abortion there is much more division of opinion among students.
As shown by the Yes campaign, there is a sizable minority within UCD that disagrees with repealing the 8th, with similar groups in other Irish colleges like Trinity.
Instigating this referendum highlights a key issue that students’ union will continue to face. Funded by students, run by students and for students, the unions will always be ultimately accountable to them.
When they are divided by a relatively significant amount, then Students’ Unions will face a huge amount of problems. If you are pro-life and paying for your union to exist, you should still have a say. Except those students are now represented by a union whose views they fundamentally disagree with. Though they will still lobby on behalf of all students on areas like fees, when it comes to some social issues these students will be isolated.
Yet unions have in the past had a huge impact on driving society forward. From politically socialising many future politicians, to positions on issues (such as providing condoms or abortion information), unions have traditionally challenged the status quo.
When the majority of students have voted for a particular stance then the union is obliged to fulfil that mandate. For the sake of progress and social improvement, the Students’ Union should campaign for change.
For unions to still be effective – to still be relevant, they should take political stances. They should challenge the government and society’s status quo. When there are health and social issues affecting a huge majority if students, then unions must take action. Regardless of the dissatisfaction of a small number people on campus.
Students are the next generation. Their majority by rights should have a key role in shaping future society.