How’s your congress going? Or did you ever wonder what goes on at USI congress? Well you probably didn’t but ISLO gives you a quick run down of some things to look out for. Words by Eoin Griffin, inspiration drawn from years of observation. Many thanks to everyone at MSU and USI for making it possible.  Also thanks due to Thobias.

USI is the representative body for 250 000 students on the island of Ireland. It’s pretty much a big deal. It’s highest decision making body is congress which takes place annually sometime around Easter. Delegates from the 4 corners of the country descended on Ballinasloe this week for  a bit of debate and represntin’  well that’s what they say anyway. To find out more follow the twitter hash tag #usi13 or ask your SU for a report on it.

1. The Surroundings

Well let’s be honest, a few nights in an “exquisite 4 star hotel” over the Easter break isn’t the worst way to be spending your time. You’ll be provided with 3 meals over the course of the day and the occasional coffee break thrown in for good measure. As if that wasn’t enough there are the leisure centre facilities to keep you fresh and in a positive frame of mind. What more could you want over the Easter break? Engaged in debate with what should be the best and brightest from around the country, well the surrounding will be nice at least.

2. The Political Parties

From USI congress 2012. Murphy and Redmond. Putting the Party in Political Party since before you were born.

From USI congress 2012. Murphy and Redmond. Putting the Party in Political Party since before you were born.

Student politics are a strange beast. Both Ogra Fianna Fail and Labour Youth have subtlely controlled the local and national unions for a considerable amount of time. And even when they’re not occupying the top job the apolitical types that take their place that suggest themselves “beyond” politics feed the inertia of the unions.
At last year’s congress we saw a prominent member of YFG try to bring forward an emergency motion mandating USI to support the Fiscal Treaty. Student politics has long been used by individuals as a stepping stone to “greater” political careers. Notable past presidents of USI include Eamon Gilmore, Pat Rabbitte, Joe Duffy, Gary “Redzzer” Redmond and Colm Keavaney. Well infamous if not notable.

3. Get tweeting

We’re all about the social meeja these days. It doesn’t matter if it’s only two chimps in a room tweeting frantically, if you can somehow manage to get trending then your goal has been achieved. We’re not really sure what it achieves but it sounds good. Last year was the first congress to see massive use of Twitter and this lead to some rather tasty arguments and it must be said some very distasteful remarks by some.

Add to this the tweet screens and you’re away in a hack. Don’t want to get up and give a speech, no bother, tweet something witty and see the followers and retweets stack up.

4. Steering Committee

 Ever wonder what’s going to happen to all the SU executives and USI officers when they grow up? Well now you don’t have to. Steering Committee offers you a window to the future. They are the real bosses of congress. They seem to be the only ones who really know what is going on. Again you are reminded to look out for party links, prominent members of Fianna Fail and current government advisors abound.

5. The dress code

Do you not own a suit? Are you worried about your next rent payment? Well don’t worry you’re probably not at congress anyway. But the people there representin’ sure have brought their finest wares. It’s easier to be taken seriously by the adults in government if we wear suits and talk about things in 4 star hotels for a week.

Obviously the finery isn’t wasted on congress floor. Instead it’s all about the gala dinner. This is like your school grad except you probably don’t know or like most of the people there, and of course there’s more wine and less worrying about being served at the bar.
Congress floor is all about delegates wearing corresponding t-shirts. You know, kinda like secondary school but with less fun. It’s really important that your delegation looks the part, cause nothing says representin’ like bringing home a USI prize for best delegation!

Bit awkward that they all wore the same t-shirt.

Bit awkward that they all wore the same t-shirt.

6. The Professional Photographs

Nothing says representin’ like a professional photographer. It’s cool to spend loads of money on a hotel if there’s at least some pictorial evidence that people were there. What more can be said? As with a lot of USI’s initiatives it’s about “media reach” and how many headlines can be generated. Not so much about changing things or engaging with the 250 000 students they claim to represent. John Logue claimed that USI has improved its media reach by 500%. Well since 2009 the “student registration charge” has been changed to the “student contribution” and has increased by 150%. That’s 900 euro to 2 250 euro but hey at least we’ve reached more people.

7.  The Bad Theme Parties

Remember when you were in first year in college? Maybe living away from home for the first time, ever have a themed night? Really anything you want, from a cocktail party to watching the Lord of the Rings triology all the way through. You get the general idea; you probably grew out of it fairly lively too. Well USI congress is like a Neverland for (SOME) students that never want to grow up. It’s much easier to run in elections year after year. Spending longer in paid sabbatical positions than you actually spent as a student is cool.

I was there last year. It was something horrific to do with some bad TV show on MTV. Imagine the fake tanned bonanza. All Jersey Shored up. I sound bitter and cynical, only because I am. The tokenistic congress floor upset at our national binge drinking culture while such a string vest orgy went on the same night. Representin’.

8. Procedural Motions

Do you know your 9 a from your 9 e? Well neither does anyone else so it doesn’t really matter. Steering Committee will guide the way on this.

Do look out for the procedural motions being used in an attempt to shut down important debates. Last year it was suggested that the Bank Bailout of 2008 wasn’t a student issue and it shouldn’t really be debated at USI congress. The delegates agreed and the debate was finished. Representin’.

9. UCD

That big elephant in the room, they’ve a delegation bigger than your’s and they look gaunt and scary. Possibly from spending their days walking around Belfield lost in the concrete jungle.

They’re an endangered species though. In a recent referendum on the campus a mighty 12% of members of UCDSU voted and the majority decided they wanted to leave USI. So poor old Paddy Guiney is like a captain without a ship, running in an election for USI Officer Board but with his own organisation playing the waiting game on relationship that’s very Ross and Racheal and less Bertie and Thomas Byrne.

10. The debates

Last year it was the fees issue. On the first night of congress there was an almighty debate about USI’s policy on third level funding. In a victory for all that is good and holy the vote was put back to a special congress in May because it might have been a tincy bit undemocratic otherwise.

This elucidated a very clear split in the room. East versus West. Pale versus everyone else. It was like the Cold War just with fewer nuclear weapons and more tweeting.

Then the whole situation got out of hand when a motion about government funding of private secondary schools was brought up. The debate went on for hours. We were told how “not everyone that goes to a private school has a BMW, some people had Volvos” and my own personal favourite “well we didn’t get to go on a family holiday this year and my sister is in a private secondary school.”

And of course when talking about debates it would be remiss not to mention the hustings and how bad they can be. We had the hilarious situation of John Logue and Ciaran Nevin arguing about who left Fianna Fail first at the Presidential debate last year. As anyone knows you can’t leave Fianna Fail, it cuts like a knife and the scars run deep. All the way to Australia some would say.