More controversy from Congress: UCD walk off congress floor in pro-austerity direct action campaign launch, Joseph Loughnane gives us the lowdown…

The UCD delegation to the USI Congress walked out in protest at the fact that they couldn’t speak against a motion that proposed that the Union of Students in Ireland starts to work with other anti-austerity campaigns. You would be forgiven for thinking that I made this up, I wish I had.

Thankfully the motion was passed but its passage was another reason for the “principled” delegates of UCD to walk out. Students across the country might be shocked at such a stance to take but it just goes further to explain how out of touch some of these student leaders are with those they are meant to be representing. To be fair, not everyone who walked out was against the motion, some cited the fact that they didn’t get enough time to debate it for their protest. It leaves just one question remaining – why would any student want to speak against such a motion? In a statement from UCD Students Union, their desire to oppose it was clear: “Despite this, Congress delegates voted to pass the motion by approximately a 2/3 majority despite witnessing the desire of members on the floor to speak against”.

Less encouraging is the fact that USI’s new Campaigns Officer, Paddy Guiney, was one of the people to leave the hall on not being allowed to speak. One would hope that any person who is taking up such a position would be ‘anti-austerity’, and willing to broaden the campaign of the largest student body in the country to include those affected by measures not directly related to education. A constant criticism of student protests is how we fail to mobilise those who are also suffering to demonstrate in solidarity with students. Such a stance by the new Campaigns Officer does damage to any links the USI hopes to create.

Why would someone walk out even if they agreed with the motion? Such is the mentality of delegations when they are told to not think for themselves and stick to their mandate, or just stick with those from the same college in this case. This congress has already seen the NUS-USI Womens’ Officer being kicked out of Congress by her delegation leader due to her taking a principled stand in favour of a woman’s right to choose and against rogue pregnancy clinics giving misinformation to vulnerable women. Thankfully, one UCD student stayed in the hall, there to represent the interests of 25,000 students – students who are obviously more affected by austerity than those who walked out…

On a day when nepotism ruled supreme in Meath East and a breakout of amnesia caused 38% of voters to bother ticking a box in a futile attempt to change the track the Government is taking, the disillusion of the 62% in that constituency was replicated by those hearing of events from the USI Congress. Like the positions of power in Dáil Eireann have been gobbled up by the flag-bearers of austerity and the proponents of populism; the right-leaning students masquerading as the depoliticised have a monopoly over the direction our national union is going. Now more than ever is there a need for students who champion equality over careerism and principles over compromise to come to the fore. The USI needs to be wrestled from the hands of those who play at student activism, in a similar way to the grassroots members of SIPTU and other trade unions are attempting to take control in a process that is very much, unfinished business.