To coincide with this evening's meeting of QUBSU council, please find a copy of a story that ran in our last print edition under the same headline. The article has been slightly amended to accommodate for the change in dates etc.Photograph courtesy of Tyler McNally Photograph courtesy of Tyler McNally
BY TARA MCEVOY & TYLER MCNALLY
A member of the QUBSU delegation to the annual USI (Union of Students in Ireland) national congress will face disciplinary action from Queen’s University’s Students’ Union council later this month, standing accused of having ‘broken the mandate’ with which the group were dispatched.
Aisling Gallagher, student councillor and Women’s’ Officer for NUS-USI, was stripped of her delegate status by Queen’s SU President Jason O’Neill mid-conference, following pro-choice voting on two motions debating the issue of abortion. She will now face further repercussions as the case is presented to council. Delegates had been expected to vote in-line with the current QUBSU policy of neutrality on the issue, or abstain.
Ms. Gallagher had voted in favour of an initial pro-choice motion before receiving a warning that further breaches of mandate would result in her exclusion from the remainder of the conference. This came to fruition with the removal of her delegate card – following a second vote on the issue of the remit of the USI Welfare Officer in combatting rogue crisis pregnancy agencies.
Ms. Gallagher’s first ‘breach of mandate’ came as she voted in favour of a motion mandating USI’s Welfare and Equality Officer to, “work with the Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign to once again make [the issue of abortion] a priority for Irish Women”. The motion’s wording included the recognition that, “In many student unions abroad and indeed in many organisations worldwide the issue of abortion is viewed as an issue of equality and women’s rights”. A vote in favour of the motion was considered a clear violation of QUBSU's stance of neutrality on abortion.
The second – and perhaps more controversial – vote centred on the growing problem of misinformation disseminated by rogue crisis pregnancy agencies. The motion proposed that the USI Welfare Officer receive the mandate to protest against rogue crisis pregnancy agencies, preventing the harassment, bullying and misleading of women for the purposes of prevention of abortion.
Again, Ms. Gallagher voted in favour of the motion being passed – an action which some have argued belies no pro-choice or pro-life bias, rather a commitment to ensuring the validity of materials distributed by pregnancy agencies.
Yet the move was still deemed by the remainder of the delegation to constitute an expression of a pro-choice stance (due to the fact that the motion relied upon cooperation with the organisation Choice Ireland) – and resultantly, a second breach of mandate.
The case – one with relatively few precedents in recent history – has received national press coverage, with many arguing that delegates’ voting on such ‘conscience issues’ should be left to their own discretion.
The Students’ Union Constitution does not currently make explic
it reference to the issue of elected student delegates ‘breaking mandate’ at conferences or other similar events – the Students’ Union Council may choose to address this situation in the near future in the light of recent events.
Where no current guidance exists explicitly, the Executive Management Committee may approve temporary arrangements – in relation to this year’s Spring conferences, the EMC discussed and approved such arrangements at its meeting on February 27. All conference delegates were comprehensively briefed on these arrangements prior to departing Belfast for the USI Congress event.
In terms of the ‘restriction’ of delegate voting to ensure that this remains constant with Students’ Union live policy, there are many precedents of delegate leaders (usually Union Presidents) employing reasonable strategies (and, in some instances, arguably unreasonable measures) to ensure delegate compliance.
Current Union President Jason O’Neill moved quickly to justify the removal of Ms. Gallagher’s delegate status, commenting, “There is an expectation that all student delegates representing Queen’s Students’ Union at national and regional conferences will respect the democratic policy positions that are held by the Union. All USI Congress delegates representing Queen’s were clearly instructed in advance that any vote espousing either a ‘pro choice’ or ‘pro life’ position would represent a breach of the Students’ Union’s current policy of neutrality on this matter, and could result in sanctions being imposed upon any individual delegate(s) who breached mandate in this manner”.
Speaking to the Trinity News, Mr. O’Neill further reiterated, “Our policy at Queen’s University is to regard live policy as mandate. Delegates were pointed to the pro-choice motions before Congress and warned that they had to vote as democratic representatives of the student body”.
Dominic Doherty, QUBSU Deputy Director said, ” The current Union President, on the basis of precedent and in the absence of specific instruction from either the Constitution or the Council, is quite entitled to take reasonable steps to ensure that all delegates respect the democratic decisions of the governing body of the Students’ Union, its Council.”
The dispute stems from a motion passed by QUBSU Council last semester, which rendered the Union’s official position on abortion one of neutrality. The motion, proposed by Caoimhe McNeill (VP Equality and Diversity for the forthcoming academic year), and seconded by Jessica Kirk (current VP Equality and Diversity), was worded as follows:
“The Students’ Union recognises that the issue of abortion is highly emotive and that our student members have strongly held views on this matter. The Students’ Union’s governing body, the Council, recognising that the issue of abortion is more likely to divide rather than unify the student membership, has therefore determined that the Union should adopt a position of neutrality with regard to this issue at this time.”
The council meeting in which penalties incurred by Ms. Gallagher were to be decided on was originally scheduled for Thursday, April 18. On Tuesday, April 16, it was announced that the meeting would be postponed as Sabbatical Officers instead attended the annual USI Student Achievement Awards in Dublin, the date for which was not known in advance. The next council meeting was moved to April 29, where the matter was not included on the agenda. However, during questions to the SU president, the atmosphere grew tense, with plenty of questions on the matter, as it was mentioned in his report to council. The president, and speaker, Andy Carruthers both appealled to council to reserve their questions for the next council meeting, as the issue was planned to be discussed then.
Ms. Gallagher was asked to attend a special meeting of EMC in order to deal with the matter, where a decision would be taken, which could be appealed to council. However, after some revision, it was decided that the matter would be dealt with at the final council meeting of the year, this evening, May 7 2013.