The Cost of a Clean Slate

Ellen Desmond investigates the motives and implications of a controversial motion passed at this semester’s second UCC Student Council meeting.

On Wednesday the 29th of October last, the UCC Student Council passed a motion to “wipe the slate clean” of all mandates.

In sum, this has resulted in everything passed by Student Council over the past five years to now be redundant. The motion was put forward by UCC Students’ Union Education Officer, Joe Kennedy, but proposed on the night by Council Chair, Aidan Coffey. Coffey temporarily resigned as Council Chair in order to propose the “Clean Slate” (due to the absence of the Education Officer on the night).

The motion was put forward seemingly under the assumption that it would make Student Council more efficient, as it would ensure that all mandates passed by Council would henceforth be recorded in the minutes and in the policy booklet, as previous records were considered to be “inadequate.” Proposer, Aidan Coffey, explained to Motley that “in essence, many motions that had been passed were lost between the cracks. Sabbatical teams can only work off clear, unambiguous mandates. As a result of this motion, future sabbatical teams will be able effectively carry out the democratically expressed wishes of the students.” In an official statement from the UCCSU they began with saying that they “had a wish to act on the progressive policies that were set by councils of the past. This is how the issue of poor recording came to light – we couldn’t find a policy book.”

Interestingly, it was pointed out that though it was agreed upon at the first Student Council meeting this year, no policy booklet was presented by the current members at the meeting in question, either.

Considerable backlash ensued from the student body once the mandate was put in place, despite it being passed by a lofty majority of 65 to 23 votes on the night. UCC Labour and LGBT* Societies were confident and public in their opposition to the ‘Clean Slate’ and both issued public statements and press releases expressing their concern about the implications of this motion and the motives behind it.

Labour called it a “quick-fix, corner-cutting solution.”  union_reps

Among those to speak out against the motion on the night was UCC Societies Guild president, Aaron O’Sullivan, who highlighted that there would now be “nothing to stop next year’s Council from wiping the slate again, using this year as a precedent. This action undermines the credibility of Council.”

On top of this, it was brought to light by Jerome Wholihane and James Upton, at the Council meeting, that there is an online Google Drive Folder in existence which is accessible to the current SU, and it details much of what has been passed by both last year’s SU and the years before.

The folder in question appears to have been shared by previous UCCSU Deputy President, Annie Hoey.

“The minute taking of last year’s Council Secretary was excellent,” according to Hoey, “he was very thorough, accurate and always delivered the minutes to the Council Chair in a timely manner, which then were circulated among the Exec via e-mail. In relation to crossover, I ensured that the Deputy President, Education Officer and Council Chair all had access to a shared google folder entitled ‘council minutes.’ All these documents in the shared folder came from official SU email accounts, or from contacting previous council secretaries directly.”

In the folder shared by Hoey, there is also allegedly “pretty much everything that I could pull together from the past five years including minutes, agendas, mandates, as well as a policy book compiled by the Education Officer for 2010/11.”

It’s also important to note that many of this year’s current Students’ Union, including the Education Officer and Welfare Officer, would have sat on last year’s Student Council – and so would have received the circulated emails of which Hoey spoke. This implies that, aside from the shared SU Google Drive Folder, they elsewhere had details of last year’s minutes and mandates.

As a result of Hoey’s claims, one of the biggest criticisms of the Clean Slate has been that with such clear information available from last year, and much from previous years, it was surely unnecessary to wipe the entire last five years of work right under the carpet.

UCC LGBT* Society Auditor James Upton was quick to highlight that disregarding past mandates now means that “for the remainder of this year class council representatives will be embroiled in debate on matters that have already been settled.”

In other words; time will be wasted trying to pass important motions again, rather than just deciding to leave them there in the first place while, perhaps, wiping away only problematic or unclear ones instead.  This popular suggestion was also echoed by Andrew O’ Driscoll, Chairperson of UCC Labour, who stated that “I cannot find any rational why this was done. If there is in fact an issue where records have not been kept, disputed by myself and others, it does still not explain why you would delete absolutely everything and then not vote on any motions to at the very least continue the day to day running of the Union. There has been no positive developments out of this action. It is an insult to the wider student body that we were not consulted on this major issue before it was debated at Council.”

O’ Driscoll and UCC Labour are now strongly urging the Council “to reverse its decision at the earliest possible convenience. If there is an issue with standing motions from previous years, then they should be dealt with individually rather than deleting everything in one go.”

One issue that is clearly a predominant concern among students is that of the position of the UCCSU Equality Officer and Equality Working Group – however, both the officer and related group appear to be protected by the UCC Students’ Union Constitution.

“Let’s be clear about this,” said the SU in a statement, “The Equality Working Group and the Comms Officer are enshrined and protected by our Constitution – this motion had no effect on their status. Cian (Power, Welfare Officer) isn’t going to stop giving out condoms, Dick (Murphy, Deputy President and Campaigns Officer) isn’t going to stop running campaigns, Joe (Kennedy, Education Officer) isn’t going to stop giving out academic advice – these are core functions of the roles that happen independent of a specific mandate.”

Yet, there are those who remain unconvinced that the job descriptions given to both sabbatical and part time officers are adequately protected from this mandate by constitutions. For example, UCC Labour Society insisted that “as a result of the passing of this motion, the Equality Working Group no longer exists, and the Students’ Union does not even have a mandate to distribute condoms. Following on from the passing of this motion, the Students’ Council neglected to re-implement core motions and policies that make up the day-to-day running of the Students’ Union.”

Looking at the UCCSU Constitution it can undeniably be confirmed that the Equality Officer’s existence is protected. The “status” (as put in the SU statement) of other officers is also protected but it appears that their roles do now remain loosely defined – perhaps ironic, considering this motion’s apparent intent was to clear things up and improve the “day to day” running of the actions of the SU.

Admittedly, it should be taken into account that there is yet time for the Student Council to add new (or re-add old) mandates that further define duties of the officers but if that was ever fully necessary in the first place is still unclear to outsiders.

Speaking to Andrew O’Driscoll, Chairperson of the UCC Labour Society, he explained his belief that “due to the passing of this motion UCCSU is no longer regarded as an institution that supports pro-choice legislation.” He went on to highlight his concern that the sabbatical officers no longer have an official “requirement to present a work report or financial report to council, there is no longer a mandate to run Mental Health Awareness Week and other Union campaigns, in fact the only campaign that can be officially run by the Campaigns Officer is action to support marriage equality, as a motion mandating this was passed after the Wipe the Slate motion.”

Amidst the backlash, an anonymous source, who sat on last year’s Student Council, advised Motley that it was time for people to question “if there was something in there that they did not wish to act upon” and perhaps this is something that should be pressed further.

However, from speaking with members of Council in favour of this motion, it does appear that they have not outwardly intended it to come from a malicious place but whether the decision was a good one or not has little do with ulterior motives, and more to do with the impact on UCC and the running of the Students’ Union that will occur regardless of intent.

union_subldIn an official statement issued by the Students’ Union they admitted that “we could have attempted to cobble together a mishmash of policy but we felt this was not our place, as council sets policy, and would have always been open to question.”

Another criticism of the motion was lack of pre-publicity. Though The UCC Express did run a news article about the motion, which was printed on the 28th of October, it was clear that this did not open enough discussion or in a timely enough manner to satisfy the majority of students. The lack of open public forum for discussion had many worried, and many more still did not hear of the existence of such a motion until after it had been passed.

“The issue was discussed at the first Student Council,” according to the SU, “where any rep was given the opportunity to put forward a motion to remedy the problem. UCCSU Education Officer, Joe Kennedy, brought one motion which was democratically voted on and passed by Student Council.”

The problem, however, was that the general student body outside of Council was largely unware of the proposal. “I think that any issue that can achieve this level of destruction without being publicised to the student body is a disgrace,” said Labour’s O’ Driscoll, “and I think that these kind of decisions should be voted on in referendums in the future.” That something so unusual and substantial was so easily left up to such a small body of representatives to decide upon certainly has given students cause for concern.

Despite the confusion and criticism, Council Chair, Coffey, further defended the proposal by stating that “Student Council has threatened to slide towards insignificance in the past few years, as vague mandates and incompletely recorded motions have drastically reduced the efficacy of some in doing what they’re meant to do – and that is to tell the sabbatical officers what the students want them to do. In removing motions or notions of motions from the past, it will allow Student Council to operate and instruct its officers without fear of maybe or maybe not contradicting something that may or may not have been passed at a council four years ago.”

The SU further defended it too, making it clear they are proud of the decision and support it wholeheartedly. For them, “this was not the easy option. We could have continued with the old way. This is part of our attempts to strengthen Council – we’ve introduced non-contentious motions so we can focus on the real debates, we’ve brought in items for discussion so it’s easier for class reps to have their say and we’ve introduced stronger systems so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again.”

“This is part of a broader move to improve Student Council,” explained Coffey, “This is a good thing.” Yet, as it stands, it cannot be denied that if records ever really were “inadequate” without any at all we are more or less in the same place as we were before.

Whether this is or isn’t a good thing for the future of UCC remains to be seen through the future actions of Council but the fury and concern among the student body is undeniably evident and has put a considerable cost and question of credibility on this “Clean Slate.”