Saturday, 27 April 2013


About a month ago, I was thrown out of USI Congress. I've written about the specific details over what happened (which are quite important to read beforehand so you have an idea of what's going on!) on another blog post here

Anyway, since I've been home, a number of things have happened. Firstly, the EMC of QUBSU (made up of sabbatical officers and union management) asked me to go to a meeting to decide what would happen to me, essentially. They'd been telling the press and anyone who asked that QUBSU Council would 'decide my punishment', but then tried to change their minds. Below are the emails that were sent:

Dear Aisling,
A Special Meeting of the Executive Management Committee is to be convened to consider the recent events at the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Congress.
I have been asked to ascertain whether or not you would be available to attend such a meeting at some point between 11.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. on Friday 26 April 2013.
If the above scheduling is unsuitable, can you please indicate those dates and times when you would be available during the week beginning Monday 29 April 2013?


I'm a little confused. Why am I being asked to go to a meeting with only the executive rather than in front of council?



"Hi Aisling,
The Executive Management Committee will consider the matter initially.
If that Committee takes a decision that you wish to appeal, the Council will consider your appeal and make a final determination.
Best wishes..."

I then said that going a meeting where the people who decided to throw me out would decide my punishment was beyond ridiculous and undemocratic.

"Hi Aisling,
If you are invited to attend a Special Meeting of EMC to consider this matter and you choose not to attend, this is your right but the meeting is likely to proceed in your absence.
If you are unhappy with any decision that is taken at this Special Meeting, you may appeal to the Council.
I would strongly recommend that you take advantage of all of the possible opportunities to put your side of things but, ultimately, this will be a matter for yourself to decide.
Best wishes..."

"Hi Dominic,

I've gone away and thought about some stuff and I'd like to know in advance before the meeting:

- A copy of the written procedures governing this and how a session like this should be run
- Whether they're planning to run the session with the sabbs who took the original decision participating (other than as witnesses), seeing as they're the ones who took the decision in the first place
- A specific wording of charges I'm specifically being asked to answer or offence I'm being asked to respond to 
- Who will be participating on EMC
If something were to be brought to a disciplinary committee or appeal within the university, then a book of evidence, containing details of all relevant evidence and procedures, has to be provided to the student and all members of the panel - everyone should get the same material, so I think it is reasonable to request this.



He then said he'd forward on my comments to the union president (sent on 18th April).

On 26th April, I received this:

"Dear Aisling,
I have been asked to inform you that, after due deliberations, the Executive Management Committee has decided to refer this matter directly to Council to be discussed at the Annual Business Meeting on Tuesday 7 May 2013. 
The Council will be asked to consider the following propositions:
On Monday 25 March 2013, at the Annual Congress of the Union of Students’ In Ireland, Aisling Gallagher, acting solely in her capacity as a delegate of Queen’s University Belfast Students’ Union, cast a vote that opposed live Queen’s Students’ Union policy when voting on a motion entitled “Engaging with the Abortion Rights Campaign”.
On Tuesday 26 March 2013, at the Annual Congress of the Union of Students’ In Ireland, Aisling Gallagher, acting solely in her capacity as a delegate of Queen’s University Belfast Students’ Union, cast a vote that opposed live Queen’s Students’ Union policy when voting on a motion entitled “Crisis Pregnancy Agencies”.
At Council the Union President will outline the case against you.  You will then have the opportunity to state your case.  Following this there will be another opportunity for both you and the Union President to speak on this matter.  Subsequent to this Council will be given two motions to vote on, detailing potential sanctions for your actions. The two options will be as follows:
1. To bar you from attending any conference organised by a national union as a QUB SU delegate for the 2013/14 Academic Year.
2. To bar you from attending any conference organised by a national union as a QUB SU delegate for the 2014/15 Academic Year.
We feel that it would be inappropriate for Council to take a decision in relation to your deposit for attending USI Congress.  You can therefore collect this from the general office on the 2nd floor of the SU at your convenience.
If you seek any further guidance please get in touch.

So, essentially, QUBSU Council gets to vote on whether or not I'm to be banned from going to any more conferences (amusingly, next year will be the last year of my degree- but it appears they think I'm planning to stay on once I'm done). 

Thing is, can they actually do this? There's nothing in the constitution about this (or about any of the mandate stuff that caused the problem, either), and I don't exactly see how they can stop students standing in elections to be delegates. I mean, regardless of whether the motions pass or fail, I don't see how they can just DO this.. and it seems a lot of other QUBSU students don't understand it either.

The meeting will take place in the Space in QUBSU at 6pm on Tuesday 7th May (as far as I'm aware), so any support in the form of people coming to the meeting would be great (and there's free pizza, too). 

The thing that gets me is that they're bringing up rules that are literally pulled from thin air. Plus, I already spent three days of a conference in a hotel room following the twitter feed when I should've been on Congress floor representing the students who sent me there- isn't that punishment enough? 

Thursday, 18 April 2013

A lot of Thoughts.

This will not be an easy post to write. I have some music playing in the background, and a glass of wine beside me. I can already feel my eyes tearing up. Mostly because I've never told anyone this before, and I never thought much about it until recently.

I didn't think about it again until recently because I never thought it was odd. Or rather, I didn't see any significance in it, if that makes sense. I'm finding it difficult to get words out, they are in a mixed up mess with a lot of feelings and thoughts and I'm not quite sure how to talk about this, or where to start.

When I was about 7, I wanted to be a boy. 

It feels very strange to have those words staring up at me. I have thought and thought and thought about them in the past few weeks, but I haven't said them. I wanted to be a boy. My friends were boys, I played with boys at break time, I liked the girls I was friends with, but I identified with the boys more. And so I told my friends I was deciding to be a boy. And told them to call me Ash instead of Aisling. And thought this wasn't unreasonable at all.

And of course, in a typical seven-year-old way, nobody else thought this was the most normal thing in the world (I've never directly talked to my parents about this sort of stuff, but I know that they have been instrumental in me becoming who I am. Although this sort of thing I find difficult to talk about with anyone, I know that they love me entirely and have been so wonderful at making my sisters and I the open minded people we are today. My mum always tells a story - TANGENT, SOZ - about how when I was about four, I was in my Granda's car when he was bringing us somewhere or other, and he asked why I only had two of my girl Barbies with me rather than bringing one of the boy ones, and I told him not to be silly, Granda, they're lesbians. And he had no idea how I knew what lesbians were. I have no idea how I knew either, but that's not the point. The point is that this sort of stuff was never odd to me, at all. And I have my parents to thank for that). The girls told me I couldn't play with them any more and that I wasn't allowed in the girls' toilets either. The boys' toilets terrified me. I'm not quite sure why. It was maybe the fear of not knowing what they were like behind the door. I don't really know.

And then I dropped it. I didn't want to be left out, I was seven years old. I dropped it and I remember feeling annoyed that people had laughed and didn't think that it was perfectly reasonable, but I got over it. But it was one of those memories that you remember, clearly. I have a picture in my head, I can remember how I felt. I didn't think about it too much. Except the times, as I grew up, when I'd be told my hair was a mess when I was playing rounders, and I told them I didn't care. When I felt pressured to shave my legs at the age of twelve, as if there was something wrong with the hair that was on them. 

What would have happened if, when I was seven years old, it had been fine? It had been fine to suddenly announce to your classmates that you wanted to be a boy, and that they just better get used to it. We didn't even get to wear trousers in primary school, never mind secondary school. I wore a pinafore in secondary school. 

This is upsetting, but the kind of upsetting that needed to come out, at some time or other. What I would give to tell the seven-year-old me that there was nothing wrong with wanting to be a boy, to tell the twelve-year-old me that taking out my self-hatred on myself wouldn't make the problems go away, to tell fifteen-year-old me that I didn't need to wear make up if I didn't want to, to tell seventeen-year-old me to stop thinking about how seemingly huge I looked in my formal dress and to just try and enjoy your night. 

I don't know how to tell myself now that the problems constantly circling around my head are, often, the result of the society I live in. It is not acceptable to be different. Especially in Northern Ireland, but it obviously isn't a problem only here. It is lonely and isolating to live in a place where your Health Minister thinks that blood from a gay man is dirty, where you rarely say the words "I AM QUEER" because you know that most people will either laugh or look confused. 

This is upsetting to write and upsetting to think about, because I usually don't let myself do so. The anger at the injustice usually wins out- which is great, because it shows, for the most part, my mental health isn't being too badly affected (in the past it has been very badly affected by this kind of stuff). The anger at the sheer ridiculousness of the lack of equality always wins out. I don't let myself think about how upsetting it is when someone thinks that you don't deserve something that they take for granted everyday. When something is core to your being, to have it dismissed, again and again, is very difficult to deal with. Of course, you all know this. You're maybe nodding your head- even if we're talking about different things in terms of the specifics, we all understand what I'm talking about. Whether it's equal marriage or the right to choose or the right to hold your partner's hand on the street without getting abuse hurled at you, it's all the same. We fight because it is how we deal with these things, and we don't let ourselves feel the hurt. We don't because we can't let them win. We can't give up, because they will have won. We can't give up because we will be on the right side of history and they will not. We can't give up because it is the fucking right thing to do.

This has gone off into a bit of a tangent. But I don't care. I used to write a lot when I was young. Stories, poems, songs, I did it all. I was that kid in school who went over the word limit by seven pages with a massive story that I just had to get out because it would be too unreasonable to stick to the three page word limit. I used to use words to just get it all out and I've only started to do it again, publicly, in the last while. I wrote my post about identifying as Queer on this blog. I suppose one thing it definitely shows is how much my generation are babies of the technological age, but you know what I mean. I don't feel the need to 'announce' it to anyone, but I feel the need to recognise it. This is who I am and this is how I feel and that is okay, even if it wasn't okay for so many years. 

I'm in tears, and I don't know if they're happy tears or sad tears, or need-to-define-them-at-all tears, but they're there and that's okay. I wish I could be at LGBT Conference right now. I am so happy that my union finally sent someone (and I know he will have an incredible time! I've been tagging him in a million tweets all week introducing him to people I want him to meet). At Women's Conference, once I got over the anxiety and stuff that I'd been feeling, I don't think I'd ever felt more accepted in a group of people before. You didn't have to explain, you didn't have to validate why you were there or how you felt or anything, and it was great. It was so, so great. 

The fact that I can acknowledge this, whatever this is, is both overwhelming and wonderful. The reason I can is because of a few people.

I first met Hel on NUS Women's Committee this year. And Hel is a fucking genius. Literally, a fountain of wisdom. But not only that, Hel is the nicest person in the entire world. I don't think I've ever met someone with more patience, ever. Always willing and ready to answer any questions, write you up a blog post, facilitate a workshop- anyone who knows Hel knows what I'm talking about. It is the combination of Hel's way with words (link to the blog), immense and unending kindness and willingness to approach every single little thing with the best of attitudes and the most positive of outlooks. I can't express, really, how much knowing Hel has made me feel able to talk about these kinds of things. At all. 

When I first got involved in NUS-USI (which, realistically, has been pretty life changing) Adrianne was there to pick up the pieces and show me what to do. Show me how to get through, show me what to avoid, educate me, lead me, tell me just how much of a fucking right I had to be there with the men. Adrianne was the catalyst to me being able to come to terms with and discover a hell of a lot of things about myself and I will never forget that. Ever. THIS HAS TURNED INTO A BLOG ABOUT HOW MUCH I LOVE PEOPLE. I think I've just accepted that it is a medley of thoughts..

And Sky. Sky, Sky, Sky. I don't really have the words, but anyone who knows Sky knows what I'm talking about without me even having to say it. In so many ways, Sky has done so much without even realising it. And a lot consciously, too. To have someone who is so unequivocally themselves is the best thing I can see, as someone who is really confused and not sure what the hell is going on, ever. I'm almost sure I'm not the only one who thinks this, but to have Sky as one of the leaders of our LGBT campaign in terms of NUS, is one of the best things I have been privileged to witness this year and I literally don't want to think about when Sky leaves. 

It obviously hasn't been just these people, the support and love from people like Kelley and Maryam will never go unnoticed. They have all been mentors and comforters and supporters and leaders and fucking good friends, people like this inspire me every single day and it is one of the reasons I am so thankful for getting involved the way I have this year. Without it, I wouldn't be helping people. Without it, I would probably be as screwed up as I was a few years ago. I am determined to make 2013 a year with no hospital stays, with no dips that last for months, I will not let myself stop trying to accept myself, even when it is hard. These people are the reason that I can remember to keep going on. 

This has been a post composed of a lot of things. But I am ending on a happy note. These people have helped me realise and accept things about myself that I never could have dreamed I could accept, things I didn't know existed until an embarrassingly short time ago. And for that, I am eternally grateful. This is why we do what we do. For people like this. 

Friday, 12 April 2013

NUS Conference 2013

Trigger warning for frank discussion of rape apologists and mental health.

This year was my first NUS Conference. I was a QUBSU delegate, along with five other people- four students and two sabbatical officers. NUS wasn't what I thought it would be. At all. In some ways in was better and it some ways worse. 

I'll begin by talking about one of the things I was most proud of. A mass walkout occurred twice, when a known rape apologist and SWP member took to the stage (first for an election speech for one of the FTO positions, and then for Block). Obviously some people could not walk out due to access issues/the fact they were candidates, but I was immensely proud of the fact that we did this. It was cross-party, cross-faction, cross-political persuasion, but I am very proud that one thing we could agree on. NUS made it pretty clear- we don't have time, nor do we have respect, for those who are rape apologists. They have no place in our organisation, and rightly so. I am proud of us. 

Another thing I was immensely proud of was the vigil that was held for Steven Simpson. Organised at the last minute by Rosie Huzzard, Sky Yarlett and Finn McGoldrick (the NUS LGBT Officers) spoke at the vigil, as did two members of the Disabled Students' Committee. There was a lot of anger, and there were a lot of tears. It was incredibly moving, incredibly emotional and I'm very proud that it was held. 

Now, unfortunately, to talk about the things that disappointed me during conference.

First off, accessibility. My first NUS conference was NUS Women's Conference 2013, and at it, though I found some problems with accessibility, a few members of Women's Committee worked really hard to draft and propose a motion on improving accessibility, and I definitely think that next year Women's Conference will be even more accessible. But NUS Conference was not, in any sense of the word. There were access breaks, thankfully, but the days were very long. I missed debates on motions that I really wanted to be at, simply because I just couldn't do it. The unavailability of water, the fact that there were no reserved seats at the end of rows to facilitate those who feel they will probably have to run in and out for whatever reason, the endless, endless whooping and cheering, even though this was rightly called out by chairs numerous times, was so disappointing. It was also very disappointing to see the leadership actively do this numerous times. I understand people make mistakes, but at Women's Conference, it was noticeable that any time someone whooped, they usually ended up covering their mouth and you could see them telling themselves to try not to do it- at least people were trying. I'm not entirely innocent on this either, and I'm annoyed at myself. A conscious effort by all is definitely needed if we are to improve on this- and not improving on this would be a disgrace. 

Secondly, the conscious and visible control that the leadership tried to have over the conference as a whole was not a secret. There were numerous attempts to stifle debate, and specific members of the leadership got up to publicly insult individuals, which I feel is an abuse of the platform. I'm not saying that I necessarily agree or disagree with the specific views that were expressed, just that I think it was an abuse of the platform and was extremely disappointing as a first time delegate to see, especially because it was people who I have had a lot of respect for doing so. 

The control shown by the leadership translated into policy debates that resulted in policy being voted/agreed on that I was surprised by. I thought NUS Conference would be considerably more left wing. I would say that for the most part (at least, this is what I thought), within NUS it is an argument between the centre, the left, and the further left, but when a Tory is cheered and whooped at, repeatedly, it begs the question as to what our common aims are. We might not as a conference agree on free education (which frankly makes me shudder), we might not agree on gender balancing, we may not agree on a lot of things, but I thought the one thing we did agree on is that the current coalition is systemically destroying the UK as we know it. But we cheered and clapped for a candidate getting up and insulting other members, and seemed to forget that he is a member of the party who is taking down everything we stand for. Just an observation- though I feel it is an important one.

Another thing is that I didn't necessarily agree with everything 'the left' did, either. I don't think it was conducive to anyone to stand up and call all of NUS 'scabs'. That said, as a whole I think this person made a great speech and I was very proud of her- but I wouldn't be being honest, which is what I'm trying to do here, if I pretended I was comfortable with that word being used. Similarly, I thought the Carbon Rod stuff was funny- but there were a few things in the speech that made me feel uncomfortable, specifically the bit about access. I agree with much of the speech about the demo and its failings, but I don't agree that the leadership pointing out how horrendous the access stuff was when the scuffle happened in the park after the main demo was point scoring, or anything but genuine anger and concern. But of course- some will disagree with me on that. [NOTE: I've talked to people since writing this post, and I realise it was a misunderstanding. They weren't getting at what I thought they were getting at in terms of the access stuff- which is good, because I was shocked at the time, and it makes a little more sense now. I mean, they might not like the leadership and they may criticise NUS but they're also not assholes, which is why I was surprised in the first place.]

I've always thought that within NUS we respected difference, to an extent. The people I have worked with (generally) respect when we differ on things- whether it be policy or campaigns or whatever. We disagree and we put it behind us- in terms of those who are my friends, our friendship is not changed, and in terms of those who are primarily my colleagues, our professional relationship is not changed. But this wasn't the case at this years conference. Insults were thrown about, publicly, on the platform, and that was horrendous to see. I do understand that people will not respect those who do not respect them- I used to be like that. Now, for the most part, I feel sorry for those people (as in, those who do not feel that I am owed respect). I am angry initially, of course, but thankfully I have learnt to let go of the anger because I know that the only person it's hurting is myself. I think that learning to do this is vital if you're going to survive in the NUS/student politics environment, simply because if you didn't, you would have a breakdown- keeping hold of that much anger is too much for any person to do. I feel sorry for people who do not respect things that are fundamental to my existence in that they cannot extend the courtesy to others that others extend to them, I feel sorry that they are so caught up in their own lives that they feel their homophobic, transphobic, racist, sexist (or whatever the disagreement may be on) views are fine, even though they compromise and insult the very core of the people they are disagreeing with. I have learnt to let go of the anger, for the most part, I hold towards people like this because if I didn't, I couldn't survive. 

Thankfully, I'll end on a positive note. I met a lot of incredible people at this conference, people I would not have met otherwise. Sometimes we met because we were both furious at something that had just been said or passed, sometimes we met because we just happened to be in the same place at the same time. But there were so many people in that room who are fucking incredible, so many people who work incredibly hard in their students' unions and who I would give anything to have working within my own students' union. Vonnie's speech about remembering most of our members are FE and that any attempt for our leadership to push through policy without debate being unacceptable, Stacey and Naomi's speeches about our utter commitment to giving rape apologists the back door, Thais constantly reminding us about accessibility and how important it was, Rosie's speech about remembering our trade union links, Vicki's leaving speech- her unapologetic honesty, her passion and her drive, constantly reminding us that underneath each set of political views is a person, and that no person deserves to be treated the way many people within the leadership were treated this year. 

I wouldn't have gotten through the past few days if it weren't for people like Sky and Rosie and Rebecca. They were extremely tough, both in terms of my drive to keep fighting and my own mental and physical health. I want to come back, though. I want to keep working and keep fighting and keep debating and disagreeing and I want other people to want to do the same. But I don't want to see the lack of basic respect again. I'm a member of political parties and anti-cuts groups, but the most important thing in writing this, for me, is my honesty- I am proud of and disappointed in different 'sides' in equal measure, and whilst people may disagree (and they have the right to do so, and I respect that), the least we can do is respect the fact that we have differing opinions. We're not going to get anything done if we don't accept the fact we disagree on some things, and work positively to try and change the minds of others. We bloody love democracy, we do- but I also bloody love respect and common courtesy, of which this conference was lacking entirely. 

I am hoping that next year will be better, I am. At the end of the day, I am hopelessly optimistic, and probably have a little too much faith in people. But it is who I am, and I'm unapologetic for that. We need an NUS Conference that is accessible, welcoming, inclusive, and respectful. The vigil on Tuesday night definitely put everything into perspective- and I think many would agree with me on that. At the end of the day, we are all human. And I hope we can respect that. You don't convince anyone you're right when you're spending your time yelling down other people, and you don't make yourself or your opinions look great when you spend most of your time throwing insults. 

I am a first time delegate, and this was my experience. By all means, leave comments- but if you disagree, please be respectful. The last thing we need is for the poisonous atmosphere within conference to extend any further.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

USI Congress 2013.

Last week I went to Ballinasloe for USI Congress 2013 as part of the QUBSU delegation. We were all student councillors, elected at the start of the year. We weren't elected separately as delegates for the Congress (there is never as much interest within QUBSU about attending USI in comparison to attending NUS-USI), but rather expressed our interest and as councillors were all allowed to attend. This is the first important thing to remember. We weren't elected. Our mandate came from our election as councillors, months ago, in October.

We were warned that we weren't allowed to 'break mandate' at USI- that is, vote on anything/in favour of anything that contradicted live union policy. This wasn't a decision taken by our student council, it wasn't a decision taken by the wider student body. It was taken by the EMC (composed of the seven sabbatical officers and a few of the staff in the union). It was in direct response to USI Congress 2012- a few delegates 'broke mandate' and voted on things that contradicted union policy. They didn't want this to happen again, so they introduced this rule. This rule isn't in our constitution, it isn't in the USI constitution. It was literally decided behind closed doors, without consulting the student council (who would probably have supported it, but that isn't the point). This is the second important thing to remember.

On the first day of Congress, I hadn't planned to speak- I never tend to plan these sorts of things. But a motion came up in the lapsing policy section of Congress, about continuing USI's pro-choice work. This was the motion:

09/WEL 2

Congress notes
That USI is mandated to lobby the government and other relevant bodies to develop greater access to abortion services for all women within the state (06/WEL 6 Abortion). 

Congress further notes 
That USI’s involvement in this debate in the past (SPUC vs. Grogan) led to the changing of legislation so that information about abortion could be distributed freely in the state. 

Congress recognises 
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 .

Congress further recognises 
That the issue is one of concern for Welfare Officers around the country. 

Congress is disappointed 
By the silence of USI on this issue for the past number of years. 

Congress acknowledges
The establishment of the Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign which aims to end the hypocrisy of exiling women in crisis pregnancy that choose to have an abortion. The campaign includes various strands, including a litigation strand, a public awareness strand and a national and international advocacy strand.

Congress mandates
The Welfare and Equality Officer to work with the Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign to once again make this issue a priority for Irish Women.

Congress further mandates 
The Welfare and Equality Officer to raise awareness of the Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign to USI members and to support the campaign in any of its actions.

(See for a copy of the 2013 Congress documentation)

I spoke in favour of continuing to work on the issue- I believe it is one of paramount importance. I then voted in favour- it easily passed (though the 'Congress is disappointed' point was removed, as it is to the credit of USI that they have been at the forefront of campaigning for choice in Ireland over the last while). I was told our union President would be having a word with me later on- I'd 'broken mandate'.

Later on, I met the President (who brought the VP Campaigns with him). I was told that the EMC did not want to stop me participating, they did not want to stop me representing students, but if I broke mandate again by voting in favour of something that contradicted QUBSU live policy, I would no longer be a QUBSU delegate at USI Congress 2013. I was surprised, even though we'd be warned about the prospect of this happening. This is the QUBSU stance:

745.6 This Council repeals policy 3.1 on the Policy File.
This Council recognises that the issue of abortion is a highly divisive issue  and a matter for each individual’s conscience. Being desirous of a unified, inclusive Students’ Union this Council mandates to Students’ Union to adopt a position of neutrality in regards to abortion. This Council encourages students with an interest in issues surrounding abortion to express this through the available student societies and external organisations. This Council mandates the Students’ Union to provide a neutral venue for discussions and debates regarding abortion and to assist societies with an interest in the matter in a fair and equitable manner.
Proposer – Caoimhe McNeill
Seconder – Jessica Kirk 

(As an aside, I find it slightly ironic that they were threatening to throw me out for something that they claim is "a matter of each individual's conscience"...)

On the second day, I voted in favour of this motion:

09/WEL 11

Congress notes 
That there is no legislation controlling crisis pregnancy agencies in Ireland. 

Congress notes with concern 
That as a result a number of rogue crisis pregnancy agencies have started up.

Congress recognizes 
That a rogue crisis pregnancy agency is one where the sole purpose of the agency is to prevent a pregnant woman from having 
an abortion. They misinform and intimidate women to achieve their aim, using methods such as harassment, bullying and been given blatantly false information. [Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA)]

Congress acknowledges 
The work done this year by Choice Ireland in campaigning against rogue crisis pregnancy agencies.

Congress mandates the Welfare Officer. 
To work with Choice Ireland, and other relevant agencies, to protest against these rogue crisis pregnancy agencies.

Congress further mandates the Welfare Officer
To lobby for the introduction of legislation in this area.

I do not believe that this was voting in opposition to a neutral position on abortion, I believe that this was voting in favour of telling the truth to pregnant women- something that, I would hope, people would agree on no matter what their opinion of abortion. Because the motion stipulated to "work with Choice Ireland", our President claimed it was not neutral and that we should abstain. I was told to leave the room once I'd voted in favour, I had my delegate card taken off me and was told I was no longer a QUBSU delegate at USI Congress 2013.

Once our President had told USI that I was no longer part of the QUBSU delegation, there was nothing USI could do- and I understand that, every union is autonomous within USI. He also would not make me an observer (we had a good few delegate/observer places left over- we never fill them). If I was an observer I would not have been able to vote- but I would have been able to enter the room, to listen. Instead, I spent three days in a hotel room, following the #USI13 feed on Twitter. If it hadn't been so far away, or the issue hadn't been so contentious, perhaps they would've tried to send me home- that's the usual protocol when someone is thrown out of a union delegation.

So what now? The support I received from other delegates was incredible, likewise, the support I received from people at home. I did not feel so alone- I knew I had done the right thing. There were two women delegates in our delegation out of eight. Many people find it absolutely ridiculous that the male dominated EMC decided to throw one out for speaking for her right to choose. That said, the week was isolating, lonely, and incredibly difficult. A few of my delegation did go out of their way to check I was alright, invite me over in the evenings, that sort of stuff- and I am very grateful for the support, particularly because it came from people who I have not exactly gotten along with in the past. I really did appreciate the effort that they made. Others ignored me for the remainder of the trip.

There are a number of issues here- firstly, regarding mandate. Were we there on the union's mandate? Or on our individual mandate? I believe the latter, the President believes the former. That is essentially the argument, and one that will be settled at our next meeting of QUBSU student council (if you want to come along, do- it's going to be interesting, to say the least).

However, there are a few other factors to consider- the conflict isn't simply on mandate. Neutrality on the issue of abortion (whilst I believe is a complete cop out, ignoring our duties as student representatives and students' union and putting our heads under the sand on the reality of the situation in Ireland), isn't as simple as just abstaining on every motion regarding abortion. The motion itself stipulates that the council now believes it is a matter of individual conscience and acknowledges the right for individual students to work with external organisations. Take from that what you will.. but I believe it gives individuals the right to express their opinions and vote accordingly at national conferences.

Another issue is that of 'mandates' as a whole. Students' unions sabbatical officers dislike when you criticise them, but hate when you criticise the validity of the structures that enabled them to get to where they are even more. Every time I tried to talk about the mandate issue, I was told by our President that the EMC was elected with a huge mandate, bigger than the council mandate- I agree the turn out was bigger than for the council elections. 4,124 students voted in the 2012 sabbatical elections. 4,124. There are 24,197 students at Queen's. That's a turn out of around 17% (I think- if I'm wrong, correct me! Working out percentages is not my strong point..). 17%... Anyone who thinks that this gives anyone the right to do anything in the name of 'all students', in the name of a 'huge mandate', needs a strong reality check.

There are a number of articles going round the internet about what happened at Congress- and there are some factual errors in them, unsurprisingly (that's not to say I don't appreciate the media coverage- I do!). Take this blog post as my account of what happened, even if it contradicts some of the things mentioned in the various articles.

Lastly, some asked me why I voted the way I did, when the motions would have passed with a comfortable majority regardless of my vote.

I voted because I am a woman, because I am a rational human being who believes in compassion for others. I voted because the laws governing my body in Northern Ireland date back to 1861. I voted because women in Ireland are told to be ashamed of making a decision regarding their reproductive health, because Savita Halappanavar's dying foetus was given more attention than she was. I voted because I know women who have had abortions, because each one of us know women who have had abortions. I voted because my reproductive health is not the business of anyone else. I voted because QUBSU women students need to know that even though their union has abandoned them, there is still support from within the student population. I voted because I am a feminist, because I believe in equality. I voted because the other QUBSU delegates decided to remain silent. I voted because it was the right thing to do. 


I am home, finally. I've spent the last few days in Wales visiting my sister with my family, and the few days before that at USI Congress. I'm exhausted. I feel like I could sleep for a year. This was evident while we were in Wales- I stayed in, went to bed earlier than everyone else, slept later than everyone else. I am drained and I have three more conferences to do and four essays and not much time.

I've been living out of a suitcase recently. It feels odd that it was only a week ago I was travelling to Ballinasloe for USI; it feels like it was weeks ago. I'll write about that, once I regain some energy and reply to work emails and sort out washing, and all sorts of boring, menial things that you can't do while you're travelling. Most people reading this probably know what happened. Safe to say it was a horrible week. 

Maybe this is a little bit of a glimpse into what the next few years might be like, if I choose to run for election within NUS-USI or NUS. Living out of a suitcase and never being home and constantly trying not to fall asleep on trains. But I won't even get there if I don't put my head down and actually get some of my university work done- this term got off to a bad start but has improved significantly, so I need it to stay that way. I need to get this year done. 

So I'll write later, when I have the time. It's safe to say I need to rid my head of some thoughts.