By Colin Clarke
Our amazing UL campus has changed incredibly over the last few decades. For such a young university we really are blessed to have such a unique and beautiful campus. The reason we have such great facilities is due to a lot of investment from many different sources including government investment and different philanthropic donations, most notably American Billionaire Chuck Feeney who fell in love with Limerick on his first visit. But more importantly the reason we have such fantastic student facilities is that students too have contributed generously over the last 20 years. The only reason we have our current student centre is that the students voted to contribute as they saw the necessity for a place students could call their own. Other sporting facilities like the Arena and the boathouse wouldn’t have been possible without significant student contributions. The reality is that student focused facilities simply won’t get built unless students want them to be. We have been fighting for a library extension for years and that funding has only come through in the last 18 months. But do we really need another student centre and enhanced sports facilities?
Honestly, I believe in order for us to satisfy the needs of both current and future students the answer is YES. The decision to build our current student centre was voted on by students in 1996, when we had a student body of around 6,500 students. 20 years later we have more than doubled to 14,500 students. We want to be the best union we can be but we need more space to grow and to develop and most importantly improve the student services we offer. Currently we have two rooms that are available to be booked by over 70 Clubs and Societies. At the moment only C &S can access the rooms which I don’t believe is fair. In a new student centre there will be rooms available for all who want them. There will be a large chill out space for students who just want a place to relax without the pressure of having to spend any money. There will be new kitchen facilities that student can use free of charge, we all know the price of food on campus is massive and we all know the financial struggles of being a student. There will be new entertainment facilities, multi-functioning study rooms that can be used for group project work, a new performance area which will enhance our ability to put on different types of events, a new debating chamber, a mindfulness room to promote positive mental health and much more. The choice of what will go in will be up to students providing we get a YES vote on the 13th of April. There will also be enhanced sports facilities including the re-development of Maguires training pitches which is basically swamp land for a large proportion of the year due to inclement weather. The proposal includes the development of two student-owed multipurpose all weather pitches. But we already have pitches don’t we?
Yes, there are fantastic sports facilities in the North campus but they are commercially run and only offer 15 training hours a week to our clubs and societies. Also any other student group who just want to play a game of five-a-side are charged €50+ to rent a pitch. That’s just not right. The new pitches will be accessible to any student who wishes to book them. There will also be a new climbing wall, handball alley and dance and martial arts spaces. But I don’t play sports, why should I vote yes? Well the new student centre will be a place for ALL and it will have new top of the range facilities which ALL students will have access to. Another important point is that the new centre will be disability friendly to ensure all of our students have equal access. For those of you who have been here for four or more years you may be asking yourself why are they having this bloody referendum again?
Did we not say no to this referendum twice before?. Well actually the last two referenda got 62% and 64% YES votes but because of a rule in our constitution which required a qualified majority of 66% the referenda failed. To put that into context the marriage equality referendum got just shy of 62% last year. This year student council unanimously voted to change our system to a simple majority of over 50%. The minority should never dictate to the majority. What is different about this referendum?
The proposed levy is not set to come into effect immediately. We listened to student feedback and I also strongly believe that those who benefit most from the facilities should be the ones who ultimately pay. We are proposing that a staggered levy would be put in place. As you can see by the levy breakdown, current third and fourth years will not have to pay any of the levy and first and second years will only have to pay €36, 40% of the total levy as 40% of the projects will have been completed. The full levy of €90 will not come into effect until the academic year 2019/2020 when all of the facilities are completed. Only those who benefit the most will have to pay. However, that was not always the case as previous referendums asked students to pay for facilities they would never use. We owe those students an awful lot for making that decision, I think now it’s our turn to leave a legacy for current and future students. But there are also some immediate short term gains to a Yes vote. For the last two years our capitation from the university has been frozen due to budgetary cuts so that we just had enough money to run our day-to-day business. That meant no growth, no new staff, no new funding for students. If we vote Yes we are set to get €300,000 of capitation transferred back into our accounts from the university and our capitation will be lifted. That means a yearly increase for student money of around €120,000 which will grow as student numbers increase. That will allow us to hire new staff, to invest more in our campaigns like mental health week, to put on bigger and better gigs and to invest further in Clubs and Societies. When you go to vote on the 13th make sure you think seriously about it. I’m asking you to think back to the generations that invested in our future, think about why we have the current facilities we do and to continue on the generosity of past and present UL students. VOTE YES to leave our legacy.
To provide a fair and balanced argument, An Focal asked students at UL to submit an article advocating a NO vote. No individual or group came forward. At the time of going to print there was also no materialisation of a NO campaign or group against the referendum.