Fury over election of New Students’ Union Mature Officer
Nominations opened in November and only saw one candidate put their name forward. The election was due to be held on December 13th 2005, but at a meeting on that day Union President, Ben Preston proposed to Student Council, that “rather than stage a costly by-election” Council should approve the co-option of the sole candidate, David Smyth, to the post for the remainder of the academic year.
Some Councillors reacted in anger to the suggestion, Christopher Gaskin said, “neither the Executive Committee nor the Students’ Union Council had the power to co-opt.” Talking exclusively to ‘The Gown’ , Mr Gaskin said that the decision “was totally unconstitutional.” He continued, “The election should have been held and council should not have been asked to "approve" the returning officers decision as it is a conflict of interest.” Mr Gaskin said that he intended to raise the issue at the next Election Regulation Committee meeting and at the next Student Council, due to meet at the end of January.
In reply to Mr Gaskin’s comments, Mr Preston indicated that as Mature Students’ Officer “the candidate would have no voting rights at meetings of the Students’ Union Executive Committee.” This is in line with the Constitution.
Deputy President Peter Quinn stated in support of the proposal that co-option had happened before and argued that it was constitutional. Student Community Action Officer, Ed Hanna said “a failure to fill the position of Mature Students’ Officer until February 2006, at the latest would be detrimental to the good work of the Students’ Union.” He further argued that “the nomination process had offered all interested students the opportunity to indicate their willingness to stand for this important post.”
Despite the opposition, Council approved the proposal and David Smyth took up the position as Mature Student Officer. Mr Smyth said in an interview with ‘The Gown’ that: “My election/selection/co-option to the position at QUB is nothing new so far as I can see. If Mature Students Officer is such a sought after title how come nobody else showed any interest in filling it?”
Brian Heading, the Returning officer said in a statement that as there was only one nomination “under rule 8.32 of the constitution” he decided that “we do not run an election.” He had ruled the candidate duly elected on the advice of Council and added that in making his decision he “consulted with the Union President and the Union General Manager who is the ultimate budget holder for the Students’ Union.” He further stated that to run an election it would “have actually cost more money”, particularly given the situation, the one nominee would have been elected anyway and in the history of elections within the Union Re-open Nominations, also known as RON has never won. It was claimed as “a victory for common sense.”