When I arrived in the Lecky library one morning a few weeks ago, I picked up a leaflet about a student referendum that had taken place three days beforehand, on whether the SU should adopt another long-term policy; this time, in favour of changing the treatment of asylum seekers in Ireland. A noble idea, I thought. A few hours later, at twenty to four, I was disrupted in my work by the library’s deafening closing bell. Forced to pack up and leave my spot in the Lecky, I found that the so-called twenty-four-hour library was, needless to say, completely full. Studying back at the house was not really an option: I can’t even fit a desk into my bedroom. By relating this account, I am not here asking for compassion, but simply pointing to a situation which I am sure many other students have to cope with. Indeed, many times I have seen people trying to study on the floor of the twenty-four-hour. When this is better than home, it is clear that there is a serious problem.
As such, I decided to look on the SU’s website for our representatives’ recent achievements and current objectives on student issues like the opening hours of our libraries. All I could find is a page with two campaigns fighting a duel over the student services charge and the grants campaigns. I don’t think that such issues shouldn’t be addressed – on the contrary, I think they should be met head. But they are national issues, and that’s what the Union of Students in Ireland is for. TCDSU has other, local responsibilities which it has been neglecting.
The truth is that the SU isn’t concerned enough with the concrete, day-to-day problems that affect us Trinity students. In addition, it seems obvious to me that our student representatives — who, as their title indicates, represent only a tiny fraction of the Irish population — could achieve far more with regard to local issues compared to the treatment of asylum seekers and the like. That the SU has been too politicised is a fact. It cannot govern Ireland! While the abortion debate concerns female students as much as any other woman in the country, the latest referendum on asylum rights clearly shows that some of us completely miss the point of what the SU is about. This is a matter for political parties and civic associations. Like it or not, the SU is neither. The misrepresentation of its role partly explains why, while fellow students at UCC, UCG and UCD and elsewhere have access to their libraries on Sunday (although, it is true, not all of their facilities), we at Trinity must wait until the end of February to avail of the same treatment. As for the Hamilton and John Stearne Medical libraries’ users, they’re still waiting. To some, my argument may seem overly concerned – perhaps even selfishly so – with a matter that is ultimately trivial. They may say that the rights of asylum seekers deserve our attention better than the opening hours of our libraries. They do, of course, but they have nothing to do with the SU, which cannot even do much about it. My opinion is that we must be humbler and care a little more about those who experience difficulties in the College and the future of our university at large!
In a recent Trinity News article, for instance, D. Joyce-Ahearne investigated the Planning Group, a powerful decision-making body within the College which the SU has little clue about and even less power over. Meanwhile, we are asked whether the latter should campaign for asylum rights. Tomorrow, what will it be? Many have raised worries about the possibility of Trinity being privatised. Why are we not talking about that – us, students, the SU and the College administration? Writing articles in our newspapers won’t do. The critique is correct, but not sufficient. In fact, all of us have a share of responsibility in what the SU does and does not do, and not only because we elect it. How many of us have been to the SU Council, or attend it frequently? Why, oddly enough, are we not all entitled to vote in this assembly? I strongly believe that people express their opinions to the extent that they are given the opportunity and the power to do so. That’s how a union of students should work. We don’t elect our SU officers to think for us but to do what we’ve decided. But here’s the problem: we don’t decide an awful lot. If we’re not able to tackle the relatively small issues that affect Trinity students , then how can we expect to change the world?