The Montague campaign has been disciplined by the Electoral Commission (EC) after one of its members accused her opponent, Conor Clancy, of homophobia, Trinity News understands.
The incident is said to have taken place during the official campaign period and involved the campaigner trying to convince an undecided voter, in what was described by our source as a “gossipy” manner, that they should vote for Montague over Clancy because of hearsay that he was a homophobe.
The incident came to the attention of the EC and subsequently led to a joint declaration last night by all five welfare candidates, via the Students’ Union Facebook page, that, “the questioning of the character of the candidates and their attitudes has gone far beyond what is considered reasonable within the context of an election.”
It continues, “The Welfare & Equality candidates endorse one other’s ability to uphold the principles of office. They encourage constructive criticism of their policies and they, on behalf of their teams and themselves, denounce any unfounded allegations against their characters.”
In a further statement released, Montague said: “Yesterday evening I was made aware of an incident where a member of my team fell below these standards, and worked against these principles. I immediately brought this to the attention of the Electoral Commission and cooperated fully with their investigation, providing information where I could, and meeting the team as often as was required. I had absolutely no knowledge of this person’s actions, and I completely disagree with them, and as a consequence of their actions, they have since been removed from my campaign team entirely. In the interest of continuing a professional and respectful race, I offer my wholehearted and unreserved apologies to any candidate(s) who may have been affected by this person’s actions. ”
The Montague campaign page was deactivated last night and, at the time of writing, remains so.
In a statement, the Conor Clancy campaign team said, “The incident in question involved a member of Muireann’s campaign team. As the EC is dealing with disciplinary action we will be adhering to their policy of avoiding names. The comment that was made was obviously hurtful and untrue and accordingly the student who made it has been dealt with. We are completely satisfied with the steps that Muireann has taken to deal with the incident and are keen to leave it behind us and get back to the Leadership Race. We also appreciate the solidarity shown by all the Welfare candidates in the joint statement released by TCDSU last night.”
The race for welfare remains one of this year’s most fiercely contested elections: Trinity News’ poll of student opinion, released on Monday, predicted that Montague lead slightly, with 32% of committed voters against 31% for Clancy. All other candidates polled below 20%.
The news comes after several candidates were last week reprimanded by the EC for breaches in the rules governing student elections.
Molly Kenny, the unopposed candidate for education officer, was disciplined after a University Times profile of her appeared on the paper’s website before the official campaigning period had begun, Trinity News understands. Kenny was contacted for comment but at the time of print had not responded.
Presidential candidate Lynn Ruane was also made postpone the launch of her campaign page on Facebook for a number of hours after she e-mailed a TAP students trying to recruit them prior to the campaign’s official starting point.
Jemma O’Leary, the SU sabbatical candidate for communications and marketing officer, was also reported to the EC last week after a fake Facebook profile was linked to her campaign, Trinity News has learned. The profile – since deleted – was used to attack the policies of her opponent, Aifric Ní Chríodáin, particularly her pledge to raise ¤5,000 in sponsorship to mitigate the 22% cut in the student hardship fund’s budget.
“Are you implying that the Student Hardship Fund is funded by the Students’ Union? Because it appears to be your premise and it’s patently false,” a comment left by the profile on Ní Chríodáin’s page stated. “It’s funded by the Senior Tutor’s Office.”
O’Leary’s campaign manager, Will Earle A’Hern, told Trinity News that the person behind the post was clarifying a “particularly misleading piece of rhetoric” being used by Ní Chríodáin. “To be honest, they should have used their own profile. But I stand by the bones of their point,” he said.
He continued that the profile was used as “a simple mechanism through which we were able to manage the online aspects of [O’Leary’s] campaign.” He said that it “simply streamlined the process of collecting images of the campaign from volunteers and publishing graphics online. There was no malicious intent, nor was it a platform for campaigning.”
The O’Leary campaign was ordered to deactivate its Facebook page for a period of time as punishment by the EC after the newly created accounted was reported by a suspicious student after it added over a hundred Trinity students within the space of a few days.
When contacted by Trinity News, O’Leary said that the fake Facebook profile was “something that was set up by someone in my campaign team who manages the page. I wasn’t behind the page; it was somebody else whom I can’t name to you.” She confirmed that the person responsible remains on her campaign team having been told “not to do it again.”
EC chair, Kieran McNulty, declined to comment on any further breaches. “Several candidates have been fined, but I personally believe that this year’s candidates have behaved admirably and for the most part adhered to the rules,” he said.
UPDATE, 11/2, 15:30: An earlier version of this article said that the Montague campaign team had not responded to a request for comment. A statement issued by its manager, Peter O’Brien, has since clarified: “As the investigation was still ongoing, as demonstrated by our two meetings with the EC this morning, we were not in a position to comment. Our statement on the matter is now available.”
Additional reporting by Andrew O’Donovan.