Tuesday afternoon saw the mass migration of the SU election machines to the Paccar Theatre of the Science Gallery, where the fifteen sabbatical candidates and their supporters had assembled for the second hustings of the 2016 Leadership Race. The event was co-hosted by UT and An Cumann Gaelach, and questions were fielded by UT editor Edmund Heaphy, and Charlie Collins, Vice-President of An Cumann Gaelach.
Fielding an initial question on the potential introduction of a third level student loan scheme following the General Election, Stephen Carty saw the need to vehemently oppose such policy in collaboration with SU presidents of other institutions and “cause a ruckus” nationally on the issue. When questioned on the benefits offered to Trinity students by membership of USI, he noted the importance of working with USI to harmonise housing policy among students, giving TCD “more authority at the door of Leinster House”.
Carty strongly criticised Trinity’s widespread use of consultants, specifically in the rebranding campaign, which he saw as an inefficient and wasteful allocation of funds. On the subject of maintaining the national interest and momentum sparked by Lynne Ruane’s presidency, Carty said: “Lynne has a lot of passion but let’s just say I’m a close second… If they had me on Vincent Browne they wouldn’t have me on again!”
Answering a final question on the centrality of environmental issues in his manifesto, and perhaps as a response to the backlash against his proposals to remove trays from the Buttery in a water-saving measure, Carty was unapologetic: “As students, we are the leaders of tomorrow… [and] we have to look towards divestment, which is a moral thing at its core”.
Dan O’Brien began by relating his experience at the recent Students Against Fees march, which he attended with fellow presidential candidate Kieran McNulty. He expressed his disappointment that the march was not better attended by Trinity students, and was especially concerned by the absence of any current sabbatical officers. He went on to speak about the role of President as a “figurehead” for the student body, representing the interests and values of students across campus. On the matter of USI membership, O’Brien stated that it is “unequivocally a benefit for all students on campus….USI has the ability to leverage a great level of political capital” at a national level, although he admitted that among students there exists a “gap in understanding” of the work USI has done.
O’Brien was especially vocal on the subject of increasing non-EU fees: “We should not attract international students because they are a low-hanging piñata full of money that we can whack until all our problems are gone.” International students, he claimed, bring important new perspectives to Trinity, and the narrative that education is a right for Irish students and a privilege for international ones, he views as especially harmful. Finally, O’Brien stressed how his experience as a senior staff writer at the University Times would translate well to the role of SU President, having “attended every SU council for the last two years”, alongside experience of leading large teams, and making complicated College issues accessible to the average student.
Kieran McNulty claimed that any opposition to a third level loan scheme would constitute “the ultimate test of the SU… No SU president should stand for this. Now is the time to hit the streets”. On the topic of the Irish language, McNulty stated that the SU constitution should “definitely” be translated into Irish, but also said that strategising and prioritising the remit and issues that the President would work on would be necessary.
On the relationship with the USI, McNulty viewed that there was a lot of “duplication of effort” between the SU and USI that could be avoided with greater “cohesion”. He also proposed working with the Comms and Marketing Officer in raising USI awareness. Striking a practical note, McNulty said he was not optimistic that as President he would be able to prevent further non-EU fee increases, but claimed nonetheless that more could be done to represent international students, such as promoting the Global Room more.
Katie Browne Emphasised the role that Ents could play in the SU, specifically better utilising the Ents Facebook page to “increase exposure and contribute more to the political scene within college”. Stressed her plans to further use of the Irish language regardless of ability by a monthly collaborative Pav night, organised by Ents, An Cumann Gaelach, TradSoc and TCD GAA. On inclusion, she spoke of her plan to introduce an “Ents-duction” for incoming freshers, enabling them to get involved in Trinity’s social scene early on.
Caolan Maher spoke on the capacity of the Ents position to “rile up students” on political issues. He also raised the possibility of Ents as a platform for drug education among students. Maher made a brave attempt at answering a question on what Ents could do to promote the Irish language as Gaeilge, stating that there was a lot left to do by Ents to put Irish to the fore and “píosa craic a dhéanamh”. In terms of inclusion, he highlighted how minority students, mature students and international students living in Halls can sometimes feel alienated from the work done by Ents, stating that this was an “easy problem to fix” but not elaborating on the specifics of how he would do so.
Grace O’Boyle concurred with the other candidates that Ents had a role to play in Union politics, stating that she would collaborate with the Divestment Campaign in an event to raise awareness of environmental issues on campus. Speaking in English, she raised the idea of a possible Hilary Term gaeltacht trip organised by Ents as a means of promoting Irish language usage amongst students. Referring to a visit she made to the students in St James’, O’Boyle felt that events aimed specifically at the alternate Health Science/nursing academic timetables would go a long way to making those students feel more included in Trinity life. She also expressed a desire to widen the scope of Ents to demographics other than the majority”. On the subject of Trinity Ball, O’Boyle raised the possibility of independent student art installations at the event, having been reminded by moderator Heaphy that the contract with MCD would not be negotiable within her term as Ents officer.
Paraic Rowley began by discussing the power of Ents to “connect to the people who aren’t motivated to get involved” with the SU. He saw the Ents officer position as a “sociable, approachable person that lets people know what’s going on in college”. Another candidate to opt-out of speaking Irish, Rowley paradoxically claimed that “If you’re not celebrating your country’s culture as an Ents officer, you’re probably doing a terrible job”. He rowed back from this somewhat by underlining that Ents was not the position from which to revitalise the Irish language in College, rather the problem was an educational one at its core. The forum presented another opportunity for Rowley to promote one of the central pillars of his campaign: an app that lets Trinity students know what social events are going on around campus. He also outlined simple measures that could be taken to ensure greater inclusivity at events, such as having non-alcoholic drinks available, and ensuring that they are fully accessible for students with disabilities. Finally, on the topic of Trinity Ball, as Ents officer he would seek to make the event “greener”, with incentives for returning bottles and rubbish on the night.
Communications and Marketing
Although Glen Byrne admitted almost straight away that during his four years in college he has not been the “most active in the SU”, he claimed that as a Union outsider, he understands what is needed to communicate information to the wider College community beyond House 6. He spoke of his plans to “bilingualise” the weekly SU email, incorporating English and Irish versions into a single email sent to all students. When questioned on balancing the dual responsibilities of communications and marketing, Byrne did not necessarily see a “dichotomy” between the two roles. He explained how sponsorship can be gained by establishing good communication mechanisms with students. He also alleged that the diversity of revenue streams funding the SU gives the Comms and Marketing Officer the “option to walk away from contracts and sponsors that aren’t in [students’] individual interests”.
Emmet Broaders seconded much of what was said by Byrne on the importance of placing the Irish language to the fore in weekly emails, and effectively communicating the work of the SU to the wider student body. Although he claimed to view the Communications aspect of the Sabbatical office as the most important, he went on to claim that “it’s all about trying to be attractive to potential sponsors.” When prompted to speak on his plans to introduce a “Points by Proxy” system at SU Council (whereby an audience member could request to have their question or issue raised by someone else present), Broaders elaborated that it can be “very intimidating” to speak up at Council, and that all voices should be heard regardless of how shy one may be.
All the Welfare candidates were confronted immediately with a question on consent workshops, which were recently mandated for all Halls freshers at SU Council in a move that received nationwide attention. Aoibhinn Ni Lochlainn outlined the form these consent workshops might take; stressing the importance of making them engaging and relatable, rather than patronising. She posited creating some incentive to attend, without explicitly stating what that incentive may be, and raised the idea of a fine for non-attendance. Answering a question posed by Cumann’s Charlie Collins, Ni Lochlainn spoke competently in Irish, stating that she would continue the work she has already done in other societies to further the language within the welfare role. In her concluding remarks, she referenced the creation of “Nap Rooms” across campus, which has been a central element to her campaign so far.
Eamonn Redmond began by speaking of the “normalisation of consent workshops” in college, creating a “more interactive” programme of “smaller groups that makes it more approachable for everybody”. In terms of incentivisation, Redmond proposed a night out, in collaboration with Ents, to which all workshop attendees would gain free entrance. When asked about striking a balance between the role of Welfare Officer and constitutionally mandated political representation on contentious issues such as the Repeal the 8th movement, Redmond saw it as important “to be sensitive to both sides of the argument”. Redmond spoke of his regret in the decline of SHIFT week (Trinity’s discontinued sexual health awareness week), and envisaged a student-led forum on the number and topic of Welfare “campaign weeks”.
While agreeing with his fellow candidates on the importance of consent workshops for students, Wafer also noted how the workshops would be “a bit of a statement from the student body” to the wider community, and hence importance should be placed on keeping them “serious” and “legitimate”. In terms of incentivising attendance, he proposed the publication of the workshop sign-in sheet. He proposed more cooperation between the SU, societies and An Cumann Gaeilge, because “if people heard Irish timpeall na haite they would be more inclined to get involved in language and events”. When probed on the feasibility of his election promise to lower student accommodation costs, Wafer reemphasised the importance of awareness-raising on this issue, and ensuring that student voices are heard at a governmental level.
The Health Sciences student, Dale O’Faoilléacháin, emphasised the importance of the Education Officer in a “two-fold role”, stating that the position has become “a lot more focused on the Union, not focused on the ongoing problems students are having” at a departmental and school level. Viewing it as an engagement issue, he claimed that we cannot expect or encourage people to engage with the SU if the Union fails to “address ongoing school problems”. Citing his lengthy experience within House 6 establishment, O’Faoilléacháin saw the need to make the workings of the Union more accessible to the wider student body. Furthermore, he highlighted the failings of the Oversight Commission (OC) to hold candidates accountable for election promises. O’Faoilléacháin himself is a part-time officer of the SU, and stressed this experience as vital to the Education role as organiser of the running of the SU: “You need to know when you can talk… how to manage large cohorts of college… which I have done as a part-time officer”. He also spoke of efforts he would take to make the Trinity Education Project more publicised among students, and to improve study-abroad services.
Nick Spare agreed with O’Faoilléacháin that the lack of knowledge of role of Education Officer represents “a huge failure in terms of engagement”. He raised the issue of Erasmus organisation, especially on TSM courses, as one of the greatest failings of Trinity’s educational organisation, one he would seek to address if elected. Although he struggled somewhat when questioned on the specifics of his manifesto promises to reform access to the academic appeals process, he concluded that his lack of experience within the Union would work to his benefit. He claimed to have a complete understandings of the machinations of the Union and this particular role, concluding that “this role can really benefit from a fresh approach”.
Patrick Higgins was the only candidate to forward the idea of an online voting system for class rep and SU elections, claiming that this would simplify the electoral process and increasing turnout. He praised the work of the Trinity Education Project, and raised the possibility of replicating the system at UNC Chapel Hill, whereby students collaborate with academics to shape module choices and curriculum. He concluded that ultimately, “inexperience in SU matters isn’t as big an issue as people would like it to make it out to be”, and claimed that a fresh perspective on the role could be beneficial.
University Times Editor
When questioned on the primary role of the UT, Sinead Baker claimed that it served to “hold power to account” at college level. Citing the example of the efforts made by the UT to raise awareness of the Trinity Education Project, a lesser-known aspect of Trinity life, Baker stressed her role in “constantly reminding people about things that are important”. She also referenced how the newspaper can serve an archiving function for future generations, as well as lending a voice to all parts of the college community who are seeking to have their opinions heard.
Although Baker conceded that she “cannot speak with any nuance in Irish”, she expressed a wish to make the language a “bigger and better part of our paper”, by continuing the work of the UT staff to ensure all editorials are translated. She raised the possibility of incorporating Irish language articles on subjects that are not necessarily Irish-specific, citing Irish-language restaurant reviews as a good existing example of this which she would like to maintain and expand. In closing, Baker reiterated her lengthy experience with the UT , her passion for Trinity, and her desire to ensure that the UT is “your paper, your voice”.
The next hustings will be hosted by Trinity News and QSoc on Thursday, at 7pm, in the Joly Theatre.