Annie Hoey, current deputy president and vice-president for equality and citizenship for the Union of Students Ireland (USI), announced on February 10 that she will be running for the role of USI president.
Speaking to Trinity News about her candidacy, she said that she believes her current position will be of benefit to her, having deputised for the current president Kevin Donoghue and worked alongside him for the past year.
She has also met with Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan and with the Higher Education Authority (HEA), the latter she deemed as “crucial” given the ongoing negotiations around the Technological Universities Bill 2015, which sparked the striking of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) in early February.
Hoey explained that the experience that she has gained from sitting on the HEA’s Access Board in negotiating and fighting for students’ interests will stand to her if elected.
She outlined higher education funding as the number one priority should she be elected, adding that, amidst the possibility of income-contingent student loans and the aforementioned bill, figuring out “where the money is going to come from” and holding the government accountable to “quality assurance” on any prospective plans for funding will be key.
Asked about what she perceives to be the most challenging undertaking in mediating between student and government interests, she stated that the sheer scale of the task feels, at times, “insurmountable… like an avalanche.” However, she said that USI’s most powerful force is the fact it has “student movement as [its] backbone.” By engaging and activating students on the ground, getting their point across on boards, “[where] you don’t hear the word student mentioned for two hours” at times, becomes a far louder and a far more potent intention, she said. She was adamant that she would never accept any result from negotiations that did not have the best outcome for students at its core.
According to Hoey, having experience of working on multiple USI and student-run campaigns, such as Students Against Fees, Yes Equality and Pink Training, means that she will be strongly orientated towards fostering civic engagement.
Hoey outlined that student activism, citing the Students Against Fees movement, is “something [she] want[s] to nurture.” It will be crucial for the upcoming resistance against the introduction of loan schemes: “[We] don’t believe that there should be fees. Education is a public good,” she stated, adding that public opinion has moved to support this, with many feeling that fees do not “encourage progression from second- to third-level education.”
Having mobilised many students for the Yes Equality campaign, Hoey claimed that that movement has politicised and engaged students and that the hunger for “social change” incited in students would only work to benefit the Repeal the Eighth campaign, should a referendum be called: “It will be a different kind of campaign… It won’t be [mobilised] on one side, but it won’t be a 50/50 split,” she said, citing the recent figures found by the USI that 85% of students want to back the campaign.
Hoey has worked on many issues pertaining to women’s rights, and obtained a post-graduate certificate in women’s studies from University College Cork (UCC). Speaking about the obstacles facing women in leadership, she recalled her own experience as a first year in college, seeing a female part-time officer in UCC Students’ Union (UCCSU) speaking to students, who would later to go on to become her mentor and was the inspiration for her involvement with student politics.
When asked to comment on Trinity’s current lack of female candidates in the SU election, she admitted that it is a slow process toward obtaining equal representation, and that it will not come all at once: “The year after I won [a sabbatical officer position in UCCSU], there was an all-male sabbatical team.” According to Hoey, although it can be “disheartening” and sometimes act as an obstacle, she stated that the feeling that there is no space for women can also act to spur women on in spite of it: “I view it as a brief obstacle,” she stated, in relation to her running for president as a woman, but added that, ultimately, that doubt worked only to cement her decision.