Glen Byrne is a fourth year law student. He spoke to Trinity News about his motivations for running, his policies, and why he thinks he is the best candidate for the job.
“I think I have the experience,” he said, explaining that he has been doing communications and marketing work throughout his college career, having held “a number of positions for public relations in societies.” “I understand that it’s a new position. It only started last year, so it’s still getting moulded, but I think Aifric (Ni Chriodain, the current communications and marketing officer) has done a great job. I want to further that and show people that it can really affect how people see the Students’ Union, and how they know what’s going on in the SU and in college,” he said.
Byrne has no previous involvement with the SU, but stressed that this did not hold him back in the past when he worked in promoting societies that he had not been part of before taking on public relations roles with them. “Initially I thought that never having been a class rep would work against me, but now I realise that for this position, it’s about knowing what it is that the rest of the student body isn’t aware of. Now that I’ve been through college, and I know what I didn’t know about the SU, I’m able to figure out what the rest of the student body want to know, and what is the best way of reaching them,” he said.
Discussing his various policies, Byrne described how he has “focused on achievable things like making Council minutes more accessible, and live streaming Council meetings. I also want to collate information on what has been done and what is going to be done by the SU, and how that feeds into the Strategic Plan that was set up last year.”
One of Byrne’s most prominent policies is his commitment to transparency in the SU’s activities: “I think people still don’t know enough about the SU if they’re not actively involved.” Promises to increase student engagement with the SU are made by most presidential and communications candidates each year, but Byrne emphasised that his personal experience of not being actively engaged with the SU gives him particular insight on the issue: “I’ve been in that position myself. I’ve been a student who wasn’t actively involved in the SU and didn’t know exactly what’s going on, but there is so much that is being done that doesn’t reach the rest of the student body. There is essentially a gap there that needs to be bridged.”
As evidence of the lack of engagement between students and the SU, he pointed to events like the defeat at SU Council earlier this year of a motion to oppose the introduction of student fees, which was later raised again and passed after the wider student body expressed discontent with the result. “It was that failure which got reported on, and then there was more engagement on that motion, but it was after the fact,” he said, adding that: “Maybe if more students had understood that it was being discussed at Council, they would have become more engaged, before it failed initially.”
Byrne also hopes to introduce more accountability for sabbatical officers: “During election, candidates are all over College for 10 days, but after that it seems to drop off. I find this interesting, because it doesn’t mean that sabbatical officers aren’t there, but more that they become too involved in the work they’re doing to communicate that work to the rest of the student body.”
To achieve this, he proposes a progress report system. He explained: “What I want to do is take what the candidates have promised, and set up a progress report system so that students can keep tabs on whether the people they have elected, based on their policies, are fulfilling them.” This system, he claimed, will be “simple and engaging, and allow people to quickly see” if sabbatical officers are “doing their job.”
Another of Byrne’s policies relates to lobbying for external support for SU initiatives. “Some of the issues which students face during their college experience don’t get fed back up to the people in charge and there’s dissatisfaction when those issues aren’t acted on by College,” he said, continuing: “I want to create more pressure on College officials to take an interest in student issues by showing people outside of Trinity what’s going on, so that if there’s a consistent issue that isn’t being acted upon, it could be reported to a wider audience, and there would be external pressure on College to take action.”
He points to examples like the recent debate surrounding consent workshops to illustrate that the SU are already watched by outside parties. The Council’s decision surrounding the motion “got brought outside of college and is now creating discourse around the country about consent. It is possible to create pressure through [national media outlets].”
The communications and marketing officer’s role in procuring sponsorship for the SU was highly controversial during last year’s election, with some students believing that corporate sponsorship should have no place in the SU. Byrne commented that: “The current SU funding structure works because it brings a lot of money from sources like the student travel cards. When going into negotiations with sponsors, the SU is in a good place to be able to accept the agreement on its own terms. It doesn’t have to rely on sponsorship.”
However, in spite of this relative independence, he believed that corporate sponsorship as an extra source of income can help fund the SU’s activities: “If you look at the events that have been organised by societies this year, they’ve managed to even outdo themselves from last year. That was helped in large part by the funding they receive [from corporate sponsors]. If you take into consideration that that is the primary funding model for societies, and there still isn’t the fear of corporatisation being realised for society events, and then you compare that to the SU, which has a different funding model, I don’t think that there really is a fear of corporatisation of the union. I think that it can only help the union in funding its services for students.”
Byrne frequently referred to continuity. He was concerned with defining the role of the communications officer, saying: “I think it’s more about creating a legacy for the position itself, fashioning a way for it to be effective in the long-term as well as the short-term. I see some of my policies as having the potential to be ongoing if they were taken on board by future officers.”
So how does he fancy his chances in the race? “I’m sure Emmet has great policies as well, but I don’t want it to become too much of a rivalry,” he said, adding: “I think that he, as much as I do, understands the importance of the position, so I imagine, unlike last year, that there will be a lot of similarities between the two candidates. I think that goes to show the importance of the position.” – JF
Emmet Broaders is in third year studying computer science.
Explaining what motivated him to run for the communications and marketing position, he said that his time spent as Trinity Hall JCR technical officer last year inspired him. “The main reason I was going for it was because of my work on the JCR last year,” he said, adding that the role was “very hands-on” in terms of communicating with and helping students.
“Because I was going around fixing people’s internet all the time and I was actually in their apartments, for a lot of people I was the first one of the [JCR] committee that they met in the first couple of weeks of staying in Halls,” he explained. As a result of this, Broaders said that students would often approach him with questions unrelated to technology, “like what time buses were leaving or where they could go to find such a thing… because it [the information] wasn’t given out there as such.”
He claimed that observing how students interacted with the JCR Facebook page also provided him with insight: “In the group that we had for the JCR… people responded a lot better to when a person posted rather than an entity like the JCR page and people warmed better to a hands-on approach… I think it’s just like that, creating a rapport that gets people involved and people stay in the know then rather than just waiting for information to come to them.”
Broaders was an SU class representative in his second year. Asked whether he thinks prior experience as a class rep or in another SU position is important in the communications and marketing officer role, he said: “I’m not sure if it’s a necessary requirement,” but claimed that being able to contrast his experience of being a class rep in second year with his experience this year of not being one has been helpful. “[In] second year, I was really informed and I went to everything and I got to know everything, but then this year, because I’m not a class rep, I don’t know anything. The only things that I’m hearing are from my friends that are class reps… and I don’t think that’s right… Now that I’ve been on both sides, I know where things can link up and how it’s going to work.”
Broaders described his first main policy as “bridging the gap.” “Council shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of information spread,” he said, claiming that the “trickle down” system of information spread that Aifric Ni Chriodain, the serving communications and marketing officer, has spoken about is ineffective. “Aifric touched on it last year. She said the way it works is a kind of trickle down thing, like a pyramid… All the hacks get to know everything and then they say it to their friends… I know where she’s coming from, and she was right in saying that that is how it happens, but I don’t think that’s how it should happen. It should go to everyone on the same level.”
To ensure that information from SU Council reaches all students, he proposed live streaming the monthly event. He spoke at length about the need for the SU to employ video to a greater extent when communicating with students. “Any sort of video stuff that goes out there is hugely popular and I don’t know why it isn’t utilised more. It’s better than just reading about something because you actually feel like you’re there… If you’re not at Council, you can’t see the kind of the tone of voice people are using and then a lot of things kind of get misconstrued sometimes. If that was being streamed and recorded… anybody could look back on it” and there would be “more transparency.”
Broaders second policy is centred around an online forum. Currently, he said, if students want to find information about the SU, they “have to scroll through Facebook,” and this is problematic because information can easily become buried. The forum, which he described as similar in model to Boards.ie but exclusive to Trinity students, would aim to solve this problem. SU information would be categorised on the site and students would be able to access the questions and answers asked and given by other students, instead of having to go “through Facebook message trying to ask the question or sending an email that might not be read for a week.” This forum, he hoped, will help to stimulate greater discussion of SU issues among students, which he does not see happening in the SU’s current Facebook-centred approach to communicating with students.
In relation to the marketing aspect of the role, Broaders discussed how to make advertisements for corporate sponsors as effective as possible: “We have these demographics that nowhere else has. We’re all students… we’re all around the same age, we’re all doing the same thing, but then even in that you have smaller demographics, you have mature students, you have people doing all sorts of courses. Advertisers want those people and… they want the kind of uniqueness that we have, so we should sell ourselves as that, as being students.” For Broaders, it is about “trying to get people engaged on a level that kind of sends your ad more places, [and] makes it populate different areas.”
According to Broaders, working with corporate sponsors in this way would be beneficial for students as well. He gave the example of Red Bull, who are involved in “loads of events and sponsorship in DCU” that are tailored to students. Broaders felt that: “Adding this kind of human element [is important], because we’re not an advertising company, we’re students… I guess it’s, like, stop taking it so seriously, and make stuff that we’ll enjoy ourselves.”
The SU’s use of corporate sponsorship was seen as problematic by some students during last year’s election. Broaders remarked that the SU has no choice but to engage with corporate sponsors “because we’ve no money.” However, he stressed that: “We don’t want to be, as everybody liked to say last year, ‘a corporate loudspeaker.’ We want to get stuff that is useful to students.”
The failure of the SU to effectively engage with the wider student body has also been commented on in recent years. Broaders observed that: “Everybody loves to talk about the ‘hacks,’ the SU ‘hacks,’ and they’re the hacks because there’s this massive disparity between people that are involved [in the SU] and the people that aren’t… I just want to close that disparity.”
“I want to make everybody aware of everything… because that’s the only way that things can go forward. If you’re relying on it [information] to trickle down, it won’t,” Broaders said, adding that his focus will be on “trying to get people involved and trying to build this sense of community, rather than it [the SU] just being this entity.”
The communications and marketing officer, he explained, is “almost a kind of a shepherd… You’re there to help first and foremost and if you can do that then there’s no point doing it at all.” – LF
Julie Farrell and Lia Flattery contributed reporting to this piece