In line with his manifesto for election, Trinity College Dublin Student Union (TCDSU) President Kieran McNulty has organised a Lobby Group which will act as the SU’s ‘political wing’, aiming to represent student voices in national politics through eight campaigns: Higher Education Funding, Repeal the 8th, Mental Health, Accommodation, Drugs and Alcohol Policy, Environment, Brexit and Refugee and Direct Provision. In a Trinity News exclusive, McNulty and his panel give an overview of the Lobby Group, followed by summaries from each campaign’s Chair on their initial research and work this year.
The Lobby Group – Kieran McNulty (Chair), Kevin Keane (Deputy Chair), Sinead Davies (Secretary)
The TCDSU Lobby Group is a new and exciting collaboration of Trinity students working together, under the Chairmanship of the SU President, to ensure that the Irish government hears the student voice, and hears it loud. The aim of the group is to engage with Ireland’s political leaders to encourage a collegiate interaction between the student body and the political system, through which the cries for change in areas affecting third level students and the Irish population generally, can finally be recognised. The group is working on eight specific campaigns namely higher education funding, accommodation, mental health, drugs and alcohol policy, Brexit, repeal the 8th, environment, and refugee education and direct provision. From continuing to emphasise the need for improved higher education funding to vindicating the rights of marginalised asylum seekers we are looking forward to a politically charged and successful year representing the students of Trinity and the voices of students nationwide.
Higher Education Funding Chair – Elisabeth O’Higgins
The Higher Education Lobby Group has three main objectives. Firstly, we want to ensure that all students have a voice in the ongoing debate on the funding of third level institutions. Secondly, the group aims to review all relevant legislation to establish a clear mandate on the ways we want to see higher education funded – we are currently conducting an in-depth review and analysis of the Cassells’ report as this is one of the key documents that will be influencing legislation over the next few years. Finally, the group will be presenting its findings in front of the Oireachtas Committee for Education and Skills to ensure that all students will have access to affordable higher education without the burden of student loans.
Repeal the 8th Chair – Sorcha Siochru
The Repeal the 8th lobby group is working closely with the TCDSU Repeal the 8th committee to represent students on the issue of the eighth amendment of the Constitution and abortion law in Ireland. Specifically, the Repeal the 8th lobby group is currently preparing a document setting out the SU’s position in favour of repealing the 8th amendment, as well as what we feel should come after its repeal. We will use this document to lobby relevant politicians and stakeholders on behalf of students.
Mental Health Chair – Seán Duffy
Mental health is an area of pressing concern for students. As a country, our mental health services have a long way yet to go. The mental health lobby group will seek to improve mental health services, both in colleges and across the country. We will be working in conjunction with various mental health NGOs, such as ‘Mental Health Reform Ireland’. Our aim is to mount pressure on politicians and lawmakers to bring the issue of mental health to the foreground of the political agenda. We hope to place a particular emphasis on mental health awareness and the transition to primary care services.
Accommodation Chair – Alec Bickerstaff
The Housing Crisis is one of the biggest barriers to educational success for students at Trinity. More than a month into term and some students are yet to find affordable accommodation. Government has been caught flat-footed since the beginning of the crisis and have been trying to catch up ever since. That being said, progress has been made and we are proud to endorse TD Simon Coveney’s ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ proposals. In addition to supporting his plans at the national level, we are working with our partners in the Dublin City Council to spur private sector growth through strategic re-zoning and updating Dublin’s urban development plan.
Drugs and Alcohol Policy Chair – Robert Keogh
As the lobbying group responsible for drug policy, we will be advocating progressive legislation and evidence-informed change, that recognises the shortfalls of the current approach to the issue. There is an ongoing shift in the approach to drug policy in Ireland towards a public health model focused on harm reduction. We will be lobbying for further harm reduction measures, and a reformation of how we educate society about drug consumption, which includes alcohol. To complement this lobbying, we also hope to commit our resources towards various welfare and awareness initiatives, at the heart of which will be the concept of harm reduction.
Environment Chair – Robyn Page-Cowman
The Environment group is working closely with college societies to select which student campaigns we advocate nationally. Researching these has been frustrated by the closure of the Department of Environment by the current coalition; however our round-table discussion we held in third week between societies and individuals interested in the environment was very productive. Since this, we have contacted several NGOs to arrange meetings to discuss cooperating with them and how we can continue national conversations on the environment. We have also started outlining our lobby group document proposing to nationalise the SU Fossil Free campaign, push for a microbeads ban and on waste reduction pledges. We will be launching this at a second Roundtable in Green Week, where we also hope to launch a campus-campaign against coffee cup waste. Watch out for more information on our work and the second round-table environment meeting in Green Week.
Brexit Chair – Ailbhe Brioscu
This group, made up of students from the North and South of Ireland, was set up to deal specifically with Brexit and its impacts. Since our launch, we have been working on understanding the effect Brexit will have on students in Ireland, particularly those coming from the UK or Northern Ireland, and the effects on the third level education sector itself. Mobility within Ireland’s education system is something that is of the utmost importance for students and the economy; after all Trinity has always set out to be an “all-island university”. We hope to communicate this message to all relevant Oireachtas members and make sure student voices are heard in the “All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit.”
Refugee & Direct Provision Chair – Carolanna Foley
The Refugee Education and Direct Provision lobby group aims to improve the reception system and access to education for refugees in Ireland. With the crisis unfolding on the continent, refugee rights must be recognised as human rights. Though the Irish government must be more proactive in dealing with the ongoing crisis, we believe they also have to vastly improve the situation for refugees already living here. We will lobby especially on issues affecting young people, such as access to education and the location of Direct Provision centres relative to the nearest schools, and the lack of funding available for refugees to attain third level education. Outside of these goals, the improvement and standardisation of Direct Provision centres and the treatment of vulnerable persons when they arrive in Ireland are also focus issues for the group. If anyone is interested in getting involved or collaborating with the group, do get in contact!