At the first University Times Equality Hustings, the twelve sabbatical officer candidates answered questions from USI Vice President for Equality and Citizenship Siona Cahill, University Times Editor Dominic McGrath, Ciáran Wadd, President of Cumann Gaelach and TCDSU Ethnic Minorities Officer Aghogho Atiyota. Questions were asked both in English, and in Irish followed by the English translation.
University Times Editor
Eleanor O’Mahony took the stage alone to face questions on her plans for the position of Editor of The University Times, with her opponent Michael McDermott also running for President. O’Mahony was quizzed on her ambition to improve the prevalence and quality of video content in the paper’s coverage, replying that she would look to prioritise “quality over quantity”. A running theme in the race has been the cost of The University Times on the SU’s finances. O’Mahony admitted “We can definitely do more to cut costs”, but highlighted the importance of The University Times to college life. O’Mahony, when pressed on the issue of the paper’s funding by SU President Kevin Keane, said she had been liaising with the Sunday Business Post to look at how to increase advertising revenue.
She reiterated her desire to “put a face on the paper” by introducing office hours, similar to other sabbatical officers. She admitted this would be “difficult” with the schedule of the University Times Editor, but said she would try run two hours a week “during the first term and then we’ll see how it goes”. When asked how she saw The University Times’ role in relation to campaigns and advocacy, O’Mahony described the work of The University Times as “activism through writing” and praised the paper’s coverage of the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment. In response to a question on how the paper would make LGBTQ+ voices heard, O’Mahony highlighted the importance of “getting people from all different backgrounds involved” and said she would be “focusing on building the team from the ground up”.
Matt Dundon and David Flood, the two candidates for Ents officer, were the next to take the stage. Dundon began by noting his manifesto promise to create more LQBTQ+ nights out. He highlighted the need for “accommodating” students by running “safe and friendly” events. The third year Philosophy, Political Science, Economics and Sociology (PPES) student continued by discussing his plans to create “BYOB events in unconventional places” in “places that in otherwise would be unusable,” and mentioned an old chocolate factory at the top of Parnell Street as a particular area that may be used. Dundon said that events such as these would enable Ents to “move away from bland club nights”.
The candidates were asked how they would make events affordable for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Flood stated that he had discussed this with current Ents Officer, Jonah Craig, with a view to “closing the deficit” of the union. Consequently, he argued, there would be “more money for events thus events can be cheaper”. Dundon stressed the need to make events smaller as well as the importance of sourcing cheaper venues, and said that Ents often “overestimates” the amount of students who attend events. By making events “smaller,” they would become “cheaper” with “a larger profit margin,” Dundon said.
The candidates were asked about their plans for LGBTQ+ events and making Ents more inclusive. Flood highlighted one of his main manifesto points, a Pride event. He emphasised that this event would be given a great deal of resources and attention, rather than these being spread out between many smaller events. Dundon disagreed with this approach, citing his experience with The Midnight Disco. He said it was important to have continuous events to gain momentum. When asked how to attract members of the LGBTQ+ community beyond those already involved in the SU, Flood said he would make sure societies like QSoc are involved in the planning of the events. Dundon said he would focus on branding and marketing to attract the right people for such events.
When asked about why ethnic minorities should vote for either candidate, Flood discussed his idea of creating a World Culture Day, and said that the event would be an “educational fun day where people can get out and get involved”. Dundon said he was “really interested in is collaborating with smaller societies,” and highlighted the cutting of the SU’s deficit as a means to allow for this. Ents is “one of the most profitable societies,” Dundon said, predicting that Ents would approach a point where “we won’t have to make a lot of money,” enabling more collaboration with smaller societies.
Communications and Marketing
The three candidates for Communications and Marketing Officer were to face questions from the panel. Niall Harty again emphasised his private sector marketing experience and his desire to utilise these skills in the SU. Cian Rynne, by contrast, said “I actually want to focus less on marketing”, highlighting the need to look “inwards”. He criticised the state of the SU’s finances, arguing that “we have to be smarter on how we spend money”.When questioned on where he would make these savings, Rynne criticised the amount of money the SU spends on publications. In particular, he reiterated his campaign promise to digitise the SU diary, and also picked out The University Times as a “hemorrhaging point” for the Union’s finances. He referred to reintegrating the positions of Editor of The University Times and Communications and Marketing Officer as “the nuclear option”, noting “nothing is off the table for me”.
Each candidate was asked what point in each other’s manifestos they would highlight for criticism. Harty insisted the race was about “who’s right for the role, rather than who’s wrong for the role”, describing all three candidates’ manifestos as “strong”. Paraic McLean highlighted the “strong brand” he felt he had created in his manifesto in comparison to the others. Rynne, criticised McLean’s “suggestion box”, arguing that “if you’re running, you should be bringing most of the ideas”. He also described Harty’s manifesto as “vague,” but qualified his criticism by praising both of his opponents’ suitability for the role.
Speaking on how to highlight the merits of the SU beyond those who are already involved, McLean highlighted the importance of social media and tracking engagement, “highlighting where we are strong and not so strong”. McLean noted the “increased engagement” with the SU through instagram stories this year, and said: “We can only continue to go up.”
Rynne was asked to elaborate on how he would go about digitising the SU diary. After initially describing the process of transferring it to PDF format, he was pressed on how a digital allow for the diary to “ be expanded in certain places”. He continued by saying that “not only does that save money, it’s more environmentally friendly”. When asked what he would do to foster a “central community” in College, Rynne reiterated his desire to amalgamate the SU’s various social media platforms to make it easier to follow.
Harty’s manifesto was singled out for criticism by Cahill, USI Vice President for Welfare, over the use of the phrase “the dyslexics”. He admitted that “it could be worded better” and apologised.
All three candidates were asked what they could do for the LGBTQ+ community in college. McLean said “I am a gay man, but that doesn’t mean I can vouch for everyone,” and noted the importance of inclusivity. “It should include people who aren’t just male or female,” he said and noted the need for inclusivity among all members of the LGBTQ+ community. Harty said he considered himself “an ally for the LQBTQ+ community” and highlighted his desire to bridge the gap between the SU and all students. Rynne admitted that while there were no specific proposals he could offer to LGBTQ+ students, he hoped that they would be won over by his policies.
James Cunningham, the uncontested candidate for Welfare Officer, spoke next. The former JCR Officer from Belfast further discussed his ambitions for the Welfare Officer position and why he is the most suitable for the role.
The first question concerned whether consent workshops, recently introduced in Trinity Hall, should be expanded to campus. Cunningham reiterated his desire to collaborate with societies and sports clubs interested in running the workshops.
When asked about the ongoing issue allocating space for counselling services, Cunningham said that he would engage in an “open dialogue with the college” about potential locations. The discussion then turned to the accommodation crisis and what practical support the Welfare Officer can provide to students facing difficulties in this area. Cunningham highlighted the importance of liaising with the Student Accommodation Service.
Cunningham fielded a number of questions related to mental health, LGBTQ issues and disabilities. He praised the “fantastic” work done by QSoc and indicated that he wants to improve collaboration between the society and the Welfare Officer. He stated that he would also work closer with the necessary Part Time Officers (PTO) of the SU. Cunningham also proposed to introduce specific office hours for the Disability Officer to accommodate students who struggle to access the SU’s services.
Aimee Connolly, the sole candidate for Education Officer, focused on her campaign plans to engage and support students. When asked if she was worried about the implementation of the Trinity Education Project (TEP), Connolly noted her concerns for students with disabilities, saying that there may be issues finding suitable exam venues after the implementation of semesterised exams. She also noted the anxiety students might have “with Schols and Christmas exams at the same time,” but continued: “Overall I do think that the Trinity Education Project is a positive thing and I hope the issues can be smoothed out as time goes on.”
If elected, Connolly plans to divide her time between “education projects, case work and meetings”. Speaking on the need to engage students with the SU, she said that “actually getting out of House Six” will be key. Connolly argued that a sole Facebook page for Education Officer is necessary, saying: “I think it would be good for students who have queries about TEP.” Connolly reiterated this point when asked how she would communicate students’ concerns regarding the implementation of TEP, stating: “I want to have everything with that one area.” Connolly noted that as Education Officer, she would “sit on several committees” and have a direct line to College.
Connolly was questioned on her plan for a “module fair” and the administrative problems she may face. She proposed a test run rather than the idea being “scrapped altogether”. Connolly noted the admin problems that she would face between different department and schools, but said she was already in talks with various schools and College officials concerning the proposal.
Connolly was also asked why she did not include a specific manifesto point aiming to increase females in leadership positions. She spoke about how this was “a problem not just in the SU but in societies and even if we look at society heads, only 46% are female”. She also stated her commitment to continuing the work of current Education Officer Alice MacPherson in improving women’s representation in the SU.
Finally, the four presidential candidates took to the stage. Paul Molloy, current Auditor of the Hist, further elaborated on his platform for access, affordability and accountability. Sean Ryan emphasised the difficulties faced by students with disabilities, citing from his own personal experience. Shane De Rís stressed the role for the SU in making college more affordable, and the need for the SU to raise more revenue. Michael McDermott criticised the SU for being inaccessible to students in the Engineering, Maths and Science faculty, and echoed Molloy’s statements about the need to be more pragmatic in saving money.
The first question taken by De Rís concerned how he would maintain the financial stability of the SU. De Rís said he would not cut any student services, but instead would focus on increasing the Union’s revenue. He referred directly to the SU shop in House 6 and said “it’s a shop in the centre of Dublin, it shouldn’t be that hard to make money”. Molloy reiterated his commitment to cut costs and referenced his previous experience with deficits in the Hist. Ryan stated he would not reduce any services and repeated his point that the SU is not a “commercial entity”. When pressed on what concrete actions he would take to improve the Union’s finances Ryan referred to De Rís’s previous point about the SU shop and increasing revenue. McDermott repeated his criticism from previous hustings of the amount of money spent on events such as Class Rep training.
Molloy and De Rís clashed on the issue of TEP, with Molloy saying that he was the only one of the group to have a strong knowledge of the scheme.Molloy was challenged by De Rís, who said “I have experience working with TEP, where is your experience working with TEP?” Molloy reiterated his concerns, stating: “There are a lot of concerns there for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds being able to access education,” as well as “disability rights and access”.
The next questions turned to issues of equality. De Rís argued the student could better serve issues with greater diversity in leadership. He believes that the low number of women competing for election is “not acceptable” and that the SU needs to work more on this. Molloy argued that “issues when it comes to equality are quite intersectional” and are not just related to class incomes and class related issues. He said that issues surrounding disability rights and access” will be two primary focuses of his tenure. Ryan referred to the difficulties he would have accessing his office if elected next year and the difficulties he faces as a member of a marginalised community due to his disability. Finally McDermott posed a challenge to the panel of equality experts, asking them why are they not telling the candidates what they should do, and said that as he has “not known any oppression” himself, he could not offer a new approach to these issues.
Current TCDSU Education Officer, Alice MacPherson, posed a question about how best to implement the Student Partnership Policy to the candidates. De Rís was the first to respond, saying “it is about students being partners in their education”. De Rís promised to “make sure College abides with what students want”. Molloy stated: “I do believe that the student experience is at the heart of what trinity does,” and highlighted that there is “a lot of clashing between students and administration”. Sean Ryan noted that “it is very difficult to know what is going to happen, but I will take into consideration what people think about the program.” McDermott said that his “biggest regret” is not engaging with politics or the school, and said that the past week had been “the best”.
Reporting by Rory O’Neill, Peter Kelly, Caroline Boyle, Shane Hughes, Sinead Barry, Michael Gilna, Sarah Meehan, Niamh Keating, Cian McLochlainn, Ciaran Sunderland and Seana Davis.