In September of last year, it was announced that the Trinity branch of the European Law Students’ Association (ELSA) had lost its Central Societies Committee (CSC) recognition, following the submission of unsatisfactory accounts. At the time, Secretary of the CSC, Hugh Fitzgibbon, noted that “despite declaring having 250 members, membership money was not lodged to the society’s official bank account”. As a result, the society faced a year on the sidelines, losing its legitimacy as a CSC-approved society, with its functionality considered to have “automatically lapsed”.
Despite the controversy it has faced, the function the society provides is valuable, and therefore would be difficult to completely remove from campus. Defined on its website as being “an international, independent, non-political, non-profit making organisation run by and for students and recent graduates, who are interested in achieving academic and personal excellence in addition to their legal or law-related studies at university,” the organisation certainly has a lot to offer. This is perhaps most evident in the fact that it continues to function on a national and international basis, connecting students from “different legal systems across Europe”. Indeed, its relevance seems to span far beyond College walls.
”Not many other societies can boast an international appeal of this scale.”
At face value at least, the organisation’s mission statement is a wide-reaching and unique one, particularly for Law students. It is fair to say that not many other societies can boast an international appeal of this scale, and that, as a result, ELSA’s absence from campus this year was one which is to be lamented, not mocked. This is certainly the sentiment echoed by those who remain involved, despite the difficulties the Trinity branch faced. Indeed, past and future members have not been deterred from being actively involved in ELSA, and consequently are responsible for its imminent renaissance. The opportunities ELSA can provide has undoubtedly instilled a hunger within the group to get the society back up and running in the next academic year, and to rectify previous mistakes.
Sinead Flynn, a Junior Sophister Law Student and current General Secretary for ELSA Ireland, spoke of her time within the society, and passionately outlines her plans to regain CSC recognition. Flynn has stated that ELSA has continued to function on a national level, due to branches in NUIG, DCU and Maynooth University, and that, “while there isn’t a CSC-regulated ELSA Trinity, students from Trinity may still participate in ELSA opportunities and activities”. The aforementioned activities include “week-long summer schools in corporate and finance law, research opportunities, traineeships, and essay competitions.” These are all endeavours which would certainly augment the experience of many students in Trinity, should they be offered at a society level next year. Given Flynn’s description, the ELSA website’s mission statement, to “provide its members a platform to develop existing skills and acquire new ones,” seems true to form.
Gareth Foynes, also a Junior Sophister Law student, and current Vice President of Academic Activities for ELSA, spoke of an equally positive experience within ELSA. “So far, being part of ELSA has been an enlightening experience as I was unaware of the many opportunities it has to offer. These opportunities range from networking with law students across Europe to taking part in international moot courts.” Perhaps most poignantly, Foynes noted that he did not “feel as though he could derive these benefits from any other society at my time in Trinity”.
“Even without CSC recognition, “students may still participate in these great endeavours and opportunities,”
In any case, it would appear that ELSA continues to have a positive impact on its members despite the issues they have faced. It is still important to address the elephant in the room. When quizzed on the lack of CSC recognition, Flynn stated that “it was 90% [out] of the Board’s control or knowledge,” and that the entire incident was “incredibly unfortunate and frustrating”. The current committee were keen to assure future members that they were working to regain CSC recognition, and are currently looking to ensure a similar problem does not happen again.
In the direct aftermath of the accounts issue, Flynn recalls that “a group of us got 200 signatures and drafted a newly required constitution to gain CSC recognition again. Unfortunately the CSC did not feel we should be a society on campus, and thus we were not awarded status.” Both herself and Foynes have stated that they “will be trying again next year,” and Flynn was keen to draw reference to the fact that, even without CSC recognition, “students may still participate in these great endeavours and opportunities,” and should “follow ELSA Ireland on Facebook for more updates and notifications about opportunities”. The fact that many members have continued to be involved in ELSA even without a CSC-recognised presence in Trinity is indicative of the effect it has had upon its members, with Flynn calling it a “truly great association, that gives students great opportunities”.
If it is to mount a successful return to society life next year, ELSA holds the potential to have a positive effect on the College landscape and student life. From the description of its members, it is a unique organisation in a strange period, but whose mission statement remains attractive for students throughout College. It goes without saying that 2019 will be a big year for Trinity ELSA, and past difficulties will have to be addressed if it is to once again make its mark on Trinity’s diverse society landscape.