Hustings for candidates in the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) officer board elections took place this evening, with candidates presenting their manifestos to students in a bid for Trinity students’ votes. Twelve candidates are vying for eight positions, with four uncontested races.
The hustings were attended by Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) and the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), after both unions held Councils earlier this evening. No Trinity students are running for positions on next year’s USI team.
Oisín Hassan won over Council voters in the race for USI President against Lorna Fitzpatrick. Hassan is USI’s current Deputy President and Vice President for Academic Affairs. He has also served as Vice President for both Equality and Diversity, and Education on Queen’s University Belfast Students’ Union (QUBSU). Speaking to Council, Hassan indicated his plan of “building an activist space and mobilising our students”. He intends to focus on “radical” action to solve the student accommodation crisis.
His contender, Lorna Fitzpatrick, is the current Vice President for the Southern Region in USI. Previously, Fitzpatrick spent two years as a sabbatical officer in the Institute of Technology Carlow Students’ Union, holding the positions of Deputy President for Education and Welfare before being elected as President. She emphasised that higher education funding “needs to be at the core of everything we do this year” and mentioned the accommodation crisis as another area of concern. She said that while she was “proud” of USI’s work, she identified the need to make changes within the union.
Roisín O’Donovan is the sole candidate contesting the position of Vice President for Welfare, and won the Trinity vote this evening. From Dublin, she has served as Welfare Officer of the Dublin Institute of Technology Students’ Union (DITSU) for the past two years. O’Donovan said she was confident she was the “best person for the job” and would encourage students to be critical of USI in order to improve its services. She outlined her intent to hold a mental health conference or think tank to discuss welfare issues. She also emphasised that USI should be “screaming and shouting about abortion information” to make the information available to students.
VP Dublin Region
Craig McHugh is running unopposed for the position of Vice President for the Dublin Region, and won the Trinity vote this evening. McHugh is currently the Vice President for Education and Placement in DCU Students’ Union (DCUSU). McHugh stated that his focus would be on “three things: engagement, engagement, engagement”. He spoke on his desire to engage “every student” and “bring USI back to its core”. He hopes to “make sure that students on satellite campuses feel engaged” and make affordable student accommodation a priority.
Leon Diop won the Council vote this evening, succeeding over current USI Vice President for Campaigns, Michelle Byrne. Diop is in his second term as Maynooth University Students’ Union (MSU) President and holds a degree in psychology. Diop expressed that he feels USI has “missed some of its key targets in terms of core campaigns this year” and insisted that campaigns should not run “for the sake” of “running through the motions”.
Byrne, Diop’s contender, is running for a second term in the role. She stated that she had “listened to [students’] feedback” and highlighted higher education funding, sexual violence, and pharmacy, nursing, and midwifery students’ issues as key subjects she would focus campaigns on, questioning: “If USI isn’t tackling these student issues, then who is?”
TCDSU President, Shane De Rís, questioned the candidates on whether USI’s focus had slipped away from higher education funding and student fees. Byrne said she “wholeheartedly disagreed” with the suggestion that USI had not prioritised higher education funding, citing meetings with government ministers and USI’s Rainy Day protest ahead of the Budget 2019 announcement. Diop said that “governance needed to be improved” so that students could see what was “at the forefront” of USI, suggesting that feedback outlets for students be improved.
VP Equality and Citizenship
Megan Reilly is unopposed in her bid to become Vice President for Equality and Citizenship, and won the Trinity vote this evening in Council. She is the current President of the National UniversIty of Ireland Galway Students’ Union (NUIGSU). Reilly described a “hunger and momentum to change Ireland for the better” among students and emphasised the importance of ending direct provision, improving access to higher education, and encouraging diversity in leadership.
VP Academic Affairs
Marie Sheedy succeeded at garnering Council’s votes this evening over Kevin McStravock, who are both in the race for Vice President for Academic Affairs.
Sheedy has been part of the Waterford Institute of Technology Students’ Union (WITSU) for the past three years. She currently holds the position of President, having previously served as Vice President for Education for two years. Sheedy, who did not attend Council due to being in hospital, submitted a speech which outlined that she “believe[s] in practical and implementable solutions”, discussing her plans to make sure “requirements [are] met in the Higher Education Act 2020”.
McStravock has also served on an SU for the past three years in Ulster University. He has held the position of President for the past two years, having previously been the Vice President for the Coleraine campus. He discussed previous success in forging staff-student partnership and stated: “If elected, I will ensure our feet don’t leave the street until we have been successful on every single issue.”
VP Postgraduate Affairs
Sara Dowling and Jason Kavanagh are running for the position of Vice President for Postgraduate Affairs, the only part-time position in the Union, with Dowling securing the Trinity vote.
Dowling previously served as Students’ Union President in the Limerick School of Art and Design and is currently undertaking an MA in Fine Arts and Curatorial Studies by Practise with EVA International. Dowling outlined her intent to bring attention to alumni incentives, postgraduate students in professional employment, and attention to “relevant inclusivity issues”. Dowling said that there is still a “clear lack of understanding of what a working postgraduate is”.
Kavanagh, a former President of IT Tallaght Students’ Union, is currently undertaking a Masters of Management in same. Kavanagh drew on past experience in students’ union affairs in putting “equality at the forefront of [the SU’s] constitution”. He explained that he would focus on engagement, representation, and finance.
A Council member questioned the candidates on how they would engage postgraduate students in institutions where postgraduate students do not have a postgraduate-specific students’ union. Kavanagh responded that he wants to “launch a national study into best practises for postgraduate representation”, while Dowling asserted that it comes down to “ground level knowledge” in engaging students in inductions at the start of the year, and asserting postgraduate students’ needs.
LÚ don Gaeilge
Clíodhna Ní Dhufaigh is the sole candidate for the position of Leas-Uachtarán don Ghaeilge and won the vote in Trinity this evening. Currently undertaking a masters in Irish in Maynooth University, Ní Dhufaigh was the Irish Language and Cultural Affairs Officer in Maynooth Students’ Union, as well as being heavily involved in Cuallacht Cholmcille, Má Nuad. Ní Dhufaigh explained her desire to focus on reinstating the Gaeltacht grant for student teachers and to pressure politicians in Northern Ireland to introduce an Irish language act.
TCDSU Council took place this evening in the Edmund Burke lecture theatre in the Arts Building.