As the end of the campaign period draws near, the ten candidates in this year’s Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) elections had their final opportunity to vie for votes in front of a crowd at this evening’s hustings in Trinity Hall (Halls), which is home to almost 1,000 first year students. Addressing an audience of comprised predominantly of campaign teams, the candidates for President, Education Officer, Welfare Officer, Communications and Marketing Officer, Ents Officer, and University Times Editor engaged with questions from current TCDSU sabbatical officers and the Junior Common Room (JCR), a committee of second-year students who oversee life in Halls.
Voting in the elections opened in Halls after the hustings and is set to continue until Thursday, when the results are to be announced.
Eoin Hand, Ryan Carey and Harry Williams made their final presidential pitches to the crowd of several dozen. In his opening statement, frontrunner Hand continued to voice a local issues pitch. “Sometimes the SU isn’t as critical of College as it should be,” he said, saying that he wants to help all students. Carey highlighted his experience inside the union, a common theme during his campaign, but also mentioned that he did not get involved in the students union during his first two years in college. The anti-establishment Williams said the union is failing students, saying that he’s “had enough” of the union not being engaged with all students.
“I think the union is an inherently political union concept, a leftist concept,” Carey said. He voiced his support for mandates relating to BDS and direct provision. “We’ve really led these movements,” he said, adding that fighting for human rights is “not a radical concept”. He said that the union should “stand up for the rights of all students…I think it would be a waste to have a union that is apolitical.” Hand said that he has “been perceived as this apolitical person”, claiming that this only relates to national politics. He repeated his belief that the union should focus on internal issues first. “If you can’t sort out your own house, you can’t go criticising other people’s houses either”.
“I believe in a realistic union,” Williams said. He believes that an “overly political union” would disengage students from the union further, saying that TCDSU should take stances on issues they can act upon.
A student speaking on behalf of the Cut the Rent campaign asked the presidential candidates if they would support a pledge to stand behind the movement and support a tent strike. Carey stated his support for the campaign, saying that he voted for the campaign when a Cut the Rent motion was brought to Council. He called a rent strike “a last resort”, after talking to College. Hand repeated this sentiment, while Williams called the college potentially putting up rents “disgraceful”. Williams said that the union would have to take “all appropriate” action if College decided to increase rent, “but hopefully it wouldn’t have to come to that”.
The three presidential candidates were asked to defend their stances on the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). Carey said that he felt “disillusioned” by USI after attending National Congress last year, but that the national union is helpful in coordinating protests. He said it was “vital” to be members of the union and called USI a “support system” for students and sabbats. He spoke of lobbying on a national level and “USI is that national support”. Williams is the only candidate who wants to disaffiliate from the national union. “Literally no one knows what the USI does,” he said, saying students deserve to have a referendum on membership. Like in other hustings, Williams questioned the money given to USI. “I don’t think there’s any need for this bureaucratic organisation,” he said.
Fourth year nursing student Megan O’Connor, running unopposed for Education Officer with a projected 85% win according to the Trinity News poll, strongly emphasised her desire to “make the academic side of [college] as easy as possible” and be a “familiar face within the Halls community”. She described that she would strive to be someone students felt they could turn to for advice and be a “reliable” person for students when they needed help.
JCR President Zara Finn asked O’Connor how she would help first year students with the overall experience of adapting to college. O’Connor drew on her experience of living in Halls and how “difficult certain things can be” in the transition to college. O’Connor cited the bodies in College she would work alongside, including Student Learning Development and the Student 2 Student (S2S) mentorship programme, as well as seeking to improve and work alongside College’s existing twelve-week Transition to Trinity programme. Questioned on what specific actions she would take to engage with the JCR and students in Halls, O’Connor detailed a desire to expand more training to Halls, such as academic writing workshops, emphasising the importance of ensuring “ease of access” to services.
O’Connor fielded a challenging question from current TCDSU Education Officer Niamh McCay on how O’Connor would implement the training she proposed for lecturers in her manifesto when often, McCay said, existing training is not attended or engaged with. O’Connor gave a detailed, researched answer, describing that the core of the existing issue is a disruption in the chain of communication between senior academics and lecturers in the communication of training. O’Connor detailed that this means “when students raise an issue with lecturer”, the lecturer may not be “aware” of the correct response. Adding that she has discussed the plan with College’s Senior Tutor, O’Connor stated: “There’s no real way that I can force them to, but if it becomes a norm and we implement [the training] within policies […] I think we can definitely roll things out and make lecturers participate in what is best practice.”
Sole Welfare candidate Leah Keogh, who the Trinity News poll indicated is set to receive 89% of first-preference votes in the Welfare race, opened by referring to her experience working with homeless people, asylum seekers and violent offenders on probation, joking that representing 17,000 students would be her biggest challenge yet.
Consent appeared as a key concern in the questions Keogh fielded this evening. JCR President Zara Finn asked Keogh how she will tackle the issue of consent and manage the union’s consent workshops. Keogh detailed her experience in facilitating consent workshops at Halls and her plan to increase the rollout of first-responder training to “better accommodate students who are struggling having experienced sexual misconduct”. She criticised College’s failure to introduce a standardised procedure for sexual misconduct, saying it was “not good enough”.
Questioned on how she would increase attendance at welfare events such as consent workshops, particularly during refreshers week, Keogh said she finds people “respond well to structure” and that she would seek to incorporate events on timetables for event weeks such as RAG week.
Keogh was asked whether she would look to make consent workshops mandatory, a question which she has also engaged with earlier in the campaign. She reiterated her stance on mandatory workshops, saying that she would “tread carefully because of the triggering nature of consent workshops”. She emphasised the importance of transparency, and suggested the inclusion of content warnings on posters for the events.
Communications and Marketing Officer
For the two candidates for Communications and Marketing Officer, Hiram Harrington and Philly Holmes, this evening represented their final chance to appeal to students at a hustings following a Trinity News poll which suggested the candidates are almost tied for students’ votes.
Harrington drew on their own experience as a first year in college, saying that realising the “collective bargaining power” which the union offered changed their college experience. They outlined a plan to introduce named positions for Halls students on the Communications Committee and having a Halls off-campus liaison on the committee. Holmes reiterated his plan to introduce a Facebook chat bot through which students could learn about the union’s services and described the communication techniques he has utilised during the campaign period, promising that in “the twelve months of the role [he] can bring a lot more”.
Asked by JCR President Zara Finn if the union should take responsibility for the Halls musical, Harrington said that the events should remain within the purview of the JCR as they believe that it is an integral part of what the JCR does, said that but that the union could help to promote it. Questioned on how the union could be more accessible to students in Halls who feel removed from campus, Holmes said it was a “really bad look” for the union that some students feel alienated and it is important to increase outreach to “off-campus zones”.
Both candidates were challenged by TCDSU President Laura Beston, who said that they had made accessibility central to their campaigns but that no matter how accessible the SU’s content is, some students just don’t want to read it. She asked the candidates how they would increase engagement in light of this. Holmes stated that students make an instant “value judgement” on the union and that by updating the website and the unions social media strategy he hoped to prove to students that the union is a valuable resource for them. Harrington repeated their plan to create an audio version of the weekly email as well as producing a preview of the weekly email on social media so that students could better decide whether it was relevant to them in the hopes of increasing the number of students who open the email.
Asked by the current Communications and Marketing Officer Muireann Kane to state “explicitly” what their plans were for gaining sponsorship for the union, Holmes said that it was difficult at this stage to have concrete plans as electoral rules prohibited him from reaching out to businesses. He stated that he hoped to build on the work that had already been done. He added that by increasing engagement with the union’s social media, he would increase the value of the union to businesses in order to secure more lucrative sponsorship. Finally, he hopes to build stronger links with businesses close to campus.
Harrington drew on their experience undertaking promotional work for musicals as well as editing and securing sponsorship for the Trinity Film Review, which they said also gave them contacts in business. Harrington also repeated their plan to partner with ethical business so that the union “reflect[s] students’ ideals”.
In his opening statement, Hugh McInerney recounted his experience in Halls, stating that in his first year in college he feels he drank too much. “It was these experiences that made me realise that I wanted to change,” he told the audience , repeating his plan to introduce an alcohol-free series of “Sober October” events. McInerney also mentioned his plan to produce a video series titles “Trinity This Week”, which he said would help first years living in halls to navigate what is happening in College.
Asked by JCR President Zara Finn if Ents would collaborate with the JCR, he promised that not only would he run events with the JCR in Halls, but he would also use his video series to promote JCR events specific to first years. McInerney recalled a toga party that occurred during his time in Halls, and stated that he feels that events like this would offer an ideal opportunity for collaboration between Ents and the JCR.
To conclude, McInerney reminded the audience again of his Sober October scheme. He stated that nights out are entertaining, but “sometimes you do tire of these nights out; you have them every week, but they can get a bit stale”. To this end, he hopes to bring both sober events and other Ents events for the whole student body, including first years, to enjoy.
University Times Editor
Watson drew on arguments that will be familiar to those who have been following the campaign, reiterating that the University Times is “here when College is messing over students”. Speaking to the audience at Halls, which is home to over 1,000 first year students, he outlined his experience within the paper and his recognition of the importance of engaging students who want to write for the paper, and those who simply wish to read it. Crawford focused on engagement with first year students in the paper, describing her plan to introduce a Halls correspondent who would ensure at least one article dedicated to affairs in Halls would appear in each print edition. “I will do everything in my power to make sure the UT reaches out to new students and makes them feel more involved than ever before,” Crawford promised.
Questioned by the JCR on how the candidates would engage first year students in writing for the paper, Watson detailed plans to expand the paper’s existing introductory workshops beyond the Arts Building to Halls and other areas of the campus. He also noted that feedback is “vital” for new students writing their first articles. Crawford, who only joined the paper in her third year, described her intent to have “more exciting and engaging” events during Freshers’ Week, including a lineup of speakers to attract students to write for the paper.
TCDSU Education Officer Niamh McCay posed a question to the candidates on a topic overlooked until this point in the election, asking whether both candidates’ plan to significantly decrease the print run of the paper would negatively impact first year students’ engagement with the paper. Crawford detailed a quality over quantity approach, explaining she would purchase “well placed newsstands” to arrange the papers in a “tidy and attractive manner”, and emphasised her plans to increase the paper’s social media presence, describing it as “is the best way to engage with students”. Watson took a similar stance, saying that “even if we’re cutting down on papers, that doesn’t mean we can’t spread them out more strategically” and that the paper’s online presence was most important. He noted that the paper isn’t currently distributed to Halls, and that “being proactive” will be a crucial factor in the paper’s outreach.
Additional reporting by Audrey Brown, Alfie Fletcher, Jack Kennedy, Meadhbh Ní Mhidigh, Jack Ryan, and Madalyn Williams.