Presidential candidates present competing visions at Equality hustings

The Equality hustings focused on LGBT+, disability and Irish language issues

Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) candidates delved into their campaign promises relating to students with disabilities, LGBT+ students and the Irish language at tonight’s Equality hustings, which took place after Council.

Questions were posted at the hustings – the second of the campaign period – by Blánaid Ní Chearnaigh, Chair of An Cumann Gaelach, Nathan O’Gara, Auditor of Q Soc, and Niamh Herbert, representing students with disabilities. Questions were also posed by members of the audience, largely composed of class representatives and campaign members.

Ní Chearnaigh praised the candidates for ensuring campaign materials are available in both English and Irish, but wanted to test whether the candidates are playing “lip service” to the Irish language, while Herbert and O’Gara asked questions on the candidates’ specific plans relating to LGBT+ students and students with disabilities.

President

Ní Chearnaigh greeted the three male presidential candidates with “hello boys” to a hearty laugh from the audience. Ryan Carey and Eoin Hand largely focused on local issues within Trinity, offering traditional solutions to problems faced by students. Harry Williams positioned himself as an anti-establishment candidate. “If you want the status quo I’m not your candidate,” he said. He wants to depoliticise the union and disaffiliate from the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).

All three presidential candidates noted their poor Irish language skills, but praised the importance of the language. Carey said he would “definitely campaign to increase the visibility” of the Irish language on campus alongside the Communications and Marketing Officer. “We need to look inside our own university” first regarding the Irish language, he said. The Welsh Williams said “I know what it’s like to speak a minority language,” calling Irish “vitally important”.

Williams said that “I sometimes think the union misses the more serious points” regarding LGBT+ issues, mentioning discriminatory lecturers and landlords. “My main goal” is to meet up with the Accommodation Office to create a list of trustworthy landlords, said Hand, adding that “now that you mention it,” ensuring landlords are not discriminatory towards LGBT+ students would be a focus. Carey wants to allow students to anonymously report discrimination to the union. He also wants to work with property websites and compile a list of LGBT+ friendly landlords.

Asked on how they would show their personal support of students with disabilities, Hand wants to “rally” the student voice and “actively campaign” on disability issues. Carey also touched on personally attending events, adding that he also wants “do more to lobby College” to ensure the campus is accessible.

Carey and Hand voiced their support for continued involvement in the USI, while Williams discussed his desire for TCDSU to leave the national union. Carey admitted that he has felt “disillusioned” by USI. However, he said that the USI offers “support” to sabbatical offers and training for students. Hand said that leaving USI would be “dangerous” because the national union helps students stand up to their college. In contrast, Williams can’t see any “tangible reason” for USI membership and focused on the cost of being a USI member. He noted that the college body hasn’t voted on USI membership since 2012, saying that current students should have the opportunity to vote on membership.

Education Officer 

Asked about disability issues, Megan O’Connor, the only Education Officer candidate, wants to establish a working group with the Erasmus Office and TCDSU to ensure “accessibility of information for disabled students” regarding Erasmus. She touched on her proposed buddy system, which she has discussed “at length” with college staff. It would be opt-in, which, she says “may not be hugely successful in its first year”. The system would be a long term project, she said.

When questioned about transphobia from academic staff during lectures and on-campus, O’Connor affirmed that it was unacceptable, and highlighted her manifesto points about accessibility and equality training for all academic staff. She clarified again that it will be another long-term project, though “it can’t be ignored any longer”. Similarly, when asked about difficulties with changing pronouns for trans students in classes, she claimed it was an issue to be addressed through the Academic Registry.

In her closing statement, she drew on her experience as an Erasmus student, an off-campus student and a nurse on placement. She affirms she has first-hand experience with many of the difficulties faced by students, but promises her manifesto points can realistically be implemented. She repeated her promises of “long-term plans” to implement her policies, and that if anything couldn’t be implemented in her term alone, it could be commenced and left in writing for future officers. No questions were posed to O’Connor by audience members. 

Welfare Officer 

Leah Keogh, sole Welfare candidate, was first addressed by Ní Chearnaigh, who asked about the welfare services available to students through Irish at present, and also asked her to highlight which services she would bring. “To my knowledge,” Keogh stated, “there aren’t any [welfare services] offered through Irish”, but said that she would be open to the creation of a welfare partnership. She also highlighted the benefits produced by Irish- “Irish fosters a community whether it’s through Scéim, Conradh or  pop-up Gaeltachts.”

When asked about the support that she intends to provide to Erasmus students, Keogh stated: “The number of students going on Erasmus is through the roof, it’s higher than it’s ever been before so I think there is a real need for support there.” She pointed to her plans to introduce Skype office hours for students studying abroad and also highlighted her desire “to work with the Erasmus officer to see the existing resources and see how we can work on those”. Keogh emphasised the importance of accessibility, saying “I don’t want it to be a tokenistic thing because it’s a very real thing”. She highlighted the need for more support for students with sensory disabilities, saying: “Not much is being done for students with Aspergers and Autism.” She aims to “arrange quiet spaces on campus, work with the Ents Officer to maybe arrange quiet discos”.

Keogh highlighted the need for drug policy in Trinity, mentioning her plans to run a harm reduction campaign in conjunction with USI, and also referring to her meetings with Students for Sensible Drug Policy. “We need to start recognising and implementing supports for students who do use drugs.” Keogh affirmed that “one of my points is transparency”, explaining her intention to compile “an annual report that essentially highlights issues that students are facing now”.  She pointed out that with annually reported statistics, the Welfare Officer will have more tangible proof of issues that they can take to College when requesting support.

In her closing words, Keogh again emphasised the issue of student finance, one of her key manifesto points. She referred to her plan to tackle the late admission fee, which she described as a fee which “kicks students when they are down”. In her role as Welfare Officer, Keogh believes that “before we get to equality, we need to ensure equity”.

Communications and Marketing Officer

Hiram Harrington and Philly Holmes, the two candidates for Communications and Marketing Officer, gave largely similar answers to a range of specific questions, agreeing to prioritise increasing the accessibility of the union.

Asked about how they would include the Irish language in the union’s social media accounts, both candidates said they while they did not speak the language fluently themselves, they wished to include the language more in union content, including the weekly email and social media. Harrington said that they had gained a “reverence” for the language since coming to college. Holmes repeated his plan to create an audio version of the weekly email, stating that this would be provided in both Irish and English. Harrington has also made a similar manifesto commitment.

Challenged on how the union should engage with LGBT+ students, Harrington said that as a transgender and bisexual person they had noticed a “distance” between the LGBT+ community and the union and cited their record in “championing minority groups”. Holmes stated that engagement with the union was a “huge issue across the board” that affected “not just minorities”. Holmes said the Communications and Marketing Officer needs to be a “voice for students” and it was important for them to represent the diversity of the student body.

Both candidates were praised by the secretary of the disability committee for the prominent place of accessibility issues in each of their manifestos. Harrington stated that they “love a bit of access”, while Holmes said that he would “big focus into accessibility”.

The Communications and Marketing Officer has responsibility for securing sponsorship for the union. Asked how they would approach this, both candidates said they would seek to partner with ethical businesses, with Holmes stating that it was important to “remember our focus and not get lost in commercialisation”.

In their closing statement, Harrington revealed that a previous union Welfare Officer, Damien McClean, had been there for them at a time when they were having suicidal thoughts and said they were extremely grateful for the union and wished to give back.

Ents Officer

Hugh McInerney, the sole Ents Officer candidate, began by stating that he “wants to make sure that representation and inclusivity are cornerstones of his manifesto”. He recognised that “there is a huge hunger” for the Irish language, and to ensure that events are inclusive to Irish-speaking students, he plans to organise as many as possible in both Irish and English. Acknowledging that accessibility for students is a major issue, McInerney explained that one of the main advantages Ents has is the resources behind it. Importantly, he highlighted Ents’ financial resources and relationships with venues that allow a better selection of venues for students with disabilities. In order to realise his desire to bring representation to smaller societies, he plans to share Ents resources in an effort to allow smaller societies to access better venues for events.

On LGBT+ issues, McInerney was asked about the fact that members of the LGBT+ community may face problems when presenting identification cards that do not align with their identities to security at events. McInerney affirmed that he will meet with the owners and security of event venues to “make sure they know that it is of the utmost importance that bouncers know not to be intrusive, not to be aggressive, and to be accepting and welcoming.” McInerney also made it clear that “harm reduction is extremely important”. He has already met with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and intends to introduce a tent for the programme at Trinity Ball. “The reality is people are going to take these drugs,” McInerney stated, so his goal is to help “inform, educate, and to let [students] know” what they may be taking instead of fearing the potential legal repercussions.

When asked about possible non-alcoholic events hosted by Ents next year, McInerney enthusiastically replied that another cornerstone of his manifesto is his plan for Sober October, a two week period during which he plans to host a variety of daytime events as well as continuing to host nighttime events that will not serve alcohol. Finally, he reminded the audience of his proposal to create a Trinity This Week” video, declaring that this weekly video – and the rest of his plans – will “keep people engaged, informed, and hopefully entertained”.

University Times Editor

Susie Crawford, the current Radius Editor, gave detailed responses to the questions posed to her, offering a plethora of new, “fun” ideas for the newspaper. Cormac Watson, the Deputy Editor, focused on broad issues faced by the University Times and offered some of his personal experience in the publication.

 

Regarding the Irish language, Watson said “it’s about getting more and more content, and getting writers in”. Crawford wants to publish more “fun” Irish language content, such as an Irish language agony aunt and an article each month on “phrases that have just blown up in college” with translations into Irish. On transgender and queer issues, Crawford highlighted shortcomings in recent years’ reporting in these areas, noting that the newspaper didn’t cover Trans Remembrance Day. In addition, she said that the newspaper should “pay more attention to the language we are using”. Watson instead focused on broadening the diversity of the newspaper’s staff, mentioning organising outreach meetings and “talking to groups specifically”.

On disability, Watson discussed his personal experience with epilepsy, and wants to publish more articles on students’ personal experience with disability. Crawford wants to make the University Times more physically accessible. “I think that the new disabilities service could be really useful in terms of having meetings and in terms of having events there,” she said. She also discussed adding information on accessibility of event locations to the newspaper’s society articles, and boosting the paper’s social media usage. Both candidates expressed a desire to hold more events and proactively reach out to the student body.

On getting younger writers involved in the newspaper, Crawford said that she wants to start Freshers’ Week “with a bang” and introduce a Halls correspondent. “I think the most important thing is feedback and mentoring,” said Watson. “As Editor you have to be a teacher.”

Additional reporting by Audrey Brown, Patrick Coyle, Alfie Fletcher, Jessica Hobbs Pifer, Patrick Horan, Jack Kennedy, Maggie Larson, Meadhbh Ní Mhidigh, Finn Purdy, Madalyn Williams, Jack Ryan and Eoin O’Donnell.

Aisling Grace

Aisling Grace is the Editor-in-Chief of the 66th Volume of Trinity News. She was formerly Online Editor and Deputy News Editor, as well as an English Literature and History of Art and Architecture student.