Harry Williams, a third year World Religions and Theology student and candidate for Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) president, wants to be his “own president”, a “proactive” president, not a reactive one. An anti-establishment candidate, Williams believes the students’ union should be “politically neutral,” and he has had no SU involvement until now. The Welsh student has, however, been active with Trinity SMF and Enactus TCD, working as a junior analyst and project leader respectively. Williams says many students are being “left behind” by the SU, and he hopes to “bring these students in”. A marker of his unconventional campaign, his team members are wearing bucket hats during election week, forgoing the traditional campaign t-shirt.
Speaking to Trinity News, Williams emphasised his desire that students should know who the SU president is and the work they undertake, suggesting it is a “worrying” thought that students may not know what the SU president “actually does” given that the president’s salary is paid through student fees. Williams says he wants to be a president who is “actually around”, adding: “You should be able to put it up online, and say that you’re in the pav, come join me, or I’m going for lunch here, and actually go up and introduce yourself.”
Turning to the union’s activities, Williams is critical of the work currently done by the union. He thinks that “sometimes people can get very frustrated with the SU because they don’t actually do things every year. People kind of stand up on Front Square and it’s not going to change much. Then sometimes, by the end of the following year people can wonder what the SU have actually done, and I would like to be a president to actually get things done.”
He added: “It’s better to focus on what you can actually do than making wide overarching promises like you can solve the housing crisis.” He said that what the SU president in Trinity can do should be “more focused on getting rents on campus down” or “making sure they don’t put up the rent”.
One of the main concerns of Williams’ campaign is TCDSU’s affiliation with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). “I think USI is somewhat redundant if I’m totally honest,” Williams said, calling it a “talking shop of people who like to play around at protests.” Pushing him on this, he stated that he thinks “they have all these congresses and they talk about how they’re going to solve things going on in the Middle East or whatever, when they can’t”. He views the affiliation fee as not worthy students’ money, saying: “I genuinely don’t see what we get back from this. I don’t think it’s worth our money.”
Williams stated that he would hold a referendum in September or October of his tenure to give students “a democratic say” on USI affiliation, noting that the most recent vote on TCDSU’s affiliation with USI was in 2012. He admitted that if students were to vote in favour of affiliation with USI, he would support that. “I think it’s really important we have a debate about it, we haven’t had a debate about it for a long time,” he stated.
Asked about his claim that the SU should be politically neutral, Williams stated: “Yes, we all walk through Front Gate, all students together and we all have different political views, which are all valid. I think for the SU to say that it is speaking on behalf of all these students is a bit disingenuous and I think the SU shouldn’t be a political body.”
“The SU shouldn’t claim to speak on politics for all the students, because you can’t speak for all those people. So, I think maybe it should focus a little less on solving every problem in the world, and actually try to solve problems on campus,” he continued.
When later asked about his criticism of the smoking ban on campus, which has been led by the College Health Centre, Williams said: “The SU shouldn’t tell people how to live their lives. The SU should be something that is there to help the students, not to tell them that ‘you should think this, you should do that’.”
Discussing the lack of women running for SU president this year – only three of 10 candidates are women – Williams claimed that he doesn’t “necessarily” think this is as a problem because “we have an all-female sabbatical officers team”. He outlined that he feels there are a “wider range of people” running in this year’s elections, specifically mentioning “people who haven’t had such an involvement with the students’ union”. He identified this as “really good as the SU has a huge engagement problem”.
Speaking further on this engagement problem, Williams suggested that the majority of students don’t take an interest in the elections, including himself in previous years. Williams claimed that candidates running in the elections “who have no SU experience or aren’t heavily involved” may encourage more people who aren’t involved in the SU to run in the elections.
Asked about his manifesto claim to help introduce more counselors to Trinity, Williams said “I think that is something that college can put a lot more money into. The college makes enormous amounts of money, for example, the money they make on rooms on campus, it’s in the millions. I think it’s pretty disgraceful we have such a lack of counselors.” He added: “Health is far more important than any degree and I think everyone knows someone who has had a mental health problem or has had one themselves. This is something that I find really really important and is something I would work on if I was lucky enough to be elected.”
In his manifesto, Williams claimed that he thinks the SU should be more involved with clubs and societies. Currently, societies fall under the remit of the Central Societies Committee (CSC), while clubs are looked after by Dublin University Central Athletic Club (DUCAC). When asked about these plans, Williams stated he would implement his desired changes “just by actually speaking to them”. He added that all clubs experience problems when booking rooms on campus, and, if he were to be elected, he would “organise a meeting with all the clubs and actually say that ‘I’m here for you, come and contact me if you’ve any issues whatsoever’”.
“I think the SU’s main priority should be looking after students in Trinity,” Williams said. “I think, in some cases, it is failing in that.” When asked to elaborate on this issue, Williams stated that Eramus students and Off-campus students are being treated unfairly. He added that it would be “really important that the SU president actually stands up for these students”.
Williams also stated in his campaign that he plans to deport all the seagulls to UCD. When asked about his plans to do this, he said that his chicken fillet roll was stolen by a seagull a few weeks ago, and that this was “really tragic”. “If we can round up all the seagulls, get a few volunteers, then just bring them to UCD. I think that would be very very popular. I’ve talked about getting things done, and that is something I would really like to get done,” he added.