SU Elections: Hiram Harrington on “working for every single person that the union has”

“I’m a hardcore socialist, so I really believe in a union as it stands and not a commercial entity”

Hiram Harrington is a fourth year film studies and Spanish student. They are running on a platform of increased student engagement, accessibility, and creating a foundation for student union expansion into the future. They are a self-described “hardcore socialist” and a great believer in the power of collectivity, especially in its ability to champion minority groups. Hiram wants to transition to more “ethical” union sponsorship by partnering with small Irish businesses as opposed to multinational conglomerates.

When asked about their first priority as a candidate, Hiram blurted “Engagement! Engagement is my big sexy word for this campaign season”. They regret what they see as low engagement of students with the union, an issue which they believe has worsened in the past year. To them, this is especially “disheartening” because of their own cherished interactions with the union. “In second year, I had trouble with my mental health” Hiram recounts, “the welfare officer at the time, Damien McClean was always there for me. He rang me once at one in the morning to make sure I was okay. I’ve had a really good experience with the union, and I want to expand that experience to other people as well.”

Both Hiram and their opponent Philly Holmes, differentiate themselves from incumbent Muireanne Kane, in their prioritizing engagement over marketing. Hiram further distinguishes themself from Philly by their prior experience in media and communications. “I’ve been a publicist, videographer, photographer, producer, production manager on over fifty productions in the last three years in college, and that alone has lent me a massive amount of skills in what content people like”. They believe this experience will aid them in helping engagement by increasing student accessibility to the union and its resources. They plan to head learning software workshops that would teach fluency in the Adobe programs and have spoken to Publicity officer, Milena Barnes, about running the workshop in conjunction with Trinity Publications. Additionally, they plan to bring back SU council roundup, a video recap of council news, but in the new format of a “very quick video” relying on graphics.

Their demand for increased accessibility is not without personal motive. Hiram has OCD and entered the college through the Disability Access Route to Education, or DARE. “All my experience with this has led me to realize that a lot of the content the SU puts out is not as accessible as it could be”. The weekly email is “image-based and a lot of students who have problems with sight-reading can’t use image-to-text functions on their phone because it’s not coded that way in the email. So what I’d like to do is encode every image we put into the weekly email to have a text option, which is fairly easy to do.” Another strategy they would like to implement is “a read-aloud version of the weekly email that can also be shared on social media platforms but that will be at the top of every email”. It is both an alternative for students with vision and attention difficulties, as well as a less demanding alternative for digesting the email, especially for people “on that podcast pose”.

For Hiram, expanding accessibility to better include student minorities is about more than increasing engagement, it is a statement of principle; “If we marginalize smaller groups of students then ultimately who do we care about, really?” We should be working for every single person that the union has, particularly those who don’t have the same advantages as other students.” 

Hiram has long been a passionate supporter of the union and an opponent of an option to opt-out. In past years, they co-ran Don’t Opt-Out, a campaign advocating for the importance of union membership in opposition to the SU Opt-Out Project. Hiram explains that “the SU does ultimately work for everyone, and even if it is mandated to support certain issues, it is mandated to support those issues because of a popular vote and because it represents the majority of students”. This stance apparently contradicts their platform of championing minority rights, as Hiram themself acknowledge. But they worry that if students did indeed opt-out of the union, it would create a “dangerous series of precedents” that would make ambiguous whether the union should or even could assist nonmembers. Even if students disagree with the politics of the union, Hiram believes it is still worth retaining membership. “The union ultimately is there to fight for student issues and I think the groundwork of student issues is stuff like microwaves, rental increases, protecting international students, that kind of thing. At the end of the day, I think we can all agree on those.”

Asked whether the union’s focus should be national or local, Hiram echoes past and current officers in their want for a “balance” between the two. “National issues always affect students,” Hiram says; a union not engaged politically is “oxymoron[ic]”. Appeals to national politics often take the form of grassroots student movements, which are “key”, for Hiram, to a formidable union. They give the example of Take Back Trinity, in which they took part. “It was one of the most tangibly exciting moments of my college career, because it was national issues: rent prices, increasing fees for students, all these tiny little things bubbling up to one point, which was Prendergast putting all this pressure on students to then pay for recent fees and increasing the fees of international students, which then became a local issue.” They go on to stress the point that local issues often require activism on a national platform:

“Ultimately, the reason you don’t have microwaves in the Hamilton is because they aren’t giving us enough money or because they are spending our money wrong. The reason the libraries don’t stay open late is because the college probably isn’t getting enough funding from the government or because our money is being spent on a 130 million euro business school and not on developing the facilities we already have for existing students. You cannot have one without the other”.

The Union of Students in Ireland is a national body that represents university students. Asked whether they support affiliation with the USI, Hiram says, “Yes, absolutely”, and points to UCD, whose refusal to align with the body means poorer access to “resources” and “support”. Affiliation also opens connections with other Irish universities, which is vital to Hiram because “student solidarity is the number one thing that makes us so powerful”. Universities in cooperation have greater bargaining power to effect change on a national level, so “at times like these when division and corruption pervades Irish society and Irish politics” it is  “incredibly important to align with a powerful collective body”.

Hiram is staunchly opposed to increasing the commercialisation of the SU. “I’m a hardcore socialist, so I really believe in a union as it stands and not a commercial entity”. They are weary of partnering with big companies and hope to conduct a re-evaluation of past partnerships with companies like KPMG. Although they largely oppose multinational conglomerates, they acknowledge that cutting ties with some might be to the detriment of the union, especially by the possibility of running a deficit. Instead, Hiram wants to focus on establishing and furthering relationships with local, “student-friendly” businesses like the “Nu Wardrobe”, “Happy Care”, and the “VDP” as well as other “vintage collectives” and “charities”. “I would like to see the union align with a bit more with Extinction Rebellion, I think they are a fantastic group and while they are largely an apolitical leaderless body the union could do with taking some cues as to how they organise and support in terms of partnering with local businesses”.Their mission is to transition to more “ethical” sponsorship by seeking partnerships with liberal, “sustainable” business, holding values that align with the union’s own. “It’s something very important to me but it’s also something very important to the vast majority of other students. Even if they don’t care about the union, like 9 out of 10 students care about being ethically responsible”. 

Asked whether they worry this exclusivity might risk the union’s accounts returning to a deficit, they replied “I think if we play it right, we shouldn’t run into any problems”. They are willing to make cutbacks if necessary, but “the last thing” they want to do is cut student access and services. Student resources like the SU cafe and shops are “not worth getting rid of” “even if sometimes they run a deficit”.

Hiram ended the interview saying the “connection” between sabbatical officers and students has always been something important to them. In the past, they have not seen their union officers as unapproachable, but as eager to help, and they hope to be the same if elected. “I think one thing about my manifesto that is quite obvious is that I look a little scary on it, which is kinda funny. I don’t have a big smile on me, I don’t have the real kind of ‘Hi, let’s be friends’. But ultimately as Comms Officer, I want to be someone that people can communicate with. That’s what I wanted to get across in my manifesto that I do really care about engagement, accessibility, and the future of the union, and I want students to know that above everything else”.