Council Hustings pushed the candidates in a way this election needed

Some candidates stood out while others still need to distinguish themselves, writes Grace Gageby

Nearly ninety minutes of rapid, probing questions at last night’s Council hustings saw sabbatical hopefuls put on the spot. The candidates were questioned on engagement, housing, diversity and post-pandemic student life, as well as a sea of other topics raised by incumbent officers and students. Although it’s too soon to call the outcome of most races, some divergences have begun to appear between candidates’ stances, knowledge, and focuses.

In terms of experience, the three presidential candidates sit on a broad spectrum, but they were largely well matched for each other at last night’s hustings, with Keogh perhaps pulling an edge from her specific knowledge of student issues. The University Times race raised more questions than it answered and saw Caddle throwing a spanner into the works with his unconventional editorial background and sparse manifesto, as well as a desire to dodge direct questions.

Outgoing SU President Eoin Hand posed a difficult and specific question on a Sinn Féin student accomodation bill to the President candidates that shook Ben Cummins, who – although performing well on most other questions – admitted he was not familiar with the bill. This allowed current Welfare and Equality officer Leah Keogh to shine, securing her status as the most experienced candidate with an in-depth and composed response. Students returning to college in September at an uncertain time gives Keogh a leg up, with her campaign slogan promising she will “hit the ground running” given her extensive experience within the union, and as a social worker. 

Luke MacQuillan was well prepared, although he often fell back on his status as a union outsider as his major pull factor, essentially using his lack of experience by way of qualification. His answers, though presented strongly, leaned into soundbites about disengagement rather than illuminating his somewhat vague manifesto points, such as promising to tackle the social stigma around mental health without articulating how he would do so. 

Although “breaking the SU bubble” may be an admirable aim, at an uncertain time for all given Covid-19, Keogh and Cummins’ experience within the college community were likely more convincing and reassuring for students undecided on how they may vote. That being said, precedence shows that experience is not always enough to sway the vote – Hand won his election last year with no previous involvement in the union over fellow candidate Ryan Carey, who boasted a strong CV of union experience.

Both candidates navigated often tricky questions on the finer points of their respective campaigns.

A race where candidates are well matched in experience is Education Officer, which is between Bev Genockey and Daniel O’Reilly. The candidates differed last night when questioned on academic integrity, with Genockey highlighting that academic integrity “underpins everything…from exams to continuous assessment.” She was quick on her feet when outlining policies which would support this, citing class rep training on the matter to keep students informed. O’Reilly gave a slightly more unconventional answer, and was less specific in addressing what policies he would employ, saying academic integrity was often related to “outdated pedagogies” and that it was important to update assessment methods and make them more progressive, although he didn’t express what policies he would use to support this.

O’Reilly alluded to his leadership style of “encouraging others to act on their own”, while Genockey provided a more traditional (and perhaps more reassuring) SU answer, emphasising the importance of amplifying the voice of students and getting more people involved. While both candidates have a wealth of experience, Genockey’s focus on outreach and inclusivity may have set her apart as both candidates navigated often tricky questions on the finer points of their respective campaigns – though both remain strong contenders.

While Greg Arrowsmith and Antonia Brady, both contesting the position of Ents Officer, struggled to distinguish themselves at Dining Hall hustings, questions from Council members afforded them the opportunity to explore their policies in a more robust way. Arrowsmith and Brady highlighted the importance of accessibility, with Arrowsmith promising nights out for nursing students or those in the Lir to fit their unconventional timetable, while Brady stressed the importance of online events and affordability. Both candidates touched on the importance of non-alcoholic and daytime events, a frequent promise from Ents candidates that rarely materialises. With both candidates more than qualified and well prepared, this may be one of the closer races. 

As the sole candidate for communications and marketing, Aoife Cronin has extensive experience as a PRO for a range of societies, and addressed the ever present problem of engagement. Acknowledging that the term engagement is thrown around “cynically,” Cronin was able to succinctly point to tangible solutions, exploring the importance of balancing rebranding with accessibility. As the only uncontested race, Cronin understandably received fewer questions than the other candidates, but remained poised and well prepared throughout. 

Both candidates shared a similar vision for the role, citing mental ill-health and feelings of isolation as a central problem for students they wish to tackle.

As Cathal Ó Ríordáin has dropped out of the Welfare and Equality race, the position is now contested by Sierra Mueller-Owens and Dylan Krug. Both candidates share a similar vision for the role, citing mental ill-health and feelings of isolation as a central problem for students they wish to tackle. Mueller-Owens proposed the introduction of stress relief services such as meditation and adult colouring; Krug pushed his “what do I do now documents,” an appealing idea in the age of online learning, and the often difficult to navigate world of student services. Mueller-Owens arguably has a more hands on approach, offering both group and virtual office hours, where Krug again emphasised his enthusiasm for his “what do I do now documents” which would be available on Blackboard. Both candidates are evidently passionate and adequately qualified, centering the student experience, as well as mental and sexual health. While slight differences in approach have begun to emerge, the shape the race will take is still largely unclear.

The editorship of the University Times is certainly one of the more controversial races, seeing a traditional candidate, Emer Moreau, run against Peter Caddle, whose writing background is in the right-wing website the Burkean. Moreau confidently fielded questions on diversity and inclusion, as well as outlining her hopes to reduce print run, and have UT as an “online first” publication akin to the New York Times. When asked what national or international publication UT should aim to emulate, Caddle opted for the largely mystifying and self-congratulatory claim that the answer was clearly the Burkean. 

 It seems unlikely that the Burkean will achieve the kind of disruption and attention they so desire, if their candidate simply echoes the lukewarm talking points of endless pseudo-“outsider” SU candidates of yesteryear. 

Grilled on the importance of diversity in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, Moreau spoke on her plans to introduce a diversity and inclusion committee. Caddle opted to dodge the question, and instead claim UT’s real inclusivity problem was a “writers problem” on the grounds that it wouldn’t publish his articles, moving the conversation from racial oppression to personally not being published by a student newspaper.

Caddle’s manifesto has little to go on, other than the policy plan that UT should no longer go to print. It seems unlikely that the Burkean will achieve the kind of disruption and attention they so desire if their candidate simply echoes the lukewarm talking points of endless pseudo-“outsider” SU candidates of yesteryear. 

Grace Gageby

Grace Gageby is the Deputy Comment Editor for Trinity News and studies English and Philosophy.