This year’s TCDSU elections saw students favour experience over soundbites

With the new sabbatical team now chosen, it is clear voters were swayed by institutional knowledge and capability rather than outsiders

Thursday saw the conclusion of the TCDSU’s sabbatical elections. Following two weeks of solely digital campaigning, Leah Keogh, Bev Genockey, Greg Arrowsmith, Sierra Mueller Owens, Aoife Cronin and Emer Moreau were elected to the roles of President, Education Officer, Ents Officer, Welfare and Equality Officer, Communications and Marketing and University Times editor respectively. While Keogh predictably secured a comfortable win, the Ents race brought an unexpected result.

Luke MacQuillan, the obligatory “outsider” candidate largely failed to tap into or harness the anti-Union or anti establishment mood held by a not inconsiderable proportion of students.

Keogh was elected on the first count following a series of strong performances at hustings where she emphasised her institutional knowledge and experience as this year’s Welfare and Equality Officer. While it is unconventional for a TCDSU sabbat to run for a second term, the uncertainty of College life in the age of Covid-19 undoubtedly gave Keogh a leg-up, with her campaign promise to “hit the ground running,” citing the revolving door of sabbatical officers as a reason the union often fails to fulfil its promises. While in another year, Ben Cummins may have been a successful candidate, Keogh was the clear choice. However, Cummins still secured a very respectable 34.6% of the vote. Of course, union experience doesn’t always guarantee a win; incumbent TCDSU President Eoin Hand was elected despite his competitor Ryan Carey’s wealth of union experience. However, Luke MacQuillan, the obligatory “outsider” candidate largely failed to tap into or harness the anti-union or anti-establishment mood held by a not-inconsiderable proportion of students, receiving just under 7% of the vote. 

The Education Officer was one of the closer races, and incidentally the race which was most consistent with the mood among students during the first week of campaigning that was captured by the Trinity News poll. With Bev Genockey polling at 55.6% to Daniel O’Reilly’s 38.3% during the first week, the final result saw Genockey secure 57.8% to O’Reilly’s 39.5%. While both candidates boasted a wealth of experience, Genockey’s emphasis on collaboration and cooperation over O’Reilly’s more braggadocious approach to leadership may have given her the edge in the final days of campaigning. 

Given the experience and impressive campaigns of both candidates, it seems that Arrowsmith’s more radical promises may have given him the extra boost necessary to secure a narrow win.

The real surprise of these elections was of course the Ents race. While Antonia Brady was leading in the poll during the first week of the campaign, giving consistently strong hustings performances emphasising accessibility and practicality, Greg Arrowsmith was ultimately elected on the second count, following a redistribution of voters that gave their first preference to the option to re-open nominations, which awarded him 50.5%. Focusing his campaign on hosting two Trinity Balls, re-opening the Pav by September, and hosting a Senior Freshers’ week, Arrowsmith has a busy year ahead of him, although given the ongoing pandemic, some of his promises may be unfulfillable for reasons outside of his control. Given the experience and impressive campaigns of both candidates, it seems that Arrowsmith’s more radical promises may have given him the extra boost necessary to secure a narrow win; whether students will get what they voted for is another question. 

Sierra-Mueller Owens is set to take on the role of Welfare and Equality Officer, following a race against Dylan Krug. As with the Ents and Education race, both candidates were adequately qualified. However, with Krug stumbling when asked on the absence of plans for students with disabilities in his manifesto, and often repeating his plans for his “what do I do now documents” (which was pointed out to him at Halls hustings) Mueller-Owens became the clear favourite in the second week of campaigning. Appealing to the ever-present problem of mental ill health among students, and putting forward a campaign based on outreach and advocacy, Mueller-Owens secured a respectable 54.3% of votes. 

Elected with 91.8% of votes, sole Communications and Marketing candidate, Aoife Cronin gave students little reason to vote RON with a series of composed answers at Hustings. The fact that her polled vote (91.5%) was so close to the ultimate outcome is a testament to her consistent performances throughout bothe weeks of campaigning. 

The University Times editor was arguably the most contentious race, seeing Emer Moreau, a traditional candidate with several years in UT under her belt, run against Peter Caddle, the Chief Project Co-ordinator for the Burkean. Moreau predictably won by a country mile, receiving 82.5% of the vote while Caddle secured 13.4%. While only receiving 390 votes, one can speculate that right-wing students or supporters of the Burkean consciously made a special effort to register and vote, while more latently left wing students who are disinterested in or apathetic about the union took Moreau’s win as a given. Caddle’s campaign garnered criticism for his lack of experience in the paper, sparse manifesto, and refusal to attend Equality hustings in favour of engaging with “normal students” over the “SU niche”. While Caddle’s campaign may have attracted a degree of attention he and the Burkean normally only receive when embroiled in a racism scandal, the results show that students favoured experience and aptitude over provocation and poor sportsmanship. 

Sabbaticals face not only the ever present challenge of engagement, but of leading students into what will hopefully be a year back on campus.

While the 2021 TCDSU sabbatical campaigns contained a few curveballs, it seems students are looking to a team of fairly conventional candidates with regards to their experience and respective stances on union engagement. Whether the shift back to favouring a more conventional president this year is a commentary on Hand’s handling of the role, or something else entirely, sabbaticals face not only the ever present challenge of engagement, but of leading students into what will hopefully be a year back on campus. 

Grace Gageby

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