Candidates in the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) election had their first chance to pitch themselves to students this afternoon at a virtual hustings held over Zoom.
In the most populated election of recent years, thirteen candidates across six positions laid out their priorities and promises.
The traditional kick-off hustings held on the steps of the Dining Hall was replaced with a Zoom call where candidates gave an opening speech and fielded questions from students.
Candidate for President and current TCDSU Welfare and Equality Officer Leah Keogh emphasised the need for “change that students can see and students can feel” in her introductory speech. She highlighted Academic Registry reform and progress on a student centre as some of her priorities if elected, and criticised the union for falling short on plans “year on year” as a result of the “the revolving door of Sabbats.” This year, she said, “we can’t afford to wait three months for our incoming president to learn the ropes”.
She emphasised the importance of sustainability, calling College’s progress on this front thus far “embarrassing”, and promised to “deliver a plastic free Trinity ball and work to significantly reduce the SU’s carbon footprint.”
Ben Cummins, former president of the Junior Common Room (JCR), said that he wants to “redirect the aims of the union to ensure that every student can get the most out of their time here”. He identified a need to “build back community” after the pandemic and said that it would be important to emerge from Covid-19 in a “safe, secure and sustainable manner”.
Cummins said he felt “incredibly fortunate” to have been involved in campus life, but that “a lot of people feel like they have the opportunity to get involved in these parts of college” and he wanted to address that. He promised to reform College accommodation procedures and advocate for sexual health and safety on campus, as well as for mental health and inclusivity.
Fellow candidate Luke MacQuillan, said that he is proposing “policies and ideas driven by you, the student body”. MacQuillan committed to addressing a lack of student spaces on campus, particularly in the Hamilton building on the east end. He wants to campaign for a reduction or refund in the student contribution fee, recognise the work of student nurses during the pandemic, and tackle housing problems.
“By introducing initiatives based on change, support and improvement across all aspects of college life, I believe together we can achieve this,” MacQuillan said.
The president candidates were asked their views on student accommodation and engagement with the SU. Cummins highlighted plans to fix the “perennial” issues faced by student minorities and students with disabilities with regards to accommodation.
Keogh said she would launch an Accomodation Awareness campaign in August this year. On the topic of engagement, Keogh said that ““the core role of the SU is outreach” and she plans to “continue to provide that quality student service”, and that students “should not have to “go out of their way” for help from TCDSU.
MacQuillan proposed that “these big issues” can be solved by working together “as a union… as a large force rather than small individual forces”. On accommodation, he suggested “the introduction of rent caps” and “a push for it by the student union and lobbying for it”.
Current Deputy Faculty Converner for STEM, Bev Genockey, says her initial involvement as a class rep came from a desire to make sure that her classmates had a fair say when it came when it came to their education.
She expressed that she believes the best education is “one that puts students front and centre” and wants to ensure that academic affairs at Trinity are “hassle free”, so that students can “have the best possible time at College, while also receiving every opportunity possible to engage with the SU, and prepare for life after Trinity”.
Drawing on her experience with the union, Genockey asserted: “I’m confident that I’m the best person to represent you”.
She acknowledged the impact of Covid-19 on education, saying: “This year we’ve seen things go really well but we’ve also seen things go wrong”. She continued that she knows “how these situations can be addressed”. She claims her reason for running is in the need for the next Education Officer to “make sure that students are put first when it comes to their learning experience at Trinity, be that in person or online, or perhaps a mixture of both”.
Fifth year engineering student and current STEM convenor of the union Daniel O’Reilly began his Hustings speech by stating that he not only “solves problems”, but he will “build systems to solve problems on their own”. He spoke about establishing a system to allow lecturers to take online modules to experience online learning themselves, as they “have never had to learn online”.
O’Reilly also acknowledged his manifesto point of wishing to establish “an Erasmus information service on the SU website”, to give students who’ve gone on erasmus the opportunity to share their experience of Erasmus so that others can “benefit from it”.
O’Reilly emphasised how he wants to “identify the barriers to education”, and to address the “the physical, financial and anything else that makes college in any way inaccessible”. He spoke about how he’s “already started” in making college more accessible, with a map of the Arts Block “to help people plan accessible routes from room to room, or even just to be able to find a new room without wandering the halls for half an hour”.
O’Reilly spoke about his plans to implement a “feedback in four weeks” capability, which would allow students to be given “actual feedback that you can be used to learn and improve”.
Fielding questions from students, both candidates were asked about how they would address accessibility issues for students from lower-socio economic backgrounds. Genockey answered by stating that it is “something very close to my heart” and she knows “exactly what it is like to face those barriers”. She pointed out that in her manifesto she is proposing a Diversity and Inclusion document so “these things can be addressed in the classroom”. She also stated that she would like Trinity students to have their say in a review of the SUSI grant.
O’Reilly answered this question by stating that this “one of my manifesto points”, and that College “doesn’t talk” about access to “necessary resources”. He stated that the SU “can’t fight this systemically” because they do not have access to data about all the additional costs of College. He stated that he wants to gather this information in a “systemic way” so that the union “can fight it in a systemic way”.
Secondly, the candidates were asked whether they would be able to “actively engage” with those that are not comfortable with approaching SU sabbats. Genockey answered that she thinks this is something that is “so important as the SU is supposed to represent all students, not just its elected members”. She mentioned her “Run for Something” campaign, that she “would hope to encourage people to get involved.
O’Reilly said that he “likes to think I am a fairly approachable person”, drawing on his experience outside of the SU, in clubs and societies such as S2S and the Engineering society. “I get around the College and talk to a lot of people,” he explained. He emphasised that he would hope “to be there for people to chat to” as opposed to “people coming to me”.
Cathal Ó Ríordain, a final year music student, focused in his speech on a theme of making the SU accessible to all students. He described feeling alienated from the union in his early years in college, adding that “I don’t think my experience was unique”. Ó Ríordain wants to concentrate on the individual experiences of students, and in particular to tackle issues such as mental health and online abuse.
He also highlighted the peer support role of the Welfare officer as one of the most important aspects of the office, saying he was “here to listen and that is what I plan to do if elected”.
Dylan Krug, who currently serves on the SU’s Welfare Committee, spoke on his plans to make information on welfare services more clear and accessible to students, inspired by the existing “What do I do now” document which gives students guidance on disclosure of sexual assault in college. “No student should have to navigate the labyrinth of college policy to find the help that’s right for them,” he said.
He claimed that the difficulty students often experience finding the information they need is a “great failure of our welfare services”, and that his guidance on how students can deal with a range of issues will be published on multiple platforms.
Sierra Mueller-Owens, the current Gender Equality Officer and a former S2S representative, intends to focus on the personal and financial welfare of students as Welfare Officer. Mueller-Owens has gained ample experience in “working on campaign weeks and working on [her] own passion project to close equity gaps” that are present in college. In order to tackle financial stress that many students face each year, Mueller-Owens promises “to publicise grants and bursaries that are already available to students, and continue the SU fight for lower fees on a national level”.
Making it clear that she will also be campaigning for personal welfare, Mueller-Owens promised to implement more consent training on gender neutral language and pronouns. Finally, Mueller-Owens aims to “make mental health a priority” and hopes that all students “can find support in their union”.
All three Welfare candidates were asked what they could do to create “sex positive environment on campus”. All three agreed that greater awareness of and focus on issues of consent was vital to this issue, with Krug and Ó Ríordain promising to expand existing consent workshops.
Ó Ríordain also added, in response to a question, that he wanted to have all first years attend mandatory workshops on issues of drug safety. Mueller-Owens, asked about issues of safeguarding marginalised groups on campus, said that “a lot of these issues are really institutional” and would need to be “addressed on an institutional level” but hoped that measures like her pronoun awareness initiative would help create a more inclusive environment.
Communications and Marketing
Aoife Cronin, the sole candidate for the role of Communication and Marketing Officer said that she was motivated to run because she “feel[s] really strongly about engaging with and supporting students”, and that she has the “experience required to do this job right”.
Cronin said that she would “combat low student engagement within the union”, an issue that has been widely perceived as a longstanding problem within TCDSU and one that previous candidates for the role of Communications and Marketing Officer have promised to fix. Cronin said that it was particularly crucial this year to “compensate” for the lack of physical interaction between students and the union on campus.
She also said she would implement “a diverse range of strategies” to secure sponsorship for the union. Cronin promised to better promote union welfare services, saying she would make sure “students know we’re here to help”. Finally, she said she would engage in a project of rebranding the union, as well as making its activities more transparent.
Asked how she would engage with more students Cronin said that she would “collaborate with societies, schools,” and other entities outside the union.
She added that “students need to understand better what the union does for them,” explaining that she would publicise major union decisions, provide monthly updates from Sabbatical officers, and increase the visibility of part time officers and class convenors. As well as improving the “external face of the union,” Cronin hopes to promote “internal transparency” by organising TCDSU’s archive and making its minutes and finances publicly available.
Responding to a question on sponsorship, Cronin said that she would “maintain relationships with existing sponsors”, as well as working with the University Times and Ents to secure new sponsors. If obtaining sponsorship remains difficult, Cronin intends to establish a sponsorship sub-committee.
Antonia Brady, a final year Drama and Modern Irish student from Navan, has highlighted being “fresh and innovative” in her approach to organising events in her campaign for the position of Ents officer. As the current DU Players Ents officer, she referenced a series of virtual events that she has successfully hosted in the past year, and said that regardless of the situation in the coming academic year, she could promise a “year you will never forget” if elected. She hopes to increase the diversity of events by “collaborating with as many societies as possible”, and she has laid out plans for ensuring events are “cheap and, where possible, free”.
When asked how she would engage a large number of students in the face of dropping enthusiasm due to the pandemic, she proposed an idea for creating a Trinity-wide Discord server for first-year students to engage with one another and establish relationships.
Greg Arrowsmith, a final year Politics and Economics student, also drew on the uncertainty of planning events in the future due to the ongoing pandemic. In his opening statement, Arrowsmith claimed that “whatever the circumstances are come September, I can be the Ents officer that makes college fun again”. If venues are open in September, some of his policies include increasing the accessibility of in-person events, blacklisting venues that have had reports of abuse in the past, especially toward LGBTQ students, and organising events in a fashion to “build confidence” in students who might still be hesitant to return to large venues after the pandemic. These plans include phasing events “from quiet pubs to nightclubs” in an attempt to allow students to ease back into attending large events.
However, he stated that he is “ready in case things aren’t back open in September”, and has established contingency plans that include hosting safe, outdoor concerts, a Trinity sports day, and, if events are to be held completely online, creating a Zoom playbook in order to ensure that there are “no more awkward Zoom calls”. When posed a question about how he intends to increase accessibility for students, Arrowsmith drew on the possibility of using Trinity’s campus for more events, including reopening the Pav.
University Times Editor
Emer Moreau, the paper’s current Deputy Editor, emphasised the importance of “transparent, trustworthy news sources”, saying that students had relied on the University Times during the pandemic. Moreau talked about her “thousands of hours” of experience within the paper and said that she could be trusted to uphold the “editorial and ethical policies” of the University Times.
Moreau described student newspapers as the “grassroots of the next generation of journalists”, which she argues makes one of her central campaign promises – increasing the paper’s diversity of the staff – all the more important. She listed her campaign promises of creating several new roles within the paper including a ‘Diversity and Inclusion committee’, an ethnic minorities correspondent, and an advertising and sponsorship director.
Moreau also talked about cutting the print run of the paper, proposing reducing the print run from nine issues per year to six.
Peter Caddle’s speech pitching himself for the role of editor of the University Times focused entirely on his plan for the paper to stop producing print editions. An outsider to the paper and the Chief Project Co-ordinator at the Burkean, an online right-wing publication, Caddle described the University Times’ current level of spending as a “serious problem”. He stated that the paper is spending “far more than it has any right to” and that students are picking up the tab.
Caddle’s plan to cut spending by eliminating the production of physical copies of the paper, he says, would also allow the University Times to “diversify its output, as well as dramatically improve the publications accessibility and environmental impact”.
Caddle added that “printed newspapers are dying”, and that “it is time we drag the UT out of the 19th century, and into the 21st”.
In response to a question posed to Moreau about whether it concerned her in the light of recent protests in Dublin that she was running against “a far-right candidate” Moreau said that it did concern her and that recent protests had shown “the importance of properly funded media outlets”, as it was “clear the effect that disinformation can have”. She criticised Caddle for having in the past called for the defunding of media outlets.
Caddle challenged Moreau, asking what makes him far right. Moreau stated that he had written an article claiming that Ireland is wasting time tackling climate change, and that he’s “written a lot about the 27th amendment”. Caddle countered by claiming that the article discusses “the importance of climate change” and said he “totally disagree[s] with the characterisation as far-right”.
Reporting by Lauren Boland, Dearbháil Kent, Kate Henshaw, Shannon Connolly, Bonnie Gill, Jack Kennedy, Jade Brunton, Rebecca Deasy-Millar, Finn Purdy, Sarah Emerson, Jack Ryan, and Audrey Brown.