Yesterday, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) discussed the influence of the sabbatical officers over other union members, and their influence in the union overall at a town hall.
The discussion item was brought to the town hall by SF politics, philosophy, economics and sociology class representative László Molnárfi, who brought forward several motions and discussion items this evening. According to Molnárfi, the influence of the sabbatical team is “too much”.
“We don’t get engagement from class reps on the ground.”
Middle Eastern, European Languages and Culture (MEELC) class representative Gabriel Torres agreed that “we have to get back to the point of the union, which is grassroots”.
Education officer-elect Zöe Cummins spoke on the issue, saying: “I don’t think this is a sabbatical officer issue, I think it’s an issue about empowering and that reps feel like they belong.” She asserted that sabbatical officers are “fully in with the democratic process”.
Eoin Ussher, member of the Electoral Commission (EC), argued: “We elect sabbats every year, you all voted in those elections.”
“You have an executive within a union to ensure that the union’s policies don’t just stray all over the place… If we try to organise everything through this body, we would never get anything done.”
Welfare committee member Cúnla Morris said that this issue signifies a “parasocial relationship” between sabbatical officers and other members of Council: “It looks like a big part of [this discussion] is people coming up with plans and as soon as the sabbatical officer backs it up, people go with whatever the sabbatical officer says.”
They called for more training for class representatives and convenors with the sabbatical team involved: “They actually are real people.”
Education Officer Bev Genockey said that “anything that Council decides is what I will do”.
She also addressed the previous council meeting’s discussions about the Student Partnership Agreement, which Molnárfi said prompted this discussion item initially. Molnárfi hoped to delay the SPA or put it to a referendum and, according to Molnárfi, he had the support of many of his fellow Council members. However, Molnárfi said that he felt he lost this support once the Education Officer spoke against his discussion point at Union Forum: “It is there that I realised that Council is very open to one set of ideas, but very closed to another.”
On the issue of the SPA, Genockey wanted to “fact check” some issues raised: “I did say that I don’t personally think a referendum is the best idea but if that’s what council decides that’s what council decides”.
“I didn’t think I was standing up and saying ‘this is it, and this is what we are going to do’… I wasn’t speaking in opposition, and I think it’s really important to hold power to account.”
TCDSU President Leah Keogh said she was “glad” that the union was having this discussion and addressed how the wider student body sees the union and its sabbatical team: “what people might confused with generally, and maybe not people in this room but the student body, they see the union as the decision makers… in all actuality we are the opposition, we are on your side and we are the ones who hold college to account.”
Ents officer Greg Arrowsmith encouraged “anyone who has an issue with the sabbats having too much influence to run themselves or run for the [Oversight Commission] and [EC]”.
Chair of the EC Adam Balchin praised the work of the sabbatical team: “Having worked with all five of the main sabbatical officers this year, I enjoyed working with each and everyone of them. They are as much a friend as a lot of you.”
He pointed towards increasing supports for class representatives to prepare them for council: “I just think that if the problem that people have is sabbat taking the reigns of council, of various union bodies, maybe it’s because people don’t’ know the actual procedures around council”.
Speaking to Trinity News ahead of this evening, Molnárfi said: “The ideological line of our union is the politics of liberal compromise, of working with the system, and not that of directly and loudly confronting it. Anything that goes against this is shut down by sabbatical officers, and by the union’s clique.”
He suggested that the motion to support the #NoInPersonExams campaign was voted down by Council members because the current Education Officer spoke against the motion. This campaign was started by Students4Change, an activist group of which Molnárfi is chairperson.
According to Molnárfi: “Our union is focused on delivering change for the students in a professional way but not with the students on the streets.”