Michael McDermott is the Senior Sophister Nanoscience student behind satirical Facebook page, ‘Trinity Collidge’. Viewed by many as a “joke candidate,” McDermott has no previous experience in either student politics or journalism but this has not deterred him from running in both the President and University Times Editor race. McDermott, however, thinks that “it’s exactly what [the SU] need”.
“I’m probably one of the only Presidential candidates that I can remember that’s actually from an Engineering, Maths or Science (EMS) course, which has historically been pretty disengaged from the Union,” he notes.
When asked whether he thinks his Facebook page, which can’t be used for campaigning, has created some sort of connection between him and the student body that could aid his bid for election, McDermott said: “The people who like the posts, a lot of which just make fun of the college, make fun of the SU, I think a lot of those people are the ones who typically don’t get involved anyway so, historically, they probably haven’t voted. Maybe they see the guy who’s on their side, trying to get into it. Maybe they think I’ll do a genuinely good job or maybe it’s their kind of protest vote.”
The idea of a “protest vote” and general disillusionment with the SU cropped up at several stages in our discussion, with McDermott himself saying that he “would be pretty content with being Ireland’s version of Brexit”.
He believes that one of the core reasons for the exostence of the SU opt-out movement is the SU’s excessive focus on the repeal campaign, a topic he spoke at length about and with a relatively high degree of earnestness, commenting that Repeal was an external movement, already doing quite well before any SU got involved. “They may have gotten people to march where they otherwise wouldn’t have but it’s like if I jump into a swimming pool, the water will rise a little bit but I can’t exactly take credit for making more water.”
Moreover, McDermott is of the view that not only did the SU accomplish very little with their immense focus on Repeal, he believes that, because of it, some of their other mandates were seriously detracted from. “The three marches that come to mind are the Repeal marches, the marches for free access to education and the march to ratify the rights of the disabled, which had, I think, ten people from Trinity go to it. Clearly they put a lot of eggs into one basket; a basket already full of a lot of eggs.”
Asked if students should have the option to opt-out of the SU, McDermott said that personally he wouldn’t but “if you’re so disillusioned and disengaged, it doesn’t make sense for you to have to be a member of something that you don’t feel is giving you anything in return”.
In his manifesto, McDermott also outlines his desire not only to extend the term of Presidency to four years but to grant the position more executive powers and to make the SU President commander-in-chief of a “TCDSU Military” which he hopes to establish. “I don’t think we have the strength or unity to tackle national issues. Ideally, as I say in the manifesto, I want to make the presidency a 4-year term which will give me more time to implement change. More executive powers as well, which I wouldn’t abuse, I can promise that. As well, I want to establish an SU military, mainly using the sports clubs because they’d be good for infantry; they’ve got rowing, swimming, kayaking – they would make a good navy. I think having some force, not that we’d use it, but it would serve to provide a good mix of respect and fear. I think that would allow us to enforce mandates.”
One of the most intriguing things about McDermott as a candidate is that his tendency or, perhaps, ability to transition from a legitimate, plausible point to a satirical quip makes you seriously consider whether or not you can really brand him solely as a “joke candidate”. For example, giving his opinion on the controversy surrounding the decision to change the term “Freshman” to “Fresh,” McDermott commented: “They wanted to look like they were doing something so they took something very surface level, which is just changing the name of something, and it backfired in a major way because I think a lot of people just got even more annoyed by it than anything. People want it changed back to Freshman but I honestly prefer a system where first years would be ‘puppers’ or ‘woofers,’ maybe ‘sub-woofers,’ ‘doggos’; pHd students would clearly be ‘old-yellers’. I think people would be a bit happier with that because it takes gender out of it and makes it a bit cute as well.”
One of the many unconventional aspects of McDermott’s campaign is that he is running for two sabbatical positions simultaneously. Explaining his reasons for this, McDermott said, “Basically I had the nomination form, I had the ten signatures and I had the tick for president. I started talking with some friends about how funny it would be to contest every single position, but I didn’t have time for that.”
When questioned, however, on whether he has any intention to actually take up SU presidency, McDermott provides a response that may cause the more “sincere” candidates to take stock of their opponent as a potential spanner in the works. “I think that if enough people voted me in, I would owe them somewhat. Whether they think it would be funny or whether they think I would actually do a good job, take things away from politics and bring it back to students actually needing to do things.”