At the fifth Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Council tonight, the twelve sabbatical officer candidates gave speeches and fielded questions from the attendees, who largely consisted of class representatives.
University Times Editor
O’Mahony began by mentioning the history of her involvement with the Students’ Union, starting in first year and continuing to the present day. She emphasised that the overall theme of her candidacy will be centred on “giving back to UT staff”. O’Mahony highlighted the newspaper’s upcoming tenth anniversary as an ideal opportunity to thank UT alumni and celebrate the achievements of current staff.
A key point O’Mahony focused on was the establishment of writer profiles on the UT website, intended for students to “promote it to family, friends and future employers”. Consolidating the creative section is another priority for O’Mahony and she pledged “to get more people involved in design and visuals”. Noting that an important element of UT is accountability, O’Mahony promised an increase in UT office hours, saying that students would be free to meet with her in order to “air concerns and present ideas”. To address the issue of achieving cost-neutrality for UT, O’Mahony said this was “a hot topic for UT” and mentioned that she had been “in talks with outside people”.
In the first question addressed to her, O’Mahony was asked whether she believed that this year being the first contested race for UT Editor indicates that candidates are “groomed for the role”. She made the point that the division of the Communications and Marketing role and UT Editor role was a relatively new one: “We are still developing and settling in that new space in the union and in the election.” O’Mahony also emphasised her experience and the experience of Deputy Editors when running for Editor-in-Chief stating that in her current role as Deputy, she does “pretty much everything the Editor does”. She also discussed the efforts made to expand senior staff saying that she saw no reason that the “huge masthead” of current editors could not run for election.
In response to a questions on working with the Communications and Marketing Officer for advertising, O’Mahony acknowledged that “there’s a haziness between how the union needs to work with UT for advertising…there hasn’t been as much collaboration as there could have been.” The first budget proposed by UT this year was rejected by the TCDSU Union Forum, after a saving of €70 per month was suggested.
In his speech for President Michael McDermott made a brief reference to his participation in the UT race, saying that he would leave the paper “the same as it is now, just more Spiderman coverage”. When asked how he would cover Spiderman, he answered that he would do so “just by telling the truth about Spiderman”.
In response to a question over how he would manage the combined workload of SU President and UT Editor if elected to both positions, McDermott stated that he would “keep going at both until they removed me from one”.
“Age doesn’t matter unless you are cheese,” joked Matthew Dundon for Ents, before outlining his society positions and achievements on campus. “Let me do the job I was born to do,” he told Council attendees. Dundon, a co-founder of Midnight Disco, reiterated many of his manifesto points, including implementing open air screenings and increasing collaborations between Ents and societies. He also wants increase the number of BYOB events and hand out ear plugs at Ents events, so that those with hearing issues can still enjoy nights out. When asked about alcohol-free events, Dundon responded that Trinity Ents currently assist societies with video game nights, film screenings and similar alcohol-free events. Finally, Dundon proposed introducing a review system for Ents events to ensure everyone in College has their voice heard.
Flood argued that “Ents can be a fun” and an “ inclusive way” to get more people involved in TCDSU. Flood would like to create an Ents guide-book to offer guidance to class reps, society Ents Officers and others who wants to organise an event. The guide would contain venue information and tips and tricks on running events. He stated that Ents can make the “transition easier” for students arriving in college,and commented that improvements on “student experience” can occur in “the areas they live in”.
The candidates each have a clear image of what differentiates them from their opponent. Dundon pointed to his experience, while Flood argued that his lack of event experience gives him a “fresh” perspective. In response to what he could do differently to Jonah Craig, current Ents Officer, Flood believes he can “broaden the potential of how big an Ents event can be”. Both Ents candidates agreed that plans for Trinity Ball should be realistic. Candidates often make promises “that nobody can uphold,” argued Dundon, while Flood stated his commitment to realistic ideas.
Responding to a question about whether some students might be disappointed by the final “crowdsourced” Trinity Ball line up, Flood replied that he would preface the survey asking students to be realistic. “We’re not going to get Kendrick Lamar. It’s going to be smaller acts, but hopefully it’ll still give people the opportunity to see the acts they want to see at T-Ball,” he said.
Communications and Marketing
Of the Communications and Marketing candidates, Niall Harty addressed Council first. He outlined how the SU deficit and low voter turnout were the two biggest problems facing the SU. He proposed a number of different measures, including an expansion of charging points on campus and a move towards reintroducing TCal, the timetabling service hosted by Google Calendar. In response to a question on how he would tackle the deficit, he said he would pursue revenue raising measures rather than cutting services and insisted that his policy on charging points was “the only thing in my manifesto that costs any money”.
Next to speak was Paraic McLean, a final year Drama student. McLean proposed to “revamp voting cards so they are a one-page booklet in both English and as Gaelige”. He reiterated his commitment to introducing “campaign packs and consultation” for student activists and student-led campaigns. He also noted his experience for the role, referencing his design work for events such as Blue Planet and the Ents Harry Potter train night. McLean also drew attention to the cards that his campaign team are distributing throughout the campaign period, inviting students to write “one bright idea for the SU” and return the cards to him should he be elected.
Rynne, a fourth year Human Genetics student, closed the Communications and Marketing hustings. He rejected what he described as the “long shopping list” approach of many candidates, instead breaking his manifesto down into “four simple points”. He outlined his plan to digitise the SU diary, as well as expand internship opportunities for students, particularly in STEM subjects. He also reiterated his desire to “get more dogs on campus” and referred to his manifesto promise of a “Trinity hacks guide” that would contain useful information for incoming students. When asked to expand on his plan to bring more dogs on campus, he proposed a probationary period where people could bring their dogs on campus with a lead. Rynne was also questioned as to whether dogs on campus came under the remit of Communications and Marketing officer, he responded that his ideas corresponded with several candidates in other races and that he wouldn’t be “stepping on anyone’s toes” by pursuing the measure.
One audience member asked how each candidate would make Engineering, Maths and Science (EMS) students feel included in the SU. Rynne responded that his “Trinity hacks” idea was “for everyone” and “not limited to anyone place on campus”. He acknowledged that his internships idea was “a little bit more difficult for vocational subjects” and specifically aimed at STEM subjects. Harty also referred to a manifesto promise, arguing that his careers fair proposal would benefit the entirety of the student community. McLean proposed to introduce office hours across campus to improve accessibility for students from a variety of subjects.
James Cunningham, the only candidate for the Welfare Officer position, spoke next. He is running on a platform of consent, student poverty, mental health and drug harm reduction. The former JCR Welfare Officer spoke further about why he wants to take on the role and what he hopes to achieve.
Cunningham began his speech by focusing on the Welfare campaign week. He wants to improve the campaign week through rebranding and finding out “what students want and need”. He then proposed monthly breakfast mornings with student groups like S2S and other counselling services, and hopes to introduce an education campaign on the harms associated with drug use. He believes this is something has taken “a back seat” in recent times and pointed to TCDSU’s mandate in this area. He stressed that while he would not condone drug use, he would not “turn away someone in need”.
In response to a question about the welfare of international students, Cunningham promised to provide increased information about Trinity and a desire to expand the Welfare committee to identify the needs of international students.
Cunningham spoke in his speech about rolling out the consent workshops from Trinity Hall to campus. Replying to a question on consent, specifically regarding how he would promote engagement among those who might be reluctant to attend workshops, Cunningham promised to involve clubs and societies. Cunningham feels that between “reaching out to club and society members,” and opening consent workshops to the wider student body, the consent workshops would “increase the reach further”. By working alongside these other groups, he believes will be able to more clearly see “what needs to be done”.
Sole Education Officer candidate Aimee Connolly reiterated her campaign’s emphasis on engagement, employability, and support at the Council hustings tonight. She intends to implement a student-led feedback system so “students can be given guidance in areas where they seek it,” through written feedback supports for lecturers and students. She intends to implement an online hub on the Students’ Union website to allow the submission of pieces outlining internship and Erasmus experiences. She recognised the importance of convenors and stated that she intends to establish convenor catch-ups, which would dedicate 30 minutes of Academic Senate to local issues where reps can discuss “their current landscape and build a strong working relationship”. She also plans to implement an SU website comment box and monthly questionnaire so that “students who aren’t involved in the SU can give us feedback”.
In response to a question raising the point that Academic Senate does not include first-year representatives, Connolly noted this would give class representatives the opportunity to talk directly about problems on campus. She argued that Academic Senate could look at holding elections earlier in the academic year in order to allow Junior Fresh students to be nominated.
Shane de Rís, a former Trinity Hall JCR President, was the first candidate in the President race to speak. Outlining his commitment to “refocus the SU on improving students’ daily lives,” he proposed to introduce clinics in new locations outside of House Six, both on and off campus, saying that the SU “needs to get out of House Six”. De Rís hopes to work with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and other organisations to explore new ventures for funding. De Rís also wants to expand upon the current TCDSU accommodation advisory service and strengthen relationships between sabbatical and part-time officers. De Rís said that higher education funding would be the main campaign focus of his presidency.
De Rís also hopes to assist students facing challenges with College administration, which he identifies as a frequent difficulty for students. In response to a question about the logistical ability to include time for weekly clinics, De Rís said that “listening to students is always time well spent”. De Rís believes that the SU needs to be more inventive in how it seeks to turn a profit.
Michael McDermott, founder of the satirical Trinity Collidge Facebook page, spoke next, striking the same humorous tone that has characterised his campaign to date. He suggested the SU should intervene in ongoing geopolitical conflicts such as the war in Syria, and proposed to repeal the seventh and ninth amendments, “just to make sure we got the bastard”. He argued that the Union isn’t about just helping students. He suggested making “the office of the President a four year term with more executive power. The President will also command a military”.
On a more serious note, responding to a question on what balance each candidate would strike between national and student issues, McDermott argued that the Union should focus only on “something directly affecting students and something that students can change”. He also proposed to reduce the SU’s deficit by reducing expenses on events such as class rep training, questioning why this couldn’t be held on campus. When asked what campaign he would prioritise, McDermott replied: “It doesn’t matter what I want to do, it’s what you want.”
Paul Molloy, current Auditor of the College Historical Society (the Hist), began his speech by noting he will “fight for you to protect your education,” Molloy cited his plans to create new avenues to find accommodation and talked of the importance of “accountability” as president. “I will publish my schedule every week so students know what I’m doing,” said Molloy. He stressed the importance of “getting out from behind the SU stand during Freshers’ Week” and engaging with students on a personal level. He spoke about his experience with reducing the Hist’s debt “by over two-thirds” as Hist Treasurer in response to a question on his ability to deliver on his manifesto promise to prioritise students rather than the Commercial Revenue Unit.
The point was raised that while Molloy’s manifesto promises to raise a motion to mandate the SU to campaign for the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the SU is already mandated to do this. Molloy expressed that this was not in the minutes when he viewed them. Molloy noted that he understood the SU deficit was currently decreasing and felt that if the budget was not balanced by the end of next year, he would look into costs associated with class-rep training and the University Times.
The final candidate to speak was Sean Ryan, a Senior Sophister Law Student. The fourth year Law student highlighted his desire to bring “services out of House Six and onto different locations around campus”. He further proposed to “revolutionise the accommodation advisory service” by making the service accessible online. He said that while he would focus on student issues, “we cannot turn a blind eye to national issues,” arguing that Trinity should become a University of Sanctuary.
Ryan will prioritise local issues that affect students daily while recognising the relevance of national issues, in response to a question from the audience. In relation to the budget, Ryan envisions a focus on students’ daily lives rather than financial issues, noting that “the SU is for the benefit of the students, it is not a commercial entity.” Ryan believes that he can not imagine any extra cost incurring for the Union as a result of his policies.
A final question from current Education Officer Alice MacPherson asked the candidates what they would do to promote the nomination of a female candidate for President in 2019. Shane De Rís expressed that he wants to “establish a diversity campaign group”. Molloy said he was disappointed with the lack of women in the election this year, noting that he doesn’t “think it’s [his] place as a man to explain to women what they need to do to advance their position in College” and that he would “give the Gender Equality Officer 110% of [his] support” on the issue. Ryan noted that he has met with the most recent female President of the TCDSU, Lynn Ruane, to discuss the subject and said that he would “identify female candidates and encourage them, without being biased, towards running.”
Reporting by Dominic Neau, Peter Kelly, Aisling Grace, Niamh Lynch, Aoife Ni Chadhain, Rory O’Neill, Grainne Sexton, Meadhbh Ni Mhidigh, Sinead Barry, Lauren Boland, Michael Gilna, Sarah Meehan, Niamh Keating, Eoin O’Donnell, Cian McLochlainn, Ciaran Sunderland and Julia Geoghegan.