SU Presidential Race: Interview with Kevin Keane
Deputy chair of the Lobby Group and SUAS president Kevin Keane wants to give as much power to students as possible by introducing an “Empowerment Week”
As Deputy Chair of the Lobby Group and president of SUAS Trinity, SS Law Student Kevin Keane puts the concept of College as a community in itself at the forefront of his campaign. “College has given me a lot and I’ve been really lucky to get a lot out of College and I think my ideas are going to facilitate people to get as much as they possibly can out of College.” Last year Keane was also a member of the Welfare Committee under Conor Clancy.
His manifesto covers a wide range of issues: an increase to how much employers pay into the National Training Fund (currently at an average of 0.7 percent) to help create a more publicly funded education system, the addition of a 24-hour library space in the Hamilton and a “robust” application of the union’s Repeal the 8th mandate. On the topic of how political the student union should be, in light of recent discussions of depoliticisation, Keane seemed quite positive about Kieran McNulty’s level of campaigning, but that there should always be a place for discussion:
“I think that the SU should not be an apolitical body, but equally we have to remember that we are not a political party.”
“The fact that there is a mandate does not invalidate debate, if someone disagrees with a mandate, conscientious disagreement should be acceptable. Everyone is welcome in the SU.” He continued to point out that rather than focusing on the structure and level of politics in College, it would be “more productive and beneficial to everybody would be that the president and the lobby group focuses on what defines us: mental health, higher education funding, and accommodation”.
Higher education is the first campaign mentioned in his manifesto, and he appeared quite passionate about it in principle. “I think education is a right. Higher education is something we need to protect and the idea of loans or increased fees is something I oppose vociferously; it’s something we need to fight against. I know through going to a school where most people don’t go to third level education the idea of a loan would be a real and tangible barrier to people that I went to school with.”
When asked whether students should be allowed to leave the union if they agree with policies such as the recent one for a “publicly funded higher education system”, Keane pointed out that logistically it would be “a nightmare”, and that greater encouragement of discussion might solve any issues of disengagement. “A union that fails to represent everyone is a union that is failing; if we can find a way to represent everyone and beyond lip service make them feel welcome, then the union is strong. I would push to really include people rather than ostracising them.”
“I would respectfully disagree with the Provost that income-contingent loans are a good thing. They don’t affect people from middle to higher income houses but they do decimate the options for people from lower income households.”
Following on from this Keane was question whether he would create campaigns based on his own initiatives or if he would wait for students to come to him, a question he seemed eager to respond to as it tied in with his idea for an ‘Empowerment Week’ which encourages students to become activists and set up their own campaigns. “It would be more efficient to have tyrannical leadership but that is not something I would support.” He paused to laugh, shaking his head.
Beyond the issues that ‘define’ the students union, Keane feels that we “should be empowering people and giving them the tools to either start a movement, join a movement or develop one that already exists. Even its something as massive as wanting to ban all fossil fuels from Ireland or you want a microwave in the Hamilton.”
Following the hosting of an event with a pro-BDS speaker by SUAS Trinity in conjunction with Students for Justice in Palestine, Keane was asked whether as president he would support a pro-BDS motion being brought to council. He said he would support it in a ‘personal capacity’, but he would have to see the specifics of a motion before supporting it wholeheartedly.
“It’s more efficient to have independent groups who are passionate and informed leading the charge rather than an SU president who doesn’t necessarily know much about – though I happen to – for example, direct provision.”
When his promise to set acceptable rent caps was brought up he excused a lack of nuance in his manifesto, explaining that if greater unity was created between the students of different universities in Ireland we could prevent exploitative behaviour. “Landlords are playing us off each other, they’re saying someone from UCD will pay this much extra and vice versa for us. I think it’s important that students of Ireland unite and say ‘this is what an acceptable rent is’.”
His policies also stress the need for extra funding to maintain a free and robust counselling service in College, with no introduction of per usage charges, as well as the creation of an inclusivity training programme that would cover “the logistical steps of being inclusive” for clubs and society officers. When questioned if this would be as intense as the 30+ hour Peer Support training required to be QSoc’s Inclusion Officer, Keane said that this would not be the case.
On the recent corporatisation of food options in College, with West End Eats in the Hamilton, Keane was very critical. “That corporatisation of that kind of service something that has been mooted for the SU shops in a very general way is something I would oppose. It isn’t fit for purpose and it’s expensive.”
New spaces are often promised during election time, but Keane feels that his promise of a 24-hour library space in the Hamilton is realistic. “There is already 24-hour access to the Hamilton already and breakout spaces to talk outside. The infrastructure is there for it to be a pleasant space to study, all we need to do is look at staffing and refurbishing of the library.”
“I think that if we’re talking about building a community in college which is fundamental to everything I want to do. We can’t have a community of students without a happy and effective staff.”
Keane expressed his support for the prospective industrial action taken by the non-academic staff of Trinity: “I think that if we’re talking about building a community in college which is fundamental to everything I want to do. We can’t have a community of students without a happy and effective staff.”
His plans for presidency also include a waste reducing programme, with the first proposal being a cut to the printing budget of The University Times. “UT provides a valuable service and has for the last 8 years, it’s a service I would look to defend but it’s also a service that needs to be reformed.” He explained that it would work both financially and environmentally, that “people like to see their name in print and I wouldn’t try to take that away from someone, but do they need to see it in print a thousand times?”
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