Leadership Race: President

James Prendergast

Deputy News Editor

Only two candidates remain in this year’s Students’ Union (SU) Presidential race after Neil Cronin left the race last week. The successful candidate will be charged with the task of co-ordinating the campaigns and the day-to-day activities of the SU, maintaining and improving SU services and voicing students’ concerns on campus. Trinity News interviewed both candidates last week.

Jasper Pickersgill, campaigning under his nickname “The Pig” is a third year engineering student, who has held many positions in student societies. But he dismissed this experience as largely irrelevant, instead underlining his experience of running a marquee company each summer since the age of 18.

Domhnall McGlacken-Byrne is a third year medicine student and is currently Health Science Faculty Convenor who has been involved in the SU since first year. He rejected the idea that he’s an insider. “A fresh perspective is not the opposite of experience”, he argued.

Pickersgill said that he expected the controversy surrounding his past membership of the Zeta Psi fraternity and wasn’t annoyed by it. He claimed he felt isolated in his first year and joined after friends told him about how the fraternity would “get together and go drinking”.

He insisted that he is not a member of the fraternity and said the exclusion of women is his biggest criticism. He called the fraternity “quite elitist” and said that it looked for members to fit a particular “mould”, with rugby players like him being an especial favourite. As President, he said he would educate students to discourage them from joining.

Both manifestos are noticeable for being short on politics. Pickersgill said that many students are “not interested in politics”, and claimed an emphasis on practical policies would engender interest in SU campaigns. He also recommended the use of college email for voting, a policy which he said has been implemented in other universities.

McGlacken-Byrne insisted radicalisation wouldn’t be his “first port of call”. He described himself as “not a megaphone-type person”. Greater student representation on the committees that make decisions in college would allow the SU to “nip things in the bud”, he claimed. He pointed out that the finance committee that hiked international student fees in September had zero student representation.

Pickersgill appeared more receptive to radical action, claiming “my personality would come across that way”. While sit-ins would probably indicate the SU is a “bit late”, he said the action would show “great defiance” by students.

McGlacken-Byrne placed great importance on his proposal to introduce a four-year strategic plan. “Admitting that some issues can’t be dealt with in one year“ is, he said, “the first step towards noticing that these issues are inherently long term”.

He promised the plan would be put to referendum before next Christmas giving students the opportunity to “throw it back in my face”. This “powerful” document, he said would be drawn up in consultation with “students, some staff, and maybe some prior sabbatical officers”. However, he conceded that the document wouldn’t be binding on his successor.

When it comes to communicating with students, Pickersgill hopes to take quite a traditional approach. A previous SU President had, he said, stood outside the front entrance of college in a bright-red suit every second morning between 8.30 and 9.30 to talk to students. Pickersgill committed to wearing a similarly brightly coloured outfit and making himself available to talk to students for an hour. He also proposed employing students at below minimum wages to go about campus representing the SU a couple of times a week talking to students before reporting directly back to him as President.

McGlacken-Byrne plans to use a new Feedback App, a “What Annoys You about College?” section on the SU website, and a prominent suggestion box, which students can use to suggest practical improvements. He said that while office hours are a good idea, sabbatical officers often get “bogged down in meetings”.

Trinity has failed, McGlacken-Byrne said, to fulfil the pledge made in its 2009-2014 strategic plan to ensure equality of access and the fostering of talent wherever it exists. This “pretty much does not happen in Trinity”, he claimed. For Trinity, he added, talent “is particularly handy if it exists in a south Dublin private school”. He proposed that students should get credits for visiting and making presentations about Trinity to disadvantaged schools.

This policy was praised by Pickersgill, who said that these presentations would allow students with little work experience improve their CVs. He said he would make signing up to an SU-sponsored employment agency; to which students could upload their LinkedIn profiles, an option that students could choose when they pay their registration fee.

Neither candidate clearly came out with a pro-life or pro-choice stance. While McGlacken-Byrne said that while he would be comfortable running a campaign for one side in an abortion referendum in his role as the Students’ Union’s chief campaigns officer, he stressed that it was important for the SU to find a “fuzzy middle ground” between including all students and making stances.

Pickersgill said the SU referendum wasn’t “a good idea in the first place”.  He emphasised that he would actively support both sides of the debate, no matter what the outcome of next week’s referendum. If he only campaigned for one side, a large number of students would, he said, feel “incredibly left out”.

He expressed the same desire for compromise in his policy towards tobacco on campus. While, personally he thought a smoke-free campus would be “great”, as President he said he could not support the ban as it would be a “misrepresentation” of the student body as whole. Instead, he proposed the building of smoking areas with seating and covers.

In his manifesto McGlacken-Byrne calls “a large scale voter registration drive” ahead of the referendum in 2015 on extending marriage to same-sex couples “a priority for me”. He said that he would like next year’s Rainbow Week to coincide with the referendum.

By contrast, Pickersgill admitted that he hadn’t thought much before about LGBT issues before the issues the community faces “really hit home” when he saw the speech that drag performer Panti Bliss had made in the Abbey Theatre. He expressed his desire to further the “fulfilment” of LGBT people in society and said he would actively campaign for marriage equality.

Mental-health issues were absent from both manifestos.  McGlacken-Byrne said he had “no specific orientation” regarding mental health. He maintained the issue had progressed in “leaps and bounds”, alluding to the work of Tom Lenihan. Meanwhile, Pickersgill disclosed that he had a “lot of experience” with mental health and said he understood “how important it is to get people talking”.

The candidates were in agreement about the possible privatisation of college. McGlacken –Byrne had defiant words for the Provost. His “agenda” to “drag us up the rankings by any means necessary“  had, McGlacken-Byrne said, “become clear”.  He warned that the Provost is “batting us away very easily”, aided by the fact that seven different SU Presidents will hold office during the remainder of the Provost’s term. Pickersgill plainly described privatisation as a “bad idea” involving “a lot of negatives” such as “dramatically increased fees”.

Additional reporting by Eva Short