My bedroom is, somehow, still littered with campaign literature. Weeks after the fact, after the votes have been counted and the future sabbatical officers decided, I still find myself almost slipping on manifestos and images of the hopeful candidates as I sleepily stumble from the bed to the bathroom at night. For a surreal two weeks, campus is subject to an almost hostile takeover by flyers and campaigners, vying for – no, in fact, demanding – your attention, and it is almost impossible to ignore them. Even those wholly indifferent to student politics are at least aware of what’s going on.
Upon reflection, the elections this year were a tame affair. This is excepting, of course, the discussion surrounding the infamous picture of presidential candidate Jasper Pickersgill posing with a dead deer which graced the cover of the Piranha (which I have dubbed “Huntergate”). The picture, taken from Jasper Pickersgill’s Facebook page, sparked controversy – though Pickersgill seemed to take the entire affair entirely on the chin, even making casual jokes about it. Nevertheless, these elections generally ran smoothly, to the detriment of those of us attempting to write about the subject. The results were, for the most part, utterly unsurprising. All successful candidates touted some sort of previous experience with the Student’s Union, be it as a faculty convenor, peer mentor, class rep or University Times section editor. These elections were, for the most part, merely a stepping stone along the paths they were already forging for themselves. The one surprise was the turn out – higher than ever, exceeding the TCDSU’s steady average of 4000 students. Were I to take a stab at guessing what caused this, I’d chalk it up to the two special interest referendums on the smoke free campus and abortion issues also taking place at the same time. If I were an optimist, which I am not, I could interpret the quiet and painless election weeks as an entirely good thing. With no huge scandals, incendiary revelations or particularly heated hustings, it seems the candidates this year all approached their campaigns with professionalism and determination while maintaining friendly relations with their opposite numbers. This is true, but it does not mean there’s no room for concern. Excitement during election season can seem showy, even tacky, but it also is indicative of an exciting and dramatic political year. There is something enticing about the idea of a huge deviation from the status quo, of restructuring on a large scale, so it’s a little disappointing to see that the SU probably will not undergo much change this year. Proposed policies all aligned with the union’s typical trajectory and consist largely of tinkerings with pre-existing systems, small on the ground tangible changes and – of course – a four year strategic plan. All positive, but not exactly a revolution. While the past experience of the candidates is definitely not a bad thing, it does call into question their ability to conceive fresh ideas and approaches.
Successful Ents candidate Finn Murphy did, however, cause a stir at LGBT hustings when pointing out that a lot more could have been done by the Student’s Union to campaign in the lead up to the Sochi Winter Olympics, given the number of people sitting on the International Olympic committee. This was said in response to an audience member questioning the effectiveness of the TCDSU’s temporary ban on the sale of Coca-cola products on campus during the duration of the games. Whether he’ll continue to critically analyse and propose alternatives to the way the Student’s Union lobbies for issues is a different one entirely, but it inspires hope, if anything.
On the subject of lobbying, these incoming officers are due to enter into a deeply politicised year. The referendum mandating the SU to campaign on behalf of the legalisation of abortion in Ireland passed, and with a referendum about to hit the floor concerning direct provision for asylum seekers, Domhnall and co. will have plenty of campaigns to run. They will also be expected to lobby intensively for the Marriage Equality referendum being put to the Irish public in 2015. It’s a lot to handle; these are all important social issues, and clearly there are a number of students who feel the SU can mobilise and help to instigate change. Incoming president Domhnall McGlacken-Byrne repeatedly explained that he was “not a megaphone person” throughout the election, a stateent that may be troubling to those hoping that he will promote these mandated issues (which will, probably, require a megaphone.) All SU candidates will undergo training on how to lobby issues during the summer. Hopefully, between now and September, they will have all become “megaphone” people.
The dust has already settled on the elections. As quickly as the whole thing began, it suddenly ended, with posters seeming to disappear into the ether and campaign t-shirts most likely being burned on a post-election pyre. The people who become the focus of our attention over the course of two weeks return to their classes, lectures and the other banalities of college life, as can we. It’s all over folks, we can officially put the SU elections to bed. I am sure there are plenty out there who are letting out a sigh of relief.