Criticism of ‘negative campaigning’ ahead of USI hustings

news1Remarks made on social media by a sabbatical officer of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (SU) have been criticised as unfairly trying to influence voters ahead a campus husting session with candidates in the upcoming Union of Students in Ireland (USI) elections.

Presidential candidates Kevin Donoghue, the USI deputy president and vice president for academic affairs and quality assurance, and Glenn Fitzpatrick, the USI vice president for campaigns, are due to address the SU Council tonight in a bid to seek the union’s nomination.

In a message posted in a class rep Facebook group, Ents officer Finn Murphy expressed his support for Donoghue and urged students not to vote for his opponent, who he said does not work well as part of a team.

“There are 2 people running for President,” he wrote. “One of whom is a nice chap called Kevin who will help students across the country moving forward as a deal maker and pragmatist and another who’s positions are radical and if you disagree with he won’t even consider negotiating (sic).”

Among the class reps who criticised the post was Sinéad Baker – the SU convenor for arts, humanities and social sciences – who said it was inappropriate for a sabbatical officer to influence the opinion of others ahead of an important vote.

“I know everyone is free to endorse whoever they want on their own page and I don’t disagree  with that at all but posting in the rep group doesn’t necessarily inform reps,” she said. “It rather makes it more likely that people will vote in a certain way as they perceive everyone else is doing so.”

Class reps also pointed to claims that three of Fitzpatrick’s posts on the Facebook event page for tonight’s SU Council had been removed minutes after being posted. Trinity News understands that the five sabbatical officers with administrative access to the event page deny deleting his posts.

In a statement, Finn Murphy said: “With regard to USI elections, SU officers are not mandated or under any ‘rules’ with what they can or cannot do with regards to endorsement. However, in retrospect I should not have mentioned the other candidate in my personal message to reps as, while my comments were kept at a professional level taken from my experience working with Glenn it’s better just to talk about the positives of the candidate you’re supporting rather then the negatives of the opponent.”

He added: “I’d hope Glenn didn’t take this as an attack on his character as I think he’s an affable guy who I would commend for some of the work he has done this year. However, I still think Kevin Donohue is the better person for the job on a professional level and I hope the reps’ judgement is not clouded by the ‘scandal’ my endorsement has created.”

The four other sabbatical officers have also publicly supported Donoghue’s bid for the USI position, though they did not make any comment on candidates in the class rep group.

The USI elections are due to be held at its annual congress between March 23rd and 26th.

Catherine Healy

Editor of Trinity News. Interested in politics, history and all forms of media.