As the current sabbatical officers of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union head into the final weeks of their tenures, our news staffers cast a cold eye back on their election manifestos and assess their performances to date.
Reading Domhnall McGlacken-Byrne’s long SU Council reports is a surefire way of inducing a headache. If you do take the time to analyse them, however, the amount of work he has done since taking on his position becomes clear.
One of the key election commitments he has delivered on is the SU strategic plan, which he described in his manifesto as providing an “overarching vision” for what the union should be focusing on over the next three years. While it may be easy to forget how ambitious the concept of a long-term plan, along with the establishment of a board of trustees, was for the SU, the move could potentially restructure how the SU functions by making it possible for its goals to develop over the years rather than having to restart every June with new sabbatical officers.
McGlacken-Byrne has also significant work done with the Trinity Access Programmes (TAP), establishing the first ever SU access officer and approving a major funding plan to renovate TAP classrooms and resources.
Among the campaigns he excelled in was the large-scale voter registration drive that saw 3,150 Trinity students registering to vote in the equal marriage referendum in November. Many of the proposed new and increased student charges are likely to be passed by the College Board this week, but the SU did manage to remove the proposed supplemental examination fee.
Manifesto promises that have yet to be achieved include an increase in plug sockets for the Lecky and Berkeley libraries, the development of a feedback app, and an online book exchange system. While this is disappointing, the proposals were still occasionally brought up in SU Council reports, showing that efforts were at least made to bring them into fruition.
Another criticism of McGlacken-Byrne’s tenure as SU president is that the result of last year’s direct provision referendum – whose passing mandated the SU to oppose the controversial system on a long-term basis – has been completely ignored. A year later, there has been no discussion nor action on the matter. Despite this oversight, however, he has proved to be an effective and inclusive organiser on social issues.
Katie Byrne’s election manifesto concentrated on promises to improve the class rep system, reform exam timetabling and the appeals process and increase student accessibility to academic resources and engagement with their course.
She pledged to cut spending on class rep training while increasing value for money by equipping reps with more practical skills. Having successfully secured sponsorship for next year’s training, she has been working on establishing an online nomination and voting system for class rep elections and is confident that it will be up and running for the 2015-16 academic year. Plans to reduce the financial cost of the event were not tackled this year. A training event for SU faculty conveners, conducted by Byrne, placed a strong emphasis on conveners “setting their own goals to make real changes where they saw issues within their schools,” which she considered an improvement on previous years’ training.
Her ideas surrounding reform of exam timetabling and the appeals process included increasing the amount of time that students have to appeal results by five days and ensuring that “exams are timetabled with a minimum of 24 hours between the start time of each exam and that students should sit a maximum of four exams in a five-day week.” In December 2014, Byrne told Trinity News that “serious consideration” was being given to the possibility of Christmas exams and that a review of the appeals process was due to take place this semester, however, no allusion has been made to this review in her subsequent council reports. An update for the student body on the progress of these aspirations is overdue.
She sought to expand the availability of the GradLink mentor programme, which connects undergraduates with graduate student peer mentors, to a broader range of courses and to run a series of faculty specific careers seminars for students. The GradLink programme was extended to the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy, however, financial restraints will hinder further development for the time being. Her proposed Trinity student blog, which would be open to all students and offer a “way to explore all aspects of their subject outside of their everyday lecturers and coursework,” has yet to materialise.
Outside of her manifesto goals, Byrne has had several notable successes. She played a key role in formulating plans for the SU’s ‘Sun Room,’ due to be developed in Goldsmith Hall and intended to provide a therapeutic space for students. In response to an influx of students seeking grinds at the beginning of the year, she arranged a partnership between the SU and online grinds service UniTuition, replacing the SU’s “inefficient and out of date” grinds database. She was also heavily involved in the organisation of the Women in Leadership Campaign, which included workshops, panel discussions and visits to the college by prominent female leaders.
Ian Mooney’s election promises were sorted under the headings of mental health, sexual and physical health, equality and support. These buzzwords run the gamut of what a welfare officer should professionally be concerned with and Ian did manage to achieve significant successes in all areas.
His biggest achievement is arguably his handling of the accommodation crisis. According to one SU council report, it was Mooney’s idea to hand out 20,000 flyers to homes around the Dublin city area asking if they would be interested in renting out a room. This led to the procurement of nearly 300 “digs” for students who had yet to find accommodation. The accommodation advisory service also saw the amount of students requiring assistance double and few, if any, complaints were heard about its operations.
Mooney also placed a big emphasis on campaigning on issues of mental health and equality this year. The campaign weeks were well promoted and the marriage equality bill became very topical with the help of a popular promotional video as well as push to register voters. There was also the release of a sexual assault survey that shocked a large proportion of students, finding that one in four female Trinity students have been sexually assaulted. Mooney and Aoife O’Brien, the SU gender equality officer, spearheaded the study, and should be commended for sparking a much-needed conversation about the issue of sexual consent.
However, Mooney’s year has not been without its flaws, as several of his campaign promises have not yet materialised. Firstly, there was the restructuring of the campaign weeks, which he told Trinity News during his campaign season was the biggest thing he would like to change. Mooney had suggested a dismantling of these weeks and a more constant promotion of the issues throughout the year. For the most part this never happened: there was the removal of SHIFT week, but aside from that all the other weeks have remained in place. There were also promises to provide a weekly blog and an online support system. The weekly blog, as of now, has one posting but Mooney said he would try to do more. The online support system was scrapped due to time constraints
Mooney cites the large amount of casework that he had not anticipated as a reason for not completing everything he had intended to and still says he would if he had more time. Dealing with the problems of individual students is of course a very important aspect of the job but working on the promises that got you elected should be too. While Mooney was an effective and forward-thinking welfare officer, the tradition of SU candidates campaigning on big proposals and then capitulating once elected needs to be addressed.
Samuel Riggs’ campaign promises for the role of communications officer centred around three main themes: to build upon relations between the SU and College, to improve the quality of the University Times (UT) and to change the way that students interact with the SU.
Riggs’ manifesto pledged to improve SU-College relations by establishing a new committee of students and sabbatical officers whose purpose would be to voice the needs of the student body to College and, in turn, keep students informed on College’s plans. While none of his monthly reports at SU council make any mention of a committee being formed, he told Trinity News in December that contact between the SU and College representatives had become more consistent.
His promises within the remit of UT editor included the expansion of the UT writers workshops, the introduction of master classes teaching section-specific writing skills and the creation of a health science correspondent. Headway was made in all of these areas. Several workshops and master classes have taken place on campus and in Halls and the position of health science correspondent was established along with Irish language and LGBT correspondents.
This year also saw the rebranding of UT’s supplement paper, now called UT+, as well as the holding of the first ever UT hustings for the sabbatical officer elections. However, Riggs’ progress in this area came to a halt when he took a permanent leave of absence from his position as editor, having been asked to step aside from the role by several senior members of the editorial team. UT reported that this was due to “tension [that] had arisen in the newsroom, following a series of actions” that they felt “Riggs had failed to take responsibility for,” including the publication of confidential correspondences relating to the Phil, resulting in the withdrawal of the paper’s January issue.
In terms of how students connect with the SU, Riggs proposed the inclusion of monthly updates on the activities of sabbatical officers in the SU email as well as adding a live feed of information on the SU’ s latest events to their website. While Riggs admitted in December 2014 that the monthly email updates “haven’t been going so well” and that they would continue monthly after December, his subsequent emails after the Christmas break have contained no such reports. He oversaw the redesign of the SU website, but the live information feed is still nowhere to be seen.
Riggs was successful in his plans for the addition of a new tab to the website, allowing students to access information on past SU campaigns, their policies on various topics and on how students can bring motions to council. Despite this, the transformation in the way that students engage with the SU, that Riggs dedicated himself to achieving, has yet to be seen.
Finn Murphy, during the last SU election, implored that the student body let him entertain them. They obliged. Did he deliver? A collaboration with Players and Trinity Arts Festival resulted in a murder mystery on a train which, by all accounts, was a raving success. The bring-your-own-beer event with a 1920s dress code featured students from Players enacting an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery as the train trundled through the night tunes pumping from the “dance carriage”. Few other organisations on campus can hope to stage such an ambitious event, which could be the answer to the perennial question of what Ents provides that societies don’t already. Codenamed Train 2.0 until recently, MasqueRail is a follow up scheduled for April 1st as a result of the success of the murder mystery.
¤23.5k was raised during this year’s RAG week, which will be shared among 11 designated charities. Ents is commendable for staging, perhaps, the only university “Raise and Give” week in the country that isn’t a piss up. A quiz, iron-stomach competition, “favours auction” and dodgeball and five-a-side tournaments all contributed to surpassing the total raised last year by ¤1,500.
Trinity Ball, which takes place later this month, is headlined by dance group Basement Jaxx. After receiving criticism from students not impressed by the event’s distinctly electro/dance lineup this year, Murphy wrote in his monthly sabbatical report, “If you’re angry please don’t take it out on me. I tried my best to get MCD to book a strong line-up and literally could not get any more out of them.” Nonetheless, demand for tickets was as high as ever. It seems the experience of Trinity Ball is enticing enough in itself to attract enough interest to sell out.
An election manifesto pledge was for a film festival on campus. As excellent as the idea of a film festival was, its scale and publicity were disappointing. There was a talk with the lead graphic designer for the film Grand Budapest Hotel and a handful of film screenings.
Another idea of Murphy’s was a trip abroad that would take place during the summer. Styled as “Ents on tour”, it was to be a week-long yacht-flotilla cruise around the Greek Islands. However, despite having taken considerable effort to organise, it was eventually shelved due to a lack of sufficient concrete interest. Or, as Murphy put it, not enough people transitioning from “Yeah, this is deadly” to “Yeah, I’ll pay my deposit.”
Together with incoming officer Katie Cogan, Murphy decided to replace what had been the inefficient and informal Ents Crew with an elected Ents committee. He has spoken before about having been “a lot busier in the job than I ever thought I would be” and says that a committee will allow for planning of more than one event simultaneously, thereby leading to a greater diversity of events.
While Finn Murphys’ term was not radically different from those of any of his immediate predecessors, Ents has consistently delivered good events this year and the introduction of an Ents committee may well be felt for years to come.