Leadership Race 2016: Interviews with presidential candidates

Kieran McNulty, Stephen Carty and Daniel O’Brien speak to Trinity News

Read other interviews here


Kieran McNulty

Kieran McNulty, a fourth year law student, has been heavily involved with various student societies and the SU throughout his college career. He is the current SU citizenship officer and has been a prominent member of both the TCD Law Society and the European Youth Parliament.

Opening up our interview, McNulty first discussed his position on the introduction of student fees or loans. This is not a matter of ambiguity for McNulty, who participated in a recent march of the Students Against Fees group, which he has been involved with “since the first meeting.” In terms of campaigning on this matter, he related his beliefs that “the next few months would be crucial” and that “we could be looking at loans being introduced in April, [or] May.” He mentioned that he was “a little annoyed that there was no sabbatical officer at the march,” considering that “the SU have a mandate now to fight against fees.” He also stressed the importance of fee certainty and consistency for non-EU students.

Conversation then turned to what sets him apart from other presidential candidates, with McNulty summarising that his “drive and a willingness to listen” are what characterise him as a leader.

McNulty felt that the SU is representative of the student body, but perhaps does not “act well enough” or “communicate well enough” with the student body about concerns. He mentioned, as examples, the lack of debate before the SU’s consent campaigns or before the issue of student loans was discussed at SU Council, because the Council agenda was only distributed to class representatives the day before Council.

According to his manifesto, McNulty aspires to “remove the difficulties students have with the SU.” Asked to elaborate on this, he said: “If you’re a part time officer and you’ve been involved for a few years, there’s this idea that you’re a hack, and they move in very similar circles. In that way they are isolated.” However, he asserted that this has been improving, and that more students are now bringing projects to the SU, like the campaigns to Repeal the 8th, divest from fossil fuels, and the 1916 commemoration campaign.

Speaking of communication, McNulty described his proposed “online petition system” for recording more minor student issues, whereby proof of student concern for a particular cause or problem could be presented by the SU when “going to Board [University Board, the College’s chief governing structure].”

When asked about the importance of individual student advocacy compared with the advocacy of larger groups, he commented that: “It’s always important not to lean on just one student’s opinion,” but that in reality many campus-wide movements have originated from the actions of an individual or small group.

Questioned about fulfilling the SU’s Repeal the 8th mandate, he stated: “I’m absolutely in favour of repealing the 8th amendment. I’m pro-choice. You know, I have a little sister, and I hate the way our society has treated our women for 30 years.” This topic lead to his observation that personal politics should be transparent in SU leadership, but that “whatever students mandate you to do, you must be gladly willing to do, and gladly willing to push.”

Speaking of the MSM blood donation ban, which the SU was recently mandated to campaign against, McNulty asserted: “It is, as it stands, homophobic… It’s not the 80s anymore,” and described the ban as “another frontier to equality that we haven’t broached yet.”

McNulty also praised Trinity’s divestment campaign for “the amount of students and the amount of passion behind this,” while he heavily criticised the limited mental health and counselling resources provided by College, pressing that a solitary mental health week is not enough.

Asked which of the many SU mandates and issues he would prioritise as president, if any, he admitted that this was a difficult thing to do. He stated: “I would like to focus on, in my year, the SU becoming more effective on student issues, and for the students to realise that the SU is fighting in their corner.” He added: “Of course, if the fees issue is still a huge thing if I come in in July, if it’s still up in the air… that would be point one also.”

McNulty also appeared to have major intentions for student accommodation, including Trinity Hall workshops on renting as a student, a more developed landlord network, and a daft.ie “rent-a-room” scheme. He highlighted the necessity for students of finding “a place in May, [or] June, because once August and the CAO results come in, you’ve got so many more students looking for rooms.”

He was inspirited when discussion turned to employment, and discussed plans for student courses providing training in bar and barista work, a developed alumni career network, a jobs/careers portal, and the unfortunate lack of a computer science and engineering careers office. -JD


Stephen Carty

Stephen Carty, or “The Bull”, as he’s referred to back home in County Roscommon, is a third-year Sociology and Social Policy student. His involvement in student politics stems back to first year when he was elected as a class representative. Last year he served as the Vice President/Treasurer of the JCR and currently holds the position of Sports Officer, a Part-Time Officer role within the SU.  

I began dissecting the contents of his manifesto by enquiring about the ‘Improving College Infrastructure’ point in which he states: “Our students shouldn’t have to sit on the ground because all the sofas are always taken; we should just have more.” When I suggested the potential complications within fire safety regulations he responded: “This is another thing that could be hit by red tape, but we have to keep on at the college. I think there is space.” Once pressed about whether he had investigated the logistics of acquiring more couches he said: “No. I have not checked.”

Another of his manifesto points which proved prominent was a paragraph about the environment. Carty explained his aspirations to apply for the Green Flag if elected. He plans to phase out food trays in the Buttery which “would save 15,000 gallons of water a year”, he claimed. I questioned him on the practicality of such a plan; how could people carry their food, to which he responded, “When the trays are gone people will have to adapt. They can make two spins.” Carty highlighted some more college inefficiencies as “something (he) feels strongly about” such as the rebranding of the Trinity logo and the thrice-yearly power-washing schedule:“If we did that twice instead of three times that’d save money.”

Of course, the topical problem of a lack of plugs in the Lecky library arose to which Carty versed:“Why are we saying this cannot be done? Let’s rip up the carpet. This is the status quo again like. We say no and that this is what we want; keep barraging.” He had some further points to make on the condition of the library saying that in first year he thought that it was “the mankiest thing (he’d) ever seen in (his) life.” He went on to say that poor college infrastructures like such inspired him to make a change, such as the setting up of the gym in Halls which was a project he established last year with the JCR.

I was curious to find out whether Carty saw being a committee member of the JCR an advantage or a disadvantage to his campaign for SU president. He made reference to other candidates, Dale Whelehan for Education and Emmet Broaders for Communications and Marketing, who also held positions on the JCR alongside Carty: “Maybe this year I do. The three of us [could be]… splitting numbers.” He stated that he was proud of being a part of the JCR and that he could make a difference but that he was not going to “push it to the max” in his campaign for president.

I moved the interview onto more pressing issues such as the recent increase in student fees, of which Carty had no point about on his manifesto. But he was clearly impassioned by the idea of building a campaign against student fees: “I don’t think our students should be taxed anymore for an education. We are giving our student contribution.” He referred to the movement in England in which they stood against increased fees, saying they went “absolutely mental” and “played havoc”.

He explained how he believes that we need to motivate the whole student body in order to start our own movement. “First thing I’ll do when I’m elected is that I’m going to get onto every SU president in every college in Ireland and we’re gonna try and move this. We have to realise this and we have to go and get them. Commit to it.” He went on to say that “There’s no point in just having 1,000 students from Trinity. We need to get 1,000 students from all the colleges and put them on Kildare Street. Make a national thing out of this. Make publicity. Student activism is alive.”

Another of his manifesto points suggested the idea of starting up a freelance work scheme aimed exclusively at Trinity students to suit the college-work balance, something he claimed to have struggled with during his junior freshman year when he worked for Alchemy, a nightclub in Templebar. He told me about a similar project that is underway in Southampton University. “You sign up with the SU and you’d be on a jobs listing”. He revealed that he has been in contact with the 3 Arena, the National Concert Hall and the Aviva stadium and “they’ve all agreed to go into partnership”. Carty promised “even if I’m not elected I hope it happens.”

Carty displayed annoyance towards the topic of Student Union transparency, and expressed that “every year we see involvement in the SU, transparency in the SU, get the SU out of House 6.” His approach in tackling the problem of a lack of transparency would be to set up an open forum where first years in particular can voice their opinions. “Give them as many opportunities as possible and that their opinion matters. If you let someone know that they’re appreciated then they’ll come out of their shell.”

When asked about his competitors in the leadership race, Carty was quick to praise the two candidates, Kieran McNulty and Dan O’Brien. He stated that he has “the utmost respect for Kieran” and also commented on O’Brien’s “nice haircut”.Carty went on to say that “I mightn’t have a polished CV, or in-depth knowledge of the running of the SU as the rest of them, but one thing I can guarantee that I will not be beaten on and that is ambition and the drive” He boasted that he “will not be passive and that is something that nobody nor no candidate can beat (him) on.” Furthermore, he displayed his passion for defending the student body, stating: “[he] wouldn’t be running for president if [he] wasn’t.”

He went on to exhibit his levels of confidence for the leadership race: “I fully expect to win this election, because I’m Stephen Carty. I have not gone into one thing and thought this is not going to happen. With me I’m literally running towards something and you don’t even have to point. If I’m tackling something, it’s head on. They call me “The Bull” Carty back home because I show the horns and I go into it.”

I then inquired about his position on how much of the SU’s time should be spent on internal and external issues, to which he responded with a metaphor. “You always do club before county. And if you want the glory, you’ll play for county. First and foremost, you’re elected as president of Trinity College. And first and foremost that makes you president of Trinity College Students Union, but sometimes you cannot affect the internal without affecting first the external.” -UH


Dan O’Brien

As a fourth year BESS student, assistant managing editor of the University Times (UT) and speaker coordinator for the Trinity Economic Forum (TEF), Daniel O’Brien feels that he has the necessary skills to tackle issues relating to all aspects of student life, both at national and university levels.

His manifesto touches on an array of topics from mitigating cuts to the Student Counselling Service using funding from the Higher Education Authority (HEA), to continuing to advocate for change on the national front with campaigns such as Repeal the 8th and revoking the ban on MSM blood donations.

His outlook is that student issues are rarely abstracted from societal issues. Asked why, if this is the case, there has been criticism of the current SU president Lynn Ruane’s focus on national issues, he stated that Ruane is right to put a large emphasis on political matters: “I think it’s a little bit of a false dichotomy, in the sense that students who disagree with Lynn, disagree with the idea of Lynn to some extent. They disagree with someone who takes such a radical stance, and I mean radical in the sense that she takes an approach, empirically, [that] SU presidents haven’t taken before.”

In real terms, however, O’Brien admitted that there is an inevitability that the next president will drift more towards the middle ground: “My personal hope as a president would be to make sure I never drop the ball on any internal issues.”

Speaking about the recent announcement of income contingent loans for students, O’Brien felt that this move would be detrimental to students and has the potential to drive a further wedge between social classes in terms of access to education. Referring to the success of the Trinity Access Programme (TAP), he said: “We’ve made inroads against this impression of higher education as a bastion of the elite” and described the loans as a “regressive step.” Given many in government feel this is the only feasible option to address the funding crisis across the education sector, O’Brien asserted that students need to tackle the issue head on: “The alternative for students is to make sure that a party that gets elected or a coalition that gets elected has students at the forefront of their decisions.”

Short-term, he said, this means turning out on election day; Long-term, it means making student voices heard: “It’s going to be building a sustained narrative as to why education is not a charity you’re throwing money into, why education is a public good that has spillover benefits for everyone in society.”

Asked how students can resolve the current discord between the SU’s mandate to campaign for abortion on request and the nationwide reluctance to stray too far from the 8th amendment, O’Brien saw it as a campaign that will be harder to increase support for compared to the initiative behind the referendum on same-sex marriage: “We have to admit that abortion specifically, but even the 8th amendment,  is not as much of a uniformly supported idea as marriage equality was and you do have to be sensitive to that.” Even some students who would normally be inclined towards leftist policies, he stated, stand on the pro-life side of the debate. Though he is personally committed to supporting the mandate, he conceded that: “Maybe that’s a longer fight that we need to commit to” and said that he is committed to putting structures into place for continued campaigning extending beyond the next presidential term.

At university level, O’Brien’s manifesto outlines a plan for a working group to investigate the most effective way to tackle gender disparity in the SU. He admitted that this year’s election candidates lack the female representation of last year’s race: “The result we saw last year was a sustained Women in Leadership campaign that ended up with the first majority female sabbatical team… and certainly that’s not going to be the case this year.” The Women in Leadership campaign was spearheaded by the then education officer Katie Byrne, but failed to continue “partially [due to] a cost reason.”

Speaking about representation in the SU in a broader context, O’Brien argued that it comes down to the efficiency of the part-time LGBT rights, international students and disability officers’ roles: “The efficacy of those roles depends on who, year on year, gets elected, how seriously they treat their job, [and] how competent they are inherently, and that’s not optimal for anyone.” Here, he felt his experience as the assistant editor of UT could be of use. Having managed a team of 50 editors, he promised to “set expectations at an above average level so that people know what they need to be doing in their roles in more concrete terms.” He was quick to point out that a solution won’t be straightforward. Each group will require specific responses “to bridge that gap in engagement. It’s not really a one-size-fits-all thing.” However, being an international student himself, he felt that his experience with the struggles involving national policy that they face, such as the long queues at the GNIB for registration, will enable him to represent that cohort of student society more adequately than the other candidates.

Asked about the SU’s much-debated insularity in terms of wide-reaching engagement with the student body, O’Brien conceded that: “Where there’s smoke, there’s definitely fire.” The SU’s expectation that students will “parse through these massive documents and constitutions” in order to inform themselves is unrealistic. He described his role as a journalist as “bridging the gap between the technocratic side… and making those developments relevant to students,” which he plans to apply to his role in the form of a weekly column update, informing students on the SU’s weekly business.

Utilising apps such as Smartvote and Poll Everywhere, O’Brien hopes to engage students in a two-fold manner: The former encouraging students on the margins to go out and vote, making elections more accessible, and the latter being to make the SU aware “of [how] a representative sample of students feel about an issue.” Using new technologies makes for an appealing manifesto promise, but he admitted that these tools alone would not be sufficient in tackling the lack of engagement from students outside of the SU.

His plans also involve sabbatical officers engaging with students around campus on a weekly basis, “not with the purpose of pontificating to them,” but rather for them to get a grasp of the issues most pertinent from the perspectives of the students. The idea is that these measures together will highlight “headline issues” and, in doing so, will draw more people to SU Council meetings. He cited the Students Against Fees and Fossil Free TCD campaigns as examples of this: “They [the headline issues] get people through the door.” In turn, he hopes students will come to view the Council meetings as “the best place for them to say something; for them to hear what their representatives are saying.”

Una Harty, Jessie Dolliver and Niamh Moriarty contributed to this piece.