Leadership Race 2016: Welfare candidates interviews

Éamonn Redmond, Aoibhinn Ní Lochlainn, Tom McHugh and Andrew Wafer speak to Trinity News

Read other interviews here


Éamonn Redmond

Éamonn Redmond says that he found his first year of college particularly difficult. To earn money, he was forced to work forty hours a week in a restaurant from Thursday to Sunday, which he said left him with little time for college work or socialising. Redmond said he enjoyed second year much more, as he learned of the various support services Trinity has in place.

“There’s a lot more visibility of the counselling services in college at the moment,” he said. “When I first came to college, I didn’t know there was a counselling service.” One of the key points of his campaign is mental health, based on his own experiences. “My college experience has been a roller coaster,” he said. “There’s been lots of highs but there have also been extreme lows.”

Redmond praised current and former Welfare Officers, Conor Clancy and Ian Mooney for making these services more visible in the past two years. He also spoke highly of the Student-2-Student (S2S) programme, saying it has improved on making students aware of counselling services.

Regarding the innovations he hopes to introduce to college counselling, Redmond said they “will all be down to funding”. Redmond has experience with fundraising for the Trinity Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) and said “If I was Welfare Officer … my goal would be to get as much funding for the student counselling services as possible.” He also spoke of wanting more coordination between counselling services, the Students Union (SU) and the Welfare Committee, saying focus groups in particular, were crucial to letting people share their opinions.

Redmond’s opinion on the incoming sexual consent workshops is mixed. While he praised them as “empowering for people”, he also described them as inadequate, as they will only apply for students in Halls. He feels they should be “compulsory and mandatory and you should not be able to leave”.

When asked about his role in giving counselling students who have been sexually assaulted, Redmond said that, while he appreciates his role will be limited, he will be “the first port-of-call for anyone, if there is any sexual assault allegations made by them.”

Redmond also wants to address stress and anxiety during exam season. He said that second year was his most enjoyable year as he did not have any exams. “When you’ve got exams,” Redmond said, “your priorities go from food, a healthy lifestyle and socialising, to just being exam-focused.”

Recreational activities, according to Redmond, can help students study more effectively: “If you got people out of the library for an hour, do a five-a-side game or put on a film in the Ed Burke, let people sit down for two hours, that’s going to contribute better to them in the long run.”

Redmond also wants to introduce study skills workshops to help students study more efficiently, but in less time. His aim is that students do not feel guilty for not spending more time in the library, and will “also know they’ve done a really good job because they’ll have all the skills that they’ve put in place through the workshops.”

When asked about his stance on the Repeal the Eighth movement, Redmond said that “I don’t think it’s a black or white matter.” While saying he was pro-choice and would work within the SU’s mandate for abortion on request for students, Redmond also acknowledged there were other sides to the argument: “Coming from a social worker’s background I do see that there are families out there that can’t have children.” He stressed that dialogue between groups was crucial: “I wouldn’t somebody else’s argument down.”

Redmond’s manifesto promises to extend budgetary services for students. He said that “[budgeting clinics] are very much centred around Freshers’ Week and the first week of January”, while ignoring that financial crises can occur throughout the year. Redmond said Christmas time is usually a difficult time for him when it comes to money. His budgetary plan would involve “provisioning for [the clinics] to come in on a more frequent level” and also to start “utilising external supports, like MABS [Monetary and Budgetary Service].”

Redmond also hopes to bring in legal counselling for students who run into trouble with the law. “People in college don’t realise the supports that are available outside of college as well,” he said, “and I feel that needs to be highlighted in the future.”

Redmond pointed out that solicitors around the Four Courts and Smithfield area have open days for free legal advice, which extends not just to students but to the general populace. He said he has already received interest from solicitors to apply these open days to Trinity.

The final point on Redmond’s manifesto concerns emergency accommodation. Redmond praised current Welfare Officer Conor Clancy for establishing “a great rapport with hostels” and said he has also contacted hostels in regards to obtaining crisis accommodation for students.

Redmond said that hostel-owners have proven very understanding of the hardships people, especially students, are currently facing in finding somewhere to live. “These students are essentially homeless,” he said. “It’s not like they’re going [to hostels] to have a party and have a great time. It’s not like they’re on holidays. This is going to be their home while they look for a home.” – CdB


Tom McHugh

Tom McHugh says that he feels education should be accessible to everyone. “My aim would be to keep people . . . under an affordable education system where education should be a free right to anybody”. McHugh, who is a member of the Students Against Fees group, admitted that student apathy towards this was possible, especially through lack of awareness.

He used privately-educated students as an example, saying “through no fault of their own”, they are unaware of the seriousness of this issue. “It’s not just a silly little thing that we’re working on,” he said. “It is actually affecting people quite drastically.”

However, McHugh did note that the support on Wednesday’s Students Against Fees march was “overwhelming”, especially from the teachers who were striking at the same time. The student group was marching in solidarity with the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), who were protesting cuts to Institutes of Technology.

McHugh said that personal stories from students that have entered Trinity through the Trinity Access Programme (TAP), would help other students appreciate “the physical, concrete effects of fees being either introduced or increased”. He said that Fine Gael’s proposal to introduce student loans shows that they have not been listening to what students require.

According to McHugh, the fact that other European nations do not impose student loans shows that alternatives are available. In summation of this policy, McHugh made it clear that he felt education should be accessible to everyone: “My aim would be to keep people . . . under an affordable education system where education should be a free right to anybody”

McHugh also promises to address the accommodation crisis, saying it’s “perhaps the most difficult issue” currently facing students. McHugh said that suitable housing can sometimes appear without students being aware of it. He cautioned that there were no easy solutions to the crisis, but said that “It’s just a matter of expanding on what’s already been done”.

Another one of the keypoints of his agenda has been tackling the issue of sexual harassment and assault on campus. In speaking with campus security staff, McHugh has found that numbers have been reduced in recent years, either through security staff being let go, retiring or passing away. However, these vacancies have not been filled. McHugh hopes to “pressure the college into hiring more staff” to prevent further harassment and assault.

McHugh praised the incoming workshops which will come into force next year, which will educate students on such issues as sexual consent. However, he also recognises that there are faults with the system, especially as students may leave these workshops when they wish. While the system cannot be made perfect, McHugh stressed that college must still work towards making these workshops as effective as possible.

He said this includes getting experts on sexual assault – such as staff from the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) – to present them. While he concludes that it is impossible to force students to attend, McHugh says the aim of the initiative is “making sure the content of the workshops is actually helpful and the people who do stay get the most out of it.”

On the subject of sexual assault counselling, McHugh said he hopes to give students a wider range of options. He noted that while incoming Welfare Officers get counselling training during the summer, “there is always the option of deferrals to the SCS – Student Counselling Service – which we will be lobbying for more service for”.

He also noted the LGBT helpline for “specific cases”. McHugh wants to prevent academia having a “monopoly” on funding. He plans to consult with counselling services to find out how they feel money should be spent, and also to ensure that lecturers and Teaching Assistants (TAs) have some level of training as well, to give students more options when it comes to counselling.

Another mental health issue McHugh wants to tackle, is stress and anxiety which occur during exam season. He said he hopes to move assessment focus away from annual exams and towards continuous assessment. McHugh, who studies English, said that the shift away from exams in his course and in others, has improved many students’ college experience. His plan involves co-ordinating with the Education Officer: “A lot of the SU will cross over – they’ll work with each other”.

The integration of mature students and student parents with the rest of the student body is something else that McHugh wants to work towards. He said that, speaking to mature students, he found they were often ignored at society events. McHugh said this was not necessarily deliberate, but more often due to the age gap. McHugh also wants to introduce more daytime events that student parents may participate in, as caring for their children would leave them unable to socialise in the evenings.

McHugh spoke of the complexity surrounding the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment, in trying to listen to both sides while also giving students more choice when it comes to abortion on request. When asked about his stance on abortion, McHugh said “I have in my past . . . tried to be on the fence, tried to listen to all sides and not make a choice about it.” However, he also stated that he would work towards an SU mandate for abortion on request, if an SU majority voted in favour of it.

As well as continuing with protests and rallies, McHugh said his strategy would entail opening workshops and bringing speakers in to educate students on birth control and safe abortions. He noted that incoming students, especially LGBT students, do not have a high standard of sex education.

Regarding who would be brought in to educate students, McHugh said he would liaise with the current Welfare Officer, Conor Clancy, as well as other student bodies to find out who they have consulted in the past. McHugh stressed he did not want an “over-medicalisation” of the issue. He said he appreciated why students would not want psychiatrists “coming in and judging women . . . if they’re mentally sound enough to get abortion.”

McHugh said the ultimate aim of the mandate would be education and letting students know how to “get abortions safely”. He also said that the stigma surrounding abortion must be changed, and that people should not be prevented by outside bodies from educating themselves: “It should be up to the people actually involved on a case-by-case basis, rather than mandated by the government or any religious association.” – CdB


Aoibhinn Ní Lochlainn

Aoibhinn Ní Lochlainn is a third year medicine student. A member of the SU welfare committee for the past two years and this year’s welfare committee volunteer coordinator, she has helped organise Body and Soul Week, Mental Health Week, and SHIFT days among other campaigns.

Outside of the SU, she is an S2S head mentor and an ambassador for the college disability service. Her work has led to her receiving some level of training in active listening, crisis intervention, and disability support.

Reflecting on the importance of her experience to her campaign bid, Ní Lochlainn said: “The welfare officer is one position that definitely does need a lot of experience, particularly in dealing with people.”

Asked what she feels the role of welfare officer is, she said that it “is to look after the welfare of all students. The main thing I will be doing is dealing with casework. I will be trying to support gender equality, sexual equality, and things like that.”   

She explained the four main cornerstones of her campaign. The first is ‘supporting individuals.’ Ní Lochlainn claimed that student support services, like Niteline and Peer Support, are being underused and need greater promotion.

The second is a new section of the SU website called the ‘Green Light System.’ The point of the green light, Ní Lochlainn claimed, is to alert people who need to speak to her when she is in her office. If the light is green, she will be in her office. She said: “You will always know when I am in the office by checking the SU website. If a peer supporter is present, the site will show an amber light.” She claimed that there will be someone there, either herself or a peer supporter, everyday from nine to five.

Ní Lochlainn was asked whether she felt it was appropriate for a student, like the welfare officer or a peer supporter, to be counselling other students or whether professional help should be provided instead. She responded: “I do. I think because of the demand on the counselling service you have to wait weeks and weeks in order to get an appointment, as well sometimes students don’t even need a counsellor. They just want someone to talk to.”  

Her third idea is to open  ‘nap rooms,’ which will be rooms around college equipped with blackout blinds, earplugs, soft couches, blankets and pillows. The rooms, Ní Lochlainn hopes, will not only improve students’ mental health but also help to improve attendance at college: “If someone was out socialising, and they were really tired the next morning, and they have one thing at nine and then they didn’t have thing till three, they are not very likely to go to that next class.” Ní Lochlainn said she has already confirmed one potential nap room.

As regards the financing of such rooms, Ní Lochlainn said cost is not significant for rooms as, “since they’re in college areas… there’s no cost for rent or anything like that.” “The buying of earplugs, blankets, and pillows does not amount to much expense,” she added.

The final idea is her ‘Back To College Campaign,’ an expansion of a campaign that Ní Lochlainn helped launch earlier this year. Ní Lochlainn explained that the event was held during Freshers’ Week as a way to ‘acclimatise freshers.’ One of the planned new features would be free cooking classes for all students, as “healthy eating is often forgotten about” during college life.

When asked about the consent workshops that will be given to new first year students who stay in Trinity Hall, Ní Lochlainn was supportive of the idea. She said: “I do agree with that, I think that is perfect, explicitly what is needed.” She criticised certain media portrayals of the decision: “I don’t agree with certain media views that this is an attack on men. Men can experience assault too, women can assault men.”

When the Repeal the 8th campaign was discussed, Ní Lochlainn expressed intentions to support the SU’s mandate and plans to have an open door policy that, she hopes, will make students feel safe coming to talk to her about unplanned pregnancies: “Everyone is welcome at my door.”

However, Ní Lochlainn commented that she does not have a strong personal stance on the repealing the 8th debate, as she said she can “understand both sides of the argument.” She said what she feels strongly about is that: “Anybody who comes to me for counselling should feel comfortable being in my office and not feel that I have a strong political view of one kind or the other. I would hate to exclude anybody as welfare officer.” – MT


Andrew Wafer

Andrew Wafer is a third year politics and economics student. His manifesto groups his proposals under 5 headings: mental health, accommodation, equality and diversity, inclusivity, and sports and health. Accommodation is the only area on the manifesto where he explicitly orients himself towards affairs outside of college. He says that he will fight for lower rent and will work with the accommodation service and the Private Residential Tenancies Board, an organisation that regulates private rentals.

When asked if he would support a national campaign for state intervention through social housing construction and/or rent controls, he said he thought that such an initiative would be “a really good idea”. He said that the homelessness crisis was “completely unacceptable”,with the private sector choosing to do as they please, engaging in “blatant exploitation.”He stated that the Union should be “standing up and fighting for more  accommodation.”

The current welfare officer, Conor Clancy, has done a good job in Wafer’s opinion, but he purports that Clancy, and the SU in general, should make it more clear that if the Oisin House project does not go through, it will affect the planned health centre. The centre is to be located on the site, as well as the relocated disability office.

The issue of student fees is not addressed in Wafer’s manifesto either. “I definitely don’t think that [the student contribution charge] should be increased” he says. Wafer supports the Students Against Fees initiative, and says that there need to be more protest marches, such as the recent march that took place in solidarity with the TUI strike.

Campaigning for fees to be scrapped altogether is something he says he has not really considered. “When someone tells you that they’re going to increase something then you’re going to fight against that, against what currently exists, because it is a priority.” The proposed loans system is, in his eyes, a cover for increasing fees and he advocates campaigning against it as well.

He does not mention abortion or repealing the eighth amendment on his manifesto. He says he supports the Union’s mandate to campaign for abortion on demand and would support active campaigning on the issue: “If it’s a campaign that people are calling for then I’m on board 100%”. In response to a question on his personal stance on abortion, Wafer adopted a more cautious tone.

He is in favour of repealing the eighth amendment, but asked if he was in favour of abortion on demand, he replied: “I think there are always going to be limitations on it. When you look across the European project, when you talk about abortion on demand, there are always going to be regulations, and there are always going to be certain limitations […] I think that it’s an issue where there is no black and white answer. I think that every circumstance is different. And also there is a need to address at what point you draw the line. Personally I’m not in a position to know the ins and outs of that type of scenario.”

In terms of college initiatives, Wafer is pushing for a “support the supporter” mental health campaign, to provide help to people who don’t have mental health issues, but support and are directly affected by friends and/or family who do. “There is not a huge amount of attention given to people who might have friends or family who suffer and there is a huge burden on them.” He also wants to bring in structures to teach students the right steps in approaching the mental health issues of others.

Extending welfare support to students studying abroad is something that Wafer is also advocating. This could be done through “something very simple like an email every couple of weeks or a text or a call to say ‘look, we’re here, if we can do anything to help from the other side’”.

On the issue of consent, Wafer does think that there is definitely a problem in the college culture and supports mandatory consent classes for all students. “The fact that these classes are going to happen speaks for itself. […] If you read the statistics, around 25% of women in college reported having a non-consensual sexual experience. That’s absolutely unacceptable.”

Concerning the broader issue of counselling, Wafer feels that while welfare officers are not trained professionals, they should still be able to make students who come to them feel comfortable about discussing their problems, without necessarily giving them medical advice. “Talking to a student can often be a lot less daunting than going into a counsellor or whatever.” – WF

Conn de Barra, Megan Thompson and William Foley contributed reporting to this piece

UPDATE 10/02/16, 15:55 – Tom McHugh has withdrawn his candidacy for the Leadership Race