The current sabbatical officers of Trinity College Dublin’s Students’ Union (TCDSU) have been criticised by some candidates in the SU elections for failing to adequately support Students Against Fees (SAF), a group established to oppose the introduction of student fees and loans, despite the union’s mandate to do so.
This comes after the majority of candidates signed pledges promising to oppose fees if elected at a small SAF rally on Monday February 15.
Presidential candidate Dan O’Brien criticised the current team of sabbatical officers at the University Times and An Cumann Gaelach hustings held on Tuesday February 9.
Expanding on his comments to Trinity News, he was particularly critical of the lack of a sabbatical officer presence at an SAF rally in support of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland on February 3. O’Brien said: “What my criticism is more about is symbolically, on the day [February 3], especially if Lynn [Ruane, the current SU president] can’t be there, the education officer, who’s next in line, should be there… Just someone, just for the sake of appearances, at the very least [since] you have a mandate.”
He added: “When I was there on the ground at the rally, I just didn’t feel like I was attending an SU-backed event. I felt I was attending something quite impassioned and quite powerful, but something that had been done from a very grassroots perspective. I think the union can complement grassroots structures with its own power and structures in a better way.”
Speaking to Trinity News, fellow candidate for the SU presidency Kieran McNulty weighed in on the debate: “My thoughts on it are that there is a mandate there to fight against increases in fees. I think the SU should be doing all it can in the run-up to the election. And if elected, that’s what I’d do. While the president is the chief campaigns officer, all sabbats (sabbatical officers) have mandates and should keep to them.”
In an interview with Trinity News in early February, McNulty also commented that he was “a little annoyed that there was no sabbatical officer at the march [on February 3],” considering that “the SU have a mandate now to fight against fees.”
Stephen Carty, also running for SU president, told Trinity News: “I think the SU have had a lot to deal with and we have to appreciate that they put work into stuff behind the scenes, but in my opinion the SAF campaigns are really just gathering momentum now and I’m sure they will put in loads of work to them now. When elected as a sabbat it is your duty to work relentlessly on the mandates in the union and to achieve them, regardless of personal feelings. That being said, people are free to have their own personal feelings, we are not a dictatorship, and everyone’s views do not have to be aligned.”
Molly Kenny, current SU education officer responded to the criticism saying: “I think that for everything, and for any member of the union, they shouldn’t have to campaign for something that they don’t believe in. So I think each and every year the job of the union is to try and arrange and organise the best possible capacity for participation in any event that the union would be mandated to support, and I don’t think personal preference should take any weight on that.”
She continued: “I think that even for the candidates that are running, if the SU has a stance on it, it’s really none of your business whether you care for that stance or not. I don’t think it’s our [sabbatical officers] duty to play a significant role. I think that’s the point of our part-time officers and our sub-committees for things. For almost everything we have a referendum stance on, so for example, we support the Students Against Fees initiative, and the President sits on that group, but I think it’s more that the union should be there to foster student enthusiasm towards it.”
The SAF rally took place on Monday in Front Square and all election candidates were invited to attend. All present signed the pledge which stated that candidates should commit “to the best of [their] ability, to fight against student fees, in particular any increase in them.” Candidates also agreed to “support Students Against Fees in their efforts, and if elected take part in the campaign to ensure education remains open to anyone who wishes to access it.” The only candidate in the race for University Times editor, Sinead Baker, and all four Ents candidates were not present at the rally.