All 12 candidates in the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) sabbatical officer elections took to the stage in the Equality and Diversity hustings in the MacNeill theatre in the Hamilton tonight. Hosted by Síona Cahill, Vice President for Equality and Citizenship at the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), and Conor Clancy, former TCDSU Welfare Officer. The candidates also faced questions as Gaeilge.
Welfare was the first race on the stage in the penultimate hustings. The first two hustings of the election season saw little disagreement among the five candidates running for Welfare Officer, and tonight was not much different.
The five candidates are Laura Grady (Senior Freshman Economics & Sociology), Damien McClean (Senior Sophister Mathematics), Emma Purser (Senior Sophister World Religions & Theology), Rachel Skelly (Junior Sophister Geography) and Méabh Cullen (Junior Sophister Environmental Science).
The first question posed was what is “the diversity issue” on campus at the moment, with each candidate given a minute to answer. Grady identified “the smaller diversity issues that don’t just jump out at you,” while McClean emphasised the value of communication: “the biggest issue is that we don’t have enough reach.” To Purser, off-campus students needed to be addressed while Skelly argued there wasn’t a single issue which could properly be pointed to: “for all groups, there’s a certain issue that affects them most.” Finally, Cullen spoke of students with “invisible disabilities” such as chronic pain, who need to be properly catered for, drawing on her experience as Disability Officer.
A question from Clancy was what lasting impact welfare campaigns were realistically possible. There was little open disagreement: Cullen emphasised the role of social media, while Skelly suggested changes such as getting part-time officers to give Council reports more than twice a year. A follow-up question asked which particular campaign they’d hope to expand with examples including turning Disability Awareness Day into a week from Grady, and Purser advocating an extension of mental health awareness throughout the year.
A topical issue, UCD withdrawing consent classes due to lack of interest, was brought up next, with Clancy questioning whether Trinity’s classes have been a success. All five supported the extension of Trinity’s classes beyond Trinity Hall, and offering them to all students in the future. “I think it’s so disheartening to hear that,” said Grady. “I think they work so well in Trinity,” she said, adding that “a lot of hard work went into” introducing them in the first place.
Candidate-specific questions followed, with Skelly quizzed on the feasibility of working with societies which fall under the umbrella of the Central Societies’ Committee. She said societies can find it “difficult to engage,” and wants to “let them show off the amount of work that they do”. McClean was asked what his LGBTQ+ map achieve? He said that students from more conservative countries need to be aware of what Dublin is really like, and the reality of transphobic violence needs to be addressed. Purser was asked to detail her policy idea of “no limits no labels,” saying: “It was something I thought was really striking… your disabilities don’t define you.”
Cullen said, when asked by Clancy, what – beyond gender-neutral bathrooms – she promises to trans and non-binary students: “I would rely heavily on the LGBTQ part time officer” she said, though admitted that “I need to educate myself on what their issues are”.
Grady responded to whether there was enough included in her manifesto on the issue of equality. She talked of her experience at Pink Training, commenting ‘‘it was so eye opening”. Grady also referred to herself as an “ally” of the LGBTQ community, which she clarified later as a “straight ally” after Purser noted there are a number of different kinds of allies.
A question from the vice-chair of Cumann Gaelach, Ciarán Wadd, was posed in both English and Irish, asking whether the candidates would extend Irish language communication beyond the weekly email, and into campaigns. All candidates answered in English, though voiced support for the idea.
The final question saw Clancy urge the candidates to find any point of disagreement between them. Most avoided the issue, though Purser got the only round of applause of the evening with a defence of trans students’ rights.
University Times Editor
Welfare was followed jointly by the candidates for Editor of The University Times, Dominic McGrath, and Communications & Marketing, Una Harty.
It began with the same general question addressed to all candidates on what the greatest diversity issue was in Trinity. McGrath reiterated the point made by Harty that “supporting ethnic minorities is important,” but admitted that “maybe the University Times should cover them more and it’s something we should work on”.
When questioned on how to engage with those who don’t use social media, McGrath stressed the need for a print edition of the paper: “We make 2,000 copies and I think it’s vital.” He referenced speaking to mature students who he claimed have their main engagement “through print copies,” and that they are “the audience you are missing online”.
On covering LGBTQ+ issues, McGrath said that he encourages people “to come with us with issues that they want us to work on,” and he thinks “it’s a dual role, it exists to provide a platform for all voices”.
An Cumann Gaelach questioned McGrath on his commitment to publishing Irish language articles, stating that only 1% of 300 previous news articles were written in Irish. McGrath replied: “I don’t speak Irish, I’m from the North.” He excused the lack of content in Irish citing the necessity for speed in publishing news articles. McGrath did note that the paper has substantial Irish content throughout Radius and it’s features section, stating that every issue “we have half a page in Irish in features”, and noted that they translate the two weekly editorials into Irish. When asked if he would increase the number of Irish articles to 5% or higher, McGrath did not commit to doing so, but did state his hopes to increase the amount of Irish content next year.
When asked about diversity, McGrath stated that he thinks the University Times “do very well in terms of diversity in the paper”. He reiterated this point by claiming to have “a lot of LGBT staff, and in terms of gender balance we have more female than male”. He also referenced the difficulty of accessibility in House Six for students with disabilities.
Former Welfare Officer Conor Clancy asked about mature students’ involvement in the paper and McGrath expressed interest in increasing this, explaining that this year “we focused on an increased coverage of postgrads and next year I’d like to focus on issues faced by mature students”.
Communications and Marketing
Úna Harty is a third year student of Nanoscience, Chemistry and Physics of Advanced Materials from Limerick. As well as promising to improve modernisation and engagement, she has also pledged to attain sponsorship from outside bodies for college services, while promising to keep this policy within ethical grounds, in line with the SU’s mandate.
When asked what she thought was the most important diversity issue in Trinity at the moment, Harty said ethnic minority issues deserve more attention. She praised the current part-time officer and said campaign days are something to work toward in raising issues affecting ethnic minorities.
Harty has pledged to increase student engagement with SU communications through a new visual-based template for the SU website and emails. She added that mature students were especially important in this regard, as they are less likely to use social media. Following on from this, Harty reiterated her manifesto promise to introduce visually engaging info-screens around campus.
Harty said that the SU could boost its visibility if it was granted access to the screens already on campus. She noted complaints of “screen saturation” in the Arts Block, but added that renovations to the Nassau Street entrance have improved this, which Harty hopes to use to introduce screens that utilise visuals more than text.
Updating the SU website is one of Harty’s main manifesto points. She said that the online brand becomes especially more visible during campaign weeks, and praised the website for promoting events such as Éigse na Tríonóide, an annual event run by An Cumann Gaelach, promoting Irish culture.
When asked by Cahill what she would have changed about this year’s performance by the Communications Officer, Harty said that online video content could have been more concise and easier to digest. She said this was what she hoped to change with her proposed template, to “make up a template online and stick in some text” so videos can be added quickly.
Harty was asked about her lack of equality related issues in her manifesto, and what issues she would address if elected. She replied that pushing publicity for such issues would be a huge part of her role.
The next candidate was Alice MacPherson, a senior sophister English and History student running uncontested for the role of Education Officer. She has put emphasis on diversity in leadership in her campaign manifesto. The first question for the uncontested candidate, as it was for candidates before her, was about diversity. MacPherson intends on expanding the ‘Women in Leadership’ campaign and plans on running workshops for groups that are underrepresented in college such as students with disabilities and ethnic minorities.
MacPherson said that “we need to move beyond Women in Leadership”. She continued that one cannot “represent the community of the College if it doesn’t accurately represent all students in the college” and that “we can’t just prioritise one way of running this campaign”. MacPherson noted that more needs to be done to encourage leadership positions for all students, such as students with disabilities and LGBTQ students.
MacPherson’s manifesto says that she is looking to organise careers and networking events for groups such as LGBTQ, ethnic minorities and students with disabilities. When discussing her manifesto, MacPherson said that it “can’t be a campaign week or day…it has to be a year long thing”.
Her manifesto also mentions the introduction of transition to college workshops for Erasmus students, incoming first years and mature students. When asked how she intends to increase the involvement of mature students, MacPherson mentioned her idea to hold transition to college workshops as “mature students have difficulties…being out of college for a number of years”. MacPherson said that she would “look at the demographics in college” and intends on “breaking down the walls of Trinity”. She said that she had “consulted with mature students (on a lot of my policies)” and that her “policies towards off campus students…will cater to mature students as well”.
When asked about the Student Partnership Policy, MacPherson said that the SU should “work with staff as much as possible” and to “work with staff and the College with issues (on which) we have the same goals”. However, MacPherson reiterated that the issues and opinions of students would be prioritised.
MacPherson praised that the disability services in College. However, she said the Union “should strive for the best”. MacPherson noted that there are “differences between visible and invisible disabilities…not everyone learns the same way”. She said that it is about “awareness and getting information out there”.
MacPherson is the Convenor for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences faculty and has worked with the Trinity Education Project (TEP) which focuses on topics such as attention to global citizenship and employer outreach which will be implemented next year. This will see changes on how students will be academically assessed. For students who have difficulties accessing campus, MacPherson is seeking to introduce Skype office hours saying that all students should “get access to services that are available to everyone”.
MacPherson said that off-campus facilities need to be improved saying that it is a “promise that comes up again and again” that “needs to be consistently worked on”. MacPherson continued to say that it is “not about massive changes” and she gave examples of decor and facilities that are “of the same standard” as on campus facilities.
For students on placement, MacPherson said that “there are lot of problems with bullying” and that it is “about getting more communication” between departments while highlighting existing college procedures. MacPherson says that “I don’t assume to speak for people” and that she would “seek support”.
MacPherson was asked, as an international student, did she feel that there was a good attitude in the college with relation to the Irish language. MacPherson said that she had taken free Irish classes and that Irish has a “massive cultural significance for people”. MacPherson said that she “needs to speak to more people who speak Irish” and that she would be “happy to facilitate their ideas and make them a reality.”
In the fifth race of the evening, Entertainment, uncontested candidate Jonah Craig, was asked a range of questions including access to venues, alcohol-free events and gender neutral bathrooms.
When asked about diversity within Ents by Cahill, Craig cited his plans for entertainment workshops as a way Trinity Ents could become more diverse this year, allowing greater access to Ents. This echoes what Craig said in an interview with Trinity News, where he proposed the creation of a specific Health Science ordinary committee member (OCM) to encourage the involvement of Health Science students in Trinity Ents.
Craig said that venues which are “close to college” and “venues that are wheelchair accessible” are two of the factors he considers when deciding upon venues for Trinity Ents. When asked about gender-neutral bathrooms, he said that while “the majority of clubs do not have gender-neutral bathrooms,” he couldn’t guarantee that “we can exclusively go to clubs with gender-neutral bathrooms” as he said it’s not feasible. He said that he would “love to help campaign to allow more venues to use them”.
Clancy asked Craig about how he would provide for students who don’t drink alcohol. Craig said there are two points: he reiterated the value of entertainment workshops, and said that events such as comedy festivals, which he also mentioned at last night’s media hustings, where the primary focus of the event is not alcohol. He said: “People are there to watch comedy at the end of the day.”
On the issue of the low number of female acts at Trinity Ball, Craig noted that it is “done through MCD”. However, he said he was “100 per cent open to looking at a policy” to promote a gender-balance.
When asked how to make Ents more LGBTQ friendly, Craig said he believed that “Trinity Ents is there to broadcast societies,” saying that he would be happy to help with campaigning for societies.
In response to a question about a county colours night, Craig said he was open to ideas from students and “if there’s loads of people who want to do something of course I’d push it”. Craig asserted himself as someone who wants to create a discussion around campus on events to help Trinity Ents, as he said “hype is good. And that’s what I want to bring next year.”
The Equality and Diversity hustings saw Bryan Mallon, Thomas Emmet and Kevin Keane face off for the third time in the campaign.
Asked what the top two diversity issues in Trinity were, Thomas Emmet began by saying that “off campus students are being left behind” and that some Health Science students were not aware that they had a class representative; he proposed an off-campus committee to deal with these issues. Keane said that he felt the SU did a “decent job” in terms of diversity. He singled out the LGBTQ+ community, and felt the SU need to campaign against transphobia and a “lack of acceptance in College around this area”. Mallon said that “accessibility” was one of the top two diversity issues. He said that Trinity does not have a great reputation overseas and that we should do more to attract overseas students. He also said that mature students should be afforded more accessibility and felt that students with disabilities were not treated equally.
Clancy questioned each of the candidates on a recent comment by Bob Geldof regarding gender neutral bathrooms and the need to focus instead on “real politics”. Keane believed that Geldof was misguided, and that gender neutral bathrooms are something that the SU need to work for “constantly”. He said that the “SU relations with politics has advanced beyond its typical base but we [the SU] need to remember we are not a political party”. He sees Repeal as an example of a divisive campaign. He questioned how the 8th Amendment affected students, saying: “When we approach it we need to approach it from a students’ view and in my mind human rights need to be represented and we need to make it clear how the 8th impacts our students here in Trinity.”
Mallon disagreed strongly with Geldof on his views about the importance of gender neutral bathrooms as he said “I don’t know why he criticised that, it’s something that students want”. Emmet said: “The thing about being a celebrity is you have a voice to use and if you’re going to misuse it, what’s the point?” He felt that while it might not be an issue for Geldof it was a real issue for students. Emmet also agreed with Welfare candidate Meabh Cullen on her plan to install sanitary dispensaries in both bathrooms. Keane highlighted the recent announcement on a new student centre, as well as the new Business School building, and said that they should both include gender-neutral bathrooms. Mallon said: “We need to extend them off campus…if we want to talk about true equality.”
All candidates have previously expressed their personal preference for repealing the Eighth Amendment and that they would be happy to continue the mandate to lobby the government to repeal. Mallon was asked if he would campaign for free, safe, & legal abortions. Mallon admitted that he wasn’t as well informed as his competitors but vowed to “continue what has been done so far”. He said that “we need to ensure there is no animosity between the two sides..it could possibly be detrimental, we need to ensure we bring everyone together on that”. Asked specifically how he would campaign, Mallon said he “would like to get into every lecture possible and make sure people are informed…I will do that myself” and that he would continue to connect with students outside of the campaign week.
Keane felt the SU needs to take lessons from other campaigns, noting the “Yes Equality” campaign for marriage equality. He outlined an initiative he introduced to have societies in Trinity incorporate a rainbow flag into their logos to support a “Yes” vote during the marriage referendum campaign. He further wanted to have people “on the ground” connecting with those in their locality. Emmet too gave mention to the “Yes Equality” campaign. He described the campaign run by the SU to have sabbatical and part-time officers call their families to ask them how they would vote as something that could be rolled out again. He felt students should not take for granted that older generations would vote in line with students saying “I think it’s incredibly important to start reaching out beyond Trinity as well as keeping the voice strong within Trinity”.
The issue of Bryan Mallon’s past social media posts was raised. While he had been given a reprieve from questioning over the controversy at the joint media hustings, the diversity and equality hustings offered no such respite. Asked how voters could be assured they would be able to be represented by Mallon, he said that he did not “agree with that anymore” and called the posts “mistakes”. Mallon said he wanted to “use [himself] as an example” and that these attitudes were “not right and we need to change it”. Mallon said he felt he could represent women and highlighted the lack of female candidates in the race for President. He said he would “actively encourage people from different backgrounds” as well as women to “stand on this stage and win” and that if elected he would “actively campaign for women to run for this role”.
Keane too saw women in leadership as “massively important” and echoed Mallon’s comments that it was disappointing that the Presidential race saw no female candidates. Keane drew on his experience with SUAS which is, at committee level, predominantly female. Emmet was asked why he was the best candidate to represent women. He too drew on his experience with DU History and female involvement at committee level with two female auditors. He brought attention to the fact that there have not been any “trans candidates” in Trinity elections while there have been in other universities. Clancy asked candidates if they had any experience “engaging in feminism” outside of working with women, drawing cheers from those in attendance. Emmet struggled to find an answer, before saying that he was “close to his mother” and that she was a strong “female role model” before declining to give an answer. Keane again told those in attendance about his activity with SUAS, particularly his time in India. He highlighted the “devastating effects” of women being removed from education in India at a young age. He outlined programmes in disadvantaged parts of Dublin and that it “was not good enough” that women were being subjugated in education and “put down just because they are women”. Mallon gave mention to his involvement in the SU campaign “Feminists of Trinity” and a friend who had “educated” him on the matter. He also said that he “unequivocally” spoke in favour of consent classes. He also gave mention to his time with GAA and working with the ladies’ football, camogie and handball teams. He said that he could not do what he does “without them”.
Asked about the specific mention of consent classes in his manifesto. He said that mistakes were made with regard to consent classes. He saw “compulsory orientation” as a barrier to people attending consent classes. He also called for an “exit poll” to see how consent classes had worked. He further called for an expansion of consent classes to all first years and then to everyone in college. He vowed to campaign for funding for this initiative should he be elected.
Keane said consent classes were a “step forward,” saying that “attitudes were formed before people arrived in college”. Keane proposed an outreach programme whereby the SU would go into school to challenge attitudes being formed around consent. Emmet said that he would continue consent classes but also highlighted the sex positivity classes being run by the SU. He felt that the more people spoke about sex, the better it would be for all.
Asked about rural students, Emmet struggled to find an answer. He said that “grants are very important” and would improve access to those coming from the country. Keane gave mention to inclusivity classes which he felt would help make societies and events more accessible for everyone. He wanted people to be “actively accessible” and that people would be more likely to come in that case. Asked how he would circumvent the autonomy of the CSC, Keane said he was not wishing to change the CSC policies but wanted to have a “clear programme of training” and described it as an “open door”. Mallon mentioned his plan of going back to disadvantaged schools, as well as reaching out to adults who had recently done their Junior or Leaving Certificates and inspiring them to apply to Trinity. He also wanted Irish speaking students to go back to their schools to encourage more Irish speakers to apply and learn about the “Irish scene” at Trinity.
Emmet and Mallon were both asked to expand specifically on their policies for LGBTQ+ students. Emmet pointed to the lobby group system and his wish to expand them further. Speaking about the MSM blood ban, he said: “It’s absolutely ridiculous to take twelve months out of your sex life if you want to give blood.” PrEP, which reduces HIV rates, was also mentioned. Mallon called PrEP a “simple solution” and went on to highlight the importance of gender neutral bathrooms. He called for gender neutral bathrooms to be included in all new buildings. He also wished to communicate, as SU President, with all sports clubs and societies to ensure inclusivity for LGBTQ+ students. Keane voiced support for the lobby groups mentioned in Emmet’s manifesto. He highlighted the Gender Recognition Bill and his wishes to expand it. Asked what he would want to specifically lobby for on behalf of the SU, Keane professed his belief that age limits on gender recognition needed to lowered. He told the panel that this participation in a workshop called “Non-binary 101” was important in his education on LGBTQ+ issues.
The vice chair of An Cumann Gaelach, Ciarán Wadd, put a question in Irish to the candidates. It was revealed during the course of the media hustings that Mallon did not speak Irish despite raising the point that he was the only candidate to mention Irish on his manifesto. On the night Mallon refused to engage in an Irish debate, invited to by Keane. Singling out Keane as a candidate that was fluent in Irish, Wadd asked how Keane felt about the issue of Irish language rights. Keane responded entirely in Irish saying that he felt the issue of Irish language rights was very important. Expanding, Keane said: “Irish is important, we need people to talk more in Irish. As President I want to be more involved.” Mallon believed we should get the “basics right first”. He wanted to expand the SU website to be “fully in Irish” and that An Cumann Gaelach would be more than happy to engage in this. He wanted to encourage more people to be welcomed into Irish events. Emmet believed “confidence in Irish” was very important. Citing his own bad primary school experiences, he felt more people needed to be encouraged to speak Irish and shed the fear associated.
Asked by Cahill about the Student Partnership project. Emmet passed the question over to Keane first. Keane described it as being of “great value,” when pressed further on the issues he admitted on not having “a huge understanding of it”. Mallon too did not have an extensive knowledge on the subject but vowed to “actively pursue” a relationship with the Education Officer and academic staff regarding the matter. Returning to Emmet, he said he “looked forward” to working with staff. The fact that the Student Partnership project was mentioned at almost every TCDSU Council was mentioned by Cahill, and she expressed hope that the Presidential candidates would “educate themselves” on the issue.
Emmet believed that a tool to combat the elitist impression some prospective students have of Trinity could be combatted by opening the doors to secondary school students for a week, as well as running a writing competition with the University Times, a policy proposed by Dominic McGrath. Keane mentioned a SUAS initiative whereby students from Trinity go to DEIS schools to educate them on “global issues”. He gave mention to the awards ceremony, held in the GMB, for children who had never been to Trinity. He said that it had been amazing to see their perceptions change about college. Mallon said he would actively encourage students to engage in Trinity Access 21. He said that the “most key part” of his campaign was engaging people, mentioning again visiting lecture theatres. He said he wanted to go back to his school and tell students that not only could they go to Trinity but they “could do well” and be elected as the Students’ Union President.
Asked what one policy from their opponents manifesto they would compliment, Emmet highlighted the accessibility policies of Mallon’s manifesto calling them “glorious”. Keane complemented Emmet’s plans to expand lobby groups, describing it as something that needs to be “noticed”. Mallon praised Keane’s “Empowerment Week” as the policy he most liked. He said that he felt it was important for candidates to “meet afterwards and see what we can learn from each other”.
Additional reporting by Oisín Vince Coulter, Cathal Kavanagh, Aisling Grace, Hiram Harrington, Stacy Wrenn, Conn de Barra, Seana Davis, Michael Foley, Daire O’Driscoll, Sarah Meehan and Niamh Moriarty.