Why the 2018 SU elections offer more of less

Once again, the campaign offers an uninspiring slate.

Photo by Joe McCallion/ Trinity News

A dearth of candidates already confirms that the 2018 Trinity College Students’ Union (TCDSU) elections will stand as a reflection of the growing apathy on campus surrounding student politics. Two uncontested races and several clear favourites seem to guarantee an uneventful TCDSU election season. At its conclusion, students can expect a more homogeneous and less representative set of sabbatical officers.

Students will be able to select from a field of twelve candidates for six senior TCDSU posts in February. Only three of these votes stand as reasonably competitive. Education and welfare stand as totally uncontested. University Times editor seems destined for the paper’s current deputy editor, Eleanor O’Mahony, rather than her sole opponent and Trinity Collidge founder, Michael McDermott. The TCDSU does not provide even the illusion of choice for half of February’s votes.

Only the ents and presidential elections promise meaningful and competitive contest between candidates. The candidates in this year’s presidential campaign promise some of the same battles from last year. Then, the moderate, inoffensive campaign of early favourite Keane triumphed over his more controversial and class-conscious opponent, Bryan Mallon. A similar battle may manifest itself between Hist auditor Paul Molloy and Mallon campaign alumnus Sean Ryan.

Matt Dundon and David Flood both stand as feasible ents officers. Dundon’s involvement in ents and the Midnight Disco pushes him as a slight favourite. However, the wide range of Flood’s commitments in DU Surf, Trinity FM and the Trinity Arts Festival could provide him with a broader voter base. Ignoring the trend, the ents election should prove competitive in 2018.

A conservative line-up of candidates draws attention towards the serious problems facing TCDSU elections. International students and ethnic minorities remain criminally unrepresented. Male domination of the TCDSU presidency seems entrenched. No female candidate has run for president in three years. This century, three of eighteen TCDSU Presidents have been female.

It seems that for a woman to become the TCDSU President she must be truly exceptional. Two of the three female former presidents since 2000, Lynn Ruane and Averil Power, pursued high-profile careers in national politics. Both women also came from working class backgrounds and developed serious activist credentials before, during, and after their time at Trinity. Power even proved one of the most pro-LGBT voices in Fianna Fáil during the marriage equality referendum. A successful female presidential candidate must demonstrate a genuinely once-in-a-generation capacity for leadership. The criteria for a male president seems significantly less demanding.

TCDSU even struggles to represent students from outside the arts block. Only three of this year’s candidates study a discipline outside the arts and humanities. The same number of candidates study philosophy, politics, economics, and sociology (PPES). The profile of a TCDSU election candidate is simple: a white, male arts student from Ireland. Such a narrow identity is totally unrepresentative of Trinity’s student body and, increasingly, the actual population of Ireland.

This crisis in representation betrays the TCDSU’s failure to engage the student body. Since Ruane’s 2015 election, TCDSU election turnout has dropped by twenty percent each year. 4765 students voted in 2015. Last year’s election of Keane saw 3120 votes. This collapse in turnout suggests the student body’s rapid disenchantment with student politics.

The profusion of uncontested races and the reduction in the number of candidates drive student apathy. Last year’s elections saw four uncontested races. Combined with the declared candidacies for this year, half of TCDSU’s sabbatical officers will have entered office without opposition in the last two years. The lack of a meaningful vote discourages student interest in the TCDSU elections. Debate and serious disagreement between candidates draws attention and participation. The lack of policy differences between last year’s presidential candidates effectively discouraged turnout.

A spirited election features multiple candidates with different ideas and policies. Debate enables each candidate to show their best qualities and analyse the proposals of their opponents. The electorate can then make an informed vote. Without debate and opposition, a successful TCDSU election is impossible. Without diversity in the ideas and backgrounds of candidates, a representative TCDSU is impossible. On both these counts, the 2018 round of TCDSU elections has already failed.

Harry Downes

Harry Downes in the current News Analysis Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister History student/