Just eleven candidates took to the stage at tonight’s fourth hustings, the Trinity News Activism hustings. Michael McDermott, who’s contesting the President and University Times Editor race, dropped out of the hustings for health reasons. Hosted by journalist Dil Wickremasinghe, candidates faced questions on the themes of activism and campaigning.
The hustings opened with a question about why the candidates want to be President. Sean Ryan stated he wants “to influence social change” and referenced past Presidents Lynn Ruane and Ivana Bacik. Paul Molloy spoke about his previous activism work, including marching for refugees and against students fees, saying he understands “how important it is for change to come from the grassroots” and adding that he wants to work further with the Trinity Access Programme (TAP) and Union of Students in Ireland (USI) to further reach out to minorities. Shane De Rís argued that he does not think the President’s role is “to be a politician” but instead is “to be an activist”.
Concerning what measures the candidates would take to realise their campaign goals, Ryan said that he would make Empowerment Week “bigger and better” and bring back the Activism Festival. Molloy said that, as a Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) student, his passion is “making sure every student has the chance to to go on to higher level education,” expressing an interest in expanding the TAP programmes to areas like the Traveller community. De Rís stressed that the SU “needs to be more strategic” and “make sure students are able to enact change in society”.
The candidates were questioned on environmental issues, and the campaign on campus they are most passionate about. Syan Ryan commended the work which has been done on the Plastic Free TCD campaign. He identified “lobbying College in getting more compostable bins around campus” as a mechanism for reducing plastic waste as it would mean that “restaurants and cafés can utilise biodegradable products”. Paul Molloy agreed with Ryan on the importance of plastic reduction. He added that he feels it is important to raise awareness among students that their actions can have a “substantial impact”. De Rís did not identify a specific campaign, stressing that “every environmental campaign is of utmost importance” and that the SU should foster environmental activism.
Wickremasinghe next raised the point that this year has witnessed a higher level of cynicism towards the SU, with candidates being accused of running to further their personal career prospects rather than out of a passion for student activism. Ryan stated that his manifesto highlights how “I feel I’d be the best person for the job to actually improve student experience”. Molloy echoed Ryan, saying that “all candidates’ hearts are in the right place”. He mentioned that, if elected, he would work to make sure that Trinity students “have the confidence and knowledge that they can impact issues that they care about”. De Rís further emphasised his strong commitment to the student body, saying that he didn’t decide to run for SU President on a whim: “I’ve always had a passion for students, I didn’t wake up in the morning and decide to have a passion for students. My passion is well-documented and has always been there.”
College currently has no firm policy on sexual harassment on campus, which the candidates all agreed was shocking and an area they would campaign on. In the aftermath of the referendum on the repeal of the eighth amendment, Ryan says he plans “on working with the lobby groups to try to help create legislation that does not constrict women at all in this country,” while Molloy identified supporting student health services in providing required services on reproductive rights as an important area. De Rís commented that he would seek to “make sure the student voice is heard in calling for appropriate legislation”.
When questioned on the Students for Justice in Palestine group calling for Trinity to take support the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement, each candidate provided similar answers. Each acknowledged the gravity of the situation in Palestine but no candidate was prepared to promise anything in relation to the issue. All cited a desire to hold further debate on the subject in the future.
The hard-hitting issue of protecting refugees and migrant rights was next raised, with Wickremasinghe questioning candidates on how they would enforce the SU mandate to prevent direct provision. Ryan spoke first, affirming that “direct provision is a cruel process that holds back many refugees”. He said he plans to fight for the rights of refugees to education and also for Trinity to become a University of Sanctuary, in order “to take lives out of limbo and give people the right to education”. Molloy agreed with the importance of establishing Trinity as a University of Sanctuary, noting that being a refugee is “not a status,” but a “human being” and that the current system of direct provision should not be tolerated. De Rís’s views aligned with both Molloy and Ryan. He said that he was sickened that “we as a state put people into these structures and then don’t give them the right to work”. De Rís added: “It goes without saying that the SU needs to fight for these people, have our voice, be an activist, and bring students together in solidarity with refugees.”
For the last question of the Presidential race, Wickremasinghe began to ask Molloy about his decision to invite Nigel Farage to the Hist and award him a Gold Medal, noting that Molloy in his responses thus far had referred to free speech. Molloy, interrupting the question, asserted that he did not think that it was a “free speech issue”. Wickremasinghe continued to ask how he would reassure minorities in College that his offering Farage a medal would not alienate them. Molloy emphasised that he is “somebody who is left wing, somebody who has marched for refugees, somebody who has campaigned for marriage equality, somebody who isn’t from a background you would expect for the head of a debating society”. He then continued to respond to the question regarding his decision not only to invite Farage to speak but to award him a gold medal, saying that the standard practice in the Hist was to award all speakers a gold medal. “I did not present that to him with the intention of lauding what he did. I disagree 100% with his views.”
Communications and Marketing
The next set of candidates to be questioned by Wickremasinghe were the three contenders for the position of Communications and Marketing Officer. The first question posed to the candidates related to their experiences with being involved in student activism in the past.
McLean referred to his experience in the SU as class rep and a convenor, saying he felt that he had “advocated for my schools quite well”. Harty described himself as the “underdog” of the race and considered his entering the race to be “activism in itself”. Rynne admitted that as a “science student with a ton of hours,” student activism was “not something I have a lot of time to do”. He was later questioned on how the SU could help to accommodate science students’ involvement in activism, Rynne replied: “It has to do with the massive amount of hours”, and that “leeway” was needed with “the necessity to extend labs”.
All three candidates were questioned as to their views on the commercialisation of college. McLean said he believed “commercialising can be a good thing” but that “if we are to commercialise, we should do our research”. Harty focused on his manifesto point of “upholding ethical sponsorship” but that he felt commercialisation “could be an opportunity instead of a problem”. Rynne said that he “abhors the commercialisation of college” and that the SU shouldn’t be turning over student spaces to “banks and donut companies”.
On the question of “ethical procurement,” McLean said that deals with companies such as CocaCola funded resources for students, but admitted that there is a “line” to be drawn when it comes to such agreements. Harty reiterated that he felt there was “no compromise to be made” when it came to procuring ethical sponsorship. Rynne said that when it came to companies such as Aramark, he felt that “the biggest problem” was that they were “overpriced” and not marketed towards “the student mentality”.
The Ents candidates, Matt Dundon and David Flood were next to face questions. The first question concerned using the Ents position in the Student Union as a platform for activism. Dundon began by referencing his previous experience working with the Ents Committee and spoke about working at his club night, The Midnight Disco. Dundon said that it is important for Ents to serve as a “medium” for students to “voice their opinions”. Flood expressed his opinion that students socialising can serve as a “powerful canvassing area” that can engage students that wouldn’t normally be engaged.
The second question asked related to inclusion at Ents events and how Ents can include people from every background. Dundon began by reiterating his plans to introduce his plans for a monthly LGTBQ+ night, saying that “sexual identity isn’t something that just happens during Rainbow Week”.
Concerning how to make events as inclusive as possible for students from different backgrounds. Flood argued that events could be held at different times during the day, and that this would serve as a means to “cut costs”.
The third question asked concerned sexual misconduct and Ents events, and what each candidate would do to ensure it did not occur. In his answer, Flood began by saying that to eradicate this behaviour you have to “start with yourself”. He spoke about creating a “ripple effect” which would ultimately create societal change. He also made reference to the “ask for Angela” campaign, saying that he would enforce it at Ents events.
When questioned about the large environmental impact of Ents events, Flood mentioned that through TCD Surf Club, he played a role in the the establishment of an Environmental Officer position. He also said that he would swap plastic Freshers’ Week wristbands with cloth bands and mentioned the possibility of “buying our own stock of reusable plastic cups” to be used at events, thus reducing Trinity’s dependency on single-use plastics. Dundon referenced his attendance at previous anti-plastic events in College. He welcomed Flood’s suggestion of introducing reusable cups, but, however, questioned the practical element involved in cleaning and maintaining such cups.
When asked about the feasibility and ambition of the Ents position within the context of the SU, Flood restated his “proven track record” and emphasised that the position requires “organisation to be ambitious”. He stressed his capability to successfully organise large-scale events on a frequent basis. Dundon countered Flood, underlining the “need to be very realistic” and citing the immense time pressure involved in organising events. He believes the position is meant to “help out the community” instead of focusing “on big Ents events all the time”.
Connolly insisted on the need to “strike a balance” between local and national issues. She had previously stated in an interview with Trinity News that political issues should not come at the expense of focusing on the “nitty gritty” day-to-day work of the SU. She reiterated her commitment to introducing a “mandate review” where Council would consider whether to maintain mandates previously adopted by the SU. She noted that there “are over 90 mandates” in Schedule 4 of the TCDSU Constitution and that “students don’t really know what’s in there”.
When asked about the future of higher education funding, Connolly said that she was “completely opposed to a loan system”. She said she would look to put a much greater focus on the issue if elected and insisted that the SU needed to “get out in force” against fees next year. Connolly was then questioned over the proportionately high dropout rates for Trinity Access Programme (TAP) students. She said that TAP students “need to know what supports are available to them” and that she “would like to ensure that they know where they can go and where their supports are”.
Staying on the theme of inclusivity in the Union, Connolly was asked about Engineering and Medical Sciences (EMS) students often feeling overlooked when it came to the SU. She replied that she would make sure “as an officer that I get out of House 6” and engage with students around and off campus.
James Cunningham is this year’s lone candidate in the election for Welfare Officer. This is the first time in several years that the position has been uncontested.
The first question referred to Cunningham’s plans to expand his consent workshops and how he planned to make the campus a safe environment from sexual assault. Cunningham believes that by liaising more with societies like DU Gender Equality Society, he can accomplish this and that it could be incorporated into a long term sexual consent policy for Trinity.
The next question concerned “practical support” for refugee students who may enter Trinity, should the College become a University of Sanctuary. Cunningham said that he would “ensure refugees are welcome” and that he would work to provide specific training for the officers involved.
Cunningham addressed a question concerning class issues within Trinity, concerning how he would build an environment within Trinity that was supportive for all students, regardless of background. Cunningham’s position is that “you don’t need to be from a typical Trinity student background to succeed in Trinity”. As Welfare Officer, he would try to establish an “environment that’s comfortable for everyone”.
The next issue raised concerns about how to make the Union more approachable and establishing a specific channel for students to access the Union who may not have the time to organise a campaign, with racism given as the main example. Cunningham said that he did not have a specific answer but that he could provide specific office hours or speak to students more on campus. He also argued that the Welfare Officer could meet more often with activism groups to find out the specific needs of these groups.
This tied into how he would provide practical support for activist students who may face challenges with “burnout” and said the Welfare Officer “needs to provide support for students who are activists” and stated passionately that “my activism is [providing] welfare for the activists”.
University Times Editor
Eleanor O’Mahony is a Senior Sophister European Studies student and current Deputy Editor of the University Times (UT). She is running against Michael McDermott in the first contested race for UT Editor. McDermott did not attend Hustings tonight.
The first question for the UT Editor candidate questioned what O’Mahony envisions as the role of the University Times in relation to on-campus activism. O’Mahony explained that she thinks that “UT writers are activists for truth”. She explained that through publicising what campaigns are or are not doing, UT provides “a platform for debate on activist issues”.
UT has faced criticism this year concerning reports on activism, particularly in relation to coverage of the Aramark Off Our Campus campaign and Strike 4 Repeal. O’Mahony responded that for news coverage, UT must “try to be as objective as possible and take campaigns very seriously”. She noted that for a campaign “to be successful, they do have to be open to some criticism”.
The point was raised about numerous resignations among previous UT staff this year. O’Mahony reiterated her manifesto point on her desire to introduce office hours to make UT more accessible and hopes to “give back to [UT] staff”. O’Mahony defended against a point made about a lack of dissenting voices in UT, explaining that she feels the paper has a “fantastic opinion section”. She noted that it posts “opinion articles every night” and “often [has] responses to editorials which we are happy to publish”.
The emergence of “radical” publications such as The Burkean Journal was raised and how O’Mahony would respond to the views expressed in these publications. “We have had very different views in the past, there’s been a lot of views expressed that I don’t agree with. As long as it doesn’t spread hate we accept articles from anyone, if it’s published in coherent way I don’t see why the University Times can’t be a platform for debate.”
When asked about the funding of UT by the SU, O’Mahony emphasised the paper’s recent efforts to “cut corners”. She stressed that UT is a valuable service but that she will “cut costs where [she] can”. She also made reference to a “new advertising strategy” she is devising.
In a final question, Wickremasinghe asked O’Mahony how she feels as an aspiring journalist about the current position of Irish media. O’Mahony said that UT always looks to other platforms and what they do, but that she does feel Irish media faces “issues of ethics” and “needs to move forward,” and that UT should “aspire to international publications in the UK and US such as the NY Times and The Guardian”.
Reporting by Sarah Meehan, Ciaran Sunderland, Niamh Lynch, Dominic Neau, Cian MacLochlainn, Caroline Boyle, Aisling Grace, Peter Kelly, Michael Gilna, Grainne Sexton, Lauren Boland, Meadhbh Ni Mhidigh, Julie Geoghegan, Shane Hughes, Forrest Winters, and Rory O’Neill.