“Today, the character of Trinity’s security is changing. In a decade’s time, it will be totally unrecognisable.”
It is difficult to imagine that the conditions of Trinity’s security staff would be of any concern to students. For most, security is one amongst a large set of the static institutions of the college: predictable, boring, at worst an occasional annoyance.
As is so often the case however, the things which change College the most are those we scarcely notice. Today, the character of Trinity’s security is changing. In a decade’s time, it may be totally unrecognisable.
A student activist concerned about Trinity’s security regime shares, “it began four or five years ago and it was all very gradual at first”. They are referring to the replacement of positions that would have once been held by in-house security staff with guards contracted from Noonan Security – a firm whose total turnover in 2016 amounted to €328 million. “People think that they were brought in as a direct response to the protests in March. This isn’t strictly true.” This outsourcing was part of cost-cutting measures brought in under Provost Patrick Prendergast. They explained that Noonan guards had originally been stationed inconspicuously, in places where their presence would hardly be noticeable to the wider staff and student body. “When security staff retire, they’ve haven’t been replaced by another in-house hire, but by Noonan contractors.”
The activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the timing of Noonan’s increased presence on campus seemed suspicious to many of the students involved in the Take Back Trinity campaign. “It was a very different feeling dealing with outside security guards, especially because the in-house staff had been so supportive.” During the Dining Hall occupation, staff gave their support to students, whose aims they sympathised with. “Many of the staff had the same problems with the way the college was being managed as we did.”
Could the same be said of transient contractors from a multinational firm? The answer, according to one in-house security guard who preferred not to be named, is doubtful. “Most of the Noonan guys are nice enough, from the interactions I’ve had with them. But they wouldn’t have the same knowledge of the place.” This is something of an understatement – guards with decades of experience are being replaced with contractors who are unlikely to stick around more than a couple of years.
As ex-President of the Phil, Conn McCarrick knows better than most the difference these changes in security will make. “Security often stay late, without pay, to facilitate the closing of College buildings. We wouldn’t be able to run the same kinds of events without them.” Why Trinity’s longtime staff do more than what is expected of them is a difficult thing for those with a management consultancy approach to College administration to comprehend. It is a part of a deeper sense of community that can only come when staff have a genuine stake in the life of the College.
“Of those spoken to for this article, one had worked in one other location for Noonan in the past, the other was assigned Trinity as his first job. Both acknowledged the potential for them to be moved again.”
“The same relationship just doesn’t exist with Noonan and other security contractors”, McCarrick explains. This makes sense because, for Noonan employees, Trinity is one of many possible places they could be stationed by the company. Of those Noonan guards Trinity News spoke to, one had worked in one other location for Noonan in the past, the other was assigned Trinity as his first job. Both acknowledged the potential for them to be moved again. Thus, meaningful relationships with students, societies and other members of staff aren’t likely to be developed.
However, Noonan guards are not the villain. “I think our job is tougher than the one the old security have to do, we’re on our feet all day”, one confesses. The Noonan employees who spoke to Trinity News were reluctant to discuss at length their relationship with in-house staff: “You’re not going to get along with everyone. You have your ins and outs y’know?” Noonan staff work without the possibility of a pension from the college. A pension that, according to a member of in-house staff, is the only thing keeping many of them around. “Ten or fifteen years ago, most of the security staff were happy here. Now the question you hear most often is ‘How long have you got left?’” He means until they turn 65, and can retire.
Of course, those in charge of College financing will undoubtedly be happy to have the burden of pensions lifted from College accounts. But in the eyes of longtime staff, there is another, more pernicious motivation for the Provost. If members of staff are on short contracts, it gives the Provost more power. There is no institutional memory for him to fight, no consistent voice for the interests of support staff in the College and most importantly, no community that can fight back against attempts to undermine it. What remains is a group of loosely-associated individuals waiting to finish out their contracts.
This story is a single part of a much larger one. That story is one of privatisation, of ruthless cost-cutting, and of the destruction of well-paying, steady jobs that Trinity once created instead of contracts with multinational firms who make no such guarantees. No aspect of the college has been immune to management which has prioritised its bottom line over the College community values. “For the Provost, it’s all about money. Cutting costs and money,” laments the in-house security guard. The student activist mirrored this concern: “Trinity used to be a place where ordinary people could get a good job. A lot of them were jobs for life.”
“Lecturers were around for a long time. You could tell they cared about students. That’s just not the case anymore, they’re all on these three year contracts.”
The process of turning these jobs from lifelong relationships with the College community into short-term contracts is evident to a greater extent in the areas of catering, cleaning, and even academic staffing. For a member of in-house staff who has worked in Trinity for decades, the change in the College’s atmosphere has been startling: “You used to walk through the Arts Block and you’d know every face. Lecturers were around for a long time. You could tell they cared about students. That’s just not the case anymore, they’re all on these three year contracts.”
Provost Patrick Prendergast has changed a great deal since he was elected to the office in 2011. A great number of the Provost’s actions have attracted more than their fair share of controversy: the introduction of supplemental fees, his obsession with control, and his tumultuous relationship with Board. Few students will have noticed the changes he has made in the way College is staffed. Part of this is intentional. Even a full four-year degree is not quite long enough to notice, let alone care, about these changes. Relentless rationalisation has come at the cost of these relationships and has eroded the College community. It will continue to do so as long as the Provost pursues it. With third level funding still scarce, there is no indication that he plans on stopping any time soon.