Candidates fielded a wide variety of questions from the Editors of Trinity News and the University Times, as well as questions submitted by students over Twitter, at tonight’s Media Hustings, the third hustings of this year’s Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) elections. Niamh Lynch and Eleanor O’Mahony probed the candidates on statements they’d made at previous hustings, in interviews and in their manifestos. Read our outline of each race below:
University Times Editor
The sole candidate running for University Times Editor, Donal MacNamee, was the first to speak at tonight’s hustings. MacNamee was first questioned by Trinity News Editor, Niamh Lynch, about the culture in the University Times. Lynch noted that since the the role was split from the Communications and Marketing position, all Editors have been Deputy Editor. She asked if this is in indicative of an inaccessible culture in running for Editor. “Great efforts were made” to encourage others, McNamee said, emphasising the current Editor’s role in encouraging other staff members.
MacNamee mentioned at Council hustings on Tuesday his policy to get a headline sponsor similar to what other Trinity societies have. He explained tonight that he had spoken to the treasurer of Law Soc and plans on speaking to the Phil. “The reason that they get such good sponsorship is they’re full of such smart, talented, students. We’re full of smart, talented students. Graduate recruitment in these companies, they’re not just after law students and business students, they’re after students with a diverse range of backgrounds,” he said. He was asked by Lynch if this would not undermine the independence of the Union, and the content published, given that headline sponsors often have strict guidelines. “We’re a newspaper, we have integrity, we’re not going to let an outside firm dictate our editorial policy,” he said.
In response to a recent Burkean article called “Not All Are Born Equal”, the University Times published two opinion pieces, an op-ed by a founding editor that defended his involvement in the publication, and a second column noting that Conservatives should worry about the direction of the publication. It was put to MacNamee if he thought this amounted to appropriate and balanced coverage, given that students made complaints to the Ethnic Minorities Officer of the Union. He responded by saying that he believed they were well balanced pieces and that they were a comment on the issue.
“Ents is the bread and butter of the SU,” said Ents Officer candidate Luke Rynne Cullen in response to a question on the viability of the position. All candidates enthusiastically defended the role in the face of the Union’s €70,000 decifict, with Judith Robinson pointing out the surplus Ents raises. Addressing “lad culture” in Ents, Jerico Alcaras questioned whether a culture exists, adding that no one would feel excluded from his events because “everyone likes or hates movies or certain music genres”. The other two candidates highlighted the need for inclusive events, with Rynne Cullen saying he wants to continue the Ask Angela campaign.
Asked about the low attendance of many Ents events, Alcaras said it was important to keep the price of Ents events “as low as possible”. Robinson talked about catering for different types of students, and creating a poster listing all of Ents events each term. Cullen suggested following the examples of various student venues in the capital, citing the implementation of a new photographer in O’Reilly’s pub. He also suggested the utilisation of a blog.
Candidates were also asked of their intentions to protect vulnerable students on nights out, particularly those in the LGBTQ+ community. In response, Cullen noted that discrimination “shouldn’t be tolerated at any venue”, and suggested collaboration with venues to tackle the issue. Alcaras noted that “all people deserve security, and not just the LGBT community”, while citing his intention to work with the best security teams. Robinson also noted her planned “Ents for Good” workshops.
Candidates were also questioned on the technical aspects of the Ents officer role. Cullen noted his support of all current SU mandates. Jerico recognised that the position was one where “you have to know what needs to be done” and that he was “more than willing to do it”. The importance of engaging with the other aspects of the SU was noted by Judith, who said it is vital to engage with “all the other duties that come with being in the students’ union”.
Communications & Marketing
Lynch began by questioning Muireann Kane, the sole Communications & Marketing candidate, on her manifesto, particularly the fact that there were two versions thereof. Kane said that she changed the font in response to a suggestion at hustings on Tuesday that students with visual impairment may have found her original manifesto inaccessible.
O’Mahoney then asked Kane how she would improve engagement with the SU by means other than social media. Kane said that she believed that she could go out and “actively ask” students directly what it is they want. Going out and “asking students” directly was also Kane’s response when pushed by O’Mahoney on why she ultimately chose to set up a Facebook page, having previously stated that she would not use the platform for campaigning, choosing instead to focus on Instagram. “Some students felt they were not being included, which is what I didn’t want”, she said.
Kane described the campaign ‘RON TCDSU Comms’ campaign, established yesterday evening in response to perceived weaknesses in Kane’s campaign, as a “thinly veiled attack”, highlighting that the campaign was only set up for her and not for either of the two other uncontested candidates.
O’Mahoney put it to Kane that much of her campaign material and design thereof is inconsistent, asking her to reassure students that she has the necessary skills to maintain the “very clear visual identity” of the Union. Kane rejected the suggestion that her manifesto was inconsistent. She then cited her “huge amount of experience” with branding, working with “the most bespoke wine shops in the country”. From this, she says, she understands the importance of keeping her pitch consistent.
The two Education Officer candidates, Sally Anne McCarthy and Niamh McCay, were up next. Lynch asked McCarthy whether her policy of students being able to comment anonymously at Council could potentially lead to bullying or harassment. McCarthy defended the policy, outlining that it will require “common sense from the Electoral Commission”, who could monitor comments.
McCay outlined that she met with the Vice-Provost and Academic Secretary to creating an agreement signed by staff on the standard of teaching materials, who were receptive to it and indicated it could possibly be implemented as a key performance indicator under the existing Student Partnership Policy.
On promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which the Union is mandated to support, McCarthy emphatically stated: “If I am elected, I am going to fulfil every mandate that you put in front of me.” McCay outlined that in her personal politics, she “stand[s] behind” the BDS movement, but that she would not let her own views factor in to her individual work with students.
Regarding working with College officials on TEP, McCay outlined that she would strike a “balance between representing students and leasing with college officials”, but added that she would “not falter to yell when [she] need[s] to yell”. McCarthy mentioned her campaign promise of creating an online platform which outlines the intricacies of TEP to support students’ understanding of the project.
Finally, the Education Officer candidates fielded a question on action they would take concerning higher education funding. McCay emphasised she would “get on the ground and be on the front lines”, while McCarthy would hope to “get College out marching with us” to show a united front among staff and students.
Lynch began by questioning Aisling Leen, the only Welfare candidate, on sexual assault policy, in particular citing incumbent Welfare Officer James Cunningham’s work on the issue. Leen began by saying that she found it difficult to get across how exactly she wanted to tackle this issue in her manifesto. She admitted that “it’s difficult for people to talk about issues for which there is a stigma”. However what she can promise is “a real push from the student side” as this is “something students want and need”.
Remaining on the topic of sexual assault, O’Mahoney alluded to comments made by Leen in a University Times interview in which she questioned Trinity Feminist Society’s nurture group, commenting that sexual assault is “a sensitive issue” but that “you can’t expect sexual assault to be something that we can chat about”. Leen admitted that she had “not been phrasing things the way [she] wanted” and that criticising the nurture group was “not [her] intention at all”. She stated that she was “trying to explain that [she understands] that sensitive issues are difficult to understand”.
Lynch questioned Leen on her manifesto point regarding abortion provision, in particular asking her who exactly she had spoken with. Leen said that she had been reaching out to the Health Service who were not responsive. The Counselling Service and S2S, however, were receptive and supportive of her ideas.
A question from Twitter was then put to Leen, asking her how she would educate students on STIs. Leen responded that she did not think that education was the issue and that people “generally know that STIs are an issue”. She was of the view that the problem is that they “don’t take the steps to get a test.”
Both candidates for President emphasised their experience and the lessons that they argued that they could carry forward with them into the Presidency. Asked about their experience as campaigners, and the role that campaigning would have in their Presidencies, Daire Hennessy confessed that he was “probably lacking” in campaign experience “compared to others in the Union”, but insisted that he had “learned a lot” from his time as a class rep, and had been involved in campaigning over access to education and accommodation. Laura Beston, who was a major figure in last year’s Take Back Trinity movement, admitted that “I know I seem quite radical” but said that she had “a lot of experience one on one” with students, stating that “I know that I’ll be able to support students if needed”.
The biggest thing that both candidates claimed they had gotten from their experiences was an appreciation of the importance of listening to ordinary students. Beston said that she had “learned how to listen to students” from her experiences with Take Back Trinity, while Hennessy said that his experiences on Union Forum had helped him to understand the need for the Union to focus on “issues that students can really get behind”. Asked about how they would strike the balance between working with college officials and standing up to them on behalf of students, both candidates highlighted their experience working on college committees.
TCDSU last year had a deficit of close to €70,000. Asked about what he would do to reduce the deficit, Hennessy did not give a concrete answer, referring to a list of potential cuts being drawn up by Union Forum. Beston said that the issue needed to be confronted in the Union’s Strategic Plan, but specifically highlighted the University Times as a major drain on the Union’s finances, saying that the paper and the Union needed to find a way of “moving forward together”.
Beston was asked about her role in Bryan Mallon’s TCDSU Presidential Campaign in 2017, which was mired in controversy after several sexist and homophobic tweets by Mallon surfaced online. She said that she had “felt betrayed” when the tweets emerged because “[Mallon] was proposing to be different and that is why I supported them”.
The biggest difference between the candidates lay mostly in their tones: Hennessy spoke in strong terms about the need of the Union to reform and include ordinary students, while Beston emphasised the need to support activists. Hennessy noted that the motion of the Phil’s weekly debate, which was running concurrently with the hustings, was “This House Believes the SU is failing its students”, and argued that “at this stage so many people are excluded from the SU that…we need to address the engagement issue first”. Beston said that it is ““difficult to see your work taken by somebody else who takes credit for it”, but insisted that although she would place a heavy emphasis on activism, “I don’t want to exclude anyone just because I don’t agree with them”.
Additional reporting by Aisling Grace, Lauren Boland, Rory O’Sullivan, Mary Hartnett, Peter Kelly, Michael Gilna, Finn Purdy, Lorna Alyward, Debra Daly, Sean McElroy and Victoria Mitchell.