The ten candidates in the six sabbatical officer races faced their second hustings tonight, with a more in-depth analysis of policy points. The candidates fielded questions from chair of An Cumann Gaelach, Caolán Mac Grianna, Q Soc secretary, Nathan O’Gara, and chair of Council, Stephen Sheil.
University Times Editor
First to speak was Donal MacNamee, deputy editor of The University Times (UT), and the only candidate in the race for Editor. MacNamee gave a confident performance, brushing off a question on how UT could avoid publishing far-right pieces by insisting that such pieces were not “gonna get through the net”. This is a pertinent issue for UT: the newspaper recently published two opinion articles discussing how the Burkean had strayed from its original purpose, after the conservative publication released an article arguing that racial differences in IQ explain divergences in wealth across the world.
When asked about the environmental issues caused by the size of UT’s print run, he declared that newspaper print was “not the biggest [environmental issue] that Ireland faces”. He expressed confidence that he could deal with UT’s €16,000 deficit by seeking corporate sponsorship and establishing a donation button on the newspaper’s website. Responding to a question about how UT would be able to hold College accountable, particularly considering the inaccessibility of high College officials to students, MacNamee affirmed that College accountability was at the “cornerstone of everything we do”.
Asked about the paper’s coverage of both Irish language and LGBT issues, MacNamee in both cases promised that the coverage could be improved, promising to appoint a Community Engagement Editor and saying that offering an Irish language version of UT’s weekly email was “a concrete thing I could do”. MacNamee continually emphasised the “excellent service” provided by UT, stating in his closing statement that he wanted to continue UT’s “commitment to excellence”. His confidence in UT’s ability to deal with any of the problems raised by those at the hustings was ultimately the most consistent message communicated.
Communications and Marketing
The second candidate to address SU Council was Muireann Kane. Kane began by mentioning many of the same points as in Monday’s hustings, such as her desire to source ethical funding only, and to ensure graduate and internship opportunities. It was put to Kane, the sole candidate in the race for the position of Communications and Marketing Officer, that her manifesto was inaccessible to visually impaired students. She stated that she believed that her use of the colour blue was “calming”. On the point regarding readers with visual impairment, Kane responded that she herself was of the “glasses persuasion”, but would look to produce more accessible versions in the future. A student later pushed Kane on this point, suggesting that Kane’s response was “dismissive” and asked whether she would be willing to be “educated” on the accessibility of fonts. Kane responded that she would be willing to give the issue further consideration.
Caolán Mac Grianna, chair of An Cumann Gaelach, asked Kane about the issue of ethical sponsorship and whether she would turn down “unethical sponsorship”, even in the face of the SU’s current deficit. Kane responded that she “actually would” decline it, focusing instead on sponsorship which is “quite eco-friendly”. Citing a question put to her in an interview with Trinity News earlier this week, Kane gave the example of the advertisement of luxury student accommodation in the SU as something that she would view as “unethical sponsorship”. Kane intends to continue the production of the bilingual TCDSU weekly email. The publication of the weekly email in both English and Irish came under scrutiny earlier this year in discussions of the Union’s deficit at Council, given the fee paid to the TCDSU Oifigeach na Gaeilge for translation services.
The third candidate to speak this evening was Aisling Leen, the sole candidate in the race for Welfare Officer. Caolán Mac Grianna began by asking Leen about waiting lists for student services, and how she would put pressure on College to accommodate students in this regard. In response, she highlighted the need for College to communicate with services, mentioning her own experience of the lack of such communication, having been ignored by College when enquiring about the provision of abortion services in the Health Centre.
Nathan O’Gara pushed Leen on her manifesto point, in which she detailed plans to create a video series raising awareness around drug and alcohol abuse, questioning whether such a series would benefit LGBT+ students. Leen explained that she considers the video campaign “under [her] umbrella term of awareness”, and that she felt a video campaign could reach students in a manner which holding an in-person event could not, outlining that students may be more likely to engage with campaigns broaching “taboo” subjects, such as alcohol abuse. Chair of Council, Stephen Sheil, then raised the issue of gambling addictions, which he suggested was particularly prevalent among young men, and asked how she would tackle the issue. Leen admitted that this problem had not been brought to her awareness but referred back to the answer she gave to O’Gara regarding drug and alcohol abuse, stating that she would highlight and tackle this issue by using video campaigns and publishing information online.
TCDSU International Students’ Officer, Molly McCrory, questioned Leen on why she had excluded the International Students’ Officer in a proposed list of part-time officers to participate in an equality committee which Leen would create if elected. Leen stated that she “would never have thought of international students as a minority in that sense”, but that any exclusion was not deliberate and that international student representatives would be included in the proposed equality committee. In response to a question on how Leen would deal with racist attacks students are faced with, she mentioned the need for disciplinary measures to address the “racism thing” and stated that this was an inspiration for the equality committee she was proposing to establish.
An audience member queried Leen’s intentions with regard to disabilities such as autism, in light of her manifesto’s heavy emphasis on mental health. Leen responded that such an issue had not crossed her mind and that although she feels the disability services are great, it is something she wants to work on.
Fourth year English and History student Luke Rynne Cullen was the first Ents candidate questioned this evening. The issue of Trinity Ball was raised first, with Cullen acknowledging that “David [Flood] did a great job” in working with MCD, but that he “would really like to push the boat out there”. He suggested that he would like to get acts that have a bit more international acclaim. Cullen was also asked of his plans to organise LGBTQ+ events next year. He noted the various events held in Rainbow week, and that “everyone should feel safe and welcome”. Cullen also voiced his support for bilingual events, and said that while doing this, he is “more than happy to do Irish themed events throughout the year”. He addressed harm reduction at events and noted that he feels he would be able to tackle this issue due to his experience of working at various festivals. He also suggested the implementation of a blog series to “highlight the key dangers”. When questioned on his favourite College event, Cullen praised “the Fall of the Wall”, as it was “pretty cool”.
Judith Robinson, a third year Music and Drama student, was also initially quizzed on her “ideal Trinity Ball”. She immediately outlined her idea for a Recharge tent which made the event “accessible to everyone”. She also suggested a focus on “non-alcoholic” events. She then noted the success of the Rainbow Week Drag Race, which was organised partly by DU Players. When asked of the inclusivity of LGBTQ+ students, she noted the importance of events which attract groups “from both inside the LGBT and outside the LGBT community”. Robinson noted that “as Ents Officer, your duty is to focus on all the different groups”. Robinson was also questioned on harm reduction, and said that she intended to work alongside the Welfare Officer, and that she “wanted to bring [harm reduction] to a campus wide level”. She pointed out that she would run events differently to this year, ensuring that students would know “whether an event is accessible or not”.
Jerico Alcaras, a fifth year Computer Science student, initially spoke of his opposition to the Trinity Ball ticket price hike, saying that he would like to obtain “the cheapest tickets we can get reasonably [sic]”. Alcaras described his ideal Trinity Ball as one which also caters “to individuals that do not like to party”. He also acknowledged that while his manifesto outlines plans to provide added facilities at Trinity Ball, he is aware that “it’s next to impossible to get these facilities”. Alcaras was also asked of his intent to create LGBTQ+ specific spaces for events. Alcaras noted that “I aim to make events based on music genre, movies, food”, and that there would be “no status or background behind that”. Jerico stated that to facilitate “harm reduction” at events, he would first and foremost focus on event security. When asked what his favorite event this year was, Alcaras responded that it was the Mystery Tour: Polar Express for reasons he “will not state”. He then concluded his discussion, noting the importance of his key ideas, namely “celebration not limitation”, and “diversity, equality, and inclusion”.
Education Officer candidates, Sally Anne McCarthy and Niamh McCay, fielded questions on equality in academic affairs. Responding to a question on what they could do to support the Irish language community in Trinity, McCay responded that she would hope to represent both students who speak Irish and those who wish to learn it. “It’s not just a language, it’s a culture,” McCay said. Answering partly in Irish, McCarthy expressed regret that Irish is only visible on campus during Seachtain na hÉigse. She outlined her hope to use Irish more within Union activities, through providing Council minutes through Irish. “I think we need to incorporate Irish into everything we do,” said McCarthy.
Stephen Sheil asked McCay about her plan to ask lecturers to sign a learning agreement. McCay drew on her experience of poor communication between staff and students, and that she would like to open lines of communication. Regarding posting learning material online, McCay stated that it is “not enough for a lecturer to say they don’t want to provide materials” in order to encourage lecture attendance when students may not be able to attend lectures due to physical or mental health difficulties. Sheil asked McCarthy about her plan to introduce a Students’ Choice Teaching Award and how she would work to mend relations between students and College. McCarthy explained she feels that “very often, College technically forget they’ve agreed to [the Student Partnership agreement]”. She said that “student partnership is something that is really important” to her and that she would look to the “wider voice” of students to inform her discussions with lecturers to improve academic issues.
Asked by the current Education Officer, Aimee Connolly, on how they would engage the wider student body rather than just SU officers on issues such as TEP, McCay stressed the importance of student engagement. She expressed disappointment with the lack of attendance at the recent TEP open forum meeting, and recognised a “level of disengagement with the Union”. She outlined she would target focus groups and class reps, and incentivise students to become more involved in student affairs. McCay also hopes to reintroduce the position of Off-Campus Officer to assist students who do not spend the majority of their time on the main College campus.
Responding to the same question, McCarthy stressed that the Union “needs to be realistic” about why students aren’t engaging with TEP. She expressed that students feel like they are “getting the run-around on TEP” and being given “sound-bite answers” to problems which arise. McCarthy indicated that she would improve class rep training to better facilitate how the problems students raise are handled.
Third year BESS student Daire Hennessy was the first Presidential candidate to address Council. Both candidates were questioned on the issue of engagement between the SU and the wider student body, with Hennessy positing that the ideal engagement within the SU comes from class reps. “We have to meet them where they are,” he said, commenting that “[the SU] can do a lot more”. He concluded by saying: “We need more class reps and we need more people to run for elections.” Fourth year English and Film Studies student, Laura Beston, answered by noting her intent to create an online complaints system, stating her belief that people do in fact “want to be involved with the SU”.
Addressing Hennessy, O’Gara highlighted that his opponent had sought advice from both QSoc and An Cumann Gaelach, the co-chairs of the evening’s hustings, prior to the campaign, and questioned why he had not done so. Hennessy replied by saying: “We need to reach out to the average student”. He added that the focus should not always be on these societies as “the student body is much wider” than those groups alone.
A member of the audience questioned both candidates on whether their manifestos focused excessively on national issues which would leave “student issues by the wayside” and “cause disenfranchisement”. Hennessy responded to this claim by reiterating his message of “getting back to basics”, saying that we “have to go back and focus on student issues and that in itself will improve student engagement”. Beston instead supported nationally focused campaigns, insisting that “national issues are affecting students every day”. She asserted that addressing wider issues would enable students to “feel like they can have an impact now” and that her manifesto “tries to include different people who feel disengaged”.
In her speech, Beston emphasised her credentials as a “dedicated activist”, saying that she “will actively challenge oppression and discrimination on campus”. Beston referred to her involvement in Take Back Trinity last year, saying that she was on the front lines, and that the protest was proof that “it’s the people that take the initiative that make a difference”. The tone of her speech was radical; she declared that she would again “be on the front lines” if elected, and would “help students take on the government and College” when the time calls for it.
Hennessy’s short concluding speech focused on getting the SU “back to basics” by emphasising the inclusion of every student, especially those outside the SU bubble. He harshly criticised the current direction of the Union, saying that attempts to explain away the disengagement of most students are a “cop out”, and that “when we think of inclusion we think of minorities – well, the SU is the minority now”.
Reporting by Rory O’Sullivan, Victoria Mitchell, Lauren Boland, Finn Purdy, Michael Gilna, Thea Lawler, Peter Kelly, Lily Rice, Michael Gilna, Yasmin Mello, and Constance Quinlan.