Trinity should not have a monopoly on its tours

Trinity tours should be used to benefit students and TCDSU

Following a recent report in The Sunday Times, the College community is now aware that the contract to provide guided tours of Trinity College was awarded to Authenticity Tours without ever issuing an invitation to tender being put out. According to the report when the Director of Trinity’s Public Affairs and Communications was asked about this possible nepotism his response was to dodge the question and refer to the current Covid-19 outbreak.

Given recent policy prohibiting unauthorised tours due to “wear and tear on facilities”, this is a multimillion euro monopoly on the fourth most popular tourist attraction in Ireland. Indeed, the report notes that this contract has enabled company founder Joseph O’Gorman (who recently ran for the Seanad in Trinity) and his partner Andrew Nangle to pay themselves at least €1.3 million between 2015 and 2018. When approached to comment on this, both College and O’Gorman declined to speak about “commercially sensitive information.” If you’re surprised by any of this, you probably haven’t been paying attention. In 2017, when the Trinity branch of Aramark Off Our Campus sought information about the College’s connection with the company who has ties to Direct Provision and the US prison system, activists had to file a Freedom of Information Request to get any details at all.

Tourism in Trinity is an internally contentious issue as any of us who have had trouble muscling through Front Gate to get to class on a sunny day will tell you. If tourist money wasn’t such a motivator for the College administration, the Take Back Trinity occupations of the Book of Kells wouldn’t have been such useful leverage in negotiations a few years ago. I’m not solely writing this to clutch my pearls, but rather to propose a possibly radical alternative to allowing a senior member of the College community to enrich himself on the non-student hoards that descend upon campus during the nice weather. What I’m suggesting is that the contract, once College has availed of “an exemption allowing it to extend the concession with Authenticity Tours until 2021 without a tender”, should be bid on by and awarded to the Student Union.

“Imagine an influx of that much money going towards the collective good of Trinity students, instead of enriching two individuals”

Prior to November 2019, TCDSU was in deficit for four years. Penny-pinching methods, such as shortening the term of the Ents Officer – one of the revenue generating Sabbatical Officers of the union – and a lowering of spending on campaigns and overall, have contributed to the first surplus in a long time. However, with Trinity Ball cancelled and other events off the table until the pandemic is over, it remains to be seen if that surplus is sustainable. Financial independence of the student union as a capitated body of the College is essential for operation, and another revenue stream would assist greatly.

If TCDSU were to take over from Authenticity Tours, it would allow for the union to provide jobs for students, as the current provider does, but in a more cooperative model. Rather than the currently somewhat-adversarial relationship between students and tourists, if TCDSU operated the tours, it would mean that weaving through crowds on your way to an exam would actually benefit the student body in tangible ways. It would go a long way towards sweetening the relationship between students, who always seem to come last with this profit-driven, often-amoral administration, and the public they are always so keen to court.

Imagine that €1.3m that was pocketed by the Assistant Junior Dean going, instead, towards helping Trinity students through union lobbying, welfare supports or defraying costs. Even before the current pandemic put a crimp in everyone’s ability to earn money, there have been many Trinity students struggling to get by financially. Even before we were all cooped up at home like it’s that week between Christmas and New Year’s that always feels like it lasts six months, there have been many of us who have been struggling with mental health and stress-related issues.

Imagine TCDSU having an influx of that kind of money to put towards supporting union members. When Repeal The Eighth came around, the Union’s budget suffered a major deficit to be able to contribute our voices to the national conversation – the only way students are allowed to officially contribute to political issues is through the SU. After all, having money to invest in lobbying for issues of vital importance to students is as crucial for a strong SU as any of the internal matters they deal with. Imagine an influx of that much money going towards the collective good of Trinity students, instead of enriching two individuals. Imagine it helping redefine the working and financial relationships between the College and TCDSU. This could be an extraordinary way forward for the College community as a whole.