Ents race: strong lead for Lynch over Nadia and Donnelly

Despite the largely similar manifestos and campaign promises of the three candidates, Lynch looks set to take the role

In this year’s race to be Trinity College Dublin Student Union’s (TCDSU) next Entertainments (Ents) Officer, students might have expected a high degree of variety in what is this year’s most-contested race. Yet throughout the past two weeks, its three candidates have shown themselves to be largely united in their emphasis on core issues of accessibility, safety and sustainability.

Given this, and the shortened campaign period last week and the postponing of Media Hustings, it might have been expected that voters would be relatively undecided in such a busy race. However, in Trinity News’ annual TCDSU sabbatical elections poll, Max Lynch has come out with a strong lead over the other two candidates. Of the 574 students polled by Trinity News, Lynch won the first preferences of 44.8% of decided voters. This places the Junior Sophister computer engineering student significantly ahead of Nadia’s 27.6% of first preferences and Ross Donnelly’s 24.2% share.

Lynch tops the poll in all faculties other than Health Sciences, where Donnelly leads at 46%.  Lynch’s popularity is highest among male students at 50.7%, but dips to 43.8% and 9.1% among female and non-binary/genderfluid students respectively. Nadia’s popularity is higher among Arts and Humanities students than with any other faculty at 31.2% and she pulls in 20.1% of male voters, 27.8% of female voters and a high 63.6% of non-binary/genderfluid voters. Donnelly remains largely consistent across genders at 23.6% among men, 24.2% among women and 18.2% among non-binary/genderfluid students.

When it comes to political affiliation, 51% of voters identifying as left wing voters (S-PBP) favour Nadia’s candidacy, with 29% preferring Lynch and only 12% opting for Donnelly. This is perhaps unsurprising – while all three candidates promised greater diversity in their ents committee at hustings, Nadia has pointed to her “strong stance” on human rights issues and called for greater TCDSU engagement with issues like Palestinian liberation and suppoprt for Syrian refugees. Overall frontrunner Lynch has been more reserved and committed only to supporting issues with overwhelming support across campus.

Accordingly, Nadia’s popularity drops to 31% and 10.6% with centre-left (Greens/SD/Labour/SF) and centre-right (FG/FF/Aontú) voters respectively. Lynch comes first with 43% of centre-left first preferences, while Donnelly and Lynch tie among centre-right voters, both at 43%.  Unsurprisingly, voters favouring Nadia tend to support more direct action by TCDSU more than those of Lynch and Donnelly, although a majority of each candidate’s voters hold this stance.

The vast majority of students polled were completely decided as to their preferred candidate, with only 29.3% undecided. Only 3.4% of decided voters favoured reopening nominations.

The Candidates

With a clear, although not unbeatable, lead in Trinity News’ poll, Max Lynch has proven himself to be a strong candidate. While more uncertainty might have been expected given the number of candidates competing to be the next ents officer, Lynch’s roles as captain of the Trinity Surf Club and a member of DUDJ may be serving him well in the race.

A “mental health advocate” and co-founder of sustainable clothing brand Mobius, Lynch stresses his experience “having organised countless large trips around Ireland and abroad” and the time-management skills he has learned from this. Unsurprisingly, he also stresses the importance of sustainability in his manifesto and promises to make this a key feature of his tenure.

Lynch has been largely consistent at hustings and has so far been the only ents candidate to organise an event as part of his campaign – his collab event with DUDJ in support of Women’s Aid was however cancelled following the tragic death of Mark Melnychuk last week.

A former computer science class rep and self-described “underdog”, Nadia has pointed to her uniqueness in the race as a “queer, POC female” who understands the financial struggles of students – “I rent myself, I know the struggles, I know how horrible it is to find a place”.

She points to her experience working with events promoter Bodytonic and hasn’t been afraid to showcase her ambitious plans for ents during the race – promising a range of large events from cultural festivals such as Holi, Eid and St. Patrick’s Day, to a drag competition involving sports captains, and a biweekly Sunday Boot Sale for secondhand clothing. She has also pointed to her experience within the SU as a class Rep – unique in this race.

However, she has struggled at times explaining how she would finance such an ambitious set of projects, stating at Equality Hustings that “Ents has a huge budget” and telling Trinity News that concerning her plan to have buses back to Halls after events, “I would need to discuss this with the JCR”. Her campaign also suffered a stumble when she was hit with a major strike for campaigning outside of allotted hours on the first day of campaigning. Neither Lynch nor Donnelly have been awarded strikes as of yet.

For his part, Ross Donnelly, a Junior Sophister computer science and business student and incumbent ents officer for Trinity Sailing, has led a solid and informed campaign. At Equality Hustings, he was the only candidate aware in advance of the Cumann Gaelach’s complaint that some events were organised without consultation or notice this year and was able to add that DU Food and Drink had made similar complaints about Ents this year.

Donnelly has focused on lowering event costs and improving engagement with societies throughout his campaign and has discussed a “live calendar model” that could improve communication between students and the Ents Committee “so that smaller, unique events don’t get swept under the rug”.

Core Issues: accessibility, safety, sustainability

Although this year’s ents race offers students a greater choice of candidates than any other, all three are largely united on the importance of improving accessibility, safety and sustainability at Ents-organised events.

When it comes to increasing accessibility in Ents, all candidates agree that venues chosen should be accessible to all students.  In last week’s Equality Hustings, Lynch highlighted that he has already been in contact with LGBT+ Rights Officer Jenny Maguire on this point and promised that “the venues we use don’t attack [LGBTQ+] people or make them feel uncomfortable”. He also claimed to have been in contact with the Disability Service over the prospect of holding a silent disco. Donnelly, for his part, returned to a point he had emphasised in his interview with Trinity News, arguing that more events on campus would help to lower costs – “the Pav is only scratching the surface”. Yet Nadia has perhaps offered the most ambitious and far-reaching approach of the three candidates to improving accessibility and inclusivity – stressing her personal experience as “an ethnic minority” and committing to providing “free earplugs for people who are sensitive to hearing” at the SU in her interview with Trinity News.

Lynch has come out strongly in favour of cheaper Ents events generally, while Nadia, more specifically, proposed at Equality Hustings a plan that would see students in receipt of SUSI or part of the DARE or HEAR schemes benefit from subsidised prices to her events. For Donnelly, holding more events on campus would be a key part of lowering ticket costs and improving transport access for students.

Donnelly’s claim at Equality Hustings that “access is key in keeping diversity” is largely representative of the race as whole – all candidates have committed to forming a more diverse Ents Committee and listening to it.

Neither is there any real disagreement when it comes to the candidates’ approaches to ensuring the safety of all students at their events. Ideas range from Lynch’s free information sessions in Freshers’ Week, to Nadia’s intention to introduce more female bouncers, and Donnelly’s desire to see safe spaces within event venues for those in need of them. Both Lynch and Nadia have discussed their intention to introduce first aid and bystander training to improve safety – although Nadia stresses that this would be open to more than just the Ents committee. Again, all candidates agree on the importance of accessible transport options when it comes to safety, although Nadia and Donnelly have perhaps been clearer on how they might achieve this – Nadia suggesting Halls buses costing “no more than a bus ticket” funded through her planned Sunday Fashion Boot Sales, while Donnelly suggests including bus costs in events’ ticketing charge.

Given his background as a co-founder of Mobius, Lynch might be seen as having an edge when it comes to pushing sustainability in the role and it is particularly prominent in his manifesto. Nonetheless, all candidates have made building a sustainable Ents a key promise in their respective campaigns.

Freshers’ Week

Throughout the race, what is perhaps most notable is the absence of Covid-19 as a talking point. This stands in stark contrast to last year’s Ents race, in which candidates Greg Arrowsmith and Antonia Brady both discussed the prospect of online events – this year’s candidates all seem confident that Covid-19 restrictions will not be a defining issue during their tenure.

Accordingly, the prospect of College’s first fully in-person Freshers’ Week since 2019 has loomed large during the race. Candidates have however differed in their approach to the period that will likely set the tone of their tenure as ents officer.

For his part, Lynch has suggested hosting a single “Freshers’ Ball” along with the normal range of events “because Freshers’ Week is so packed full of events … I think we need one unifying event”. He has also repeatedly stressed the importance of charity events beyond RAG Week to his campaign at hustings and in his manifesto – pointing to the housing crisis as an example of the type of target such charity action would have.

Nadia has complimented the success of last year’s Freshers’ Week organised by incumbent Ents Officer Greg Arrowsmith and stressed that “I respect that not everyone drinks”. In line with this, she has suggested hosting film screenings and a “concert day, like a little mini festival” for Freshers’ Week.

At Equality Hustings, this has proven to be a point of some disagreement between Nadia and Donnelly, with Donnelly responding to her suggestion that more mature students might not want to “go out drinking” by emphasising that no one is ever too old for a night out. Both Nadia and Donnelly have emphasised the importance of transport for safety during this week in particular, however.

Trinity Ball at last

When it comes to the return of Trinity Ball to the College social calendar, all three candidates have recognised the importance of the event for students who have missed out during the pandemic.

Donnelly has repeatedly drawn attention to his intention to showcase Irish and local talent at what is Europe’s largest private party – both to aid the local music industry and to keep costs low.

Both Lynch and Nadia have pointed instead to the importance of accessibility and sustainability at the event, with Lynch suggesting “recharge tents” and Nadia arguing for a cash-free Ball. Nadia has perhaps provided the most detail when it comes to the close-of-year event and has repeatedly stressed her intention to introduce safe drug testing, blankets and better access to water.

Despite the relative similarity between the candidates (both in academic background and campaign promises), Lynch’s experience in society life with DUDJ and sustainability credentials with Mobius looks likely to secure his position over an ambitious Nadia and communication-focused Donnelly. This is by no means certain however. With a week of campaigning left to go, this is still a race to play for.