President Race: “Traditional Student Radical” László Molnárfi wants to take the union back the grassroots

Current School of Social Science and Philosophy Convenor László Molnárfi wants to initiate a “change in political strategy” within the union

When it comes to student activism, László Molnárfi is no rookie. School of Social Sciences and Philosophy (SSP) Convenor, Chairperson of Students4Change, and Secretary of  Trinity’s Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions movement (Trinity BDS), Molnárfi has been part of the student movement for three years now. What sets him apart from the other candidates? Molnárfi sees himself as a “traditional student radical” within a union that he feels has become “too cosy with the authorities”.

On his decision to run, the Junior Sophister philosophy, political science, economics and sociology  (PPES) student told Trinity News: “For me, what is really important is students’ wellbeing. A lot of us are struggling to pay for groceries, you know, to make ends meet, etc. So I would like to tackle these issues as students union president and bring our students’ union back to the grassroots.”

Hungarian born Molnárfi moved to Dublin from Belgium in 2020 to study at Trinity. On his first day in Dublin, he was inspired to get involved with the student union following an encounter with a homeless student. “He told me about the terrible conditions here in Ireland in terms of the financial system, and how this government keeps exploiting students and staff, you know, they see us as mere numbers, as cash cows, and that’s when I decided to get involved in activism,” Molnárfi told Trinity News.

Molnárfi criticised the union for maintaining a “friendly relationship with senior management” instead of taking direct action, something he believes has hurt engagement. He feels that not enough is being done to seek engagement from students, describing the union as “turning inwards” to committees rather than engaging with students at a grassroot level. He also highlighted the lack of protests and public campaigns being organised by the union, which he attributed to the union being “co-opted into college bureaucracy”. Molnárfi specifically criticised the unions’ lack of response to the rise in fees for non-EU students which was announced in 2022. 

“Our union didn’t leak it to the press, our union didn’t hold a protest, what they did was, three weeks later, they had a photoshoot,” he said. He equally feels that the union isn’t speaking out enough about staff working conditions, calling it a “scandal”. He said: “ 50% of our workforce is casualized, that means that our teachers are on bad contracts, on short term contracts, are underpaid. And, of course, this affects the quality of education.” He added that by fighting for current teachers, the union would also be fighting for students who are considering a future career in academia. 

He also criticised the allocation of the students union budget, particularly the decision to hold class rep training in a hotel, which he claims costs the union €25,000. Having attended training himself this year, Molnárfi pointed out the poor attendance due to the reps having to attend work or other prior commitments. “It’s an extremely inaccessible way to do the training,” he said. As president, Molnárfi would move the training to on campus and refocus the budget, using the funds on other projects such as translating the TCDSU website into Irish. “There are better ways to spend €25,000 than an expensive hotel,” he added. 

Molnárfi similarly criticised the Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI), which he feels acts “more like an NGO ” than a union. However, he clarified that he still believes USI membership is important. Telling Trinity News, Molnárfi explained: “We as [Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU)]  can actually have an impact on the USI. If we, you know, just quit, we won’t have any say at all.” Instead of leaving the national union, the best political strategy in Molnárfi’s eyes is to “agitate” the union. As a possible solution to USI’s deficiencies, Molnárfi suggests the adoption of universal suffrage. “If all students vote for the USI executive officers, that will make it more democratic and that will also result in increased engagement. If there’s increased engagement, then the USI will be much more confident in taking to the streets with marches and protests,” he added. 

When asked how he would increase engagement if elected, Molnárfi proposed turning the campaigns committee into a town hall, stating that what the union currently lacks is “mass participatory democracy.” If elected he also promises to “make himself available” in buildings such as the Hamiliton and the Arts Building for “open work sessions” with students. And to create a president’s email, which would  include public campaigns, petitions to sign and protests to go to. Setting a “trade union’s day” is another goal of Molnárfi’s. This would involve inviting several Irish trade unions on to campus to talk to students and give out flyers. “The best thing students can do is raise awareness and show that solidarity,” he said. 

Dealing with the cost of living is a top priority for Molnárfi, with several points on his manifesto addressing the issue. His plans include setting up a food bank on campus where students can donate and take non-perishables as a form of “mutual aid”, and  working towards providing free period products on campus. He also intends to campaign against the “elitist and discriminatory” ban on outside food in the Buttery and the Dining Hall. To deal with the 25% of catering prices, Molnárfi suggested that College should subsidise food “so that any meal doesn’t cost more than five euros like in UCD”. 

When asked how a budget for such policies could be found, Molnárfi said that “There is money. Right? It’s just that the priorities aren’t necessarily in the right places”. He pointed to the profits that Trinity makes from “investments that may not necessarily be ethical,” and criticised College for using the money for “fancy buildings” to uphold a “certain aesthetic” rather than on improving student services. In particular, he pointed to the “underfunded and understaffed” Student Counselling Service and the lack of floodlights on campus. “Trinity is building Trinity E3. They spent hundreds of millions euros on that, but they can’t get floodlights, you know, for students at night? It’s a joke,” he added.

A campaign to prepare students to take “radical action for lower rents” is also among Molnárfi’s plans. He condemned Trinity for making profits “of up €10 million” on accommodation. “Students are increasingly unable to afford accommodation and Trinity is complicit in this,” he said. Asked to specify what “radical action” would consist of, Molnárfi listed occupations, protests, petitions, and even a rent strike as possible measures. “Nothing must be off the table,” he added.  However, Molnárfi  doesn’t believe that the union will be ready for such action during the course of his presidency “since the union hasn’t really had practice with direct action in a while”. Instead, he believes this strategy is something he could “build towards” as TCDSU President. 

He also plans to bring a referendum to Council to have the union formally take a position of no confidence in the current coalition government. When asked if this would conflict with the apolitical nature of the union, he called the apolitical status “very immature”, claiming that the union is “by definition political”. He added: “ We have acted politically before with repeal the 8th, the BDS and great things have come out of that. And so claiming that we are apolitical, I think doesn’t make sense. We are not.” In order to allow the union to take more political action, Molnárfi intends to reform article 1.4 of the constitution, calling it “fuzzy”. However he clarified that he does not believe the union should be affiliated with any one political party. “The union is a political body, but it is independent and non affiliated, just as I am,” he said.

Another goal of Molnárfi’s is to work with the Sports Union, Central Societies Committee (CSC), and Trinity Publications  to create a “strategic plan with shared goals” and help them maintain their independence. He criticised the way the current union engages with the other capitated bodies claiming the union has a “sense of superiority” that is  “unproductive”. He suggests that the union “adopt a much more diplomatic and cooperative approach” towards the other capitated bodies. “We’re stronger together,” he added. “So it makes no sense to be sort of fighting with each other.” Molnárfi hopes that situations like the recent sports levy referendum can be  avoided in future. He attributes the failure of the Students4Change backed referendum to poor communication, saying what he and other Council members had taken as a “symbolic motion” was seen differently by the Sports Union because TCDSU didn’t consult them on time, something he called “unacceptable”. He added: “If I’m elected president, every time that a motion comes to Council, and it concerns the CSC, or it concerns the Sports Union, like, I’ll give them a text message, you know, it’s not that hard to do.”

Despite his harsh criticism of the union, Molnárfi clarified that his issues were not directed at the current sabbatical officers, but instead at an “institutional legacy”. He added: “It’s not that our sabbatical officers are not working hard. It’s that they are working hard on the wrong things.” He particularly commended current TCDSU President Gabi Fullam for her  anti-racist work, particularly for her “push” to rename the Berkeley Library which he says “started a conversation about the colonial roots of academia”. If elected, he wishes to continue Fullams’s momentum in “decolonising” College, which he says will require looking into hiring practices in which there is a racial imbalance. 

Molnárfi also plans to work with the health sciences faculty to look into the matter of racism within healthcare which he described as a “huge issue”. Additionally, he promises to oppose the introduction of  exam monitoring software Proctorio, calling it “a disgraceful piece of software”. His long list of issues with the software included its failure to recognise the faces of people of colour as well as privacy issues. Molnárfi also accused the software company of silencing critics with “frivolous lawsuits”. On the topic of  support for the LGBTQ+ community on campus, Molnárfi stressed the importance of prompting information on trans healthcare, calling it a top priority due the “severe attacks” on the trans community in the media. He also promised to continue the Irish Times boycott due their “transphobic editorials” and to promote the T-fund.

Concluding, Molnárfi said: “For the past two years, I’ve been hearing students say our union isn’t doing anything, our union is performative. Our union is posturing. Our union doesn’t take action on our material issues.” 

He added: “But we can change that. Right. We can transform our union from this sort of moderate, sort of too cosy with the authorities, sort of milquetoast opposition into a grassroots organisation that fights for us. If elected, together with other students, we will transform the union, take it back to the grassroots.”

Charlotte Kent

Charlotte Kent is the Co-News Editor at Trinity News and a Senior Freshman PPES Student.