Questions about engagement, transparency and Postgraduate issues dominate Media Hustings

Candidates faced questions from the Editors of Trinity News and the University Times in the Uí Chadain theatre this afternoon

The third Hustings of the TCDSU sabbatical election campaign took place in the Uí Chadhain theatre this afternoon. Questions were posed to candidates by the editors of Trinity News and the University Times. Questions focused on a range of issues including union engagement, transparency and student safety. 


Presidential candidate Zöe Cummins reiterated her points of student focus and inclusion in today’s Media Hustings. When questioned on the two occasions last semester that Council failed to reach quorum and the dwindling student engagement with the TCDSU, Cummins said that she believes the “structures aren’t in place to work for students”. 

“We have the best intentions but we can lose sight of what our goal is, we need more open forums, more town halls”, noted the current Education officer. Additionally, the candidates were asked about attracting students from non-arts academic backgrounds into the union. Cummins suggested directly approaching students instead of expecting them to approach the union to get involved, “I think the issue is we reach out to students to come and get involved but it should be the other way around. We should be where the students are and going to students as opposed to having them come to us.” 

Cummins was also asked about where they stand on holding a student referendum regarding Irish reunification. She stated that she’d be in favour of running a referendum if it’s “what the students wanted. Yes, I’d run a referendum. I think it should come from students first. I think it should be more than one student’s motion. Again it comes down to barriers in our constitution.” 

Cummins was also asked about engagement with the union and ethical investments. She noted that “you have to be able to engage with committees” and be “as transparent as possible. When students aren’t being heard, that’s where you bring direct action”.

Asked how he would increase engagement with students who don’t care about the union, the second presidential candidate László Molnárfi said that the problem is the “ideological approach of the union of turning away from students”. To change this he  promised to “set up a president’s email,” and organise a “dedicated day” each week to increase engagement. 

On the topic of post graduates, Molnárfi pledged his support for the “fair research agreement,” and said the union needs “to stand in solidarity, not take over, support protests, support strikes”. He added: “There’s a dual approach we can take. One target college, Two target government.”

Asked if he would be in favour of the union holding a referendum on officially supporting a United Ireland, Molnárfi said that he would be in favour and noted that UCD, DCU and UL have held such a referendum. He said the referendum wouldn’t be about enacting national change but would “start a debate”. He said that re-unification is “inevitable” and added: “We might as well be prepared as a community to engage in the dialogue.” 

On the topic of environmental impact, Molnárfi pledged to “look into the food waste in the Buttery”, and to “move class rep training to on campus”. He also commented on ties that Trinity has with “Israeli Universities involved in war industry,” which he claimed is the “world’s number one polluter”. 

Addressing ties between college catering services and companies such as Sodexo that are linked to direct provision, Molnárfi brought up his work with Trinity Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). He said: “In 2021 I put forth a freedom of information request which showed Trinity’s investments in the war industry. BDS took direct action and eventually Trinity gave up their investments in the war industry.” He said that the union needs to hold a public campaign on the involvement of Sodexo in catering service. “We need to take direct action in the case that our needs aren’t met,” he added. 

When asked how she planned to engage disinterested students in the TCDSU, candidate Tilly Schaaf remarked on how the students “just have not felt the impact of the union”, admitting that she herself cannot “speak whatever the union’s language is”. Schaaf went on to say that “whatever is talked about by students should be talked about in council in the same way”. 

She also discussed how the mechanics by which the TCDSU operates could prevent other students from engaging in the union: “Currently you need ten seconds to raise a motion in council. All of these things make people think that they are going to get close to raising an issue but never actually take it all the way. It is the duty of the student union to make sure that they see the end of it as well.”

She also emphasised that “if we have a referendum it is the duty of the SU that people see the effects of it as closely as possible “.

Responding to a question regarding the utilisation of college finances, Schaaf was quick to mention the “70 million currently registered as other funds by the college. The college can’t have credibility without transparency”, Schaaf said, “For them to stand and be accountable to us, they must have transparent finance”.

She called on the college to “Teach us where to put our money in a way that doesn’t endanger human rights”. On the controversial topic of the reunification of Ireland, Schaaf said that she “would support that”, but also added that she would “make sure also that people are being challenged”. 

“Irish unity is looking unavoidable, we’re moving closer and closer to it , we should engage in that dialogue.”

Schaaf also highlighted the importance of issues like these being raised in a college atmosphere: “A lot of the big revolutions would’ve started with students using these four years that they have to commit to these opinions”, and commented on how it is “good practice for colleges to have culture referendums”. 

When asked how to engage more students in protests, Schaaf said it was important to “channel as many peoples full momentum into the same place”, clarifying that “the point is to be as direct as possible”.

“We are students, we speak their language.” Schaaf concluded, “Whatever the SU is doing should directly reflect what you would ask any given student what [they] are annoyed about.”


Sole education candidate Catherine Arnold was first asked how they plan to introduce a student senate when “student engagement with the union remains at its lowest level in recent years”. Arnold argued that the introduction of the student senate has “huge impacts for the engagement in and of itself”. Arnold explained that the proposed senate will be “combined in terms of council members, staff members, any student who wants to come by”. Arnold hopes to establish a “feedback loop” where students “will be able to engage and build policy long term” and “see policy be enacted”. 

When asked how they plan to work with the Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation (PWO) and if they had a distinct plan for taught postgraduate students versus research-based postgraduate students, Arnold said that “there is this gap that the PWO can’t fully engage on, the academic board”. Arnold explained that the introduction of two part-time postgraduate officers in TCDSU will allow postgraduate students to have “a voice in policy”. Arnold added that if postgraduate students “are being paid for their work, they have real incentive to get their voice out there”. 

Arnold was asked who they have consulted to make the decolonisation of the curriculum become a reality. Based on work conducted during their second year in the Philosophy department, Arnold explained that “the department realised they have loads of energy to decolonise the curriculum but they don’t really know the steps to go about it”.

They suggested creating “college-wide policy non-specific to any department”. Arnold believes that a college-wide policy for all departments will provide guidelines on how to create a more “holistic education”.

When asked how they plan to run upskilling courses considering students’ limited time and resources, Arnold first pointed to the current success of barista training, which is organised by the communications and marketing officer. Arnold said that “there is a lot of energy around [upskilling courses], I want to make it streamlined and efficient”. 

According to Arnold, the main hurdle for student upskilling is a lifestyle clash: “People sign up to classes, but their timetables clash, and they don’t go.” Arnold explained plans to introduce upskilling forms on the TCDSU website to “provide this training all throughout the year at different times to people who want them”. 

Welfare and Equality

Sole candidate for welfare and equality officer Aoife Bennett was questioned on her plan to work with the HSE and USI to advertise STI testing at home kits, she confirmed that collaboration with the Communications and Marketing officer would be necessary. 

She said that she felt welfare and equality also falls under this jurisdiction as “welfare is looking after people’s sexual health”. In terms of how this partnership might be structured, she stated that she “would like to work with the comms officer to run a test drive during freshers week. A good way to promote engagement is through our Instagram” and “through emails”.

She emphasised that the groundwork for many policies has already been laid when speaking on which initiatives would have priority for implementation. She noted that “consent workshops have been held” and “queer sex-ed was run in April over Zoom” and that her focus is to amplify them and “make them more concrete and something that is there every important year”. 

She also finds diversity-planning with the CSC feasible as she intends to “collaborate with the committees” who she notes as “the ones receiving the training to make their societies more inclusive and accessible”.

When questioned on providing diversity training and making contact with the CSC, Bennett admitted that while she hasn’t “talked with the CSC yet” she “would like to work with them because there is a model in place already”. Once again, she points to collaboration as one of her campaign’s core values, in addition to highlighting her experience since she carried out diversity training out at halls. Although difficult to mandate, especially in her first year, she plans to ensure societies have “the right tools to encourage their society members”.

Regarding the concern surrounding the unsustainable sourcing and content of period products, Bennett intends to “look into sustainable alternatives that are positive” while also acknowledging the importance of finding a balance as not all students will be comfortable using a menstrual cup. Accordingly, she plans to provide pads and tampons as well as sustainable options, deeming the issue “really important”.

Communications and Marketing

Following her absence at the TCDSU Equality/Council Hustings, the uncontested communications and marketing candidate Aiesha Wong  answered questions at Media Hustings this afternoon.

When asked on where the line would be drawn with advertising and sponsorship, specifically considering if an advertiser’s stances were viewed as controversial, Wong noted that “we should be accepting sponsorship and brands that don’t go against the current student union’s policy”.

“There’s a lot of public outrage and being cancelled and cancel culture. It’s very hard because it’s very subjective sometimes.” Wong emphasised that it is very important to hear what “the actual student body thinks”.

When discussing the diverse representation of language, including the Irish language, Wong stated: “I want to promise things that are practical.There should be more focus on having Irish workshops” Wong added that Irish should be represented in the communications and marketing  role “even if it’s just a dia dhuit”.

As a consistent point in Wong’s campaign, both in her manifesto and previous hustings, Wong was questioned on how she sought to increase engagement with the union despite the dwindling nature of student engagement. 

“I think the main reason that people don’t engage with the union is because people feel it’s not for them,” Wong stated that in her own experience, she saw the members of the council as “people who did secondary school debating”. Wong emphasised her focus on “demystifying the union,” stating that: “I have that experience as someone who’s an outsider.”

Finally, when asked to consider where the line lay between collaborating or taking over Trinity societies, Wong assured that “you can support societies without taking them over”. She noted that “the student’s union already collaborates with societies, and they do it in a way that doesn’t take over. It’s very easy to collaborate without controlling”.

Entertainment (ENTs)

Nadia was unable to attend Media Hustings.

When asked about the future of Trinity Ball, Kelly said that forcing Trinity Ball to be on campus when there is not sufficient capacity could actually be “screwing over” those students who will be unable to attend as a result. He wants the organisation of Trinity Ball to be a “collaborative student-led experience”, and have “more engagement with as many students as possible through sports and through societies”.

When asked about measures for student safety, Kelly said that while cup caps and having routes home are important to have “tangible measures” in place. As well as making events safer, this will lead to increased awareness and student feedback due to transparency in communication: “people are in trouble they will be more likely to reach out, because it is not an unknown thing”.

Kelly emphasised his Ents handbook, which he wants to help societies and sports clubs to run better independent events. He believes the handbook will help in “empowering students” and increase collaborations,  creating “more interesting themed events when you take away the alcohol you leave more room for arts and crafts and more events”. He says these are not a second choice for students, they are just a different type of event.

Finally, when asked how he would get his Google forms and safety procedures to reach the wider student population, Kelly suggested a move away from the current emphasis on social media via QR codes on posters; “having posters around campus where you can see safety procedures, see visual reminders as opposed to just showing up”.

When asked about plans for Trinity Ball 2024, Olivia Orr said she is currently working in her capacity as Ents treasurer to ensure that it will be held on campus and “that there are a lot of different avenues that we can go down to make sure T-Ball stays on campus,” but if it has to be moved to a different venue, it will be advertised early and it will “be very important to say, for example, that we’ll have buses to bring people back into town”. 

When asked about nightlife safety and offering students cup protectors at nighttime events, Orr said they “don’t think it’s adequate enough” and promised to install a welfare officer and an accessibility officer to Ents who will focus on how events can promote safety and accessibility respectively. She explained plans to introduce a “report form” that she and the welfare officer will check regularly. These forms will be accessible via QR code in various locations such as in bathrooms at venues. She also promised to run “infographics pre-event so people know what to do and who to contact so people know what spiking looks like”. 

When asked about the concern that daytime events might lack the enthusiasm of nighttime ones, she promises that they aren’t “a second option, it’s just including a wider range of events”. In her current position as treasurer, she is trying to get live alcohol free events in the Buttery and trying to introduce more recreational sport options such as yoga on the cricket pitch.

When asked about how to inform people of events and safety procedures, Orr said she hopes to continue posting on social media and sending out more emails. She will also work to get student feedback, not just from “an Instagram link or submission form”, but also by “taking suggestions in through boxes around campus and in House 6” and holding Ents office hours on the ground floor of House 6. 

The University Times (UT)

When asked about recovering UT’s reputation after years of facing “scandal after scandal”, sole UT candidate Roche said that she “definitely believes” the paper’s reputation is redeemable.

She pointed to her manifesto promise to appoint a board of advisors, saying that this could mend the internal issues with UT, while externally, she emphasised the importance of moving UT’s presence “outside of House 6” and improving “transparency and accessibility” through these efforts.

When questioned about what she will do to address legacy issues within the paper, such as the loss of over half of its staff this year, Roche expressed the hope that many of these would return “under different leadership”, saying that many staff who left the paper are in younger years.

She said that she wants to emphasise that “you can write for more than one publication on campus. People could take their experience from other publications to UT.”

On postgraduate representation within UT, Roche reiterated that she thinks one of the things that UT did well this year was reporting on postgraduate issues, saying, “hopefully the fact that we had such good postgraduate coverage this year will encourage postgraduate students to get involved”.

She stressed that postgraduates have as valid of “a need to contribute to the media as undergraduates”. To address this issue, Roche proposed more widespread advertisement of available positions as well the appointment of a “postgraduate correspondent to make sure that there’s somebody on staff to keep those issues covered”.

When questioned about what she will do to address legacy issues within the paper if elected, such as the loss of over half of its staff this year, Roche expressed the hope that many of these would return “under different leadership”, saying that many staff who left the paper are in younger years.

She highlighted that many former staff had migrated to other publications on campus and said that people could take this experience and bring it to UT to “hopefully restore the quality of the staff”.

On postgraduate representation within UT, Roche reiterated that she thinks one of the things that UT did well this year was reporting on postgraduate issues, saying, “hopefully the fact that we had such good postgraduate coverage this year will encourage postgraduate students to get involved”.

She stressed that postgraduates have as valid of “a need to contribute to the media as undergraduates”. To address this issue, Roche proposed more widespread advertisement of available positions as well the appointment of a “postgraduate correspondent to make sure that there’s somebody on staff to keep those issues covered”.

The final Hustings in the 2023 TCDSU Sabbatical elections will take place in Trinity Hall on Monday at 6pm. Voting in the elections opens Tuesday morning with results announced on Thursday March 2. 

Reporting by Kate Henshaw, Ellen Kenny, Eva O’Beirne, David Wolfe, Ella Sloane, Adam Balchin, Aidan Cusack, Evan Skidmore O’Reilly, Sofia Ferrari-Bravo, Rose Heaney, Charlotte Kent, Faye Madden, Conor Healy, Miriam Treitinger, Holly Thompson, Ella McGill, Madison Pitman, Ruby Topalian, Jayna Rohslau, Emily Sheehan, Alan Nolan Wilson, Corinne Mahon and Stephen Conneely. 

How are you planning to vote in the election? Fill out Trinity News’ poll and help us understand how students feel.

Update: This article was corrected on February 24 at 7.11pm to amend Molnárfi’s comment on College’s ties with Sodexo.