The TCD Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation (PWO TCD) has denied claims of electoral misconduct and harassment made by Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU).
Yesterday, TCD PWO claimed voters had been turned away from ballot boxes at TCDSU’s postgraduate committee elections, and that there had been “no online voting option” available. The group also said that there had been no postgraduate consultation on the running of elections.
In response, TCDSU told Trinity News it planned to rerun postgraduate committee elections next week due to PWO TCD endorsing its own members as candidates, labelling it “election interference”.
Responding to these claims online today, TCD PWO said: “Allegations that PWO election canvassing violated EC [Electoral Commission] rules have no basis in any past precedent, in former EC communications, or written communications to PWO members, officials, or candidates.”
“Former PWO campaigns last year used our exact same approach openly, and this was permitted in all cases by the EC at the time”, it continued.
TCD PWO also said that if its actions had violated any rules, “then these rules have either been changed or knowingly re-interpreted by the EC without any communication”.
TCDSU has rebuffed this statement, saying that TCD PWO engaged in a “breach of election regulations yesterday”.
TCD PWO also criticised TCDSU over an alleged lack of communication, claiming it was not told the ballots were pulled as a result of any investigation into electoral conduct. “An ‘investigation’ that does not contact the PWO Trinity team that allegedly violated any rules is not an investigation,” it said.
In a statement to Trinity News today, TCDSU said: “The endorsement of candidates on behalf of recognised groups as well as the use of electronic mailing lists for this endorsement has long been banned by electoral commission rules and is interpreted as a serious breach.”
“Under normal circumstances this would have led to candidates found in breach of this to be struck from the ballot – but instead the EC ruled to rerun the election to allow for the PWO to run their candidates again in a fair manner which was communicated to PWO representatives in a meeting yesterday.”
They continued by acknowledging “that postgraduate voters were informed that the ballots had run out on instructions from the EC while an investigation was being undertaken”.
“This was taken to ensure undue panic was not caused and with the hope the investigation would resolve all issues within 30 minutes.”
However, “it was deemed that the election would have been unduly influenced and would disadvantage other candidates on the ballot”, which TCDSU said “would’ve required sufficient action to ensure free and fair elections”.
TCDSU also said yesterday it was “extremely disappointed by the behaviour of some PWO members who harassed polling clerks in-person”.
TCD PWO denied these claims and said that it has “received no evidence from the Electoral Commission with regard to any (let alone multiple) claims of harassment by PWO members”.
TCD PWO also said TCDSU chose to “air their allegations in student media” without investigating the matter. PWO TCD went on to express its frustration with the union’s failure to verify that the accused were PWO members.
TCDSU defended its stance today, saying it “stands by the victims of this behaviour and strives to ensure the welfare of all Union members, postgraduate or undergraduate, is protected.”
“These allegations will be rightfully referred to the Junior Dean for independent investigation as any allegation of a breach of the Dignity and Respect policy must be investigated. It is our duty of care to our members that this will be done.”
TCD PWO then called on the EC to initiate an “evidence-based” investigation into claims of harassment and retract its initial statement until this investigation is complete.
The organisation says that they have sent an email to the EC requesting for a return to a good faith approach, open communications, and to move on. TCD PWO says that this email has been ignored.
TCDSU denies these claims saying: ”The PWO and representatives of the TCDSU sabbatical board as well as a member of the EC met in the aforementioned meeting yesterday at 4:30 to discuss the issues at hand.”
“The result of which was an amicable agreement to rerun the election as well as an apology offered on behalf of the PWO executive addressing the election interference allegations.”
In a statement posted to Twitter, TCDSU President László Molnárfi, who asked Trinity News to note his dissent to the TCDSU statement last night, called for undergraduate students to stand in solidarity with the PWO and TCD PWO.
He said: “It is crucial that undergraduate students stand in solidarity with
@PWO_Ireland @PWO_TCD demands for a living wage and workers’ rights, especially as we inch closer to postgraduate researchers taking disruptive action.”
“Firstly, because the same system that exploits postgraduate researchers is the same system that charges unaffordable tuition fees, increases rents and underfunds student services. We are fighting the same neoliberal and austerity-driven approach to academia” he continued.
He noted that “staff working conditions are student learning conditions”, and “postgraduate researchers work as teaching assistants for meagre pay, are overworked and stressed”.
He believes “solidarity is the only way for us to stand up to this government and their neoliberal approach that causes undeniable harm to our communities and perpetuates social murder”.
“Solidarity is when we support each other even if we are not directly involved” he concluded.
TCDSU concluded their statement by saying: “We have expressed to the PWO our solidarity in their cause and following our meeting yesterday have already agreed to their demands set out in their open letter.”
“We believe we are working in good faith, and it is in that good faith that we hold all members of the college community accountable for actions that cause undue stress on students.”
They also “hope that the PWO can reconsider their communication strategies with the TCDSU while keeping in mind that we are all fighting for the same cause”, which they say are “improvements to the education system and for the betterment of the welfare of students”.