Education Race: Gilroy secures a comprehensive lead though a large proportion of voters remain undecided

Ó hEidhin will have to appeal to large quantity of undecided voters in order to catch up to Gilroy

For the first time since 2021, this year’s sabbatical elections featured an education race which was contested by more than one candidate, laying the grounds for a more divisive and polarising race. Both candidates held starkly opposing visions on the future of the Union, with Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) Convenor Eoghan Gilroy and and Deputy STEM Convenor Sé Ó hEidhin offering suggestions of increased student outreach and total union reform respectively, promising a close cut race that would hinge on where the preferences of the student body lay. However, despite Gilroy securing a comfortable lead ahead of Ó hEidhin, a large portion of voters remain undecided, according to Trinity News polling.

Gilroy’s stolid stance on bolstering education resources and increasing student engagement with the union appears to have appealed widely as polling data finds that 65.7% of decided voters gave him their first preference vote. Accordingly, Ó hEidhin’s bold call for the union to “touch grass” appears to not have been as popular, with 26% of the first preference votes.

With 44.6% of voters in the poll remaining undecided, the race is still very much in anyone’s hands. Poll data suggests Ó hEidhin will have an onerous task in closing the wide margin between themselves and Gilroy by winning the favour of the vast majority of undecided students. However this may prove to be too difficult and too late.

Faculty support

Although Gilroy maintains a lead over Ó hEidhin across all demographics, Ó hEidhin’s vote is strongest among STEM students with 40.68% of first preferences, possibly due to their role as deputy STEM convenor. While Gilroy received 47.46% among STEM students, this is the closest margin between the two candidates, giving Ó hEidhin the opportunity to pull ahead.

While Ó hEidhin may have the chance to win over undecided STEM students, they face a considerably larger gap to catch up to Gilroy in the health sciences faculty, where Gilroy leads with 81.82% of the votes. Gilroy’s decisive lead amongst this category may be linked to his policies on improving response times to emails, an issue that nursing and midwifery students have reported difficulties on in the past.

However, both STEM and health sciences students did not respond to the polls anywhere near as much as AHSS students (67% of responses), where Gilroy sees his strongest lead. The AHSS unsurprisingly received 67.8% of first preference votes, compared to 24.3% for Ó hEidhin.

Political persuasions

While Gilroy maintains a lead with voters of all political positions, this lead is considerably smaller  amongst voters who identified as being left-wing, where Gilroy and Ó hEidhin received 47.37% and 40.35% of first preference votes respectively. 

This gap widens as voters consider themselves to be more politically right, with Gilroy managing to secure 77.14% of centre-right voters. Such polling data indicates a more radicalised voting base for Ó hEidhin, while Gilroy comfortably appeals to the broad central majority. 

The lack of disparity between voters with and without experience on the union reflects that both of these candidates are well acquainted with the union, and means that, unlike many other races this year, neither candidate will be able to rely on superior union experience to bolster their campaign. 

Campaign Policies

Both Gilroy and Ó hEidhin have faced a balancing act between political issues and obligations as education officers throughout campaigns. At the Dining Hall hustings, both candidates were much more concerned with problems relating to outreach and engagement. Ó hEidhin’s only reference to education policy during this hustings was to call on the college to “fix lecture recordings”, before repeating some of their campaign mantras, such as getting the union to “touch grass” and reform union structures.

While Gilroy has also spent time discussing policies not specific to education, such as “getting the union out of Teach a Sé”, he also honed in on some of his flagship campaign promises. Explicit proposals of swift response to student emails and policy creation with regards to AI will likely have appealed to students in a way that Ó hEidhin failed to consider. 

Further questioning about these flagships proposals from Gilroy, however, has revealed the rhetoric of a candidate possibly hoping to decide the finer details if elected. While promising to respond to all emails within a day without the use of automated replies, Gilroy has admitted he does not know exactly how emails the education officer receives a day beyond an awareness it fluctuates in line with assessment seasons. Questions about his plans to introduce comprehensive AI policy across faculties have also so far revealed a lack of ideas on what those policies should be, although he himself notes that those within the faculties themselves will know best.

Ó hEidhin’s campaign stood to gain where they had the opportunity to place emphasis on their unique campaign proposition of fundamentally altering the structure of the union, something which Gilroy was not focused on. They have consistently called out the union for perceived shortcomings, promising to “take a sledgehammer” to the union.

However, a failure to address how the mechanism to achieve this would have aligned with their other campaign promises and inconsistencies in calling out the union on more specific educational policies may have shot them in the foot. At media hustings, for example, when asked how their proposed welfare and academic senate would work better than council, Ó hEidhin instead emphasised that “anything would be better than what we have now” rather than promoting their plans. Furthermore, at council hustings, when asked what they would do differently from other education officers to introduce a “working student status”, Ó hEidhin said they “wouldn’t do anything different”. This may have thrown off voters hoping to see more decisive action taken regarding the union reform Ó hEidhin has promised. Indeed, out of the voters who said they did not feel well represented by the union, 75% of them gave their first preference vote to Gilroy.

Politicising the education officer

The difference between Gilroy and Ó hEidhin is most clearly seen when wider political issues have been addressed, revealing one candidate who may simply follow the lead of others if elected and another who seemingly wants to lead the charge. When asked about politicising the union, Gilroy admitted he “does not know where he stands on this issue”. Conversely, Ó hEidhin has emphasised that “education is a political role”. 

This political difference revealed a rhetoric strength from Ó hEidhin that may not have influenced voters’ decisions yet but may have influenced Gilroy’s approach to education and politics over the campaign period. When both candidates were asked about their opinions on cutting ties with Israeli institutions at welfare and equality hustings, Gilroy’s reasonably strong promise to put pressure on College was overpowered by Ó hEidhin’s bold proclamation that “we are past the point of talking” and promised to take direct action. 

Perhaps aware that he would not break ground in political issues compared to Ó hEidhin, Gilroy later took the opportunity to promote when an education officer shouldn’t be political. At media hustings, when asked about balancing political campaigns with the obligations of the role, such as day-to-day casework, Ó hEidhin echoed previous beliefs that “you need to look at welfare issues through a political lens”. Gilroy, meanwhile, took a hard stance: “It’s all very well and good doing direct action, but if students are going through a shit time, that’s more important.” 

Where Ó hEidhin has diverged from focusing on education for favour of political mobilisation, Gilroy has built his campaign on foundational promises alluding to different areas of education in Trinity. 

Gilroy’s flagship campaign policies have been his promise to ensure all students get a reply to their emails within one working day, as well as a vow to improve the college’s “laissez-faire” approach to AI. Gilroy received the opportunity to further explore this at the media hustings, where he remarked that the “College has been lazy in their approach to dealing with AI”. This offered Gilroy’s campaign a breath of fresh air in the form of holding the College to account, something which is conspicuously absent in his policies on the Irish language and inequality, where he opts for the safer middle ground of working “with the college”.

A final push for undecided voters

From the outset of this race, it has been clear that both candidates running are experienced union members. Furthermore, both candidates seem to be looking for a substantial change in the union: Ó hEidhin speaks of total reform, while Gilroy pushes to expand awareness of the union beyond the steps of Teach a Sé.

The deciding factor throughout the campaign, however, seems to have been whether students are looking for a change targeted at their educational needs, or one that is more broadly encompassing and will alter the very structure of the union itself.

Although the education officer race remains very much undecided, Gilroy’s candidacy, which offers an accessible route to tangible change within the union, has resonated with students, while Ó hEidhin’s broad-reaching strategy to entirely restructure the union has not. Ó hEidhin will have to convince undecided students they are offering something substantive and attainable.

Conor Healy

Conor Healy is the Deputy News Editor of Trinity News and is currently in his Senior Freshman Year studying Law and Political Science