Education Race: Sé Ó hEidhin on removing barriers to education and making the union “touch grass”

The deputy STEM convenor hopes to “take a sledgehammer” to the insular institution of TCDSU

Like many sabbat hopefuls before them, Senior Sophister Chemical and Molecular Modelling student Sé Ó hEidhin is no stranger to student politics. However, not all those hopefuls have been in and out of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) for seven years.

“I think that all of this experience is going to help me the most if I get the job… this won’t be my crown jewel, this won’t be the one thing I did in Trinity,” they said.

Currently serving as deputy STEM convenor of the union and the chair of Diversity in STEM, Ó hEidhin has held many roles with the union, including academic senator for chemistry for two years, ethnic minorities officer and a member of the Education Committee for three years.

Alongside this, they were also the logistics organiser for Take Back Trinity and a founding member of Trinity Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (Trinity BDS).

Now, in their bid for education officer, Ó hEidhin thinks they would bring a “wide-ranging perspective” based on years of experience to the role.

“When I came in, originally, I got really, really into the SU and loved it and my education officer when I came in was Alice McPherson,” they said. “She’s the person who convinced me to stick by Trinity and that it was worth it, that the SU was useful and that we could help.”

“I was completely disenfranchised with the SU”

However, Ó hEidhin does not shy away from noting perceived failures of the union at the time, quitting two years later: “I was completely disenfranchised with the SU.”

“I was like, ‘It’s regressive and terrible and awful, and nothing is ever going to change with it’.”

In the interim period, Ó hEidhin immersed themselves within student societies serving as treasurer of the Literary Society for two years, helping found the Pagan Society and eventually becoming chair. They also served as the Inclusions Officer for the Sign Language Society.

It was through encouragement from current sabbatical officers that saw Ó hEidhin reenter the realm of student politics.

“Last year, László [Molnárfi] and Cat [Arnold] chatted to me, they kind of dragged me out of retirement because they were looking for someone who remembered what the SU was like pre-Covid,” they said. “I was kind of the only person who was left still around.”

As education officer, Ó hEidhin would help the union “touch grass” and increase accessibility and transparency: “If you’re a student who comes in, goes to your lectures and leaves, you don’t know what the union does.”

Ó hEidhin states in their manifesto that they plan to carry out a “fit for purpose institutional reform” of the union. Their involvement in the Engagement Working Group (EWG) has seen them spend a term working on “how to make council accessible.”

“It got to the point where I sat down and was like, can we just abolish council?” they said.

“Like, we’re changing everything about [engagement]. And [council] doesn’t work. And we know why it doesn’t work. Can we just, like, abolish it?”

“It got to the point where I sat down and was like, can we just abolish council?”

Ó hEidhin continued saying: “I’m willing to give a year to take a sledgehammer and just smash out the inside of the SU and build it up to have the correct functions. Like I’m willing to put in the time and the energy and like the institutional knowledge to do that and be like, it’s done now.”

Ó hEidhin doesn’t believe you need to “force politicisation of the union in this day and age.”

“I think when we’re in the rent crisis we’re in, I think when we’re in the cost of living crisis we’re in, it would be negligent to not be political about it,” they said.

“But on the other hand, I think that there are better methods that we could use.”

They noted how clearly defining when the union is protesting something done by College or “protesting something that the government did that forced College to do something” is key.

“If we want change, you need to aim your direct action correctly,” they said.

“Direct action and politics, like making political statements, and all of that are extremely powerful tools that need to be used with discretion.”

The sabbat hopeful said removing barriers to education is a central aspect of their manifesto. They have promised to introduce a “working student status”, an idea they acknowledged was previously proposed by current Education Officer Arnold.

Ó hEidhin said that an issue with manifestos is the repetition of ideas: “The problem with manifestos to an extent is that [a policy] can be on three officers in a row’s manifestos because College isn’t going to do it – you need to kind of keep pressure on them.”

The working student status would see students who work during term receive a marker on their record in a similar way to students who are registered with the Disability Service receive a Learning Educational Needs Summary (LENS) report.

Ó hEidhin says the maker would allow students to “have a sit down with a member of staff and arrange deadlines better.”

While implementing a working students status was promised by Arnold, Ó hEidhin believes that the union’s focus on re-politicisation this year has hindered this: “This year is the re-politicisation of the SU, so College is more resistant to working with the SU right now. I’m confident that next year, I could at least get the wheels moving on getting working students status.”

“This year is the re-politicisation of the SU, so College is more resistant to working with the SU right now”

A crackdown on “predatory” student accommodation, such as digs and purpose-built student accommodation, is also high on Ó hEidhin’s agenda.

They pledge to come to an “agreement” with College’s accommodation service to avoid predatory accommodations going forward: “It actually isn’t that hard because the Trinity student accommodation service really, really wants student input on all these things.

“The thing is, if there was one student accommodation that was better than another, they would happily advertise for that one instead.”

The representation of postgraduate students is also a priority for Ó hEidhin, with a promise to implement the representation of postgrads “which fits with both the [Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation (PWO)] and with the systems of representation currently in place for postgrads.”

“The thing is that the PWO is arguing entirely on the basis of workers’ rights, so anything that doesn’t fall into that is kind of the SU’s job,” they said.

In their manifesto, Ó hEidhin outlines plans to undergo a course materials audit across facilities. This audit would assess items such as lecture notes, reading lists and learning outcomes alongside physical materials to ensure they are up to standard and of a sufficient quality.

When asked how they would carry out a full evaluation of provided materials across departments Ó hEidhin acknowledged “it is a big task.”

“I think that at the moment, we spend a lot of time ignoring people who are drowning”

Ó hEidhin thinks that “a lot of the problems in Arts are just course materials, a lot of the problems in STEM are just course materials, a lot of the problems in health sciences are course materials.”

This audit would ascertain that all course materials are “fit for purpose.”

When asked how they have been preparing for the role, Ó hEidhin said they have been focusing on “time management, talking to people, getting perspective from past education officers.”

Concluding, Ó hEidhin wanted to remind potential voters that “Trinity should be kinder than it currently is.”

“I think that at the moment, we spend a lot of time ignoring people who are drowning,” they said.

“And I think that the SU is the only place you can go to for help when you’re drowning. It needs to be one hell of a life raft when I want to patch up the holes in it. And that’s what I intend to do.”

Campaigning in the TCDSU sabbatical elections continues throughout this week with voting opening on February 27 and closing on February 29.

Have your say: Fill out the Trinity News election poll here.


Aoibhinn Clancy

Aoibhínn Clancy is the Deputy News Editor of Trinity News and is currently in her Junior Sophister Year studying History and Political Science.