Hamza Bana’s strong lead in welfare and equality race seems unlikely to be challenged

Although a significant amount of poll respondents remain undecided, neither McAuley nor Harrington are well positioned to pose a threat

The 2024 race to be Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) welfare and equality officer has followed a dramatic script, with a clear protagonist in Hamza Bana, Hannah McAuley as a fan-favourite with not much screen time, and an undeniably antagonistic character played by Nathan Harrington. There are even side characters added into the mix to provide last minute drama.

While all of this may be true, one must admit that the race has also been at times subdued and amicable, with the two front runners, Bana and McAuley, often agreeing on policy and practice. This, however, is not at first apparent in the annual Trinity News election poll, in which Bana has a majority of first preferences from decided voters – 56.16%, to be exact. McAuley places second with 28.23% of the vote, while Harrington trails in third with 12.01%.

Bana was consistent in maintaining support across faculties, genders, and experience in the students’ union, although he did lag behind in the health sciences faculty, with 30.43% of the vote in a category in which McAuley won a plurality of votes with 34.78%. Harrington, for his part, gained his strongest support from health sciences students (21.74% of first preferences), which nonetheless still placed him last out of three.

Indeed, it was a trend for Harrington to have an apparent boost in support from one particular demographic: for example men, health sciences students, or supporters of the Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Green Party coalition government. However, despite this boost, he was still beaten by both Bana and McAuley in each of these categories. 

Bana’s likely victory can be put down to multiple factors: a left-wing lean within TCDSU and wider student body, a mix of original campaign ideas and staple legacy issues, and a strong social media presence to atone for his poor performance at key campaign events. 

It is undeniable that TCDSU has spent most of this year attempting to overtly politicise itself, beginning at first with a string of direct action protests, most notably pertaining to College’s implementation of a 2% rent increase for students living on campus. More recently, multiple attempts have been made, in vain, to change a clause in TCDSU’s Constitution which currently mandates that the union act apolitically. 

Bana, as the union’s ethnic minorities officer, has played a part in these attempts, thus leaving little doubt in the student body’s mind on how he will carry himself if elected. Furthermore, some of his most prominent manifesto points verge on the political, namely his stance on housing. He proposes implementing “workshops [that] will focus on equipping students, particularly those residing in student accommodations like halls, with knowledge about their rights as tenants”, and promises to “advocate for legislation safeguarding the rights of student renters, especially those in digs, and advocate for increased funding for student housing”.

The success of these proposals in garnering support in the student body is evident in Trinity News’ election poll, in which 78.13% of voters who identified themselves as politically left threw their support behind Bana, with a further 50% of centre-left students following suit.

The support for Bana, however, may also be thanks to the more original, if not unique, ideas he has put forward. A strange staple in student politics is microwaves – sabbatical officers love to use them as a symbol of their connection to students’ everyday struggles (cold lunches). Bana goes one step further than this, and has proposed facilitating a second-hand household appliances donation system for students. 

He has also argued for diversifying the counsellors working in the Student Counselling Service, to include POC counsellors and gaeilgoirí, and although McAuley has fervently agreed with him on this throughout campaigning, Bana seems to have a monopoly on this issue due to his experience setting up the Ethnic Minority Students Support Group.

Bana has coupled these proposals with promises on steadfast issues of student politics – particularly that of decolonising the curriculum and the wider College, a movement originally led by former TCDSU President Gabi Fullam and subsequently adopted by current President László Molnárfi. Bana promises to push for the inclusion of “darker skin tones when showing skin conditions in the health sciences” and to urge Trinity to make diversity and sensitivity training compulsory for teaching staff, two clear stances on the issue of Eurocentric ideas embedded in Trinity.

This mix of old and new serves two purposes: to energise his base of voters (through addressing staple TCDSU issues) and to attract new ones (through new and engaging ideas). The success of this strategy is evident by the fact that Bana boasts the highest Instagram following out of all three candidates. 

Finally, all of this perhaps works to reduce the blowback from Bana’s admittedly lacklustre performances at key campaign events, notably council hustings, in which he preempted his answers with an admission of tiredness. Indeed, McAuley has often outshone Bana when they have both been questioned. This, coupled with his lack of attendance at the Piranha’s hustings, has at times put Bana on the backburner to McAuley. 

Hannah McAuley, as previously mentioned, has consistently performed well at various hustings. Her campaign, like all others, began on the steps of the Dining Hall when she delivered her inaugural introductory speech. Although she was at times reserved, this has apparently been interpreted as a quiet confidence, and her personality was noted at Piranha hustings, the revival of the satirical magazine’s role in the sabbatical elections, when Uainín Lindsey, co-editor of the Piranha, asked her “Why are you so nice?”. 

“There’s people and systems that need help” in Trinity, she stated at the first campaign event, and in the most recent event, media hustings, she promised to “have office hours in as many offices as [she] can get”. The promise of one-to-one contact with students while still keeping an eye on the bigger picture has been a thread that has stitched together her campaign. 

She promised to write “a signed letter” to the Dáil to outline the plight of students who are ineligible to the SUSI Grant due to what she sees as “unforgiving” income thresholds, while also promising to increase the TCDSU welfare loan available to students.

McAuley, however, suffers from an acute lack of name recognition. Indeed, she severely lags behind both Bana and Harrington in terms of Instagram followers on campaign accounts, and is yet to break the 100 follower mark. This, however, may be mediated by the high number of students engaged in the elections this year, who would doubtlessly know her and her performance. 

This would perhaps explain the five percent drop in support between people with experience in  TCDSU and those without it. She gains a plurality of support from health sciences students, most probably owing to herself studying radiation therapy. Furthermore, her experience within TCDSU may prove to be overlooked, as although she has been the off-campus officer for two years running now, she is yet to be seen as a well-connected union insider, as is evidence in her relatively disappointing 30.84% of support from respondents who have held a position in the union.

She is, however, much less consistent than Bana in terms to where she harbours her support, with her support numbers ranging from just 14% (students identifying themselves as politically left) to 38% (senior fresh students). Nonetheless, she maintains a strong second placing.

Nathan Harrington has had a troubled time throughout the election period, from being the subject of a strike by the Electoral Commission for a campaign violation, to the muse of a stunt orchestrated by Empower The Voice, a feminist activist group who claim that he “uses his platform to mock marginalised groups”.

Although he has repeatedly insisted that his manifesto points are serious, the backlash to the language used in it seems to have harmed Harrington’s chances at the welfare and equality office. Harrington has proposed to use 100% of his salary to buy sweets and chocolates for students, claiming that this would go further than “a lump sum to a foodbank”. References to “disableds” have also since been amended in his updated campaign manifesto, after this garnered a lot of criticism on social media from students. Harrington’s support in Trinity News’ poll reached just over 12%, an indication that the student body among these recent controversies simply believes that he is not the right person for the job.

Nearly twice as many men support Harrington than women do, with him also benefiting from a boost in support from first years, coming in at a figure of 20.45%. Moreover, 27.45% of respondents who claim to support the Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Green Party coalition government also throw their support behind Harrington, with a further 42.42% of centre-right and right-wing voters supporting him. 

This creates a very niche base for Harrington, which perhaps has led to his lack of support amongst the wider student body. He nonetheless has shown off his ability to gain traction, as although he has come last in the Trinity News poll, he has gained more Instagram followers than McAuley, and undoubtedly has been the focus of much coverage during this election cycle. 

Perhaps there exists a conservative, first year, male student within the health sciences department who adores Nathan Harrington. The same, however, cannot be said for the wider student body.

To conclude, despite numerous plot twists and plot holes throughout this story, the ending seems to already be written: Bana, the candidate who has aligned themselves most with the now traditional student radicals, is set to win the race. Although he does benefit from a wider support base than is typically expected, this is a story we’ve seen before. However, the inclusion of McAuley as an underdog is not to be underestimated throughout the voting period, and Harrington’s ability to get attention may prove to be an asset when the factor of in-person voting is taken into account.