Media hustings: Comms candidate Dempsey emphasises union experience while opponent Strahan makes the case for a “fresh face”

The political nature of the union and engagement remained an enduring issue at media hustings today

Communication and marketing candidates Connor Dempsey and Beth Strahan offered different perspectives of what the sabbatical role should offer students and the union at media hustings this afternoon.

Taking place in the Thomas Davis theatre this afternoon, candidates were questioned by Trinity News Editor Kate Henshaw and University Times (UT) Editor Clara Roche.

Sole entertainment (Ents) candidate Peadar Walsh was unable to attend.


Presidents’ questions followed a similar pattern to previous hustings with Ralph Balfe doubling down on his character and Jenny Maguire sticking to her manifesto.

Elaborating on a comment she made during a University Times interview, Maguire called council “completely inaccessible and a pain to sit through”, saying that union “does so much during the first two weeks of college” to get students engaged only to “make them sit for three hours through election on election on election”.

Balfe denied that he was a “joke candidate” but said that should such an “obnoxious and attention seeking” person run as a joke, they would serve to “highlight the seriousness” of their opponent and promote engagement with the union. He also said he was “absolutely committed” to his campaign pledges and promised to do “a double marathon of the cricket pitch in the nude” if he failed to instigate any.

When asked if she was in support of changing article 1.4 in the constitution, Maguire said that the current apolitical status “doesn’t represent the reality of what it’s like to run a union”, adding that her own life is “politicised, by people who would rather see [her] dead”. She said that by changing 1.4 the union would be able to protect all students including women, “who we have seen on this campaign taken the piss out of”.

Following the hustings, Maguire was asked by Trinity News to clarify what she was referencing in the above comment, however she declined to comment further.


In response to a question on whether a union focus on political issues and direct action  could compromise basic aspects of the education officer role, the two candidates starkly diverged with their answers.

O hEidhin argued that “you need to look at welfare issues through a political lens” and said that in their own long-term experience, the union has been “just as political” and able to keep up with casework.

Gilroy, on the other hand, said the next education officer must “put students first and ensure that students’ voices are heard”.

“It’s all very well and good doing direct action, but if students are going through a shit time, that’s more important,” he said.

Gilroy emphasised his focus on educational issues further when asked about College’s AI policy, a key point in his manifesto. He seemed to be aware of the lack of time left to prove himself, evident by him breaking the allocated time limit set out for his question.

This proved to be a continued trend throughout the hustings, with Gilroy proceeding to break the time limit on several of his following questions. This included his statement about the insularity of the union, where he positioned himself as someone whose “friends are outside the union”.

Additionally, Gilroy said that it was “important to make sure that your friends aren’t only in the union, to make sure that the union is outward facing.”

By contrast, Ó hEidhin managed to answer questions about his proposed structural reform of the union in a more concise manner, consistently returning to the idea of overall reform within the union – “The system doesn’t work”.

“Every year we blame individuals and we blame personalities,” said O hEidhin, “Anything other than what we have now would be better”.

This stance from O hEidhin once again highlights the gap between their overall viewpoint and that of Gilroy’s – a resigned call for reform and a robust advocacy for student engagement respectively.

Welfare and equality

The absence of candidate Nathan Harrington was emphasised as the present welfare and equality candidates Hamza Bana and Hannah McCauley hugged prior to questioning. With both candidates long-term stalwarts of TCDSU, today’s hustings focused on the logistics of their campaigns.

When asked about balancing day-to-day casework with publicising the student union, Bana noted his confidence in his “extensive knowledge” in separating both aspects of sabbatical duty, once again calling on his experience as Ethnic Minority officer, while McCauley promises to “have office hours in as many offices as [she] can get”.

They both fielded questions on student councelling’s lack of student representation. As a central aspect of Bana’s manifesto, he noted that he would add to the “steps” already achieved by bringing an “Irish speaking officer” into the service, while McAuley empathised her plan for “putting pressure or working with the SCS” to bring in more representation to the service.

Bana, in his final sentiment, assured students: “…what I would like to do – not what I would like to do, what I will do”.

Communications and marketing

Communications and marketing candidates Connor Dempsey, Sarah Murnane, and Beth Strahan were asked what they view as the “endgame” for engagement with union, an issue each of them has promised to improve.

Dempsey wants to focus on how many people are using TCDSU brand deals, while Strahan gauged success as platforming information, such as students knowing which buildings on campus are wheelchair accessible.

Dempsey and Strahan both strongly emphasised that students reading emails and attending council are not the be-all and end-all of measuring student engagement, while Murnane shared that engagement is about student attendance at union events, including council.

The candidates were also asked who they thought spoke for the union and what they would do if they disagreed with their fellow sabbatical officers in communications.

Both Strahan and Murnane called the comms officer the “middleman” and “glue” of the union, and both promised to emphasise collaboration and balancing arguments.

Dempsey, emphasising his current experience within the union, said he has tried to play the role of a “mediating force” during conflicts in the union this year and promised to continue this role if elected.

This was the first of several occasions that Dempsey emphasised his union experience, including when he was asked about failing to “burst the SU bubble” as engagement officer.

Dempsey said that he created the role of engagement officer because he was “tired of everyone talking about engagement and doing nothing about it” and claimed class representative elections saw a higher turnout this year.

In sharp contrast, Strahan suggested her comparative lack of union experience can be her strength. When asked how she would adapt to the political nature of the union when she has been disinterested in union politics so far, she said that it is “an argument towards the point itself”, and that as a “new face”, she will know how to improve engagement with the union.


Sole Oifigeach na Gaeilge (Irish Language Officer) candidate Pádraig Mac Brádaigh focused on the logistics of the role in his answers. Answering various questions on collaboration with other officers, Irish classes for international students, budgets, and the option to write a dissertation in Irish. Highlighting the topicality of the Irish language this year, he said: “As someone who has been in this college for four years I was thrilled to see the emphasis put on Irish during this election cycle.”

Promising to be working “in close proximity with other officers”, he said that the nature of the new role of Oifigeach na Gaeilge is to “provide Irish services in every aspect of the union”. Answering a question on helping other capitated bodies promote the Irish language, he revealed that bodies would not be awarded the Gaeilge initiative funding until 2025, and that TCDSU would foot the bill for the Oifigeach na Gaeilge position this year and would be reimbursed “over a period of time”.

Mac Brádaigh also showed a willingness to teach Irish language classes to international students and others who didn’t learn Irish in school due to exemptions, saying that it would be “a great way to boost engagement with the Irish language”. His answer to a question on the practicality of implementing his policy of being able to write a dissertation in Irish regardless of discipline was less sure, admitting that “there’s a lot of admin and levels of bureaucracy within the college”. Emphasising that Oifigeach na Gaeilge is a one-year role, he showed a willingness to advocate consistently for this.

University Times editor

When asked about how they would balance running the three sections of the University Times (UT), including the main paper, magazine and Radius, candidates Brídín Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce and Charlie Hastings differed in their approach to organisation and outreach.

While Ní Fhearraigh Joyce promised to increase staff across sections, including increasing the presence of Irish in the paper. She also noted in another question her plan to increase the presence of ethnic minorities in the paper.

In contrast, Hastings said he thinks focusing on numbers and recruitment has failed in the past: “We need to think about the welfare of our paper… then we can talk about recruitment.”

The candidates also differed when asked about holding the editor accountable without the editor being an impeachable role. Hastings said he “absolutely” thinks the editor should be impeachable: “I don’t believe that we can have a democracy in the student union without having the ability to remove our authority figures.”

Ní Fhearraigh Joyce said she was “not against” making the role impeachable, but thought “open town halls” was more effective.

Hastings further emphasised welfare when asked whether he missed out on managerial skills after he was fired last year by former editor Ailbhe Noonan. He agreed he has lost out on experience, but noted issues faced last year prepared him to increase welfare in the paper.

Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce was asked about behaviour during a previous interview with Trinity News where she “became agitated” when responding to leading questions. When asked how she would mentor students on interview procedure following this, she focused on apologising for her conduct in the interview, noting she is “not used to being the one interviewed”.

Reporting by Ellen Kenny, David Wolfe, Ella Sloane, Eve Conway, Jayna Roshlau, Gabriela Gazaniga, Aidan Cusack, Faye Madden, Conor Healy, Charlotte Kent, Madison Pitman, Emily Sheehan, Sam Walsh and Stephen Conneely.

A correction was made at 8.40pm, February 23, to a typo regarding UT editor candidate Charlie Hastings.