Welfare & equality race: Nathan Harrington has passion, but lacks plans

The junior sophister geography and sociology student says that his experience in Scouts Ireland has led him to become a “welfare advocate”

Having spent last semester on exchange in California, Nathan Harrington is campaigning to become the next Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) welfare and equality officer, in order to “get back into” the union. “There’s no way to be more involved than [to be] a sabbatical officer”, he said. With campaign promises ranging from increasing on-campus accessibility for students with physical disabilities to making “shag week far more shaggalicious”, Harrington proves to be a mixed bag candidate.

Harrington benefits from much experience associated with welfare: S2S Mentoring, training from NiteLine, as well as Scouts Ireland. “I’ve been in scouts my whole life”, he said. As a youth leader within scouts, he claims that there has been a large emphasis placed on welfare, especially in the aftermath of sexual abuse scandals coming to light. This work has resulted in a passion for welfare within him, as members are encouraged to be “welfare advocates.”

“Realistically? The welfare officer in the students’ union doesn’t have a lot of power”

Expanding on aspects of the welfare and equality officer role which are important to him, Nathan added “especially with the equality aspect of the role in Trinity, it speaks to me”, owing to his own “personal experiences.” However, when asked what his “general goals as welfare and equality officer” would be, he delivered a dry laugh midway through the question, before answering: “Realistically? The welfare officer in the students’ union doesn’t have a lot of power.”

“I could bring in great referendums through the SU and change the SU”, he added, but concluded by affirming that “if I could make everyone in Trinity a little bit happier, that would be good enough for me.”

He may achieve this ultimate goal through his pledge to use his €19,042 net annual salary to provide sweets and chocolates to students. “I don’t want to be paid minimum wage to do the job, so I think investing my salary into something that can give back to the students – again, it’s about if I can make everyone a little happier”, he said.

Other campaign promises strike a more serious tone, such as accessibility, which he believes “is not seen as a very important thing”, but is “a huge issue” to him. Harrington wishes to increase the number of fire escapes that are accessible for students with physical disabilities. “This is one of the things that is lacking, and I know it’s lacking, and I’ve been told it’s lacking”, he stated, but recognised the difficulty in installing lifts or other accessible mobility options in heritage or protected buildings.

While he treats the issue of physical accessibility with care, Harrington faltered when questioned on the issues of mental disability or learning difficulties, particularly in regards to his use of the r-slur on his public Instagram story.

In March 2023, he posted a photo of an application to enter the Society of the Year Awards’ Disability Inclusion Award. The form asked applicants to “demonstrate how disability inclusion was viewed as important” within the society. “We are all r*tarded” were the only four words written.

Harrington defended this action by first saying that he doesn’t think he submitted that application. “It’s important to say the three of us who were filling those out all have diagnosed mental disabilities”, he added. He concluded by saying: “I don’t think that’s a very brilliant thing to say, but it’s true, technically. I have nothing really to say about that. I didn’t submit it, for what it’s worth.”

A principal campaign promise of Harrington’s is to “introduce a comprehensive list of naughty banned words”, with the rationale behind this idea being “if you want to police what sort of affiliations and political opinions people can have within the union, then there should be a list”. This may be a reactionary ode to TCDSU’s recent attempt to alter its constitution to inherently politicise the union, which has collapsed due to legal troubles regarding the possible discriminatory nature of the proposed amendment’s wording. “I think it’s important that people know what words are and aren’t okay to say” he said, but “all of them are dependent on context.”

Other manifesto points include introducing “LGBTQIA+ lectures” on queer sex and “bringing religious unions in to talk about issues of student welfare”. The latter, he admitted, was “to provoke an argument.”

Switching topics, Harrington addressed what he sees as a needed review of the Student Counselling Service. “We know that there’s ridiculous waiting lists and provisions to get into student counselling. It’s terrible, it needs a total overhaul” he said. His exact plans didn’t extend far beyond “just hire more therapists”, although he would “put pressure on the college itself to invite some more” into the service. This paradigm closely represents his candidature thus far, with many genuine, yet very general, promises made.

Harrington described the college health service as “fine”, pointing to his right arm in a sling, which he previously explained was due to a nagging shoulder injury. He had less than favourable words to say about a member of staff, calling them “a wanker”, owing to experience.

Harrington fell short on plans to improve these systems, admitting that he “has no specific plans” to host campaigns on topics such as physical, sexual, or mental health. “I think that running campaigns for things like that is important. But it’s also important not to have like one campaign a week because then people just ignore it […] I don’t think that running an awful lot of campaigns would be a huge part [of my role], if I did get elected.”

Regarding economic inequality, Harrington believes that “there’s definitely a monetary boundary” facing students, adding that “especially with Trinity, it’s no secret that it costs a lot of money to go here”. A priority of his, if elected, would be to more highly publicise grants and scholarships available for students who are struggling. He also viewed the Trinity Access Programme as “really good, but getting into it is pretty hard.”

“If you can’t afford pints at the end of the week, then you’re missing out”

He views the issue of economic access to Trinity as more broad than fees and costs associated with studying. “If you can’t afford pints at the end of the week, then you’re missing out. If you can’t afford the €7 to go on the Hiking Society’s hike, then you can’t go on that hike”, he said. Furthermore, he believes that the cost of living crisis is very much affecting students and young people. “If you’re not able to spend, I don’t know, 350 quid a week, assuming that you don’t live at home, you can’t have an enjoyable time at Trinity”. “So I think there are boundaries in place, but there are also scholarships and there are bursaries in place, so it’s not that bad”, he concluded.

Housing has doubtlessly been one of the largest, if not the largest, issue affecting wider Irish society this decade, and TCDSU has not shied away from addressing this through demonstrations and protests, particularly in relation to the 2% fee increase in on campus accommodation. Harrington, however, claimed that “you can apply for housing in Trinity every year, which is always going to be cheaper. Even if you’re a licence seeker and not a renter, it’s always going to be cheaper than renting around in Dublin”, but clarified later that the rents charged by Trinity are “extortionate”, and spoke very positively about TCDSU’s actions this year in relation to housing rights.

To contextualise Harrington within the current TCDSU team, he identified himself as a supporter of the current welfare and equality officer, Aoife Bennett, and TCDSU president László Molnárfi. “I’m a big László fan, always have been” he said, claiming to be the first person to shake Molnárfi’s hand upon his election victory nearly a year ago.

Moreover, he praised the president for his work in the shift away from a Eurocentric curriculum in Trinity: “There was great work done by László last year, about how diverse the course was, especially in the social sciences”. If elected, “things like that, if not the exact proposal [that was brought to Council last year], could certainly be brought back into the mix”. “I mean, we’re at university, there’s no point to not have everything as diverse as possible, so you can learn the most”, Harrington said.

He departs from Molnárfi, however, on the basis of the recent attempts to alter TCDSU constitution’s article on the political neutrality of the union, stating that “the referendum itself was pretty ill thought out”, and that TCDSU “should look at focusing on all of its students equally. You can’t do that if you start picking political sides.”

To conclude, Nathan Harrington shows himself to be somewhat of an anomaly of a candidate: an odd mixture of abundant aspiration and poor planning – two qualities usually not sold separately. “I mean, there’s only so much each officer can do every year” he said, “and I feel like a lot of it has been done.”

“There’s obviously work to be done, but people are already [doing it] it, in terms of equality”, using the minorities in STEM and women in STEM groups as examples to make his point, adding that they are “pretty cool.”

Harrington is looking forward to the upcoming campaign season, saying that “it’ll be good fun”. He is running for welfare and equality officer against Hamza Bana and Hannah McAuley.

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

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