While no presidential candidate gave a poor performance, none emerged as superior over the others at this evening’s election hustings, jointly hosted by The University Times and An Cumann Gaelach.
O’Brien and McNulty both lacked the passion they had displayed at the Dining Hall hustings yesterday, while Carty attempted to prove himself the successor of Lynn Ruane: “Lynn has a lot of passion but I’d say I’m a close second.”
While there was no obvious winner in the hustings, all the candidates showed a good grasp of the issues that students might face in the next few years.
All Presidential candidates expressed concern over the potential introduction of third-level student loans. McNulty commented: “We need to fight. We need to rally. We need to send mass letters, mass emails to Senators and TDs”, and claimed Fine Gael has hidden away the Cassells report from the public. The emphasis on student advocacy was clear, with Carty saying he would mobilise students across the country by contacting every union in the country to “cause a ruckus”.
O’Brien also expressed his disappointment that he didn’t “see a single SU officer present” at the recent Students Against Fees march, something McNulty agreed with. However Edmund Heaphy, the Editor of The University Times, who hosted the hustings alongside An Cumann Gaelach Vice President, Charlie Collins, questioned whether the TCDSU mandate to oppose fees stretched to this march, which was held in conjunction with the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) strike.
The focus on student protest was continued in Collins’s question on where the Irish language factors into the union’s mandate to advocate for student issues, and specifically as to whether there is a need for a bilingual policy. McNulty backed this suggestion, further proposing that the TCDSU constitution be translated into Irish. Carty agreed but referenced his policy of practical progress in approaching the issue, cautioning: “We all know the president’s term is very short.” O’Brien referenced the duty of the president of the union to promote the union’s culture.
Carty, referencing the cost of the attempted rebranding of the Trinity logo, known as the Identity Initiative, was heavily critical of the inefficiencies within college administration, and argued: “It’s wasting our money. It’s wasting the money we have given.” His solution however, and indeed a solution that was a touchstone for him during the hustings, was student activism: “We are the students, we are the power.”
McNulty disagreed on this point however, arguing for a less antagonistic relationship with College: “If we are ever going to achieve a successful dialogue with the board and with the Provost we need to let [the logo] go.”
Again, in the debate surrounding the issue of fee increases for non-EU students, McNulty was pragmatic, arguing that it was not an issue that could easily be resolved. He did comment, however, that: “We need to support international students more in the SU, because we don’t and because the College doesn’t.”
The issue of fees for non-EU students is one that is central to O’Brien’s policies, and he had a strong command of the challenges international students face, arguing that the perception in the union can sometimes be about education “being a right for Irish students, but a privilege for international students”.
However in other areas, O’Brien had a poorer grasp of the issues facing students, including those referenced in his own manifesto. Following a question from Heaphy on the lack of feasibility of his plan to use Higher Education Authority money to fund the student counselling service, a fund that requires it must be used for non-recurring costs, O’Brien acknowledged that he made a mistake, but wondered why it couldn’t “translate” into a “one-time transfer” of money given the previous use of the fund to conduct a study in library hours, which resulted in the provision of a 24-hour library for a period.
O’Brien also failed to really address the question of inefficiencies in College, citing that “inefficiencies remain” within the Trinity Sports Centre despite the referendum last year, while McNulty and Carty agreed on the “byzantine structure” of college bureaucracy, with Carty criticising “a central operations office that does very little.”
Though his performance failed to set him apart from the other candidates in the education race despite his significant union experience, Dale O’Faoilléacháin still emerged as the strongest of the three candidates. In comparison to his performance yesterday at the Dining Hall hustings, though, Patrick Higgins exceeded expectations, addressing a number of key issues reasonably well. Defending his lack of experience in TCDSU, he argued: “Inexperience in student union matters isn’t as big an issue as it is often made out to be.”
Lack of union experience, however, did seem to cause problems for Nick Spare. Although he insisted that he was well versed on the workings of the union, saying “I didn’t just wake up one day and think I want to run for Education Officer – I did my homework,” he seemed unsure on a number of issues. Despite the criticism in his manifesto of the clarifications made to the student appeals process, he was forced to admit during the debate that he wanted to “reserve” his judgement until he had more information, suggesting that a representation of the clarifications in a University Times article was the reason for its inclusion in his manifesto.
O’Faoilléacháin disagreed with Higgins’s appraisal of requiring union experience, and emphasised how his credentials would play into his favour if elected Education Officer. “You need to know how college works”, he said, emphasising the importance of engagement. “Unless we actually begin to address those ongoing school problems which occur every year, we won’t increase engagement.”
Higgins also committed to bridging the gap between the more union-focused role of the Education Officer, and the side of the job that must engage directly with college: “Engaging with student issues is engaging with the college bodies.”
Spare, like the rest of the candidates, agreed that whichever candidate is elected, they must grapple with the Trinity Education Project. However, he did focus more on the advocacy part of the role, stating: “I’ve really focused a lot of my campaign on the casework aspect of it, because I think it has been overlooked in the past.”
Communications & Marketing
In the communications & marketing race, the candidates clashed over the direction the position should take next year. Broaders was inconsistent when asked which aspect of the role is in greater need of improvement, first arguing that strides need to be made in ensuring effective communication by the union, before shifting to the need to expand the union’s sponsorship base: “Aifric set up a great foundation in terms of sponsorship, but they haven’t been used per se.”
On the other hand, Byrne refused to come down on any one side, instead stating that the officer can do both effectively: “I don’t think there necessarily has to be a dichotomy between the two.” In response to questions based on their respective manifestos, neither candidate was able to explain exactly how their key points could be implemented. A core aspect of Byrne’s campaign is the introduction of progress reports to ensure sabbatical officers live up to promises made during the election season.
However, Byrne recognised that some of the union’s goals are unquantifiable and that sufficient oversight would be needed to ensure that the reports are accurate reflections of work done: “For certain goals, that are intangible, it is harder to quantify.” Heaphy asked Broaders about his “points by proxy” manifesto promise, which encourages those who are not willing to stand up at meetings of TCDSU council to send points on to those who are, and whether these students should be named. Broaders stated that he did not feel such students should be obligated to be named: “If you have something to say, it is very very intimidating to stand up in front of 300 people. And I believe they should be heard even if they are too quiet to say it.”
Heaphy referenced what he deemed the antagonistic nature of the council Twitter hashtag, and pointed to how keeping the points anonymous may lead to “points by proxy” becoming a hub of antagonistic comments, to which the candidate conceded that some moderation would be necessary. However, overall, Broaders stood firm: “I think any implementation is better than no implementation.”
Both candidates agreed that there is a noticeable divide between those in the know and those who are not. “The 300 people who go to council get all the information and pass it onto their friends. But some people are left out”, said Broaders, with Byrne echoing a similar statement: “I’ve always been on the side of the student body that hasn’t always been active in the students’ union.”
No Welfare Candidate distinguished themselves. After a noticeably nervous start at yesterday’s hustings, Aoibhinn Ní Lochlainn was the first to speak in the hustings this evening, confidently making the point that “consent is very important: it’s not just for girls, it’s for boys as well”. She went on to highlight her involvement in the Gender Equality committee, and her own past experience working on consent.
Éamonn Redmond spoke about the potential logistics of the workshops, stating that having smaller groups was key. Andrew Wafer argued the workshops would be a “statement” from the union and students that there is a problem clear in universities with the issue of sexual consent. He also seemed to disagree with Redmond over his suggestion that the workshops should be enjoyable, maintaining that “while it’s a nice idea to have a bit fun, it has to have a serious element to keep it legitimate”.
Turning to a Twitter question, Heaphy asked candidates to give their opinions on what the repercussions on non-attendance at the mandatory workshops should be. Ní Lochlainn appeared to be opposed to imposing a fine and said she was in favour of an incentivised system, suggesting that perhaps participants could “skip the line the puppy room”.
The discussion turned to the role of the Welfare Officer in campaigning on student issues. Redmond stated that in such issues, the Welfare Officer has to be aware of both sides of debate rather than favouring one side. Ní Lochlainn appeared to draw upon her experience on the Welfare Committee by explaining in detail how she sees the role as a two-fold job, “looking after things when they do happen and preventing them” from happening, through campaigns.
Wafer argued that a balance had to be found when working on campaigns: “You do definitely need to strike a balance between being personable and doing that side of the job”, emphasising that: “a lot of the issues that do happen are personal”.
Redmond expressed concern that students in off-campus areas like St James’s Hospital, don’t benefit from Welfare campaigns. Redmond called on the Welfare Officer to “get classes that are out there more involved”, pointing out that sexual health awareness is always in need of greater attention. While simultaneously apologising and refuting his point, Ní Lochlainn jumped in by maintaining that both on-campus and in St James’, “the Shift Days do actually happen”.
Collins asked how the candidates would work on a short term, as well as long term, basis to alleviate the accommodation crisis. Ní Lochlainn out her plans to create a “digs database” to attempt to make it easier and less “embarrassing” for students to describe the type of flatmates they were looking for.
After Heaphy expressed his opinion that the accommodation crisis was a governmental issue, Redmond pointed to the strength of the student voice as the main way of addressing it. Wafer agreed, pointing to the passion of the union in advocating for student rights and concerns: “What we’ve been lacking is a lot of public action around accommodation”.
In the ents race, inclusion and the enduring question of how Trinity Ball will be organised were the main topics of discussion. When asked about what role the Ents Officer has in union political issues, like campaigns, Katie Browne asserted that there is much to be done with the Trinity Ents Facebook page, its 12,000 likes constituting enormous student exposure.
Caolán Maher agreed, stating that the Ents Officer has the ability to “rile up” students as previous Ents Officer Finn Murphy did regarding marches during his year. He said that he sees ents as a “bridge between…”, highlighting the role’s ability to provide links between students and sabbats. O’Boyle agreed that the role has a platform to educate and inform, citing the divestment campaign as a blank canvass for promotion. Rowley asserted that those who go to ents events are the ability to reach out to those motivated to be involved: “Ents can speak to them with more gravitas.”
The question of inclusion was then put to the candidates. Although all four candidates had mentioned inclusion in some shape or form in their manifestos, who and what they meant was not clearly defined by any candidate. Maher spoke of international students and how those students he had met in Trinity Hall this week seemed disengaged socially. He believes that ents could very easily solve this by holding coffee mornings or something similar.
Rowley looked straight to one of his manifesto promises by explaining that, with his app, these students who are not actively engaged with the Union or with societies could passively view what is going on all over campus. Browne highlighted her TrinityED talks which she believes would “get more people involved who don’t know how to get involved”. O’Boyle again mentioned the importance of the union, supporting smaller societies through ents. Although Maher specifically mentioned one minority group, none of the candidates truly defined what they meant by “inclusion”, with their answers broad and lacking in clarity.
A question from former TCDSU Education Officer Jack Leahy, via Twitter, on what justifies a full-time Ents Officer in Trinity was asked to candidates. Maher stated that the role of the Ents Officer is as a “facilitator” for smaller societies that may not have the time or resources to hold events of their own. Browne agreed, saying that the Ents Officer has the time to hold events for societies. Rowley saw ents as a “marketable entity in itself” and that it should spend money on helping students unwind.
When faced with the question that every ents candidate dreads, the issue of Trinity Ball, the candidates emphasised very different policies. There was a general acknowledgement that the contract with MCD Productions is untouchable for the next few years, after Heaphy pointed out that it was re-signed last year. Although the Ents Officer cannot change this, each candidate brought ideas to the fore that they believe could enhance the Trinity Ball experience.
Maher and Browne called for more Trinity acts to be involved, with Maher proposing smaller tents throughout campus during the ball. O’Boyle wants to improve the aesthetics of the ball with her main manifesto point, creativity – proposing art installations at Trinity Ball. Rowley took a distinct stance in his ideas to make the aftermath of the ball more manageable. He proposed that a token system for rubbish to be introduced in order to deal with the post-ball debris. Browne then added that she believed, although the autonomy lies with MCD, the Ents officer could choose a more diverse lineup than the previous years.
Although Maher appeared to be the strongest of the four, speaking first on each question posed, the substance behind his points is perhaps questionable. O’Boyle and Rowley were similar in that they spoke well and elaborated on their points but without giving direct answers to some of the questions put to them. Katie Browne lacked the fervor which her manifesto and online campaign seem to promote.
Editor of The University Times
Sinéad Baker, in The University Times race, performed well, discussing her ambitions for the paper next year. Heaphy asked Baker how she views the role of editor in the College, something which she described as “two-fold”. Heaphy brought up how a difficulty in reporting on issues at the College Board is that students largely lack interest in the matters, and asked Baker how she aimed to improve student engagement with them.
Despite emphasising that The University Times would always be focused on Trinity students, Baker acknowledged the duality of the paper’s readership: “It’s a national student audience and a national academic audience.”
Indeed, emphasising the work that the paper does covering college, Baker commented that: “The average student should know what happened at Board – and The University Times is there to tell them.”
Baker also wanted to make The University Times more welcoming to students: “If anyone joins us later in the year, like a lot of staff members this year, we don’t really have an induction for them”.
Despite the increased focus on higher education issues over the last number of years, Baker emphasised that “you should never feel like you can’t write for [the paper]”. She spoke of how The University Times has the ability to become an “archive of information” for years to come. She also emphasised that the newspaper has a broad readership that spans not just the students and academics of Trinity, but those with genuine interest in the issues that occur within College’s walls.