As a matter of constitutionality, the Electoral Commission (EC) of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) has the absolute prerogative to eliminate Sean Ryan from the presidential race of the union’s elections. The TCDSU constitution quite matter of factly – and without qualification – states the following: “The EC may eliminate any candidate from the election.”
But absolute and unqualified powers are chimerical beasts, in the sense that the circumstances in which they should be put to use are open to interpretation. There are moral issues – and ethical ones. There are procedural concerns. Worries about how the application of such powers will be perceived will always come to the fore – regardless of how easy it is to argue on principle that they shouldn’t. That there is a formal appeals process available would not change perceptions about such a move.
These elections have already been riven by faction, in a manner uncannily similar to the 2016 US election. Various campaigns have unironically thrown the term “fake news” around – a term that has become a cudgel used by authoritarian strongmen to undermine their political opponents across the world. Now, credible sexual harassment allegations are being treated the same way in a campus often described as the most liberal bubble in Ireland.
That said, it’s worth noting that leaving Ryan’s name on the ballot – and allowing this to play out – would not be the most undignified thing to do. Eliminating him from the race is by no means the only recourse available to remedy such an unprecedented situation.
While it is not ideal that more than two days of voting occurred before these allegations came to light, students who feel strongly – those who may not even ordinarily have voted – will surely have marched to the polls by 4pm today. And if somehow Ryan manages to overcome this at the ballot box, you can almost bet on an impeachment campaign being launched as soon as he takes office. The EC should keep this in mind when it meets to decide what action to take.