Some critics could use Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union’s (TCDSU) presence at yesterday’s protest against church ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital to further the argument that the union focuses too much on issues that don’t concern students on a day-to-day basis.
The engagement problem facing the union, many students seem to maintain, can be put down to it expending too much of its resources on external issues. Not only are these issues often only peripherally related to the lives of students, they say, but the union is also unlikely to have any appreciable impact on things like direct provision or the situation in Palestine.
It’s easy to be cynical about the union’s activities in this way. But when it comes down to it, TCDSU did not use any resources sending officers to a march outside of the working week – nor has it spent much time or money on supporting the boycott divest and sanction campaign. (That fact, however, may attract criticism from another cohort.)
The campaign against church influence in the healthcare system is a natural extension of the repeal campaign, a movement in which students were instrumental. And while TCDSU’s €70,000 deficit may be galling, it would be a mistake to suggest, as others have, that the thousands spent on the repeal campaign was anything but necessary.
With the usual hindsight bias, others have gone so far as to suggest that a yes vote was inevitable, as if to say that the input of students was somehow superfluous, or even less important than introducing microwaves in the SU kitchen.
Not only does this disregard the fact that polling had indicated the result would be much closer, it also grossly downplays how important the student movement had been to the repeal cause, in recent times and in decades past.
And more often than not, the extent to which TCDSU is preoccupied by irrelevant and overly ambitious campaigns is overstated. It’s worth remembering that the more locally focused, often behind-the-scenes work that the union does – like lobbying for Christmas exams or attending countless committee meetings – is by nature less visible.