Candidates Namecheck Engagement Problem at Laid-Back Dining Hall Hustings

The first hustings of the election period allowed a gentle start for candidates to establish their positions on the biggest issues facing students.

Kathleen McNamee, Jack Synnott and Matthew Murphy
Ben Morrison for The University Times

It was a quick affair on the steps of the Dining Hall this afternoon, with the first hustings of the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) elections finishing in just under half an hour. In what is becoming a theme of hustings annually, the crowd was mainly made up of campaign teams, prompting little engagement with the ideas advanced.

Undeterred, candidates promised to tackle this lack of engagement with “inclusion” – a particular buzzword for the presidential candidates. With little mention of national campaigns, it would seem that local issues are the to be the concentration of this year’s election.


In a race considerably more diverse than last year’s, both of the presidential candidates sought to paint themselves as strong contenders for the role, but in subtly different lights.


While both have extensive experience in the union, speeches were rhetoric-heavy and there was, at times, an absence of concrete solutions.

Following on from two years as TCDSU Officer for Students with a Disability, fourth-year English and film student Laura Beston pushed her involvement in the Take Back Trinity movement and pitched a student-centred approach to the union. Providing a down-to-earth analysis of the problems currently facing the College community, she stressed the importance of communication amidst union disillusionment.

“I may have a reputation for being radical when the time calls for it”, she admitted, “but through all my experience of activism and the union the greatest thing I have learned about students is that you want to be listened to”.

Third-year BESS student Daire Hennessy was more critical of the union’s current make-up, describing it as involving “an in group and an out group”. Pushing his experience with the Trinity Access Programme, Hennessy described how it feels like “access students don’t necessarily need the SU,” he said, “but the SU needs us”.

Speaking in broader terms than Beston, he discussed the problem of off-campus students and their typical disengagement from the union. His solution to such tribalism was inclusion. Running out of time towards the end of his speech, Hennessy implored those there to question him on any of his policies – trying to put into action the inclusion he was preaching.

“Inclusion” was the buzzword of the day for both contenders, whose backgrounds and previous work in the union gave them more credibility than previous years’ candidates. Whether the lack of solutions put forward is a policy shortcoming or an effect of the sheer scale of the problems they’re addressing, remains to be seen.


With the education race contested for the first time in three years, this year’s candidates have been forced to hit the ground running in what looks set to be one of the more competitive contests in this year’s elections.

In an emotive speech, at times heavier on rhetoric than policy, final-year physics and astrophysics student Sally-Anne McCarthy today pitched herself as the voice of legitimate student frustration. Railing against a perceived disconnect between staff and students, as well as the enduring problem of the union “not doing more to reach out to disengaged students”, McCarthy’s experience as the union’s Engineering, Mathematics and Science (EMS) Convener appears to have shaped a campaign that will focus heavily on representation and engagement.

In stark contrast to the frustrated tone of McCarthy’s speech, third-year geography and politics student Niamh McCay adopted a more positive outlook. The current TCDSU Citizenship Officer emphasised her experience in a variety of union campaigns as she promised to focus on increased student engagement and accessibility. Examining the impact of the Trinity Education Project on the College, she emphasised the value of her interactions with “the people who matter”, reiterating her manifesto promise to ensure that “no student falls through the cracks”.

Both candidates focused heavily on the troubled implementation of the Trinity Education Project and the continued challenges of engagement with the union. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it therefore seems that the issues are set to dominate much of the debate in this campaign. However, given that both candidates views on the problems would appear to heavily overlap, the true challenge for the candidates may be finding the space to differentiate themselves.


In the second year that the Welfare race has been uncontested – a surprising trend considering its popularity in previous years – Aisling Leen started out solidly, outlining the platform she is running on. A fourth-year English and French student, Leen cited her experience as Volunteer Coordinator of the SU’s Welfare Team and Treasurer of DU Meditation as evidence of her suitability for the role – once again placing priority on her background in student activism. Indeed, Leen opened her speech referencing her involvement in the Take Back Trinity Dining Hall occupation.

Pitching herself as a candidate unafraid to stand up and fight for student welfare, she was intent on emphasising her commitment to making campaigns “inclusive and intersectional, so no student in the college feels forgotten about”.

Despite the limited time provided, Leen didn’t shy away from her more sizeable ideas. Effusive in her commitment to setting up a new sexual-assault reporting policy, she also promised to roll out further information about abortion access for students. Given the scale and gravitas of these topics, however, Leen’s real challenge will be providing effective, tangible ideas for change during the longer hustings later this week.

Communications and Marketing

After last year’s chaotic three-man race for the role of Communications and Marketing Officer, Muireann Kane, a fourth year art and architecture and Italian student, is running uncontested. She addressed to the crowd with ease today, speaking to them as a friend rather than a candidate vying for their vote.

She was candid about her reservations about running for the position. But spoke about how – after doing some research – she decided that she was best for the job, allaying any concerns that no one would run for the role. It is often on the shoulders of the Communications and Marketing Officer to increase engagement with students through social media and campaigns. Kane echoed the sentiment of many who came before her, saying she envisages a union that is “run for students, by students”. Despite how common this refrain is, the problem of engagement is consistently flagged and it remains to be seen how Kane will buck the trend.

When it came to her more specific policy plans, she posited the possibility of ethical sponsorship for the union and establishing relationships with companies to help graduates searching for internship and job opportunities – both of which the union largely already does.

In perhaps a surprising turn, considering the union’s current deficit, Kane diverted attention away from the role’s involvement in securing funding for the union and looked instead at the role in protecting students’ welfare as part of the wider sabbatical team. In this vein, she promised to be a trustworthy officer and namely “to stand by every promise she plans to make”. Further emphasising students’ welfare and connection to the union, she said she would only be “a House Six away”.


In one of the most competitive races of this year, each candidate for TCDSU Entertainments Officer proposed very different visions of the position in their speeches during the Dining Hall hustings.

Bursting onto the steps, fifth-year computer science student Jerico Alcaras highlighted his desire to promote diversity, equality and inclusion, greeting the crowd in Irish, Spanish and English. With Trinity Ball tickets on sale this week at the increased price of €91 – much to students’ chagrin – Alcaras said that he would fight price hikes “no matter how impossible it may be”.

Brimming with enthusiasm, he said he wanted to bring “entertainment with a purpose” but at times his speech lacked depth and it was apparent that he lacked the experience of the other candidates. However, as incumbent David Flood proved last year, experience isn’t always pivotal in this race.

In a luminescent yellow jacket, third-year music and drama student Judith Robinson’s DU Players background shone through, as she appeared well rehearsed. Largely concentrating on her role as the society’s current Entertainments Officer, she stressed the variety of events she hosts each week in the role – promising to “bring unique and niche yet really fun and inclusive events” to a College-wide level.

Running out of time towards the end of her speech, Robinson was forced to rush through her specific plans for the role. The things she did touch on – Pav Fridays and a recharge tent at Trinity Ball – show her varying levels of ambition.

Last up was Luke Rynne Cullen, a final-year English and history student. Arguably the most experienced out of the three, Rynne Cullen insisted he had been “living and breathing entertainment” for as long as he can remember.

Despite his experience, Rynne Cullen appeared nervous.Promising a mini Trinity Ball next week, however, he outlined solid ideas of what his year as Entertainments Officer would look like – if he is elected. From seasonal events to ABBA-inspired sing-a-longs, Rynne Cullen focused on the achievable more than the aspirational.

Editor of The University Times

Uncontested in the race for the Editor of The University Times, Donal MacNamee, a final-year English and history student and the paper’s current Deputy Editor, launched the first hustings of the election period.

Despite a dodgy microphone distracting him at the beginning, MacNamee was clear in his aims. With previous Editor candidates facing questions on how they aimed to increase engagement with the paper, he declared that he was going to create a new senior position – a community engagement editor – to specifically ensure that The University Times is providing the service students want it to. He said that he wants to “integrate The University Times further into the social fabric of the College”, stressing the importance of society and sports coverage to achieve this.

In a marked change from previous years, MacNamee faced no questions from the crowd. Considering criticism of the paper’s budget from year to year, it is perhaps surprising that those gathered didn’t take the opportunity to question him on his plans to bring in more revenue. MacNamee, however, didn’t endeavour to address this in speech, opting to focus on ways of improving the paper and its work for students.

As with previous candidates, he spoke about his experience in the paper and how it sets him up well for the role. “As the current Deputy Editor, I know exactly what needs to be done to bring our paper to the next level”, he said.

Orla Murnaghan, Robert Quinn, Rachel O’Leary, Aoife Kearins, Patrick O’Donoghue, Ciaran Molloy, Ross Malervy, Conor O’Brien, Eliana Jordan, Cormac Watson, Jordan Nann and Malachi Ó Marcaigh also contributed reporting to this piece.

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