This week saw the launch of the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) election campaign – and an intriguing debate about the union’s first principles.
In what has proven to be one of the more interesting presidential races in recent years, the three hopefuls – Eoin Hand, Ryan Carey and Harry Williams – have been forced out of the comfortable territory of discussing manifesto points, to confront head-on the local/national divide in union politics, in all its nebulousness.
At the election’s outset, it seemed there were two distinct camps in the presidential race. Carey, who has acquired a wealth of typical union experience through his involvement in student activism and TCDSU council, was poised to be the candidate vowing for the union to engage with issues of national political importance.
Hand and Williams, meanwhile, neither of whom resemble the traditional presidential candidate, seemed to be using their “outsider” status as a means of promoting their vision of a union that focuses its efforts on local issues, such as acquiring more plug sockets and microwaves.
However, the last few days have seen the dynamic of the race shift significantly. All three candidates have repeatedly found themselves discussing issues of national import, from the higher education funding crisis to the status of the Irish language. Williams’s strategy of sticking to his apolitical guns does not appear to have curried him much favour, while Hand has switched gears completely. In a matter of days, the candidate went from promising to address the age-old problems of accessibility and engagement to discussing the Cassells report and citing the 2003 Irish Language Act at hustings.
What has become clear this week is that TCDSU is inherently political, and it is disingenuous to attempt to run it as an apolitical body. For all the complaints about lack of student engagement with TCDSU, it is still more engaged with the college community than most other unions – arguably because of the importance it has always attached to national campaigns.
While many of the recurring issues that crop up during every election period featured over the last week, it’s hard to read the week as anything other than a defeat for the idea of a “local” TCDSU.