It’s rare that an organisation’s rank-and-file members get a glimpse of the internal disagreements of their student leaders. When they do, it often consists more of rumour and innuendo than anything of substance.
But this week Trinity’s postgraduate students got a full-frontal view of the divisions at the heart of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), as President Shaz Oye and Vice-President Gisèle Scanlon traded blows for all to see.
When politicians air dirty laundry publicly, they rarely do it by accident, so it’s hard to see the clash between Scanlon and Oye as anything other than a deliberate show of private discord.
By going public, though, the pair did more than highlight their lack of unity: they dealt a blow to the organisation – and members – they’re paid to represent. Students find it hard enough to make College take them seriously when they’re united – let alone when their divisions are making newspaper headlines.
Postgraduates, many of whom work in conditions verging on dire, could be forgiven for feeling let down by Oye and Scanlon, the representatives they elected on a ticket to fight for them.
Of course the fiasco didn’t start last week – it began in November, when Oye failed to oppose a memorandum proposing pay reductions for casual staff.
But this week Scanlon didn’t challenge Oye on her oversight (a misstep for which Oye had apologised, albeit without accepting full responsibility). Instead, she confronted her on the nebulous question of how much postgraduate students earn per hour on their stipend. It’s hardly a stretch to suggest that this was a decision that looked motivated as much by political opportunism, by a desire to strike a beleaguered president while she was under scrutiny, as by concern for postgraduates.
And Oye, who could argue she was just defending herself against what she called Scanlon’s “spurious accusation”, didn’t exactly cover herself in glory by opting to retaliate in an interview with this newspaper – while also preaching the importance of united leadership.
And so at the very moment when the GSU’s leadership needed to show unity, it cracked wide open. It’s hard to see how the pieces can be patched back together.