On-going coronavirus restrictions have forced Trinity College Dublin Student Union’s (TCDSU) sabbatical elections to be held entirely online, but they have not dampened down the drama – as clearly shown at today’s Dining Hall hustings.
Rather than just delivering opening speeches, this year’s first hustings was spiced up compared to previous years as candidates were challenged with follow-up questions, providing moments of tension and agitation throughout.
If today is any indication of what is to come, we’re in for a turbulent, yet riveting, campaign period as a diverse field of candidates with widely differing visions and experiences sought to hit the ground running by convincing voters early in their opening pitch.
After last year’s divisive presidential race, it is perhaps surprising that this year’s showing features three candidates who have not widely differentiated themselves from the get-go.
While these dining hall hustings are traditionally more introductory in nature, all candidates used their pitches to touch on many of the major problems affecting students rather than what the specifics of their respective presidencies would look like.
Keogh had perhaps the most definitive idea of what her presidency would entail, telling the virtual audience that she has the “institutional knowledge to drive change” and heavily emphasised the benefits of her experience as this year’s welfare and equality officer.
Out of the three candidates, Ben Cummins had the most to say about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, promising that in its aftermath he would “build back community” and help the student community emerge from the pandemic in a “safe and sustainable” manner. Both Keogh and Cummins came across as confident and well-prepared, but both failed to convey how their presidency would be different from anyone who came before them.
Luke MacQuillan, the only candidate who does not have previous union experience, leaned heavily on pledges to improve the student experience, touching on issues such as timetabling, disability services and student spaces. In his initial speech, MacQuillan singled out national issues such as pay for student nurses and midwives and student housing, telling the audience that “it’s vital that student nurses are rewarded” and “introduction of rent caps and a push for this must be approached by the student union”.
Overall, each of the candidates articulated a good overall vision for what their presidency would look like. However, with these visions looking relatively similar, the candidates will all have to be sure to emphasise what sets them apart as the hustings progress.
The battle for the role of education officer will not be an easy one – with both candidate’s avidity and fervour at today’s hustings setting strong foundations for both campaigns.
Relying on union experience – often to a routine degree – both Daniel O’Reilly and Bev Genockey are sure to have made a laudable impression on this year’s electorate in their opening speeches at this evening’s hustings.
Yet although the candidates may tread on common ground when it comes to proficiency in the sciences, candidate Dan O’Reilly made a clear attempt to distinguish himself as a jack of all on-campus trades, noting “I know I have a lot of experience in the SU but I have a lot of experience across the breadth of the college.”
Acknowledging his roles as the former S2S Head Mentor, head of the Engineering Society, member of the VDP and multiple sports clubs, the candidate seems to have cast a wide net into the many microcosms of Trinity’s campus, and this may very well prove advantageous when it comes to winning over the votes of students.
Yet, if O’Reilly has the edge on Genockey in terms of traction, the third-year Zoology student shone tonight when it came to the cornerstone of her campaign – greater accessibility for all students.
As an advocate for the HEAR scheme, the candidate brought a palpable humility to her speech when discussing her own experience as a recipient: “I know exactly what it feels like to have those financial barriers…I’m proposing a Diversity and Inclusion document – all those things can be addressed in the classroom. And I would also like to see Trinity students have their say in a review of the SUSI grant because that is definitely a system that needs reforming.”
Given the ever-changing nature of higher education, O’Reilly and Genockey are not sure to get off as lightly as next week’s hustings approach. Representing a student population that has grown weary with the College’s approach to online learning, the candidates are likely to face some arduous interrogation throughout the campaign season.
In a race that so clearly is one of solid-grounding and vivacity, the upcoming hustings may allow for fault lines to appear in these polished campaigns.
Welfare and Equality
In this three-way race, candidates pulled on their varying degrees of experience with TCDSU to frame their manifesto points
Welfare is set to be one of the most hotly contested races, and – unlike some of the races – differences among the candidates have emerged early on.
Final-year music student Cathal O’Riordan took a pared back approach, straying away from his policy points to emphasise his own experiences as a previously disengaged Trinity student, which he considered far from unique. In contrast, Mueller-Owens took the opportunity to hammer home her extensive experience within the union and gave a more comprehensive run-down of her ambitious manifesto points. As a recent but enthusiastic participant of the union, Dylan Krug outlined the support frameworks he plans to establish and had made an information-dense opening speech.
It appears O’Riordan will run a somewhat unorthodox race, focused on individual casework as opposed to broader policy changes. Overall, O’Riordan gave off an air of humility – if at times, drifting into informality.
While Mueller-Owens rhymed off her avid involvement with the union thus far, she also committed to fighting for lower fees on a national level. However, her clear professionalism was communicated at the cost of the personability presented by O’Riordan in particular.
Krug, who was very matter of fact throughout, insisted on the importance of placing information in the hands of students and plans to create “centralised, comprehensive sources of information” in the form of “What Do I Do Now?” documents, building upon an earlier model which describes the steps and resources available for disclosures of sexual assault in college.
Having only participated in the union over the past six months but with plenty of knowledge, Krug strikes an interesting balance between the emphasised former disengagement of O’Riordan and the extended involvement of Muller-Owens.
Today’s hustings illustrated that the coronavirus pandemic – along with more traditional issues like accessibility and inclusion – will likely dominate this year’s ents race.
Speaking quickly and with confidence, Antonia Brady showed off her experience while proposing ideas for restructuring events in light of possible lingering restrictions next term. While her suggestions for new events were not radical, the launch of her campaign focused on building from experience, in particular by removing access barriers.
Arrowsmith succinctly laid out his plan for alternative possibilities for ents next year, from a full reopening of nightlife to another year entirely online. He pitched a “Senior Fresher’s” week as part of his campaign point: “Making up for a Lost Year” so that current first year students will “get their own full week of events without having to gatecrash Freshers’ Week”.
Keeping his points similar to Brady’s, Arrowsmith also focused heavily on inclusivity outlining plans to hold events in more widely accessible venues.
Brady emphasised her hopes to organise “events that cater to everyone” – a point she raised well in her interview with The University Times – and to capitalise on the spaces on campus and across Dublin city.
Showcasing her enthusiasm and commitment Brady was sure to emphasise that Trinity events can maintain their scale and diversity without compromising students’ pockets.
“Some event idea I have include implementing a Christmas day series of events culminating in a festive night out, a schedule of free cultural events that lead up to Trinity Ball from gallery tours to screenings to a themed murder mystery.”
Arrowsmith revealed an expertise in Zoom events with a promise to compile a “Zoom playbook”, while also acknowledging how virtual events can become “impersonal”, saying they work better at club and society level. Arrowsmith also brought up his “Easing into it” proposal where he spoke about progressively increasing the intensity of Ents events “to build people’s confidence up to return to nights out”.
As both candidates were convincing in their opening challenge of the campaign, delivering dynamic proposals despite the uncertainty of what the future role will entail, candidates may need to do more at future hustings to distinguish themselves.
Communications and Marketing
Running uncontested, fourth-year sociology student Aoife Cronin gave a comprehensive speech at this year’s Dining Hall hustings, and it appears unlikely she will have too much trouble navigating the next two weeks.
Fleshing out her manifesto points, Cronin spoke assuredly while also highlighting her extensive experience relevant to the role of communications and marketing officer.
Cronin focused heavily on the issue of diminished student engagement with the union. Highlighting the complexity of the problem, Cronin detailed that “student engagement needs a multi-pronged approach”. Outlining her plan to take advantage of pre-existing routes of communication to get information out.
On sponsorship, the next communications officer faces the daunting task of dealing with the financial uncertainty brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic. To tackle this problem Cronin suggested the creation of a sponsorship subcommittee and believes that The University Times and Ents represent “underutilised” areas for advertisers.
When questioned about transparency, Cronin again gave a self-assured response. Pointing towards an external face for the union, which is that which the average student sees, she outlined her commitment to giving major union decisions press releases. Addressing the subject of the internal transparency, Cronin spoke about “her plans to organise the SU archive and make minutes public”.
As this year’s only uncontested candidate, and with Cronin not looking to bring in any radical changes to the role, she should coast through the election.
Editor of The University Times
Sparks have already started flying in this year’s Editor race. The two candidates, Emer Moreau and Peter Caddle, have put forth starkly contrasting candidates – and starkly contrasting approaches to winning the election..
While Moreau sought to convince voters by focusing on her experience, Caddle stuck to a single policy proposal of ending the print issue. Caddle, thumping the desk and brandishing his phone while laying out his vision for The University Times, said discontinuing print issues entirely is the way of the future, explaining that he will “drag the UT out of the 19th century and into the 21st”.
Caddle’s writing for the Burkean, a far-right publication that has previously promoted eugenics, sprung up quickly. When asked whether she was concerned with a far-right candidate running in light of the violent protests in Dublin last weekend, Moreau said that she was and that she thought “what happened on Saturday shows the importance of properly funded media outlets”.
She went on to criticise Caddle, arguing that his stance on climate change was inconsistent with articles he’s written in the past. Tension grew between the two candidates as they clashed over the matter. Caddle refuted claims that he was part of the far-right, claiming that the article – which argued that Ireland is “wasting time tackling climate change” – was written in support of environmentalism.
The two candidates also differed in their approach to finances. Moreau spoke of appointing a dedicated Advertising and Sponsorship Director. Caddle criticised the cost of The University Times, promising to “drastically reduce the running costs of the paper”, “diversify its output” and “dramatically improve the publication’s accessibility and environmental impact”.
Highlighting her experience as her greatest asset, Moreau set out her plans for diversifying The University Times, noting that “journalism in Ireland is not representative at the moment” and pledging to change this by setting up a Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Caddle has yet to touch on the more nitty-gritty aspects of his potential editorship, and will likely get a chance to elaborate further in the upcoming hustings.
If today is anything to go by, the Editor race could be the most lively of the election. It was unfortunate, however, that the conversation veered away from policy and the issues facing the paper.