In a crowded Theatre M, site the 11 candidates for the 5 Sabbatical Officer positions took to the stage in their final opportunity to appeal to students for their votes in elections on Wednesday and Thursday. The hustings were hosted by Matthew Costello of Belfield FM and Brendan Lannoye of the Literary and Historical Society.
Welfare candidates Enda Conway and Micheál Gallagher were the first to face the crowds. Conway mentioned his plans for a ‘Know Your Welfare’ campaign which would inform students as to what welfare can do for them. His idea of creating a peer support scheme for students who must go on work placement was greeted with applause. If created, generic students from faculties such as nursing would be able to contact a more experienced student to “[give them] the help they need, and what’s more, the help they deserve”.
Following this, Gallagher stated that he was the most experienced candidate for the position; citing the knowledge he has gained, the work he has done, and the money he has raised through his work on Welfare Crew over the previous three years. If elected, Gallagher hopes to expand the student support fund to necessities such as the travel or leap cards. He will also become a first reach contact point for students who may need mental health support and assess if they may need to be referred on to a health professional.
Lannoye asked the candidates how they would deal with a situation where a female student would feel uncomfortable discussing issues with a male Welfare Officer. Conway stated that while he hoped that students would feel comfortable to approach him, he would ensure that female students had access to counsellors or advisers if they preferred to speak to a female. Gallagher mentioned that his course was predominantly female and he felt he was in touch with his feminine side, but would ensure that students could link in with unopposed Presidential candidate Breslin if a student did not feel comfortable talking to him.
Gallagher tackled a question regarding his organisational abilities by stating that he had worked on them during the past year as Arts PRO and felt he had changed them completely. Similarly, Conway was directly asked why the “we” needed to be put back into “welfare” with consideration to the sizeable Welfare Crew; he replied that the “we” referred to every person in UCD.
Both candidates were asked how they would tackle the growing problem of eating disorders. The pair agreed that it was a huge problem with Conway saying that one of the biggest parts of running a campaign on this issue would be ensuring that all students knew how to recognise the signs. Gallagher stated that he would continue working with BodyWise but increase the “social media aspect … to get the word out to every single student”.
Unusually, neither candidate took the opportunity to ask their opponent a question.
Entertainment Vice-President candidate Eoin Heffernan reaffirmed his stance on bringing “Ents back down to the ground”. When questioned on his plans for Ents sponsorship by Robert Manning – a former Ents Officer candidate – Heffernan mentioned the possibility of getting sponsorship for events in the bar, Ents hoodies and the UCD Ball.
Costello questioned Heffernan as to what he thought ‘affordable’ drinks and ticket prices were. The candidate replied that he believed €3 drinks were acceptable and that he hoped ticket prices (excluding the UCD Ball) would not rise about €15, preferably below €10. He stated that “people don’t have enough trust in Ents” and that he wants to change the “need” to bring big acts to the bar in order to get students in.
Following the Ents husting, the three Education candidates took to the stage. Shane Comer stated that he knows that the Education Vice-President “can do … should do” and that the input of students is “the most valuable advice [he] can get”. Comer highlighted his plan to help students get internships as he felt this was a vital experience. At his first public hustings, Patrick Wolohan argued that he was an “honest guy” with “no ulterior motives”. He would hope to run a mentorship programme with UCD alumni to aid students in choosing what career path they wish to follow. Finally, current Education Officer Sam Geoghegan stated that students should re-elect him as his number one priority is defending the rights of students. He mentioned that he wants to fight to stop outstanding fees preventing students from moving forward in their degree.
Comer was asked by the crowd that in relation to his views on internships, should he not be “promoting paid work and not slave labour?” He argued that while the majority of internships are unpaid, that experience students would receive would be huge, “that’s the payment you get”. Geoghegan asked his opponent if he had a specific plan on sourcing companies open to this idea; Comer responded that “the plan of action is to go out and look”. Third candidate, Wolohan, stated that while he believed experience is the main benefit of having an internship, Comer was “very vague” about how he would achieve it.
Geoghegan took the opportunity to categorically deny that he had or that he would apply for the position of USI Education Officer. The candidates were asked what the preferred method of resolving the situation with the cutting of post-grand grant would be. Wolohan stated that his would be persistent lobbying of the government. Comer and Geoghegan agreed with this but also endorsed the introduction of a post-grad loan scheme.
Comer asked Geoghegan about the transfer of UCD Connect to G-mail and if he “oversaw” it as it was already in progress, Geoghegan stated that he was not taking liberties for anyone else’s work. He then asked Comer about his plans to introducing kettles and microwaves to student study areas. Comer stated he thought it was something which was “very realistic”. Geoghegan countered by saying that he had spoken to the manager of the current and new student centre who stated that “in no uncertain terms, there would be no kettles and no microwaves in any building”. Comer replied that he would have his own negotiations with the manager.
After this, the sole candidate for the Presidency of UCDSU, Rachel Breslin took her turn in facing the crowd. She began by stating that next year will be a defining year for the Union in ensuring that it will be a sustainable one. She promised to students that “you will see the Union working for you … fighting for the things you want to fight for and you will believe in the Union again”. She believed that she can make those promises due to her work as Welfare Officer this year.
Breslin was asked her views on the work which the current Sabbatical Officers have done and improvements which could be made in the roles. She stated that there are still a number of months left in current officers’ terms and they should be allowed to finish them before criticisms are aired. Breslin encouraged students to vote for the C&C candidate who will be able to encompass the communication ideas of all candidates, “let’s do them all”. She believed that the education hustings provides interesting insights on internships. With regard to the president, Breslin stated that as well as the financial aspect she wants to look at the bigger projects for next year “so the Union really does something for you”.
When Lannoye asked Breslin who she believes was responsible for the Union debt, she stated that it was “very much down to both the college and the Students’ Union … I think [they both] have to own up to it”. Breslin referred to a University staff member who had ultimate control over the Union’s finances and that due to this she felt the University should partially pay for the debt. “I think it’s important that the Union takes control of its own finances so we’re not in this situation again,” she stated before discussing her four year commercial plan which takes into account the four Union shops and the two bars.
The Presidential candidate stated that if the results of the upcoming referendum show that students wish to continue the campaign for ‘free fees’, she will work on a multistep plan over the summer on how they will protest before the Budget and how they will fight before an increase takes effect. She stated that as Welfare Officer, it was not appropriate for her to state her view on fees.
Breslin accepted that her worst attribute would be her weakness in relation to Ents as it is “something [she is] going to have to work on”. She argued that her work ethic is her best attribute, “I will give everything to the Union, I can say that hand on heart.”
Campaigns and Communications
The candidates for the most highly contested position, Campaigns and Communications Officer, were the last to take to the stage. First to speak was current Sports Officer Paddy Guiney who stated that the main role of the position is “campaigning, it’s not about self-promotion … I have the most passion, the most energy, the most experience.” 2nd year Karl Gill stated that he believes he is the candidate with “the most experience, in particular, in relation to campaigns”. He told the audience that he is the “only candidate … that truly believes that free education is a right and not a privilege”.
Arts PRO Aisling Sheerin stated that she wants “to see a different Union next year. I want the Union to be ever changing, ever growing”. She hopes that with her experience she can create a Union which is approachable. Commerce student James Atkinson informed the audience that he wanted a C&C Officer who is approachable, professional and accountable.
The first question went to Paddy Guiney in relation to accusations that he is under investigation by the Vice-President of Students, Martin Butler, for acts allegedly committed while employed as a RA. The alleged acts included cutting of a master key, theft of money, and going to the student bar while in possession of the emergency telephone. Guiney admitted that he is under investigation by Butler. He stated that he resigned from his position and stayed with a friend in Roebuck for two days leading to his ban and investigation. He denied all other allegations.
Gill was questioned about his statement that if elected, he would resign if the SU’s mandate on fees is changed. He stated that the referendum shows the difference between “those in elected office and the mass student body”. Gill believed that it was disgraceful for people to run for positions without believing in what they are campaigning for. He did not think that it would affect his ability to work with other Sabbatical Officers, “what the Sabbatical Office needs is a lot more healthy debate”.
Atkinson was questioned about his recently released campaign video which contained a derogatory term. He stated that “[he] never set out to offend anybody”. Atkinson stated that he apologised for saying the comment in the first place and for it being in the released video; Current Campaigns and Communications Officer submitted a question on this topic due to him having received complaints about the video.
When asked about her manifesto for Arts PRO which does not appear to be completed, Sheerin accepted that she was “simply naive being a first year” and that she did not know what she was going into, “you can’t fault my current manifesto.”
Sheerin asked her fellow candidates what their political affiliations were and if they had aspirations to a career in politics. She stated that she was not politically aligned nor did she wish to be a politician. Gill explained his views and that he was “a political activist, not a careers politician”. Guiney informed students that he was a member of Kevin Barry Cumann but he was not an active member; “I don’t think political affiliation should come into this, it’s the person who’s running”. Atkinson also mentioned that he joined Ógra Fianna Fáil as a first year “to make friends”.
Candidates were asked if they believed it was right that students are effectively ‘forced’ to become members of UCDSU. Sheerin stated that she believed they should have a choice. Gill and Guiney also replied that they should have the opportunity to opt out while Atkinson said he did think it was right.
Following the hustings the current Campaigns and Communications Officer, Brendan Lacy, expressed his disappointment at the calibre of candidates’ campaigns asking where were their policies on fees and access to education.
Polling for the five positions takes place on Wednesday 29th and Thursday 1st.
Coming later today….