UCD Students’ Union is organising a new event to replace the UCD Ball, which is set to take place in Dun Laoghaire Harbour on Friday 28th April, the last day of semester 2. Paul Kilgallon, SU Entertainments Manager (ENTs), explained to the Tribune that the University Management Team (UMT), which is led by UCD President Andrew Deeks, last year ‘rejected plans to hold the UCD Ball on campus and made it very clear to the SU that the college did not want the event on the campus’. Since then he has been ‘searching for a feasible alternative’. Kilgallon stated ‘the solution I found is not ideal, but is a strong step in the right direction’.
The new project described by Kilgallon is titled ‘The Ball’, an event for all third level students. DIT Student’s Union has already been unveiled as an official partner for The Ball. Kilgallon said he has ensured that UCD students are given preference with regards to the ticket allocation. He stated the licenced capacity for the event is 7,500. At present, DIT have been allocated 1,500 of these tickets. However, ‘should UCD require all of the remainder of the tickets, they will get them’. Other current partners include radio station Spin 1038.
“University management last year ‘rejected plans to hold the UCD Ball on campus and made it very clear to the SU that the college did not want the event on the campus”
The UCD Ball has always been advertised as a UCD-only event, held on the last day of the second semester. Partnering with other universities marks a significance change for UCD ENTs. Kilgallon explained how this change was necessary with regard to two main factors, demand for the ball and its cost. After 2 years with no official UCD Ball, the demand for some form of Ball has not fallen off. Since there is no chance of hosting it on campus, a location must be hired. According to Kilgallon, the ‘cost of the event is astronomical, so broadening the market only makes sense, especially in year one of a new event’. The joint-college event will look to challenge the always popular Trinity Ball, held in their front square courtyard each year.
History of the UCD Ball
The UCD Ball was traditionally the biggest event hosted by UCD Students’ Union and the SU ENTs team each year. The past few years have seen constant disputes between UCDSU, the UCD administration and the Gardaí over securing an event licence for the Ball on campus. In short, 2012 was the last year the event was held on campus. It was moved to the O2 Arena (now the 3 Arena) for 2013 and 2014 but attendance was disappointing. There was no official UCD Ball in 2015 and 2016.
Even when the UCD Ball was held on campus, problems arose. The 2011 Ball was originally planned for the final Thursday of the semester. UCDSU initially cancelled the event following a dispute with the university authorities. The event licence was at the centre of the controversy. After a student campaign to save the event, it was re-scheduled for the Saturday 23rd April. The dispute resulted in a reduction of tickets available at the time. Originally planned to accommodate 8,000 people, the Irish Times then reported it had to cut this back to 4,999 people in order for UCDSU to avoid having to get a new event licence. The 2012 Ball, headlined by Professor Green, only went ahead on campus after UCDSU overcame several objections.
For Gardaí, the main concern is the safety risk associated with hosting such a large event on campus. Past instances of heavy drinking and UCD’s proximity to the N11 flyover have been cited as key problems. Previous licence grants required UCD to essentially shut down the campus to non-event traffic. The administration was unhappy as many people needed to access the campus on what was still a day in the academic teaching term, and the logistical problems due to the numerous entrances and points of access onto the Belfield campus.
Campaign Promises to Bring the Ball Back
The move away from campus came at a considerable cost to UCDSU. Audited accounts from UCDSU for the financial year ended 30th June 2014 reveal the SU lost €121,148 hosting the 2014 event in the 02 Arena. The 2013 accounts saw UCDSU receive €125,144 in income from the UCD Ball. That dropped to €70,245 for the 2014 financial year. While income from the Ball fell, student enthusiasm for the tradition remained. Ex-UCDSU Presidents Fergal Hynes and Marcus O’Halloran both pledged to bring back the Ball during their election campaigns and viewed it as a key issue.
After unsuccessful attempts to hold the Ball during the 2014/2015 academic year, then SU President Fergal Hynes stated ‘we met as many key stakeholders as early as possible to find a way to host the ball on campus with our main priority being the safety of students. We felt that we had a strong argument when presenting an event management plan and other details to address the concerns of the Gardaí’. The statement marked a far cry from his campaign manifesto, which said, ‘getting the ball back on campus is #1 for me. I want to see 5,000 students, wellies, sunglasses, and smiles. I want to see the hottest acts from all over the world. I want that one day back, where UCD campus is like no other’. Similarly, when on the campaign trail for President in early 2015, Marcus O’Halloran told the Tribune the ‘only place for the UCD Ball is on campus’ and that ‘holding it off campus is far too expensive’. In contrast, current UCDSU President Conor Viscardi made far less noise about it during his campaign last year, saying he would look into the possibility of hosting a Ball on campus if students wanted one, when speaking at election hustings.
The return of an end of year Ball will likely be a big event for the Students’ Union and the Ents Crew, but an off-campus location is as in previous years going to find difficulty capturing the festival atmosphere from when the UCD Ball took over Belfield for the day.
Cian Carton | News Editor