The College Tribune spoke to Ruairí Power, the outgoing Welfare Officer and one of three candidates for the UCDSU Presidency. You can read the three presidential candidate’s opinions on USI, Fee Refunds and rating UCD’s Covid Response here.
The Clarecastle local believes that students should people vote for him based on his track record during his current term as Welfare Officer, which he characterised as a success. He is running for the presidency as he believes the Union is in quite a difficult position at the moment, being online during the ongoing pandemic. “I think most students, unfortunately, see the union as irrelevant, ineffective, and we are facing a legitimacy crisis”. Power believes that he can hit the ground running this year in his goal to make the Union “a stronger, more democratic and more transparent team.”
Asked what he would do differently to the existing UCDSU President Conor Anderson, Power said that the existing team under Anderson got a lot right though he notes that “one area where he fell down on was transparency, and a lot of students are not seeing us on campus this year; they don’t know what work we’re doing.” This perceived failing is informing Power’s plans for next year should he be elected: “If it’s going to be a hybrid model next year, we’re going to be still largely online. We need to ensure that people know exactly what we’re at all the time, making ourselves accountable and approachable to students.”
Power believes that the Students’ Union are going through a “legitimacy crisis”, only one of the sabbatical officer positions is contested and last year’s elections had the lowest turnout in the history of UCDSU, just 4%. At what point does turnout drop so low that the elected officers lose their mandate? Power answered that “currently [UCDSU are] in a legitimacy crisis., 4% turnout is not good. […] That period shows that most students don’t see us as relevant or effective.”
Power hopes for a better turnout this year, explaining that a clunky voting system last year may have lead to lower voting numbers, “my goal next year is, if I’m president for next year’s elections, I would like to see at least a doubling of the turnover this year as elections, we need to be able to set targets so students can hold us directly accountable.”
Does his Manifesto have the “Power to Get Things Done”
Powers’ plan to increase engagement and to counter the idea that the Union is ineffective and irrelevant is an ambitious programme, with a specific focus on students in the schools of Engineering and Agriculture. Power wants to have more action on the “bread and butter issues” to engage disinterested students as well as hosting 10 town hall meetings throughout the year to gauge student opinions. He put a special emphasis on making sure the Union has a “physical presence on campus” next year.
Away from issues on Union engagement Power is also quite vocal on the plight of Post Graduate workers and in calling for a reduction in registration and repeat fees. These issues of affordability have been raised for decades in UCD, The College Tribune asked Ruairí what he could do differently. Power said it was an issue that needed a long-term strategy but that he “can’t promise anything with regards to fee reductions. I don’t have control over it, but I can promise campaign”.
Many of Power’s manifesto points during his run for Welfare Officer were obstructed by the pandemic, he intends to follow-up on many of these during his term as president. One such promise was his manifesto point that he would work to achieve subsidized staple foods from the SU shops, Power said that he intends to follow this up next year as this was one of his plans that was “kneecapped at the beginning of last year” by the pandemic.
Power’s Opposition: Would Leonard and Coyle do it better?
Power believes that his year as Welfare Officer is one of his big selling points against his competitors. Power admits he wasted “days and hours, pouring through documents” at the start of his term preparing for different boards and committees. Despite this effort, Power felt that he was a “token student representative”. Having this experience, Power argues mean he “wouldn’t be as naïve, definitely going into the presidential job. I think that’s the benefit of having someone who’s had experience of being in a position for a few months”
Power is not running unopposed, Ed Leonard and Liam Coyle represent his competition for the position. Ruairí rates Leonard as “a safe pair of hands” and “wouldn’t have any reservations with giving [Leonard] a second preference. He believes that a number of Leonard’s manifesto points are “very shortsighted and look good on paper, but won’t benefit students in the long run”.
Power believes that Coyle’s manifesto lacks detail; “I would have concerns about how robust his plans are and about the judgment arising from the issue with the voting registration. […] He has been a very confident college officer this year, but I think that was a very significant error of judgment and I would have concerns that his intentions with the union next year.” Liam Coyle has been sanctioned twice by the Returning Officer this year for breaches of election regulations after using his position as Business College Officer to canvass for nominations. The full story can be read here.
Power emphasises that he believes neither of his competitors have the experience he has, nor a track record in active campaigning. This Power argues will allow him to “hit the ground running” and avoid “wasting months doing handover and ensuring that I’m getting to grips with the different boards and committees”. Though praised Leonard and Coyle for their commitment to improving the transparency of the Union.
Hugh Dooley – News Editor