Rachel Breslin talks to Donie O’Sullivan about running uncontested in the upcoming SU Presidential election, nurse her vision for the future of the SU, ask the proposed constitution, medicine and who she thinks is responsible for the SU debt.
UCD Students’ Union looks set to get its first female President in over a decade as current Welfare Officer Rachel Breslin is running unopposed in the race for the top job in the country’s biggest Students’ Union.
Rachel, a twenty year old Business and Law student from Bundoran in Co. Donegal, says her year as Welfare Officer inspired her to run for the position of President. “It has really made me believe more in the ability of students to come together and change things and has made me believe more in the power of the Students’ Union to make everyone’s college experience better.”
Breslin has arguably had the most successful term in office of any of the current crop of sabbatical officers. With a good deal of her promises from last year fulfilled and comparatively few public mishaps, the consensus in the SU corridor seems to be that Breslin is a hard worker and will make a good President.
However some of Breslin’s more significant manifesto promises from last year are yet to come to fruition, such as the creation of a “safe space” in the city centre for students at night, a facility to allow students to request free condoms using their SIS, and a special volunteering section on the SU website.
Breslin was criticised in semester one for a poor turnout at a Welfare related event in the student bar, and also a number of weeks ago when the SU was forced to cancel the Residences’ Ball due to slow ticket sales. In both instances, however, Breslin emerged relatively unscathed as neither case seemed to generate the same level of criticism, particularly online, as other SU failings.
Breslin says that overall she is happy with her year and that she has “no big regrets.” She describes the past number of months as a “crucial year” for UCDSU as “it’s a year that we as a Students’ Union took on issues that we really needed to take on that had been ignored for several years.” The issues she alludes to relate to the financial position of the SU. Breslin believes it has been “a much more difficult year than Pat [de Brún] could ever have thought it would be.”
Breslin maintains that she was happy with all of the major decisions de Brún made this year on the SU finances and said, “if every student knew exactly what’s going on in the Students’ Union they would have made the exact same decisions.” With that in mind, Breslin says she hopes to improve how the Union communicates information to students, although she points out that this year the Union addressed big issues that wouldn’t normally be anticipated.
If elected, Breslin will take charge of a very different SU to the one she was elected to less than twelve months ago. The Union will be a limited company, a new constitution may be in place and an enormous debt will have to be paid. On the issue of the SU debt, which is estimated to be in the region of €1 million, Breslin says she is hopeful that an outcome between the university and the Union will emerge. “The college and the Union must work together, there is no point in blame right now, because that won’t help one single student going forward.” However she acknowledges that “it’s such a significant sum of money that there are questions to be answered.”
Breslin played a central role in the drafting of the proposed new SU constitution and is an adamant supporter of its ratification. She believes that “there are a lot of areas where it will make improvements,” and dismisses criticisms that under the new constitution the Welfare Officer would not have enough time to deal with personal cases.
When the College Tribune asked her about potential issues that may emerge from the lack of detail in the constitution about the “Entertainment Manager” that would replace the elected entertainment sabbatical officer, Breslin didn’t comprehensively address how these issues could be resolved, though she did point out that “the main thing about that [the proposed new structure of Ents] is that the President has the ultimate say.”
Breslin’s manifesto has a number of novel promises, all of which she claims are feasible, including a system that allows students to hand in their laptops at the library desk to be charged if they can’t find an electrical socket, meals in the soon-to-reopen Forum Bar until 11pm each night, more free water fountains across the college and plans to give students the opportunity to use the space in the Arts Tunnel, formerly occupied by the copy bureau, to run their own business or charitable project, with 25% of the profits going to the Welfare Fund. Breslin also hopes to ensure that the SU website is improved and updated far more regularly, but is not committing to a complete overhaul of it.
She also promises that a referendum on USI will be held next year. Depending on the upcoming SU referendum, UCDSU’s position on fees may no longer be consistent with USI’s. If this were to occur, Breslin believes that a USI referendum would have to be held in the first semester of the next academic year. When asked her own position on USI, Breslin said she thought it would be inappropriate for her to say. She said that she was content with the level of reform in the new USI constitution, but that ultimately it was up to UCD students to decide if they believed they were getting their money’s worth from USI membership.
Breslin pledges to remove the overnight element of class-rep training, and hence the costs associated with this, and to have more continuous training throughout the year.
Breslin seems to know well the workings of the SU and appears almost as competent at answering questions on the complexities of the reform of UCDSU as the current President. The ladder of succession to the role of President is often criticised, but on this occasion it may prove effective as the Union will need an experienced hand to guide it through its first year as a limited company and to implement the new SU constitution, if UCD students decide to ratify it.
The process of uncovering the level of SU debt was spearheaded this year by Pat de Brún. Although, if elected, it will be important for Breslin to look to the future and ensure a stable SU for UCD students, it is also of great importance that those responsible for the SU debt are held to account. That’s the challenge, and Breslin should go to it.
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