I interviewed Ruairí Power who is running for Welfare Officer of UCD Students’ Union (SU). Power is no stranger to student activism as he co-founded the ‘Fix our education UCD’ campaign group, claiming to tackle the commercialisation of UCD. I spoke to Power, who is the current Auditor of UCD Social Democrats, about his intentions if he is elected as Welfare Officer. We have interviewed Power and all other SU Election candidates, grilling them on their manifesto promises which can be found on social platforms online.
We began by speaking about why he chose to run for the position. Power cited his involvement with ‘Fix Our Education UCD’ and how they are “working closely with the Students’ Union” in “campaigning against rent increases and functioning student support services.” He told me he would “like to use the framework and resources within the Students’ Union in order to take the campaigning to a more effective level.”
Power and I spoke about mental health, which was at the top of his manifesto. I enquired about how his idea of “7/7 emergency mental healthcare” would operate and how he would obtain funding. Power told me he wants to “speak with the clinical lead and see what practical resources are available” but would like to extend the emergency care beyond “a few hours during the day and the evening with niteline.” He went on to tell me how this extension would be both in-person and online, and how “a wider range of services would be of benefit to students.” Power further suggested student-led mental health support.
When pressed on how he wants to reduce student waiting times on mental health appointments by 3 weeks and limiting outsourcing, Power told me that “while it’s not something I can do as Welfare Officer, it’s only really something I can campaign for.” Power said he would like to “push for an increase in security and flexibility in UCD counselling staff contracts, which is going to come down to funding. […] The university can well afford to resource the funding for mental health staff. It chooses not to. Unfortunately, that is a position we can’t reconcile with within the Students’ Union. So, we must continue to rally against the commercialisation of UCD.”
Power and I spoke on the issue of disability services within UCD. I began by asking the candidate on ending self-advocacy for disability students and what he meant by such an objective. “The ALL centre are under resourced, which leaves students in a position where they have had to self-advocate for the appropriate academic support. There hasn’t been a reasonable amount of support that the Access Centre or a student advisor can provide to students. […] The university makes a big deal out of being a centre of excellence when it comes to providing for students with disabilities, that’s not the reality from a number of student’s perspective.”
Power went on and spoke about opening up a fund for diagnosis/rediagnosis for student disabilities. When asked on how he plans to obtain these services, Power conceded “it will come down to UCD deciding how to spend their money. They need to do a complete 180 and we will keep campaigning and lobby for political support to make sure they do.”
I asked Power about his manifesto section on sexual health. I was particularly interested on his idea of implementing rapid HIV testing in UCD, rather than a full free STI clinic that opposing candidate Rebecca O’Connor proposed. Power told me that while “Rebecca’s suggestion of bringing back the full free STI testing back is one that I am firmly for, I want to actually bring in what I’ve promised. I don’t think the money is there for the full range of services yet, but that is where I’d like to start with HIV testing.”
Power continued on with his plans for SHAG week, saying he wants to “bring awareness to sexual health beyond just one week. I have a number of awareness campaigns that I would like to run throughout the year. I think the past few Welfare Officers have ran impressive SHAG weeks, so I’d like to build on that and expand on the scale of it. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
Power and I discussed rent and campus affordability, which was a hot topic prior to UCD campus being closed. I began by questioning Power on what lengths he is willing to go to in order for UCD to reverse the 12% increase. Power responded by telling me that “UCD didn’t listen to students or the SU last year, and they’re probably not going to do so this year either. So, we have to look for external sources to push the agenda. I want to seek intervention from the higher education authority in relation to ringfencing student support funds.”
“UCD are planning to take out a mortgage for the funding of additional student accommodation units on campus. I contend that it is not responsible to take out massive mortgages and price students out of living spaces. We need to escalate protests and look towards maybe occupying locations. The university hasn’t given any sign that they’ll backdown so far.”
One of Power’s promises in his manifesto is to base housing on need and not the current random allocation system. I asked him how such basis will be carried out: “One issue that it could be based on is distance. Some students are forced to commute huge distances over the semester. I would like to see accommodation for students who live at distance given priority. I would also like to increase accommodation for access students. The current system does not take into consideration any students circumstances. This can’t be done alone by the students union; this has to be a collaborative basis from students and staff to rehaul how we are currently dealing with housing.”
Power and I wrapped up the interview after asking him what he would like to see as his lasting impact if elected. He responded by saying “I would like to see intervention. From political and board of higher education levels to put on pressure. The university has put millions into elitist infrastructure in the last few years and that can’t be reconciled with.”
Luke Murphy – Reporter