This year’s UCD Students’ Union (SU) Election Hustings suffered meaningfully from the lack of an audience. Previous year’s hustings featured indelible moments which drew laughs and shocks from the audience. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, these hustings were a sorry imitation in comparison. The hustings, usually the peak of the sabbatical elections, have been distributed in video format on the Union’s social media pages.
While the online format and technical limitations neutered any inter-candidate dispute, it is worth noting that the Returning Office was faced with an impossible task and commendably continued with the hustings in a very difficult time for all involved. One of the main takeaways from hustings was the near consensus among the candidates that the Union must continue the militant activism which was seen in the latter half of the current Officer’s terms.
The online debate was chaired by UCDSU Returning Officer with a panel of interviewers featuring former-UCDSU Sabbatical Officer Dr Shane Comer, College Tribune Editor Conor Capplis and University Observer Editor Gavin Treacy.
Campaigns & Engagement Officer:
Running unopposed for the position of Campaigns and Engagement Officer, Leighton Gray focused on getting students more involved in the Union’s activism. This task may however be difficult given the COVID-19 pandemic leading to social distancing regulations whose impact on their plans would be “hard to predict”, according to Gray. They seemed ill-prepared to answer how they would get around the issues caused by COVID-19 and lacked creativity in how they would move their activism online.
Gray struggled with questions about whether ignorance on issues for the trans-community can be transphobia, initially appearing to opine that it was, before appearing to backtrack on the issue upon further scrutiny.
Gray played it safe in the hustings and although they handled the topic of student activism well, they did so in an uninspiring way. Despite their campaign being centred around activism, Gray did not show themselves to be the activist leader that the union needs.
The first of our contested races, the race for Welfare Officers was a largely one-sided affair. Fix Our Education co-chair Ruairí Power came out of the box sharper than his opponent Rebecca O’Connor, despite the lack of inter-candidate debate during the welfare hustings.
Often referring back to his manifesto, Power had more depth to his answers and appeared more researched than his counterpart who admitted that she had made mistakes regarding the waiting times for mental health services in her interview with the Tribune. O’Connor explained that she had meant to congratulate the outgoing Officer, for her work campaigning to reduce waiting times rather than for bringing about a quantitative reduction in the time spent waiting for the service. She was unclear when asked how she intended to achieve a reduction in waiting times.
O’Connor was strong when it came to issues of accessibility, however, for a candidate who stressed her experience in the Union as a class rep, it was Power who played into his experience as Fix Our Education co-founder more effectively. Power responded to the difficult questions more persuasively than his counterpart in the hustings often building upon O’Connor’s answers with substantive suggestions on issues such as accessibility for students with disabilities.
Power appears to have more experience in campaigning, an appearance which O’Connor did nothing to shatter. O’Connor declared her intention to continue the fight for student supports and to build upon the work of this year’s union. Power called for an escalation of the union’s recent actions calling for a “push for political intervention”, a stance which mirrors his actions with Fix Our Education. The Welfare hustings saw the two candidates frequently disagree but fail to directly address each other’s stances.
Our second contested race was between People Before Profit’s Darryl Horan and the current UCDSU Disability Rights Officer Hannah Bryson. The education hustings featured a number of missed opportunities as both candidates failed to score points on a number of topics.
Despite fumbling his opening remarks, drawing a blank mid-way through, Horan stressed his campaigning credentials as part of Fix Our Education throughout the hustings. This marks the first gap between the candidates as Bryson is largely focused on eliminating the disability rights concerns which she saw throughout her time in UCD.
When asked about his manifesto lacking any direct mention of disabilities, Horan refused to comment on concrete plans to address disabilities rights concerns before the conclusion of the Widening Participation Survey. Horan appeared to minimise the priority of disability concerns, stating that he had included disability rights issues on his original manifesto before cutting them out due to length concerns. Bryson refuted Horan’s position explaining that disability issues cannot wait, saying that students were dropping out of college now as a result of the lack of support.
If Horan struggled on disability issues, he turned it around regarding proposals of student activism, providing concrete proposals of direct-student action which he would help run in order to bring about his main objective, a reduction in fees for students.
Bryson stumbled on a number of questions when asked about her proposal to divert a quarter of the Union’s charitable fund to a discretionary fund for students in financial difficulty. Bryson explained that this fund could help “3 or 4 students stay in university” in her interview with the Tribune when questioned about the scope of the fund. This prediction falls far short of the 1,000 students which she initially predicted she could help throughout the year.
With such little difference between the two candidates, the main point of opposition is over where the candidates prioritise disability rights and whether voters prefer Darryl’s experience in campaigning over the time Hannah spent in the Union this year.
Unopposed in the race for Events Officer, Sarah Michalek was light on details throughout her interview. The current Mental Health Officer stressed her experience in organising events in that role.
In her recent interview with the College Tribune, Michalek admitted that she had not reached out to Happy Pear before promising to get the organisation to come to UCD in her manifesto. When questioned further on this topic, Michalek failed to answer whether she had reached out to a number of other groups which she promised to attract to UCD before writing her manifesto. She did clarify that she had reached out to Happy Pear since that interview and said that they “were not opposed to coming in”.
If Michalek appeared unprepared for hustings, she attempted to make up for it by proposing that she plan events around the results of polls on the Entstagram to determine what students actually want.
Current Graduate Officer, Conor Anderson is running uncontested for the position atop the SU throne. Anderson seemed less rehearsed than many other candidates, relying upon his experience of working within the Union instead of learned-off rhetoric and showed a strong understanding of the workings of the task ahead of him in the process.
Anderson is very much stressing the importance of continuity of the Union’s militancy during the past year and wants the “in your face activism” to continue from the offset during his presidency. The presumptive President responded strongly to potential criticisms of his proposals when asked whether his militant approach could sour the relationship with UCD management. In response to recent claims by the current SU President, Joanna Siewierska, that UCD President Andrew Deeks was “quite sexist” in his remarks on the female-led Union (calling the rent protests “emotional” in an interview with the Irish Times), Anderson stated that while he agrees that Deeks was being sexist, he wants to focus on their political differences.
Despite the increase in engagement which Anderson has brought about during his time as the Graduate Officer, no candidate emerged in time to make the ballot to replace him. Anderson was willing to take the blame for this. He admitted that he may not have done enough to ensure that someone would take up the mantle, though stated that there was a candidate for the position in the upcoming by-election.
The sole candidate for the position, Anderson likely strengthened his claim on the throne in the hustings in a confident yet careful performance.
Leigton Gray alongside Ruairí Power, Darryl Horan and Hannah Bryson expressed their support for rejoining USI. Presidential candidate Conor Anderson and Rebecca O’Connor were in the minority of candidates who stood against rejoining the Union. Ents candidate Sarah Michalek was the only candidate unwilling to give a definitive answer.
Voter registration has now ended. The online polling will begin at 9am on Tuesday April 28th.
Follow the College Tribune for extensive UCDSU Election 2020 coverage.
Hugh Dooley – Reporter
Luke Murphy – Reporter
Conor Capplis – Editor