With SU Sabbatical Elections coming up soon, Amy Gargan, investigates if the current SU met their campaign promises.
DURING his uncontested campaign last year, SU President Conor Viscardi promised to bring busking to UCD. It has yet to happen. Every year the UCD Student’s Union face continued criticism and backlash from what they support and what they neglect. The UCD student body has no reservations in voicing its disapproval of their representatives. However, when looking at the current SU’s work, it is important to understand their role within the UCD community.
They define themselves as a “help, advice and advocacy service for students… promoting the best interests” of the UCD student body. They do not hold the key to change but are given the opportunity to act as a medium between 30,000 students and UCD management. They cannot control the rising fees, or the cost of rent on campus, but they have the power to act as the student voice. They are there to agitate for the student’s best interests. Their role is not to physically bring change, but to let both UCD management and the government know that change is needed. As complaints continue to flood in about the current SU, the question is whether this year really did all they could for UCD.
Aside from the numerous class representative and college officers, the main source of power comes from the five Sabbatical Officers. The multiple one-horse-races that dominated the 2016 elections was a sign that the new SU would have a tough year ahead. From reading through the glorious manifestos that promised total change and an overhaul of the UCD system, it is interesting to see how many of these promises have been met.
The “Lexi for Education” Facebook page run by Education Officer Lexi Kilmartin is a continuous stream of updates, letting UCD students know what she is currently working on, plans to do, or has already achieved. Days before the commencement of the semester one exams, she posted to say she had essentially completed the main focuses points from her manifesto. Importantly, she said she would concentrate on what the students asked of her during her term from then onwards. During Kilmartin’s time, she focused on career development and degree information, which has become more widely available.
She introduced LinkedIn workshops, developed a partnership with the Careers Development Centre and Jobbio, and has improved the exam result process and registration on SISWeb. The issue of fees is one area that Kilmartin is yet to address, and is one that the UCD students have been incredibly vocal about during the year. Despite this, Kilmartin’s work as Education Office has been a wholly positive aspect of this year’s SU.
Days before the commencement of the semester one exams, she posted to say she had essentially completed the main focuses points from her manifesto.
Following UCDSU on Snapchat means watching a constant story created at the hands of Campaigns and Communications Officer Luke Fitzpatrick. As promised, the SU has taken hold of social media, using it to their advantage. Every major campus event is documented on Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram. Arguably, the SU are getting more active on social media as they progress towards the March elections. Fitzpatrick’s contested campaign focused on his promise to take a realistic approach to fees. In an interview he gave to the University Observer in March 2016, Fitzpatrick made his point in saying “I feel like you have to take it realistically… There is money, money has to go around.”
Although Fitzpatrick has greatly improved the SU’s social media presence, and the publicising of Walk Safe has been crucial, as well as publicising a healthy eating week, he has made little change to student events. The promised UCD Crew online space has never been developed, and there has been little done on educating students on alcohol and drug safety. UCD’s second RAG Week since being reintroduced was successful but underwhelming. The current campaigning for the UCD Ball certainly benefited from social media use as the queues for tickets didn’t seem to end.
As promised, the SU has taken hold of social media, using it to their advantage.
Róisín Ní Mhara’s role as Welfare Officer was met with some criticism over the course of the year due to the SU’s support of the Repeal the 8th movement. Aside from the controversy, Ní Mhara has been able to concentrate on other equally important issues. During SHAG Week, Ní Mhara made sure there was a focus placed on Sexual Health. STI checks were discounted, and students were provided with information on sexual health. However, Ní Mhara has failed to progress on one of the most glaring issues regarding student health. The promise to improve mental health services is yet to come to fruition. As with all the Sabbatical Officers, but most notably with Ní Mhara’s Welfare campaign, mental health remains at the forefront of student issues. Yet, there still seems to be an issue in communicating this need between the SU and UCD management. Consent classes is another project that has failed.
During SHAG Week, Ní Mhara made sure there was a focus placed on Sexual Health. STI checks were discounted, and students were provided with information on sexual health.
The Graduate Officer’s role does not span the entire student body, but it is just as important. Cian Casey’s promises centred on informing postgraduate students about funding their degrees, as well as integrating them amongst each other, stepping outside their respective disciplines. Despite his wish to establish an exclusive common room, it has never come about. However, Casey is certainly aware that a large portion of UCD postgraduate students are from international backgrounds, and the creation of a Facebook group for the postgraduate students allows him to expertly facilitate his role as Graduate Officer.
Compared to the only contested race for the position of Campaigns and Communications Officer, SU President’s Viscardi’s wishes to “promote culture and events” lacked substance and clarity. His manifesto focused on supporting the other Officers, and he certainly has. However, the vague goals Viscardi set out in his own manifesto have been largely ignored. As Students’ Union President, Conor’s decisions were always going to be eyed and criticised, certainly after the scandals that wracked the term of his predecessor Marcus O’Halloran.
The vague goals Viscardi set out in his own manifesto have been largely ignored.
If Viscardi was hoping for a powerful impact on the UCD student body, then it is hard to say he succeeded. However, he and the other Students’ Union officers have not been entirely hopeless in their endeavour to create change and none are leaving their roles without placing their own stamp on UCD. Compared to previous years, some roles have been better managed and more promises kept and brought to life. However, some roles have lacked any passion. The ongoing issue of mental health services that dominates every SU has yet to be resolved, and accommodation and fees are two areas that have not received much airtime. Certainly though, this current SU have not been entirely useless during their term. The hope for the next Students’ Union is that these glaring issues will finally be dealt with effectively with the interests of the UCD student body in mind.