In this year’s UCD Students’ Union elections, current Welfare Officer Michéal Gallagher, a third year social science student from Donegal, looks to take on the top job and become the new President of UCDSU. This would mark the fifth consecutive year that the position of UCDSU President could be filled by a former sabbatical officer.
Gallagher feels that the experience he has gained from his year as UCDSU’s Welfare Officer has helped shape him into the ideal candidate for the role, explaining that he has “a lot of experience; most of that would have been picked up this year working as Welfare VP.”
He explains: “I feel the experience of taking on a lot of case work, but mainly in the financial side of things, and this year working closely with the VP for Students. A lot of his members this year are off on sick leave. I had to help a lot in terms of administrating financial assistance.”
He cites the running of the SU’s finances as the most important part of the President’s job, and believes that the introduction of a SU General Manager next year will go a long way towards increasing the efficiency of the position of President.
In talking about current SU President Rachel Breslin, a former Welfare Officer herself, he is full of praise. When asked how she could have improved her performance, Gallagher notes that “a lot of Rachel’s time was taken up with essentially doing two jobs at once; both the General Manager and the President of the Union… I feel that next year, with the General Manager as well as the President, it will definitely change the dynamics of the Union.”
Gallagher’s background in Welfare has clearly informed a lot of manifesto, with most of the proposals being in this area. It is no surprise to learn that he believes the student welfare services to be the most important ones run by the Union, and he aims to improve them in a number of ways. He stresses that campaigns such as residential rights and student counselling waiting lists are to be his priorities, should he be elected. He says that “these are the kind of campaigns I want to focus on next year instead of national campaigns.”
Perhaps the most radical change to the welfare services he is proposing is to introduce a scheme similar to that being run in NUI Galway, where a number of recently graduated counsellors are utilised to increase the amount of counselling sessions for free. He hopes that this will reduce the long waiting lists currently in UCD to see counsellors, which he admits are “longer than five weeks at the moment”.
These counsellors, Gallagher says, are would be of a high enough standard, so long as they are supervised by the currently employed UCD staff. He explains that “we can have several counsellors working to each senior counsellor. We could increase the amount of students seen by up to 500%, it’s just a matter of rooms at that stage.”
There is a strong feeling among many UCD students that the SU is merely a clique where career politicians go to start their careers, an allegation which Gallagher describes as “unfair”, but he does admit there is a problem in the way in which the SU is viewed by the students. “We really need to look at the way we view ourselves. A colleague of mine once said that we need to stop labelling people who are involved within the Union as “hacks” and we need to start labelling them as people who care about student services.”
One of the ways in which he plans to do this, is through a rebranding of the Union. From the logo to the website, Gallagher hopes to move away from the perception of the SU as “the institution that’s €1million in debt” and towards a service for students that “brings people in to get them to know each other.”
Gallagher also identifies the lack of a bar on campus as one of the biggest issues for UCD students this year, as well as potential UCD students next year. In his manifesto, Gallagher says that he will “fight tirelessly” to ensure that the Student Centre Bar is opened on the proposed date of May 31st.
Another problem that Gallagher has identified for UCD students is difficulty in finding part-time work, especially during the summer months, due to a lack of any experience not directly related to their course. In order to combat this, Gallagher proposes the SU introduce courses in “employable skills”, such as direct marketing.
Gallagher plans on hosting one of these in the first semester of next year. Should that be successful, he plans to host more in the second semester and hopes to eventually see the SU “perhaps introduce it into policy and mandate.”
Next year will be an interesting year for whoever takes over as President, with a new incoming President of UCD next January. Gallagher believes that this, coupled with the abolition of passing by compensation, will allow him to push for a reduction in resit fees, with UCD’s currently the highest in the country. Gallagher is also confident that proposals such as a 24-hour study area can finally be achieved, as any incoming UCD President will be looking to establish a good relationship with the students and the SU early on in their term.
Though he is confident of success, whether or not Michéal Gallagher overestimates the Union’s bargaining power with the new President of UCD to achieve these aims is something which students will have to decide for themselves.
To read the interview with the other candidate in the presidential race, Aidan Kelly, click here
For the analysis of both candidates, click here