Welfare has always been one of the most complex areas in the Students’ Union, and with the abolishment of the Campaigns and Communications Officer position with the new SU Constitution, the position, now titled Welfare and Equality Officer, will be more demanding than ever.
Both Cian Dowling and Ciara Johnson have stressed their enthusiasm, experience and ideas as qualifications for the role, all of which are certainly crucial. Dowling, in his interview, manifesto and personal statements, has expressed the impact and importance of the Welfare Office on his life, and his enthusiasm for helping students is evident. However his knowledge and experience of the Welfare Office is much weaker than his opposition. Johnson has been on the Welfare Crew for the three years and has served as Welfare Crew Secretary, Gender Equality Co-ordinator and a Peer Mentor, and appears to have a very good knowledge of the workings of the college, being able to give the titles of all the Vice Presidents positions in UCD, along with naming the President, Registrar and Bursar. She was also able to list all the committees that the Welfare Officer sits on. While Dowling has two years experience of being a Convenor under his belt, he has had much less involvement with Welfare. Beyond dealing with personal cases he did not expand much the responsibilities of the Welfare and Equality Officer and was unable to name any committees he would be sitting on. He was similarly unable to name the University roles mentioned above, other than UCD’s President. For a job which depends so heavily on lobbying the college, his lack of knowledge of its workings is a key disadvantage.
A central issue in this race are candidates’ ideas and plans for the coming year. Johnson has many very ambitious plans, from gender-neutral bathrooms to panic alarms set up throughout the college. While her manifesto was unclear at times with regards to the feasibility of these, her interview proved that they were well thought out, and in many instances, already costed or discussed with the relevant bodies. While they initially appear ambitious, she remained confident they were achievable, while clearly setting out their feasibility.
Dowling’s plans are less clearly set out. The goals listed in his manifesto are vague, mostly promising to run various awareness campaigns without any indication of what this would involve. He was hardly more explicit about his plans during the interview, passing the responsibility of the events down to the Co-ordinators, showing little interest in many fundamental welfare issues. This lack of detail in his campaign could prove problematic during his term should he be elected, with few explicit promises for students to count on. There are some plans which Dowling is certain about however. In pushing forward his plan for banks to guarantee loans for students waiting on grant payments he has already discussed the feasibility with AIB. This does show the initiative that his manifesto frequently lacks.
One of the key concerns for all those involved with the Union is finances. While in a better position than last year, the SU has to contend with heavy loan repayments and keeping costs down will be top of the agenda for years to come. While Johnson has a good grasp of the costs of her intended projects, she has few plans to increase revenue, feeling that the Union is in a position to finance them or that sponsorship will be easily obtained from sources she easily lists. While she is certain this is possible, Dowling has somewhat more experience in this area, successfully acquiring through sponsorship many items for the Engineering students during his time as Convenor. Welfare, however, has always been an office for spending money rather than making it, and this is unlikely to change in the coming year.
Neither candidate can be faulted on their enthusiasm for and dedication to students’ welfare, and there is no doubt that whoever is elected will give it their all. Considering experience and ability however, Johnson’s long tenure with with Welfare Crew combined with her detailed knowledge of the role and the University as a whole, gives her a distinct edge.