Welfare Race: Ciara Johnson

Ciara Johnson appears to be the ‘issues candidate’ in the race for Welfare and Equality Officer. Focusing mostly on the issues of equality (gender, LGBT, disabilities and Mature Students), she has made the issues facing students’ welfare the main target of her campaign.

Johnson also emphasises the serious problems facing students regarding both finances and mental health, which are explicitly intertwined according to Johnson. “I think at the moment financial issues [are] massive. I think the way that ties on mental health, it’s having a knock-on effect. The way the two of those interlink, they’re the biggest issues for students”, she says. Some of her plans for equality include gender neutral bathrooms for transgendered students, increased awareness of sexual health issues, including putting in a U-card operated machine, to increase security matters, for students on campus late at night, and lobbying to have dental dams and female condoms supplied in the Pharmacy, just to name a few.

It may seem to someone reading Johnson’s Manifesto that many of her proposals are unachievable due to budget constraints and cost problems, but she has clearly considered potential problems, and had already made plans to work around many of these obstacles.

One of her most ambitious proposals is placing ‘Need Help’ buttons around the campus. These, according to Johnson, would be placed around the campus in central areas, with the purpose of alerting security guards if a student feels they are in danger on campus late at night. These would be similar to the SOS phones on motorways. Johnson explains: “It’s something we’ll need to run through with the University, but it’s something that would help the University as well, because it’s making the campus a much safer place. It’s a massive campus; there are so many students here. It’s just that the security isn’t always visible. I would walk home in the evenings, and I wouldn’t always feel safe. It’s a simple enough idea and I definitely think that we could work with the University to get the funding for it. I think it’s a worthwhile project, and definitely something that needs to be done.”

While these may seem expensive and complicated by bureaucracy, Johnson claims that all these proposals will be perfectly feasible and affordable, through sponsorships and working closely with the University. She also points out that the SU’s financial issues are slowly turning around, which gives next year’s Officers more scope.

In order to promote mental health, Johnson wishes to use the arts to raise awareness of such issues, and break the stigma associated with mental health issues. Johnson cites the ‘Box of Frogs’ play run by SeeChange and Smoke Alley Theatre which deals with the issues of suicide, homophobia, and bullying. “I think using plays and comedy shows like that, and more art projects, brings it to the forefront of people’s mind, and bring it to students who aren’t always interested. It helps break the stigma around mental health, and gets people to talk about it more. You know, you could be going along to the play that has this message and also having a good time,” Johnson says.

Johnson wishes to implement a ‘Use Now, Pay Later’ taxi scheme. This is something that has been promised by previous Welfare Officers, but that has never fulfilled. This, says Johnson, is due to issues with the taxi company chosen, and not because the task is impossible, or unrealistic to achieve. “We can see with the scheme that it can work, it’s been brought in DIT, NUIM. The main problem with the implementation of it in UCD has been with the company, not the actual idea. So the company that actually got the package has let us down very badly, and at the time there were two companies bidding to get the scheme. It’s only a matter of sitting down with the other company, and negotiating a way of bringing it in. It’s completely feasible.” She says that as long it’s kept at the ‘forefront of the mind’ by the SU, there’s no reason that a taxi scheme for students could not be brought in during semester one of next year.

As well as placing an U-card operated condom machine on campus in order to promote sexual health, Johnson also wishes to lobby on behalf of the SU to get the pharmacy to stock dental dams and female condoms, something she says are difficult to get anywhere in Dublin, let alone the Belfield Campus. “Nowhere on campus includes these. So it’s a move that needs to be brought in for students that need them. It’s simple and just requires dealing with the pharmacy on campus. I’m not asking them to supply thousands, just to have some there in stock so if students are looking for them, to have them there.”

Johnson believes that it should also be a job of the Welfare and Equality Officer to ensure students feel less intimidated when coming into UCD’s large campus, which can often lead to feelings of alienation. “It can be really intimidating to begin with. I felt that way when I came from Sligo. I think massive efforts have been made to make it a more welcoming place, and I think the orientation scheme and the peer-mentoring scheme are just two examples of how progress has been made. I think as a Union, we should be out there more, getting rid of the intimidation factor.” This is exactly the aim of her proposed ‘Give it a go!’ campaign, which would encourage students to join societies more free from intimidation, given the size of the campus and its large number of students.

Johnson is an ambitious candidate, and one who has much experience, having worked as part of the Welfare Crew for the past three years, serving as Welfare Crew Secretary and served as Gender equality Co-ordinator on the Campaigns Forum. She also has an understanding of how the SU works, and is prepared to deal with the University and various organisations in order to improve the welfare of students. In explaining why she would be suited for the job of Welfare and Equality Officer Johnson said she believes she hascharacteristics that would stand to me, like being a good listener; I think I’m fairly friendly and approachable so I think that would help”.

To read the interview with the other candidate in the Welfare race, Cian Dowling, click here

For the analysis of both candidates, click here