As students gear up to cast their vote in the SU elections, Natalie Voorheis gets out on campus and gages the attitudes towards student politics
On March 30th and 31st, UCD students will cast their votes in the Students’ Union (SU) elections. Last year’s election saw roughly 4,300 of 24,000 students exercise their voting rights. This year’s election demonstrates a variation, in a number of ways, from last year. 2011 sees more candidates running than 2010 and female representation within the SU, which has been notoriously lacking through its history, is set to change with the welfare position being contested exclusively by women.
In addition to these factors, the 2011 general election saw an extremely high turnout to polling stations across the country and the media hype surrounding it has left political concerns fresh in the minds of Irish people. It remains to be seen if student interest has been sparked, resulting in a higher turnout at the polling stations. The University Observer ventured around campus to ascertain general student opinion of the SU candidates and their campaigns.
A number of things came across in discussion with students from across campus. Firstly, an ignorance of details relating to the election, with not one student we spoke to able to name five candidates correctly. Secondly, a sense of dissatisfaction about the roles of the SU officers and their achievements through their time in office seemed evident, but again, this seemed based on ignorance of the facts regarding the SU rather than in concrete examples or evidence.
One student, Rachel Denógla, in final-year Arts, when asked whether she thought UCD students consider that the SU elections are an important part of student life answers: “To be honest, I don’t think so. I think it’s always the same thing every year, people don’t really mind the manifestos to be honest. They just vote for whoever pulls them along in the corridor on the day. I know that’s the only time I’ve voted.”
Denógla adds: “I think a lot of the student politics in UCD is more of a popularity thing than wanting to do good for the student population… [the campaigning] is more in your face than telling you what they’re actually going do for the college.”
Denógla wasn’t the only student to express distrust of the various campaigns. John Breslin, a third-year Economics and Finance student, says: “I don’t reckon they have much power at all… I’d like to give them more power, but you need the right people in there as well. Some of the people running never follow through on any sort of promise. It’s more of a publicity stunt, a popularity contest. They should have a bit more power so you can actually see something done, something visible.”
One student, by contrast, was vehemently positive about the SU and the elections. Darragh Mulryan, a first-year Commerce International student, says: “I think they (students) do think it’s important because they’re getting pretty into all this voting and there is a lot of debates and a lot of my friends were talking about it outside college. I follow politics, so I’m reading all the manifestos.” He then adds: “Look at what their plans are compared to each others ones and [see] who has better ideas.”
It remains to be seen whether the recent general election and the frenzied media coverage associated with it will have an impact on voting turnout. Such figures as 23-year-old TCD student, Dylan Haskins, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat in Dublin South East, have not only received media attention, but also undoubtedly sparked student interest in politics.
One candidate, Brendan Lannoye, who is running for SU president, released a campaign video in the style of Haskins’ own. This move is no doubt an attempt to ride in on the coat tails of the interest sparked by Haskins among the student community.
Whether this student interest in national politics will translate to one On UCD’s student politics seems unlikely considering that not one of the students interviewed were able to correctly identify five of the candidates running for election in the SU.
The disparity between what students want from their SU and what they are actually getting remains painfully obvious. But student misunderstanding of the SU is also an issue that needs to be addressed by the incoming officers. The power of the SU this week lies in the student’s hands, and a student body that doesn’t understand what has been achieved by the SU and what remains as achievable is a dangerous thing.
Commerce and French student, Sean Brennan, expresses his hopes for the future of the SU: “I think the recent general election saw a change in what you could say nationally was a governmental clique and it showed a kind of a smashing of that, it wasn’t a complete revolution, but it was a step in the right direction and maybe there’ll be something similar to happen here with this election.”
Whether something similar will occur within UCD will only be discovered when students turn out to cast their vote.