Nominally a Computer Science student, Gary Redmond describes his year as UCD Students’ Union President as being “a year of very tough decisions” but yet also one of “numerous achievements”.
Most notable amongst these achievements was the successful campaign against the reintroduction of 3rd level fees, an issue that has dominated the student landscape for the last couple of years. Though by no means exclusively the result of the UCDSU, Redmond feels it could not have happened without them.
“The resources from the UCD SU were vital. Myself and Conan, current President of Trinity College SU, sat down very early and decided that the campaign that had been run the previous year wasn’t working and we needed to go at this from a new tack.”
This new approach involved placing a much greater emphasis on lobbying and contacting individual TDs directly, an approach that took full advantage of the Green Party’s precarious position within Government. Of course, the lack of direct student involvement has seen Redmond draw much criticism but he insists that, if offered the chance, he wouldn’t change a thing.
“When I’ve a choice between knocking on the doors of Res or going and lobbying a TD who might stop that student paying five grand in fees next year, my choice will always be on the background lobbying work because I think it achieves far more.”
With the reintroduction of fees off the immediate agenda, it is difficult to argue with him. However, his concentration on this national issue, and the methods he employed have hindered Redmond’s performance closer to home. According to a study carried out by The University Observer, less than 40 per cent of the student population could recognise the President.
“I’m always worried. Every student should know who their SU President is,” admits Redmond slowly, pausing for breath. He is then quick to dispute the significance of these results, lamenting that “students only come to the Union when they have a problem. They don’t see the work that’s going on. ” Though there is certainly much merit in his claim, Redmond’s methods certainly did little to improve his visibility levels.
Whilst progress on many of his more substantial manifesto promises is evident, the pace of their delivery has often left much to be desired. In an age where the internet has surpassed all other media outlets, it is notable that plans for a SU website to keep students updated have only just come to fruition.
Likewise work to ameliorate the parking situation in UCD, an issue close to the hearts of many students, has shown little concrete progress during Redmond’s tenure. He is adamant that the new transport plans drawn up will alleviate UCD’s current parking shortage but for the time being they remain merely plans. Similarly, Redmond is in “protracted negotiations with the bursar” over the high level of residential fees and hopes “to tidy that up” before his term ends.
The return of the number 10 bus service to Belfield, the extension of library hours and fruitful negotiations over the student centre levy, all achieved whilst cutting the budget by seven per cent, bears testament to Redmond’s talent in dealing with the university. He puts this down to the trust he had earned from his role as Entertainments Vice-President last year.
Another area where Redmond is suitably pleased is the Student Health Service, something he prioritised in his manifesto. “Health services are working a lot better,” he beams. “We’ve been able to reintroduce the contraceptive clinic and move the STI clinic on campus.”
Yet, these successes cannot hide perhaps the greatest blemish on Redmond’s record. “Infighting between sabbatical officers is not good enough,” he admits. “But in the UCDSU, the President of the SU has no power to discipline the sabbats so you’re at the mercy of the sabbats that are elected.”
Arguing that this meant he was powerless to deal with internal disputes and allegations of incompetence, Redmond believes that a review of the SU structures is necessary to ensure that sabbatical officers can be held accountable in the future. Despite these complaints, little effort has thus far been expended trying to overhaul the current SU structures.
When challenged over his promises to reduce resit/repeat fees, Redmond explained that he could not do this because it would contravene established SU policy designed to spread the costs of more practical subjects across all faculties. “As president I am merely a tool to implement the policy of the SU. My opinion doesn’t really count. Particularly going forward to the USI, I will merely be a tool to implement the policy.”
As Redmond’s year draws to a close, it appears his legacy is still very much up in the air. Beyond the fight against fees and the reintroduction of library and bus services, Redmond is heavily reliant on the future to prove he has been as successful a President as he claims.
“While the work is started now, I suppose the benefits will only be seen long after I’m gone,” muses Redmond. This is the difficulty facing any political leader and Redmond could not hope to be the exception. With any luck by the time Redmond takes up his position as USI President next year, the dividends will already be evident. Otherwise incoming President Paul Lynam will face a year of even tougher decisions.