While the campaign against fees took up the majority of Dan O’Neill’s brief, he let the communications side of the position down, writes Quinton O’Reilly.
“I think my record proves that I do care about students,” says outgoing-Campaigns and Communications (C&C) Officer, Dan O’Neill. “I do care about representing people and I think people are going to judge me and question my year, I completely respect them if they question my ability but one thing I would never question is my commitment and dedication to the student movement and what the student movement stands for.”
The newly established role of C&C Officer was always going to bring its own problems and challenges. While Mr O’Neill excelled in the campaigns aspect of his brief, his success in the communications department can be deemed questionable.
One of the major campaigns that Mr O’Neill focused on throughout the year was the campaign against the re-introduction of third-level education fees. He played a major role in organising protests, rallies, sit-ins blockades and the proposed shutdown.
While he admits that the campaign was the major focus of his time as C&C officer, he believes that any suggestions that it was his only focus are harsh.
“People see me in lecture theatres talking about fees and at a demonstration but where they don’t see me is doing the day to day stuff, they don’t see me sending out emails, they don’t see me in the committee rooms,” said Mr O’Neill. “They don’t see that side of things and I suppose that something I want to emphasise that what the public see isn’t necessarily the be all and end all of the role it is a very broad role.”
Despite this, he regards his campaign against fees as his high point of his term reflecting that “I think the best thing about that campaign was the massive student involvement in that campaign… if I can look back and see that I’ve encouraged a few people just to get active and a few people to stand up and believe in even ten or eleven students, I think that’s a massive thing.”
However, one of his major regrets was the attempt to publish four SU handbooks over the course of the year. The trial, which was proposed by his predecessor, Ciara Brennan, was to publish four smaller handbooks over the course of the year instead of one major publication at the beginning of term.
“People see me in lecture theatres talking about fees and at a demonstration but where they don’t see me is doing the day to day stuff”
The venture experienced numerous problems throughout its lifespan. The first edition was criticised for its small print and contrasting colour scheme, the second publication was released two months late while the third and forth publications were cancelled due to a lack of funding.
Mr O’Neill admits that in retrospect, a different approach to the venture may have made the venture more successful.
“I’d suppose I wouldn’t promise to do as many handbooks. I’d do one at the beginning of the year and smaller publications throughout the year,” said Mr O’Neill. “It’s a difficult process to print such a book but I enjoyed putting it together and as I said if I could go back I would change the process. You live and learn and I’ve accepted that I’d do things differently.”
While Mr O’Neill made a number of key manifesto promises during his campaign to be elected, he explained that the sudden deterioration of the economic climate forced him and the other sabbatical officers to reconsider and re-evaluate their manifesto priorities.
“When I wrote my manifesto, the country was in a very different situation,” he explained. “This year has been about fighting cutbacks to a great extent rather than fighting for additional funds so that’s been our main concern.”
When asked if the recession was the reason behind the majority of his promises being unfulfilled, Mr O’Neill commented “I don’t want to use that wording but I think it’s very clear that the economic recession has had an effect on everybody… basically there’s a certain amount of money in the pot [and] because of the recession, that pot is getting smaller. We’ve been trying to fight cutbacks and we never had anything but the best interests for students and we’ve done our best.”
Mr O’Neill is hopeful that his position is in good hands next year with Paddy Ryan taking over. He believes that he has “a great common touch and he’ll add a completely new perspective to the job.”
Next term, Mr O’Neill will take up the position of Deputy President for the Union of Students of Ireland (USI) next year and will continue on the work from current Deputy President and former UCD Deputy President, Dave Curren.
While it can be argued that securing a national position is better suited to his strengths, chances are that this won’t be the last time students will hear from him.