SU Elections: Presidential Analysis

 
 

This year’s presidential election race is proving to be a stark contrast from last year where Paul Lynam ran unopposed. It marks a break from tradition in terms of candidates, with two of the three candidates, Brendan Lannoye and Lorcan Gray, having no prior experience within the Students’ Union. All three candidates have political experience however, despite all of them being just 20 years old.

Pat de Brún arguably has the benefit of being the only candidate having already held a Sabbatical position, but admits that some of the main campaigns of his tenure, including the Fight the Fees campaign, fell short of their ultimate aims. However, these shortcomings are unlikely to debilitate his chances of obtaining the presidential office.

What is obvious is that the vast majority of priorities in de Brún’s manifesto have already been in the pipeline for some time, such as the fight to reduce re-sit/repeat fees, the introduction of a 24-hour study area and the introduction of an SU Mobile App.

While de Brún comes across as a good public speaker and has a wide knowledge of UCD trivia, Lorcan Gray’s referral to “Hugh Brady and the lads”, and “that Labour lad” is hardly the type of vocabulary and university knowledge that would be expected on an incumbent Students’ Union President.

Gray’s involvement in FEE and the Socialist Worker’s Party may win him some votes from activists in those areas, along with those who are disillusioned with the current state of the SU. However, despite claiming to bring “a new and fresh approach in the campaigning of all fees and cuts to education”, Gray contradicts this manifesto statement by saying that he intends to get more students out on the streets to protest against student fees. He seems to care more about criticising the current Sabbatical team than with regards to student welfare.

Brendan Lannoye claims in his manifesto to have calculated up to €296,940 that could be cut from the Students’ Union budget. However, in his interview he clarifies this claim, saying it won’t be cut, but re-allocated.

It is debatable whether Lannoye’s proposal to donate €100 of his weekly wage to the Welfare Fund is an attempt to buy votes, or is genuinely for care of student issues.

What points towards the former is that unlike de Brún, he mentions very little about care for student welfare, and instead is focusing on overhauling both the Students’ Union and its affiliation to USI. However, his impressive ability to adeptly defend everything in his manifesto and his honesty and professional tone is attractive in terms of voting, and it isn’t difficult to imagine him at the helm of the SU.

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Name: Lorcan Gray

Age: 20

Course and Year: 2nd Year Arts

Do you drink, smoke or take drugs? I drink and take drugs occasionally

Name UCD’s seven vice-presidents? You mean, Hugh Brady and the lads? I just know Students, because he sends around that email. It’s hardly the best communication on their part

Who are the President, Registrar and Bursar of UCD? Hugh Brady’s the President. The other lads? Again, [I don’t know] it’s due to a lack of communication.

What is the most important part of the position of President? It’s to oversee the whole Union – the four other Sabbats, the Exec, and the likes of that, and also to be a mouthpiece for the Union and to organise students. It should be to organise them into particularly a fighting force, but also a political structure that actually means something and actually works, and respect the Constitution in that sense.

Review

Lorcan Gray emphasises his belief that the Students’ Union needs him as President to transform it into a ‘fighting union’, referring to the fact that he is an active member of FEE (Free Education for Everyone) and hopes to continue the fight to cap the university contribution fee and to combat graduate unemployment. Additionally, the idea of a ‘fighting union’ is referring to his desire to fight “the hacks” as he refers to current Students’ Union Sabbatical Officers.

Gray cites his experience in campaigns such as Shell to Sea and the anti-war movement, as well as his involvement with the Socialist Workers’ Party at UCD, as being among the reasons why he feels he has what it takes to be the SU President for 2011-12. He admits that he is running in conjunction with C&C candidate and fellow Socialist Worker’s activist Suzanne Lee. In addition to this, he says personal skills that would benefit him for the role include the fact that he has spoken at many public events.

He says: “Again it’s the age-old question: who knows the Sabbatical Officers? Who knows their Class Rep? The Class Rep goes for a piss-up at the start of the year and then organises a handful of parties, and that’s it; puts it on their CV.” Gray is critical of the performance of this year’s Sabbatical Officers and claims that the Sabbatical positions are mainly a stepping-stone for the officers into politics.

Gray is adamant that USI did not do enough for student issues in the political arena after the march in November, yet believes the €5 paid by all full-time UCD students to USI is worth it: “We’re paying them over €100 grand, but we’re also paying Brady over €200 grand and giving him a free mansion.”

Gray says that he would like to improve on the performance of this year’s Students’ Union by getting more students out on the streets in protests, and states in his manifesto that he does not believe that campaigns such as the TellYourTD.ie campaign are effective in ensuring student issues stay near the top of the political agenda.

Gray says his top priorities, if he is elected, will include moving Class Rep training back to campus, and to create mass student assemblies with a view to involving students in the decision-making process. He also emphasises his belief for the necessity of a transparent union, and his desire to end what he believes is the cliquish nature of the Students’ Union.

He says that he stands for “genuinely free education and for a new and fresh approach in campaigning for the scrappage of all fees and cuts to education”. His other priorities include the preservation of student nursing salaries, and to fight the cost of healthcare on the UCD campus.

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Name: Pat de Brún

Age: 20

Course: Law with Politics, year 2, currently on sabbatical as the SU Campaigns and Communications Vice-President.

From: Carlow

Do you drink, smoke or take drugs? I drink, I smoke, unfortunately, but I don’t take drugs.

What are the names of UCD’s seven vice-presidents? First of all the deputy president or Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Philip Nolan, second we have the Bursar, or Vice-President for Finance, I think, Vice-President for…is Áine Gibbons, Vice-President for Research is Des Fitzgerald, Vice-President for Students is Dr Martin Butler, Vice-President for Staff is Eamon Drea, Vice-President for University Relations.

What is the role of president? To be the chief spokesperson of the SU, financial controller of the SU, and then in real terms, the team leader, control the direction of the SU; People managing. It’s dealing with the highest level of negotiations, if there’s someone involved in the HEA, the minister, the President of the university, that kind of thing.

Review

De Brún shows a vast knowledge or the workings of not just the Students’ Union but additionally of the university itself, being able to cite the titles of all seven university Vice-Presidents. Aside from being a Class Rep and a former Law Programme Officer in the SU Executive Committee, he is currently completing his tenure as SU Campaigns and Communications Vice-President. De Brún is also very familiar with the workings of the USI, and expresses his belief that the affiliation fee paid by UCD to USI every year is worth the cost.

Top of de Brún’s priorities as stated in his manifesto include the creation of a transparent union and to fight cuts to the third-level grant, as well as endeavouring to have the cost of re-sit/repeat fees lowered and the establishment of more internships and work experience for degree programmes, of which he says: “I want this to be driven through university policy.”

He cites the University of Limerick as an example, where 33 per cent of students are currently on work placement. He intends to fight for an optional intern year for degrees that do not have an obvious work experience pathway, and believes it will free space in the university, as well as help university finances.

De Brún says that he is not running for president for personal gain, but for care of students, and says that his stated aims as president are in the interest of the Union and not for prestige: “Nothing in my manifesto is there as a vote-getter.”

Commenting on the performance of this year’s Students’ Union, de Brún says that he regrets what he perceives to have been a slackening on the part of the SU following the November 3rd protest, which he feels wasn’t improved upon until the second semester.

“There weren’t visible achievements for the rest of that semester,” he says. “We were tired, and there’s no excuse for that because we’re paid officers, and the students are paying our wage.” De Brún is, however, confident that more people will take an interest in the SU elections this year than before due to the general election and a “spirit of voting”.

“I’m there to serve the students,” he adds. “If I set my aims out on an agenda for the SU at the start of the year, then I will stop at nothing for that to be achieved.” De Brún says that his ideas as are all achievable, despite admitting that the campaign to have the registration fee capped was a failure this year.

De Brún says that he does not feel the image of the Students’ Union as a clique is a fair assessment, stating that the majority of his friends are from outside the Union, and that he barely knew the other sabbatical officers until he took office.

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Name: Brendan Lannoye

Age: 20

Course and Year: 2nd Year History and Politics

Do you drink, smoke or take drugs? I don’t smoke, I don’t take drugs – well, there was one Amsterdam trip.

Name UCD’s seven Vice-Presidents? I’m not sure.

Who are the President, Registrar and Bursar of UCD? The Registrar is Barbara Proctor, or has that changed over yet? David Carmody is one of those as well.

What is the most important part of the position of President? The President needs to set the agenda for the year. Obviously, there are a lot of administrative roles he sits on, about 40 committees; there’s a lot of nitty-gritty stuff and that’s all incredibly important. But I think the President, through his actions, and through what he does, can almost set the mood of the college, and I think it’s incredibly important for the President to be out there talking to people, because it’s students who own the Union.

Review

Brendan Lannoye is running on the slogan “fight the clique,” referring to the perceived cliquish nature of the Students’ Union – or ‘Student Union’ as the potential President refers to it as, in his manifesto, on posters, and throughout his interview with The University Observer. Lannoye believes that cliques are formed in the Students’ Union that merely provide policies that benefit them as a platform for a political career: “Cliques are grand…but we want to have policies that don’t favour them ahead of everyone else.”

Lannoye cites his experience in politics as well as involvement in UCD societies as some of the reasons why he feels he has the ability to lead the Students’ Union. However, he believes his most important attribute to be the fact that he is a student and knows the workings of university life. He believes that while being a Sabbatical Officer for a number of years may gain you the political experience necessary to run the Union, being on sabbatical for a number of years (he cites former SU President Gary Redmond’s five-year sabbatical as an example) does not qualify the person as a student.

Furthermore, Lannoye is keen to emphasise that he wishes “to bring the Student Union [sic] back the students”. He states in his manifesto that up to €296,940 could be cut from the SU budget (although in his interview, he claims that these funds could be re-allocated, and not cut), and cites electoral reform and Class Rep training as two of the areas in which he would re-allocate SU funds.

Lannoye also aims to eliminate the perceived careerism that exists within the SU by pushing for the constitutional review group (which is to be set up during the next academic year) to look at a proposal that would prevent Sabbatical Officers from being re-elected. However, Lannoye also states that the review group would have full independence on the basis that it is the students of UCD that own the Union.

A key proponent of the Re-Open Nominations for Education Vice-President campaign, Lannoye still wishes to reform the Students’ Union elections to make them more cost-effective, but admits a RON campaign would heighten electoral costs for this year’s race. His electoral reform includes following the Trinity College model of running elections through the Student Information Service (SIS), and he says the basis for his support of the RON campaign is that he believes the more people that run for office, the more likely it is that the best person for the job will be elected.

Lannoye claims that current Students’ Union lacks honesty, on the basis of rumours, and says: “Rumours don’t come out of nowhere.” On this issue, of Sabbatical Officers and what he perceives as a sense of careerism among the ‘clique’, he says: “To be honest, if there was someone making private gains out of their role in the Union, I would do everything to get them out of office as soon as I could.”

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