If presidential candidates came in for their toughest assignment yet at tonight’s Media Hustings, then none responded with a performance you’d expect on day four of a three-way campaign. All three appeared unsure of whether to tack towards policy proposals or attempt to please their audience, and the result was a debate that none came out of with much credit.
The remaining contested races saw some candidates thrive under a new type of questioning, while others fought off difficult questions – with some failing to answer them at all.
It’s now day four of hustings, so you’d have been forgiven for assuming candidates would have nailed down their answers on the biggest issues. What we got, though, was arguably the weakest showing yet across the board, with the trio – Ryan Carey, Eoin Hand and Harry Williams – failing to show the urgency you’d expect from would-be TCDSU presidents.
Carey was probably the strongest performer overall, with a clearer grasp on the ins and outs of presidency than Hand or Williams – though his answers did veer at times away from substance and into rhetoric. Asked about how the union can lobby effectively on higher education’s funding crisis, his response – “a three-part plan to be proactive about fees, research and quality of education” – will hardly have convinced his audience.
While Hand was clearly prepared again, tonight his attempts to win over the crowd came across as forced – and hollow. Clearly rehearsed quips were a sign of a candidate who’s in danger of buying into the myth of his own rhetoric. His charisma will have still scored points with the audience but, when addressing his inexperience with activism, his answer – about a “class” rally against rent increases at Front Arch today that represented his first experience of protest – showed enthusiasm that almost bordered on flippancy. “I can’t remember if that answers your question, but there you go”, he concluded.
By now, it’s clear that Williams is strongest when he’s at his most controversial, but tonight he was comparatively demure. While he held his nerve as Carey and Hand rattled off facts and statistics, Williams failed to sell the anti-establishment narrative he has been building since the launch of his campaign. His belief that lobbying for the abolishment of the student contribution is “unrealistic” may convince an outsider, but students will want a leader that aims to do more than just settle for the status quo. Williams ultimately didn’t have much to say on the most pressing issues – a strange state of affairs for a candidate who has frequently pitched himself as the one to bring the union into line with students’ needs.
After mixed performances in hustings up until now, sole education candidate Megan O’Connor bounced back tonight with her strongest showing of the campaign.
The poor working conditions of postgraduate students are not a new issue and O’Connor was willing to criticise the lack of “readily available” information within TCDSU. She proposed further collaboration with the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) as a means to rectify this, though she admitted this would be a long-term project.
If she has drawn criticism at times for her focus on local issues, then tonight O’Connor deliberately leaned into the storm, maintaining unapologetically that her “first priority is students here in Trinity”. Her argument, though, that local issues feed into national ones was polished but hardly revelatory.
Quizzed on how she would handle the demanding nature of the position, O’Connor, with a deadpan that spoke volumes and raised a laugh from the crowd, asserted that “I am a nursing student”. Riding on this momentum, O’Connor cited the 1,500 hours she has spent on placement as strong proof that her hours-intensive promises won’t daunt her.
After a shaky start, it appears that O’Connor has found her feet in the campaign, with her clear confidence on her manifesto points – as well as a willingness to acknowledge national issues – indicative of a candidate who’s successfully polishing her pitch.
Leah Keogh provided much of the same at tonight’s media hustings, solidifying her manifesto points and providing coherent answers in a generally steady display that threw up few surprises.
Keogh was quizzed on consent, a topic that shaped last year’s welfare race. With an extensive background rolling out consent workshops, she arguably could have been more specific on when asked whether they should be made mandatory: the union “needs to tread carefully” on the issue.
Probed on the gaps in her manifesto on issues of inclusivity and ethnic minorities, Keogh was able to revert to her promise of unconscious bias training to ensure that students from different backgrounds are adequately represented within the Union.
On gambling, Keogh came as close to criticising the status quo as she has throughout this campaign, arguing that more needs to be done to help those struggling with gambling addiction. She committed to pushing for those changes – and will be pleased she was able to revert back again to a policy on her manifesto when she plugged her idea for an anonymised annual report that will allow students tell the union about the issues they face.
Keogh will be pleased with tonight’s hustings. She emerged mostly unscathed, and has skirted any issues – however unlikely – that could have come between her and election. With just the Monday night’s hustings in Trinity Hall to navigate, Keogh looks likely to make it past polling day without any major slip-ups.
Communications and Marketing
Tonight’s questioning began on the topic on everyone’s minds – whether or not there is a definitive difference between the two candidates for communications and marketing officer, Hiram Harrington and Philly Holmes. Although each candidate may have had their moment in the spotlight, neither Holmes nor Harrington came out on top following a series of difficult – if expected – questions.
The first half of tonight was Harrington’s. They cited their extensive experience in marketing in a valiant effort to distinguish themselves in the race, while Holmes seemed too afraid to tread on toes – actively avoiding going down a road that might have ended up tarnishing their competitor’s name.
Marketing, the unspoken shadow hanging over the race, got its moment in the spotlight – and both candidates were expecting it. While Harrington appeared passionate on the topic of ethical sponsorship – despite pressing questions on the viability of having an SU funded solely by small business – Holmes instead veered toward the idea of remodeling the face of TCDSU, in order to appear more attractive to prospective advertisers. If Harrington’s ideals may be the more inviting to voters, Holmes’s plans represent arguably the more realistic proposal.
The resemblance between Holmes and Harrington has been the recurring theme throughout the race for communications and marketing officer. Although both attempted to play to their strengths, it sometimes seemed a race to get to an attractive-sounding answer first.
Following an easy ride thus far in hustings, sole ents candidate Hugh McInerney was forced to field questions he has managed to escape thus far on Trinity Ball.
Ultimately, McInerney played it safe throughout the course of the questioning, pledging to maintain the iconic status of the event, and saying that despite the controversially high ticket cost, Trinity Ball will remain the central Ents event of the year. He admitted that the price will likely not be lowered, but he aims to keep it at its current €91.
He didn’t have to answer any majorly contentious questions, but he didn’t slip up either, lavishing incumbent Judith Robinson with praise while sticking to the “I’ll do my best” line that is increasingly coming to define his approach to answering the hard questions.
Even when it came to drugs at Trinity Ball he managed to give a convincing-sounding answer that didn’t fully address students’ problems. The presence of Gardaí at the event, he said, is a “sacrifice we have to make.”
It’s on alcohol-free events that he really comes into his own, aided by natural charisma and proper policies. Tonight, he sought to set himself apart from previous ents officers – arguing alcohol-free events are “not just a box to tick” – by drawing again on personal experience to show how cultures can change when it comes to students and drink.
Editor of The University Times
On the fourth day of this year’s race for Editor of The University Times, Susie Crawford and Cormac Watson were finally pushed away from their accessibility proposals and into discussion on editorial decision-making.
Facing questions that honed in on the pair’s different experiences in the paper, the candidates both did well, in different ways, under a level of scrutiny they’d managed to avoid until tonight.
Watson continually returned to his experience in the paper, noting his understanding of the amount of work involved in the role. Clearly on comfortable territory, he also argued that his current position within the paper “allows [him] to see where we need to improve”, rebuffing the notion that he represents a continuation of the status quo.
Crawford, a convincing speaker, was earnest and emphatic as she admitted she needed to make up ground when it comes to both news reporting and editorial decisions, but stressed that she would work “so, so hard” to gain the experience Watson says he has accumulated as deputy editor.
If Watson was delighted to emphasise his history in the paper, Crawford repeatedly promised that her work ethic would help her to catch up in time to take on the role. Watson arguably edged it, but Crawford did well at times under questions that pushed her in areas where she’s at a disadvantage.