At the final hustings of this year’s Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), candidates fielded arguably the most probing and, on occasion, personal questions from representatives of the JCR and the wider audience.
In previous years Halls hustings has been an underwhelming affair as candidates, often deflated by poll results, see it as more of a formality and less of a last-ditch effort to salvage their campaign. Tonight, however, we saw plenty of the latter as some candidates came to play with an unforeseen sense of urgency and a frantic desire to distinguish themselves.
In the presidential race, MacQuillan had a stronger night than previously, though unlikely strong enough to turn many heads. Cummins came out on top – unsurprising considering he is a former JCR president – but Keogh was also strong, despite coming under fire on a number of occasions.
For the other races, tonight may have been a critical juncture in the campaign as some sharp differences finally emerged in this late stage and as some floundered in the face of specific lines of questioning.
Given that tonight was the presidential candidate’s last chance to impress voters, it was somewhat strange to see all candidates give largely predictable and sometimes what seemed like rehearsed performances.
Once again, Leah Keogh gave clear and well-developed answers to a number of questions this evening. Keogh remained confident and composed as she answered a particularly tough – and pointed – question from a student, who criticised her for saying that she had Irish but then not speaking it at last week’s equality hustings.
She again put her experience as a sabbatical officer to good use, even going as far as to say that students “won’t have a student centre if you don’t elect me [and] House Six won’t be accessible if you don’t elect me”.
Ben Cummins, a previous JCR President, described himself as an “old dog” and seemed at ease in what would be a familiar forum for him. Cummins spoke about his desire to heavily publicise a list of finable offences for Halls’ residents as he felt such information should be more “widely available”.
Cummins condemned Trinity’s treatment of international students as “cash cows” and advocated for the introduction of a similar policy to Dublin Business School (DBS) who have employed a “non-discriminatory fees policy”, displaying impressive policy knowledge on this issue. After improving over the past few hustings, Cummins came out on top tonight.
Luke MacQuillan’s performance was stronger than at Equality hustings but was still relatively underwhelming and layered with vagueness. An interesting idea MacQuillan did introduce was the idea of a sustainability competition for students which would help “bring forward ideas” about sustainability on campus.
MacQuillan also disclosed his plans to bring “take-away pints vans and food vans” to Halls in order to create more of a community, but double-backed almost immediately as he questioned whether this would be achievable in light of the ongoing pandemic.
It’s unclear whether tonight’s hustings will inform undecided voters when they go to cast their virtual ballot. However, it is clear that Keogh and – in particular – Cummins head into the next two days of voting with wind in their sails.
After yesterday’s Trinity FM interview raised the heat in this education race to boiling point, today’s hustings restored tensions between the candidates to their previously simmering state.
Towards the end of their stint on the College radio station, the discourse between the candidates became palpably taut as it veered toward the issue of engagement – as a friction hitherto dormant finally erupted on the airwaves.
Tonight however, addressing a series of innocuous questions, both Bev Genockey and Daniel O’Reilly ended this election period’s hustings on something of an incomplete note – with neither candidate doing enough to fully assert their credentials as frontrunner.
That being said, endeavours were certainly made. Citing his “unconventional but award-winning” leadership skills, O’Reilly set out tonight to dazzle the electorate with his four-year bank of experience in the union.
He also attempted to undermine Genockey’s two-year tenure in the union, saying: “If I only had two years’ experience in the union, I wouldn’t know how to do half the things I’ve done.”
Genockey struggled somewhat to set the record straight on her leadership experience, instead choosing to focus on the importance of collaboration rather than highlighting her own skillset.
While questions rarely erred on the side of challenging, Genockey’s momentum was again briefly congested by a question on the similarity between her proposed policies and previously expired mandates. Still, remaining unperturbed, the candidate waded through rocky waters without difficulty, reasoning that “just because mandates have expired doesn’t mean that they’re bad mandates”.
With experience in the STEM faculty providing concrete foundations for both campaigns, tonight’s hustings afforded both candidates the opportunity to lay bare their exact accomplishments from their time in their roles.
For O’Reilly, bragging rights ranged from working towards getting a student space in the Hamilton to the STEM ball. In Genockey’s case, the candidate referenced projects spanning from gender-based discrimination in the faculty to suggesting to the Education Committee that a dedicated portal be made on the TCDSU website for relevant policies for class representatives.
Over the course of all five exigent hustings, neither candidate managed to fully assert their superiority – even if both had their moments in the spotlight. While perhaps less onerous than other hustings, tonight’s evenly matched encounter serves to paint an accurate picture of a race that often teetered on bubbling, but so often reverted to the simmer.
In a near neck-and-neck race for welfare and equality officer, there were no real surprises at tonight’s hustings. Despite being faced with some highly specific challenges from JCR Welfare Officer Emma Gallagher, the candidates didn’t stray too far from their well-established scripts.
Notably, Mueller-Owens expressed a desire to be physically present in Trinity Hall “as frequently as possible” if elected, stressing the importance of consent workshops and drumming up attendance.
Krug’s ambitions, however, centred around an online presence with Halls residents, disseminating information and hosting welfare events such as Connections Week. With plans to organise book clubs and bake-offs, he did run the risk of straying into the territories of the JCR and TCDSU Ents Officers.
Krug has spoken enthusiastically about his “What Do I Do Now?” documents throughout his campaign, and tonight, Gallagher poked the first real holes in this project. Describing the volume of information her welfare team has disseminated to residents this year with “very little pick-up”, Gallagher questioned the functionality of these texts.
In response, Krug brought the focus back to the centralisation of information into a single link that’s easily shared among friends.
Mueller-Owens received a similar challenge when Gallagher pointed out the exclusion of a section dedicated to sexual health in her manifesto. However, Mueller-Owens justified this by referencing the new priorities brought about by coronavirus, which she wanted to give appropriate focus to.
On the professional qualifications required of the prospective welfare officer, Krug’s outlook was underwhelming. Stressing that “students don’t come to [the welfare officer] for therapy”, he named empathy and being an attentive, conscientious listener among the most crucial traits.
Matching this, by emphasising her “passion”, Mueller-Owens went a step further to detail her experience with casework as an S2S mentor, class representative and gender equality officer, vocalising her edge on Krug in terms of experience.
With little between the two candidates up until now, tonight’s hustings gave little clarity as to who will come out on top when students go to the polls from tonight.
Communications and Marketing
Tonight’s JCR Hustings offered no departure from the norm for Aoife Cronin, as the communications and marketing race took a backseat to the five other contested races once more.
With the result of the race seeming to be a foregone conclusion at this point in the election period, Cronin received only two questions throughout the evening, answering both with the confidence we have become accustomed to over this past week and a half.
Cronin spoke about the unique challenges involved with catering to next year’s second years. “We have a tendency to focus solely on freshers,” she said, “this year more than ever, that won’t work.”
Pointing out the services that the union and College provide, Cronin reiterated her pledge to make sure students know what their union does for them. However, she was light on the specifics of dealing with second years who have had a completely unorthodox first year at college, only pointing to the TCDSU Living in Dublin guide, which she aims to make “all encompassing”.
With little asked of her at this year’s final hustings, Cronin finished off her uncontested race in a confident fashion, all but ensuring that she goes on to be elected the next TCDSU communications and marketing officer.
While it may have been difficult to distinguish between the two Ents candidates at the beginning of this campaign, differences have well and truly emerged by now, as tonight both Arrowsmith and Brady developed starkly contrasting visions for Ents next year. Arrowsmith doubled-down on his intentions to plan for in-person events, while Brady reiterated a more pragmatic and modest approach.
For Arrowsmith, while reopening the Pav, along with an array of other ideas for in-person events, are cornerstones to his manifesto, tonight he was pressed on his plans for online events should restrictions remain. He emphasised his experience, citing his running of monthly Zoom games nights for the DU Sailing Club, as well as an event last night with 60 attendees.
Arrowsmith added that it was the success of these games nights that inspired his “Zoom playbook” idea and says a preliminary version of the playbook has already been circulated to other societies such as DU Surf Club.
Candidates were also pressed on issues surrounding Trinity Ball. Arrowsmith stuck to his promise of a second, off-campus Trinity Ball with a cheaper ticket price, and assured voters that it would be distinctive from typical Ents events and have multiple live music acts.
Brady struggled when pressed on a harm reduction policy, seemingly absent from her manifesto. It was noted that such a policy would be key for when in-person events return. Brady mentioned how providing harm reduction information has always been a major role of the Ents officer, in explaining why it was left off the manifesto. Though Brady was vague with any further ideas, only mentioning her manifesto point of “a respite space” in Trinity Ball as a possible solution.
Brady was on stronger footing in response to a question about holding events for Halls residents during lockdown restrictions, explaining how there’s “not much of an opportunity for people to meet new people”. Brady outlined her idea to organise online events such as murder mysteries for Halls students in quarantine which, she explained, “can set people up for when they come out of quarantine”. She added an intention to host weekly and even daily coffee mornings.
Both Arrowsmith and Brady offer different visions of what Ents should be – and come from very different backgrounds. Time will tell which of those visions will win out.
Editor of The University Times
Engagement and reach were the most common themes in the race for Editor of The University Times – a race that has become somewhat repetitive after the drama of last week’s hustings.
Candidates were first challenged on this newspaper’s characterisation of Halls as a “prison” in recent coverage of the student residence. Moreau, who contributed to the coverage, stood by it, saying “I think we did the best we could” and explaining that “prison” was a word used by residents to describe Halls at the time.
Caddle took a different stance, saying: “If it only served to exacerbate tensions, if it did not accurately represent what people are feeling in Halls then it wasn’t accurate journalism.”
Both candidates admitted there was a lack of first years involved in the newspaper. Moreau’s solution is to hold more social events, both for staff members and non-staff members. However, Moreau clarified that the events would not be recruitment fairs, saying that “a problem that a lot of our social events have is that, it is partly trying to get more people to write for whatever section is running it”.
Caddle floated the idea of having a separate section for Halls-related news, but also questioned whether this would limit engagement from students not living in Halls.
When asked how she would platform more Halls events, Moreau circled back to one of her main campaign promises which is to hold power to account. “I think there is a bit of a perception that UT is just out to get Trinity and out to get the SU”, she said, adding that she aims to “strike a balance between the positive and not-so positive” coverage.
In a question from a Halls resident, Caddle was criticised for his attempts to distance himself from the far-right when his campaign manager is a failed candidate for the Irish Freedom Party, a far-right party in Ireland. Caddle refuted claims that his campaign manager’s political beliefs are far-right, saying it a “mischaracterisation of the truth” and calling the claims “utterly fictitious”.
Both candidates stumbled multiple times tonight. However, Moreau again emerged as the better-briefed candidate, while Caddle offered many criticisms but struggled with specifics and remained vague.
Correction: 22:20, March 9th
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Daniel O’Reilly had said that he had organised a petition to get a student space in the Hamilton. He is, in fact, working towards getting a student space there and has not launched a petition.
An earlier version of the article also incorrectly stated that Bev Genockey had said that she had created a dedicated portal on the TCDSU website for policies for class representatives. In fact, she said that she had suggested the idea to the Education Committee.