Michael McDermott believes he is the first meme page admin to run for public office in Ireland. The person behind the Facebook page Trinity Collidge, McDermott has amassed an internet following with clever, if often absurd, satire, as well as through his animated past campaigns in Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) elections, running in 2018 for role of the union’s president and the editorship of this newspaper simultaneously.
In an interview with The University Times, McDermott draws a parallel between those and his current bid for the Seanad. “ I guess it’s very much: ‘If I get it, that’d be great.’”
On the other hand: “If I don’t, I just go back to what I was doing anyway.”
Labelled as a joke candidate in his past efforts for office, the meme page admin largely agrees with this label, but warns “it’s not a joke if I win, though,” and then quickly changes his mind. “Or it’s an even better joke.”
The fact that McDermott is running in a 17 candidate race for one seat that can only be voted on by a small portion of the electorate is not lost on him. “It’s silly that that’s a constituency”, he says. “It’s just weird”, he laughs. “Some of the smartest people I’ve ever known have been graduates of Trinity, some of the dumbest people I’ve known are also graduates of Trinity.”
Remembering the 2013 Seanad abolition referendum, McDermott says he voted to retain the Upper House, on the assumption that reform would follow. I don’t remember what my reasonings were. I thought, give them a chance, I guess. I don’t think anything’s actually really been done since then.”
it’s not a joke if I win. Or it’s an even better joke
Understandably, then, one of McDermott’s campaign slogans is “abolish from within”. How would this work in practice? “I think I would just be so annoying and also just take away the, what would you call it, prestige of being a Seanadóir. Just having me there I think would bring the whole thing down so much that no one’s really going to want to be elected after me, and it basically abolishes itself.”
“I’m surprised there aren’t more joke candidates in Irish politics. I mean, the UK has Count Bin Face, the Monster Raving Loony Part, and I think Irish politics could benefit from a bit of levity.”
To McDermott, this is even more true due to some of the grave situations Irish politics finds itself in. With the housing crisis, “there’s not a shortage of houses, it’s just, they’re not selling to people”. Having been a victim of an unfair lease termination over the summer himself, McDermott sees the direction the housing market is going and thinks “it’s more profitable to basically, turn [buildings] into something that’s not housing, or just leave them vacant”.
On this, and on most other issues, McDermott says he doesn’t yet “have a specific policy”, but believes this is to a democratic advantage. “If I did get into the Seanad, I’m not a person who’s coming into this with all the things I want to do.” Instead “I’d probably be a perfect representative, because if enough people annoy me on Twitter with something, I’ll be like, okay, I guess I can use my speaking time to raise that issue or whatever. I think in a roundabout way, it’d be the most democratic Seanad really.”
Hoping some media outlets use this when discussing my campaign. pic.twitter.com/CC1bTJEQtr
— Michael McDermott (Abolish the Seanad from within) (@GlassHalfArsed) February 11, 2022
McDermott’s fiancé has a hip debilitating hip condition, which has opened his eyes to concerns about disability rights in Ireland. “She talks to me about how in the US, not everything’s really accessible, but like, it’s a different world compared to someplace like Dublin.”
Legislation-wise, the Seanad hopeful adds that “the Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that a lot of places have to be accessible”, whereas “Dublin’s just an awful city to get around with if you have any kind of difficulties moving”.
“I want her to be able to walk around the city safely without being in a massive amount of pain. So, I think we need to really have a better think about how this country is laid out. I worry when I’m bringing her to the train that like, you know, there’s no one there, she’d have to go somewhere on her own.”
Noting Dr Tom Clonan as another candidate who is passionate about disability rights in the bye election race, McDermott compliments his sincerity “it seems like something he’s very genuine about.” This is in contrast to when McDermott ran a satirical campaign for TCDSU president in 2018, where his opponents ran “to launch a political career”. “Having like, good, genuine people makes it hard to be a bit of a jokester.”
I’m surprised there aren’t more joke candidates in Irish politics. The UK has Count Bin Face, the Monster Raving Loony Part, and I think Irish politics could benefit from a bit of levity
McDermott raises other concerns affecting Ireland at the moment. “I’m very anti climate change” he says earnestly. “I don’t know, I do my bit. I separate my recyclings from the general waste, and then, I turn on Twitter and the Gulf of Mexico is on fire.”
Aside from acknowledging the importance of improving public transport systems in the struggle against climate change, the candidate doesn’t believe the problem deserves to be dealt with tentatively. “I think we’re past the point where personal choices are going to make any difference. I think we kind of just have to completely re-organise the way the world is run to have any chance of mitigating it.”
This all sounds rather capital-G Green, and yet McDermott is running as an independent. “I don’t particularly like the concept of political parties”, he admits. “I just can’t imagine myself joining any party. It seems that even if there are parties [where] the general kind of policy seemed grand, sometimes the culture can be apparently quite toxic.”
“Youth political parties creep me out”, he says. “Most of my interaction with Irish politics comes from Twitter, and the people who were in a youth party, like they kind of scare me.”
McDermott goes on, half-explaining how valuable his status as a newbie to Irish politics is. “I can’t imagine deciding at like 16 or 17: ‘I’ve got to join this group’. And then five years later they’re in government and are doing really horrible shit and like being like: ‘Well I have all my eggs in this basket. Gonna have to defend this shit.’”
Despite a dislike for party politics, McDermott names Hazel Chu as his biggest competitor in the Seanad race. “She’s the only candidate I’d actually heard of before”, he admits. “As soon as she declared, I was like, well, I’m not going to win this one.”
You join a political party at 16 or 17, then five years later they’re in government and are doing really horrible shit and you’re like: ‘Well I have all my eggs in this basket. Gonna have to defend this shit.’
On his PhD candidacy, McDermott says that, unlike Hannah Montana, he is “getting the worst of both worlds”, since PhD work is not considered standard employment. Turning off the satire for a moment, McDermott explains how, as a PhD student, “you are working a full-time job” but are “just getting a set monthly amount” in payment, which “can be enough to live, I guess, but not necessarily comfortably”.
“I mean, in my case, my rent is half the stipend. So, instantly, half my stipend has just gone to having a roof over your head.”
“A lot of times, especially when deadlines are coming by, especially around [the] time of your thesis,you could be working like 60- to 80-hour weeks, but you’re still getting the same amount of money.”
“So yeah, I’d definitely be an advocate of PhD students getting more money. And that’s one of my things, is that, you know, if you elect me to the Seanad, I’ll be a PhD student getting more money”, he says with a grin. “My standard of living will go up significantly.”
McDermott’s PhD researches a type of infrared lasers, which, he quickly reassures, are not the dangerous spy-movie kind. “I don’t think you’re allowed bring weapons into the Seanad. I guess if it was more visible light it could really help me abolish the Seanad. If I was just there, like pointing lasers at everyone.”