Feb 21, 2024

Council and Equality Hustings Present the First Challenges of the Campaign Period

In front of an experienced panel of Students' Union representatives, the candidates competing in the sabbatical elections were put through their paces in a lengthy evening of questioning.

Leah Downey, Sáoirse Goes, Alex Payne and Clara Roche
Photo by Bridget McBruiser for The University Times

In front of an experienced panel that pulled no punches, the candidates competing in the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) elections faced the first real hurdle of the campaign period at this evening’s Council and Equality Hustings.

The 13 candidates were forced to think on their feet as they fielded questions related to inclusivity, diversity and the promotion of the Irish language. The hustings illuminated the various policies, priorities and levels of preparation of those vying for positions within the union.

Taking place in reverse constitutional order and culminating with the presidential candidates, the stage has been set for a lively and likely contentious exchange of ideas on the pressing issues facing students. 



As the questions were directed in reverse constitutional order, the two presidential candidates were the last to speak, but any risk of audience engagement waning as the night wore on was alleviated by Ralph Balfe and Jenny Maguire’s quickly established comedic rapport. 

Asked first how she would work to help students on the foundation course, Maguire stated firmly that the union “cannot let anyone fall through the cracks”. She said that the union does not always recognise the “full array of students” it represents, and she pledged to actively and meaningfully engage with foundation students to better support them. 

Facing the same question, Balfe reaffirmed his commitment to implementing all of Maguire’s proposed policies, and said that he would also ban tourists. To ensure equality, he said that he would ban all tourists, not just the “most annoying”. To American tourists, he said: “Fuck off and go to your theme park.” 

Asked then how he would enforce this ban, he echoed Maguire’s commitment to supporting working students and said that he hopes to “employ all students” to act as security guards. He assured an engaged audience that these students would be paid a living wage, and was met with an enthusiastic response: “Let him cook!” 

Maguire was then asked about her plans to provide anti-racism training to societies and how she hopes to implement this. She said that, in her experience, students join societies to “feel safe”, and at present the Central Societies Committee (CSC) does not provide committees with “meaningful anti-racist tools”. She said that she would work with the CSC to push for equal representation and to “make sure that every student can feel safe” in their chosen societies. 

With next year’s sabbatical team likely to include the union’s first Gaeilge Officer, the presidential candidates were then asked how they would promote the Irish language in light of this new addition. Answering first, Balfe reaffirmed his commitment to implementing all of Maguire’s proposed policies. In an admission that will likely defy audience preconceptions of Balfe he said that he was a fluent Gaeilgeoir, but that he was too shy to speak the language. 

Maguire, in a more convincing response, mentioned her participation in the YesGaeilge campaign as evidence of her commitment to strengthening the presence of the language on campus. She said that she wants to see the language “nurtured, promoted and protected unapologetically in our society”. 

Later in the evening, at the council hustings, Balfe’s commitment to implementing all of Maguire’s proposed policies was addressed head-on when he was asked which of her manifesto pledges was his favourite. He said that while Maguire’s manifesto was “brilliant”, it did not compare to his own, and as such he elected to promote his original pledge to “end the nanny state era of the tobacco-free campus”. “Rollies only”, he added, to audience applause.

In the final question of the evening, Maguire was asked about her intention to prioritise disability activism on campus. Rejecting the suggestion that this issue was absent from her manifesto, Maguire reiterated her intention to create a framework allowing the integration of LENS reports directly into Blackboard and all other forms of communication between students and staff. 

In a continuation of her comprehensive campaign, Maguire spoke with passion and clarity, and drew upon her personal, political and professional experiences to strengthen her ideas. Balfe, through his comedic approach, offered a sense of levity to what was otherwise a testing and thorough crusade. 


The two candidates for the position of Education Officer were first asked about their plans on how they intended to support the Trinity branch of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, as neither candidate made mentions of College’s ties to Israeli institutions in their manifestos. 

Eoghan Gilroy borrowed Presidential candidate Maguire’s terminology, in stressing the importance of “not being afraid to be the loudest, most annoying person in the room”. He criticised College’s ties to Israeli institutions and banks as “shameful” and “incomprehensible”. 

Sé Ó hEidhin took a more practical approach, believing that “we are past the point of talking”. They advocated in favour of taking “direct action”, and mentioned their plans to take “targeted action against specific professors and departments”. Ó hEidhin further stressed that “we are well past the point of saying politely that they [College] need to cut ties” as this enables the latter to “plan against it”. 

At present, no courses are available through Irish except in the study of the language itself. When asked how they would tackle this issue, Ó hEidhin once again provided concrete policy points they intend to enact. Acknowledging that “every aspect of our lives needs to be done through Irish”, they affirmed that “this begins at the university level”, expressing their desire to see courses such as medicine and law taught through Irish. While they viewed this issue as a “long process”, Ó hEidhin was “confident that working with the Irish language officer will be able to behind the movement to make that a reality on campus”. Ó hEidhin further affirmed that this issue would be “pushed on every single committee” and “brought up in every single meeting” should they be elected. 

Gilroy praised “historic goal that was achieved” by the success of the YesGaeilge campaign, identifying a “real willingness… in promoting the language” within the student body. Touching on the absence of the Irish language in his manifesto, Gilroy said his manifesto was “foundational”, explaining that “as this campaign goes on, more policies will go out there”. While the issue of the Irish language at times seemed like an afterthought to Gilroy through his manifesto ethos, Gilroy was aware of the behind-the-scenes work involved in the role, as he identified that “College is willing to commit to this”.

At the council hustings later on in the evening, both candidates were asked what they would do differently to improve the rights and status of working students. Gilroy relied on his own experience as a working student, saying that he “fully understood the difficulties”. He noted this issue as “a cornerstone of his foundational manifesto” and stressed the need for “a concerted effort to work with students” and to “make it a priority”. He was adamant in his criticism of College on this issue, highlighting that they have “no real sense of empathy” on the issue.

Where Gilroy was practical, Ó hEidhin remained sceptical, saying that the reality of “long-term policy is that you have to do it again and again… until College listens”. Slightly wary, Ó hEidhin, confirmed that they “wouldn’t do anything different”, explaining that “at the end of the day, things just need to continually be pushed for”. They underscored their persistence and dedication, expressing their willingness to “repeatedly argue the point with examples and case studies of students who are actually struggling” in order to “get the emotions across to the staff”.

Overall, both candidates appeared well-equipped for the realities of the role they will contend. Both spoke with conviction, drawing upon their years of experience within the union and expressing several similar aims in their planned approaches. The Education Officer holds the dual role of the union’s Vice President, and while Ó hEidhín’s realistic approach may more accurately reflect the behind-the-scenes requirements of the post, Gilroy’s optimism may lend itself well to the spirited campaign Maguire looks likely to lead. In a competition where the levels of passion and preparation seem equal, the race will likely be a close one, and it remains to be seen whether voters will resonate more with Gilroy’s ideology or Ó hEidhin’s proposed policies.

Welfare and Equality 

The three candidates for the position of Welfare and Equality Officer were first asked how they would fight for reproductive rights when abortion remains inaccessible for many students outside Dublin. 

While Nathan Harrington referred to the 2018 referendum as the “repeal the eighth thing”, he stated that he viewed abortion access as a “fundamental” and “critical” healthcare issue and promised to raise awareness and lobby for improved access. 

Hannah McAuley’s ideas to improve abortion access were more specific, as she proposed collaborating with the USI to organise “nationwide protests”. She stressed the importance of making information accessible both online and in-person and stated that the conversation “needs to leave the back of bathroom cubicles”. 

While they acknowledged that he did not have relevant statistics readily available, Hamza Bana presented perhaps the most concrete solution to address the issue, promising to push for greater access and advocacy by highlighting the university’s connections to medical practices that provide abortions. 

Asked how to improve support for student parents, McAuley suggested hosting more events and collaborating with the Comms and Marketing Officer to publicise them. She promised to make herself available to student parents by accommodating their schedules, stating, “whenever you are free, I am free” and suggested implementing an open-door policy and tailoring the office hours of the Welfare Officer to better suit student parents. That the position went unfulfilled for so long was a “travesty”, she said. 

Harrington said that he had not known of the existence of the union’s Student Parents’ Officer until “two weeks ago”, which may raise questions about his levels of engagement and awareness with the union in comparison to current part-time officers Bana and McAuley. He said that he would raise awareness, but did not say how, and that it was important to make himself accessible. 

Bana connected the personal to the political in referencing their experience as the child of a single mother, and stressed the need to increase the visibility of various supports for student parents such as nursery services and grinds. He also expressed an intention to work towards reducing the costs of such services. 

In a variation on a theme that appeared in all races, the candidates were then asked how they would make online health services available through Irish. 

Bana, in a probable nod to his recently-announced partnership with the counselling services to provide a dedicated support group for ethnic minorities, said that the union must push for Irish speaking therapists as well as POC ones. “We need people who speak Irish in the services”, they said, and suggested the creation of a database of Irish-language speaking therapists students could consult.

McAuley referred to the solution as “two-pronged”, proposing first making available a “database” of who in the Health Service speaks Irish, and then letting students know how to avail of their services. 

Harrington echoed Bana and McAuley’s ideas in saying that the union should “make everyone aware of Irish supports available … and make them more accessible”. Unlike Bana and McAuley, he did not provide any ideas towards implementing this. 

In a round of individual questions, Bana was asked how they would address the “structural issue” of period poverty. He said that he would partner with the Estates and Facilities department, citing the policies of the University of Limerick and University College Cork as examples of how this could be achieved. 

McAuley was asked about how she intended to change the “major shortcomings” in the SUSI grant scheme. She said that she knew “how unforgiving and what a barrier” the associated thresholds can be, and that she intended to employ “direct action in collaboration with as many people I can get”. She said that she hoped to collected student testimonies and “bring that to the Dáil”, to highlight the real lives and stories of the students affected. 

Harrington then faced an individual question about the derogatory language that featured in his manifesto. In his manifesto, he referred to students with disabilities as “disableds” and proposed “LGBTQIA+ lectures to teach people how to have queer sex”, with “demonstrations and practice sessions to be made available”. Harrington responded that he “wasn’t trying to be mean”, and that he intended to make Trinity a “fun and happy” place. 

More individual questions followed in the subsequent council hustings. Harrington was asked about his manifesto pledge to donate 100 per cent of his salary to “giving out sweets and chocolate” to students, and whether this money would be better spent on the financial assistance scheme for transgender students. He said that his dedication to buying Cadbury bars “would go further than a lump sum to a foodbank”. He reiterated his commitment to living on campus with his “homies”. 

Bana was then asked why students should feel assured that he would help to provide affordable housing. They proposed implementing a series of workshops in halls to ensure that first year students would “know their rights”, and introducing a “donation system” in House Six where students could donate household essentials to alleviate the financial burden of others. 

Finally, McAuley was asked about her proposed increase of the student welfare loan and how it would work. She said she was willing to “push back” on administrative opposition to increase the loan to “as high as we can get it”. Without providing a concrete number and while admitting that she has yet to contact anyone about her plans, she reaffirmed that she was “100 per cent committed” to doing so.

Communications & Marketing Officer

The candidates, Connor Dempsey, Sarah Murnane and Beth Strahan, were first asked about their ideas for reducing waste at Union events, namely the production of tote bags for the Freshers’ Fair every year. All the candidates admitted that they didn’t know the specifics of how the Union’s production of tote bags harmed the environment, with Dempsey and Murnane instead focusing on tackling waste by reaching out to those with more knowledge, and Strahan drawing attention to what she saw as bigger environmental issues facing College.

Dempsey said that he is “fairly inclined to follow anything environmental” and that before any decisions concerning an issue like producing tote bags would not be made without “consultation”. Currently being the TCDSU’s Engagement Officer, Dempsey argued that engagement would be his immediate priority were he to be elected and in order to follow through on this would include elements of the TCDSU’s Environmental Policy in relevant Union communications.

Murnane would seek to “consult those who know more”, pointing to a “collaborative” approach in solving environmental issues at College. She said she was “on board with anything to do with sustainability really” and specifically mentioned the future Environment Officer as someone she would seek to include in any relevant communications work she produced.

Strahan used the opportunity of a question about the environmental impact of the TCDSU to highlight what she saw as “bigger issues” concerning Trinity’s carbon footprint, saying that, for now, “engagement through tote bags and pizzas” are a key part of involving students during Freshers’ Week. She would instead seek to bring “more focus on college wide energy usage. Where is it getting it? Is it renewable? How much water is being used? There are bigger issues at hand which need to be platformed as well”.

Contextualised by reference to the Dublin Riots, the candidates were then asked about how they would seek to combat misinformation.

Murnane acknowledged that the emergence of far-right groups was “becoming [an] incredibly important [issue]” and that she would seek to combat this by providing as much information to students as possible through Union communications. She also gave a reflective response, highlighting that “you can’t control what others say, only what the Union does” but that it was important to be “as honest as you can” and give “updates as they come” during uncertain times, displaying what was seen as a considered approach to misinformation.

Strahan stressed that “we have to hold ourselves critically accountable for where we get our information from”. She, like Murnane, acknowledged the dangers of misinformation that “targets vulnerable people and minorities”. In order to combat such threats, Strahan said that she would use her position within the Union “to platform the role of part-time officers” to “let students know who the people are whom they can get help from before any crisis happens”.

Dempsey drew on his experience of being in House Six during the riots in his answer. He described it as “really heartbreaking” to witness how students were affected by the activities and rhetoric of the far-right, saying “the riots were an opportunity to remind us that our service is to students”. He told the audience his “sole goal” would be “to defend students”, and in relation to the LGTBQ+ community this meant “not just putting up pink posters saying ‘gay rights’, we are showing queer people exist”.

In the penultimate question of the Equality Hustings the candidates were asked how they would ensure there is the same presence of the Irish language as English in Union communications.

Strahan answered first, not only acknowledging the need for bilingual communications but also that she wants to see Irish established on a “curriculum level”. On cementing Irish in the first-year student experience, she said: “In order to see actual change where I really want to go is the JCR, it has autonomy and does not have to do what the SU says. This would be to ensure JF students are getting the same level of Irish as the rest of the students on campus.”

Dempsey also recognised that “all communications have to be bilingual”. He said he would take an “experimental” approach in finding “where we can institute Irish” and in “ways to use Irish”. He drew attention to his Union experience through which he has already engaged with Irish translators, by whom he has “learnt the joy people experience in reclaiming their language”, citing this as motivation to continue and increase collaboration with Irish translators.

Murnane began by claiming “I’m all there for it”, calling the promotion of the Irish language “the hot topic of this campaign”. She sought to use the question to highlight her plans for “massive social media expansion”. She wants to produce more “video content, TikTok content, Facebook content, everything”. Coming round to focus on the specifics of the question, she said she “would love to do more of that”, in reference to prioritising Irish language posts with the English translation in an accompanying plain text version. “More of it needs to be done”, she concluded.

The panel then asked questions specific to the candidates’ manifestos. Dempsey received the first question, concerning gender equality in Union communications. 

In response, Dempsey drew on his personal experience in recognition that “gender is complicated”. He said that people had come up to him and explained their experiences he found similar to his own, coming across those “who don’t really understand what is going on with their identities”. He said that aspects of promoting gender equality can appear “tokenistic”, but argued “it’s also not. It’s worked for me and can work for others as well”.

Murnane and Strahan were then both asked the same question about accessibility in Union communications, as neither had mentioned it in their manifestos. 

Murnane focused on translations for her answer, reiterating her aspirations for “social media expansion”. She said “access is about giving people the opportunity” to engage and that she would bring her “hard work ethic” to the role in order to produce posts “every day”. She said she would reach out to communities and ask “what do you want?”, arguing that she would be able to fulfil any request.

Strahan alluded to some “critical understanding” of how she views communications. She argued that “language takes precedence” but also acknowledged that “society is becoming more visual” so would seek to produce more video content. She drew on her previous experience working in theatre, claiming that through this she had “seen a precedence of movement and physicality over language”. She also pointed to her intention to establish a “podcast style update” of Union activity for students.

In the Council Hustings, the candidates too fielded individual questions specific to their manifestos.

Up first, Strahan was questioned about the use of the term “apolitical” in her manifesto in reference to depoliticising the Union. She began by saying that “I do not believe the Union should be apolitical”, further explaining that what she meant by her use of “apolitical” was to highlight how she wanted to prioritise “making the Union accessible”. She then continued to argue that “we need to explore our moral interrogations further”, elaborating that this constituted “aligning ourselves with morals” and associated with brands deemed in accordance with the TCDSU’s aims.

Murnane was asked about the perceived neglect of minority groups mentioned in her manifesto and as a result, whether she had consulted with any relevant bodies.

She claimed that she didn’t want “to exclude anyone” under her plans for the “big expansion” of the Union’s communications. She pointed to how she would be “very proactive” in reaching out to relevant bodies in the future and “didn’t want to seem like I was just throwing it out there” by referencing groups with protected characteristics”. She did however display a nuanced approach to the specific demands of minority groups, saying she would seek to “individually deal with this on a case-by-case basis…we have to tailor our response to specific groups”.

Dempsey was asked about what he had learnt in his role as this year’s TCDSU Engagement Officer and how he would bring some of that experience to increase engagement, particularly with students who don’t attend Council. 

In response, he stated: “Council is awful.” He cited his experience of “talking to students” and the “time spent with the Engagement Working Group” to help explain Council to students through “summaries of what the hell motions are doing”. He would also look to increase the Union’s physical presence at St. James’ Hospital to increase engagement with medical students – “everyone is lovely there”.


When asked how he would work to make Ents accessible to students who commute to College, sole candidate Peadar Walsh spoke of his intention “to push the boat out further with that”. He mentioned plans to encourage societies to hold more daytime events, as “there is too much focus on evening and drinking events when people might have to get a bus home”. Walsh further stated his commitment to “supporting societies” to achieve a balance of daytime and nighttime events, and introduced his plan to create the role of daytime officer on the Ents committee.

When pushed on this point in the council hustings, Walsh was reminded that societies are run by the Central Societies Committee (CSC) and asked how he would ensure that societies ran daytime events. Walsh mentioned Samuel Isijola, chair of the CSC, and confirmed that “we have no influence over them as Ents”. He nevertheless affirmed that he would “make supports available to them [societies] that will benefit them”. Although vague on how this policy would look practically, Walsh stressed that “societies are the lifeblood of the college, the more we put into them as Ents, the more it will come out in student life”. 

Citing the rising number of issues with bouncers in off-campus events, Walsh was then asked how he planned on improving inclusivity in events to ensure that they are safe. Walsh criticised the “shocking standard of care in nightclubs in Dublin”, lauding the Empower the Voice Dublin movement for their seminal role in raising awareness of this issue. He focused on drawing wider attention to the issue, imploring officers in other colleges to join him in “put[ting] pressure on these venues”. Adopting a radical approach to the Ents role, saying that “if we have to boycott venues, we boycott venues”.  Walsh was unshakeable in his resolution, noting “I cannot organise an event where I think someone is going to be mistreated or discriminated against”.

Although he did not explicitly mention LGBTQ+ or minority groups in his answer, Walsh was informed and assertive in his assessment of the current situation, proposing feasible and necessary solutions to an increasing safety issue.

When asked what steps he would take in order to incorporate the Irish language into Ents, Walsh echoed Mac Brádaigh in his assessment that the “Irish language has to become a part of every single thing we do as a students’ union from here on out”. Walsh intends to introduce an Irish language officer to the Ents committee, with the ultimate goal of having the language as an “option in every single event”. 

Keeping his answers brief throughout, Walsh seemed all but assured of his guaranteed win. Although his commitment to welfare and safety at events was well received, voters may question reluctance to acknowledge the position of Ents within the union as distinct from the CSC.


Pádraig Mac Brádaigh, the sole candidate for the inaugural position of Gaeilge Officer, first addressed his plans to ensure the availability of welfare support for students through the Irish language. While he admitted that these plans were absent in his manifesto due to space constraints, he expressed his belief that health services should be made available through the language. He pointed to the existence of Irish-language speaking counsellors in the university, stating that this information should be better publicised. 

To boost the Irish language for access students, Mac Brádaigh said that the newly-created position must serve a wide range of students. Acknowledging that students entering Trinity through access programmes may not currently have the same opportunities to engage with the language, he stressed his experience in “creating learning resources and teaching people at all levels of Irish” as equipping him to bridge this gap. 

To promote the Irish language to other international students, Mac Brádaigh highlighted his experience teaching Irish classes at the Pav and with An Cumann Gaelach. He suggested organising classes targeted specifically at international students, saying that his own experience as an international student gave him “a lot of perspective” in this area. The implementation of such classes would give international students the opportunity to feel a sense of belonging and community. 

When asked how he hoped to increase the  provision of Irish-speaking courses across faculties, Mac Brádaigh said that he was aware of the multilayered process of restructuring and providing bilingual course content. He said that he would focus on beginning these procedures to “provide a strong foundation” that his successor could build upon, and that he would like to see College commit to action plans to ensure this. 

As Mac Brádaigh will likely be the union’s first elected Gaeilge Officer, how he shapes the role and sets the tone for his successors remains to be seen. However, the Council and Equality Hustings made clear the depth of his passion and the strength of his vision, and the enthusiastic reaction from his audience suggests that the support of the student population is behind him. 

Editor of The University Times

Answering Welfare Officer Aoife Bennett about her plans to increase diversity within the staff, Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce proposed reaching out to “every society that involves ethnic minorities”, of which she said there were 20, to advertise positions within UT on their mailing lists. She had asked the same of the Trinity Ability Co_op, who had been “very receptive”. She was eager to reinstate the journalism course in collaboration with the Trinity Access Program (TAP), and also expressed interest in expanding the Irish-language staff. 

In the same vein as his introductory speech at the Dining Hall Hustings, Hastings honed his early experience within UT and seeing the TAP collaboration “well done” under the administration of Emer Moreau. He was eager to expand upon this “essential part” of the newspaper as it would, in his view, help familiarise incoming students with The University Times. He said that connections with the Ability Co_op were “underutilised” within UT and that he is willing to “go there personally” to facilitate stronger ties. 

When it came to the question of the importance of the Irish language within The University Times, Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce’s advantage as a fluent speaker was clear. Like Hastings, she suggested the implementation of small changes such as the inclusion of photo credits in Irish as “something everyone understands”. She highlighted her experience translating editorials within UT, but stressed the importance of creating original Irish-language content on top of translating existing articles. She highlighted the connections she had built with An Cumann Gaelach, and pointed to the existence of an Irish-language publication on campus as proving that UT has “no excuse” for the absence of an Irish language section. 

Facing the same question first, Hastings said that “not enough is being done” to spotlight the language, emphasising the absence of Irish-language editorials. He suggested incorporating small introductions to the Irish language in the paper and on the website, such as translated bylines and headlines, which would “allow Irish speakers to feel heard in a very simple way”. He stressed his intention to form “concrete ties with societies” to recruit writers, and repeated his willingness to “talk to the people in charge” to make those connections happen. 

The final question directed at the candidates centred around tackling issues related to the climate crisis. Hastings noted the “many environmental societies” and the Trinity Sustainability Project doing good work in this area, and said that the UT could increase its reporting on this topic to “help these people out in their activism” and ensure the safety of the planet. 

Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce said that the climate crisis was one of the key points of her manifesto, and repeated her plans to appoint a correspondent. She emphasised her experience in climate activism, both in journalism and beyond, mentioning her foundation of the climate crisis section within TN2 and her experience on the Evergreen magazine masthead. She said that this area provided a “fantastic opportunity” to involve more STEM students in UT, and deserved a position at the “forefront” of UT. 

Asked whether he believed the position of UT Editor should be impeachable, Hastings said that while he “absolutely” did, he acknowledged that it was a “very complicated process” that would likely involve a referendum. He said that while he would ideally like to pursue this goal, he hoped instead to focus on building staff welfare to a point where no impeachment proceedings would prove necessary. 

Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce said that the question of impeachment “should only ever come up in a crisis point”, and said that her planned appointment of an ethics officer and her distribution of staff welfare surveys meant that such a question would likely never arise. 

While Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce stayed close to her manifesto theme of expanding the staff, Hastings focused instead on strengthening his individual relationships with on-campus organisations. Overall, this evening’s hustings allowed Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce to highlight her extensive experience in climate activism and her knowledge of the Irish language, while Hastings instead centred his answers around his willingness to engage with those who knew more.

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