In Focus
Feb 22, 2024

“My Existence is Political”: Presidential Candidate Jenny Maguire on Raising her Voice for Change

Seasoned activist Jenny Maguire seeks to transform the Students’ Union with a bold agenda focused on student welfare, workers’ rights and equal representation.

Sáoirse GoesDeputy Editor
Photo by Bridget McBruiser for The University Times

Presidential candidate Jenny Maguire is no stranger to activism. Co-organiser of Trans and Intersex Pride Dublin, previous TCDSU LGBTQ+ Rights Officer and Gender Equality Officer, Maguire has established herself as a forerunner of the student movement over the four years she has spent in Trinity. It is on this basis that the 22-year-old English Studies student from Artane is running to be the next TCDSU President. In an interview with The University Times, Maguire reflects on her campaign, the state of the Union and her plans to change it.

Maguire believes that she brings “a very unique perspective” to the Union. Having had to take a year out and repeat another year of her degree, all while working and medically transitioning, Maguire says: “College hasn’t really worked for me, but I want to make it work for as many people as I can, and I think I’m the best person for it.” Citing her experience campaigning, she notes, “I not only bring perspective, but I also bring the experience to go with it”. 

Recalling her personal experience in the second year of her course, Maguire remembers “I suffered a major mental health difficulty”. Resorting to college counselling, she was told that they could not help her, suggesting she seek “long-term help”. She notes that this is not a unique experience, “we hear these stories all the time”, she says. She intends to use this experience to make her voice “front and centre and unignorable”, explaining that “it’s very easy to ignore statistics or quotes off a page, but when I’m standing right in front of you, that experience is invaluable”. 


Maguire considers herself a socialist, and “unapologetically left-wing”. “I’m not an ideologue”, she says, “I’m someone that has lived”. She describes attending a DEIS school, growing up in a single-parent household and having briefly experienced homelessness as a child, asserting “I bring that grounded perspective that I think is often missing, not just on the Union, but in broader leftist spaces”. She stresses the importance of honing these experiences in the fight for housing and for workers’ rights on campus, for both students and staff.

Maguire’s manifesto is based around the three priorities of student workers, housing and postgraduates. In terms of workers’ rights, she cites the 2023 Housing Survey, which showed that 40 per cent of students work, and 49 per cent students work to pay their rent. In light of this high figure, Maguire criticises College’s response of refusing “to even acknowledge that students need to work and they’re being punished because they have a job”. Maguire plans to introduce a “radical” working students’ policy, explaining that “it’s quite a big undertaking… it’s never really been done before”. 

“I’ve always said that the left needs a stage manager”. 

In terms of housing, Maguire plans to create a representative structure in private accommodations and accommodations owned by Trinity. These models would provide, according to Maguire, “an extra voice for students”. She continues, asserting that “I think having an actual voice to advocate for you is beyond useful”. She believes that this will be an easy initiative to set up, but anticipates the challenge lying ahead in maintaining it. She stresses, “I really want to commit to that”. In terms of housing policy, Maguire acknowledges that “It’s very hard coming up against a government that doesn’t respect or value the rights to housing that everyone”. Nevertheless, she plans on growing the Renters’ Solidarity Network and training “on-the-ground grassroots housing activists through CATU”, having already contacted the organisation along with the Radical Housing League to enact change on a national level.

Although she admits that “I don’t know anyone in my life, from my world experience, that is a postgrad”, Maguire has met with the president of the Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation Ireland (PWO Ireland) and the chair of PWO Trinity in preparation for her campaign. Though she considers herself “quite a radical candidate”, Maguire recognises “the importance of an institution and the good that institutions can bring, as well as the grassroots”. She believes that “it’s about finding the balance” between the two, and therefore intends to prioritise “creating a working relationship between the PWO as well as any other representative structure that may show itself”, while “integrating postgrads within the current union structure”.

Maguire strongly believes in a working relationship between the TCDSU and the PWO and intends to establish a grievances policy between the two organisations. She also acknowledges the PWO’s limitations: “It doesn’t represent all postgrads, specifically taught postcards are really left behind”. Maguire plans on establishing “a medium-term plan that ensures that taught postgrads and postgrads are represented within the union”. Maguire is hyper-aware of the fact that she represents postgraduate students and that a “one-size-fits-all approach” may not be effective. She therefore proposes to see “what can work already” and “what we can improve on going forward”.

When asked about her weaknesses in this campaign, Maguire jokes, “I run an improv comedy group”. On a serious note, she underscores the importance of focusing on herself throughout the campaign. “I would be kind of hypocritical if I just tried to do everything by the book of what everyone else does, because that data is not going to work for me”. She also intends to focus on hers and her campaign team’s welfare throughout, and she is mandating mornings off during campaigning, noting “I think the strain that the campaign puts on your team is crazy”.

“I want to create a face for the union that isn’t just an idea or a poster you saw”

Comparing herself to her competitor, Maguire wryly says, “I think stand-up is a curse to the soul”. She draws parallels to her own background, explaining that improv comedy has taught her a lot: “I make fun of it, but the performing, it’s inherently team-based… there’s no star in improv because it’s so mortifying, but also because you’re working as a team to create scenes on the go”. When asked what makes her a better candidate for the role, Maguire says “though the world does not need more improv comedians, they don’t need more white male stand-ups”. Despite this Maguire stresses the importance of competition and on a personal level asserts, “I love Ralph, and I think he’s wonderful, I’m endorsing him”.

Maguire praises the union’s progress this year, saying, “I think the union has touched more students than it probably ever has in recent memory”. “It’s achieved very actionable things”, she says, through its radical approach. Touching on László Molnárfi’s term as TCDSU President, Maguire hopes to emulate “his boldness”. “I think it’s important, especially for marginalised groups or students that are being punished”, she says, “It’s a choice to be silent”. However, building on Molnárfi’s momentum, Maguire hopes to bring more creativity to the union, noting, “I’ve always said that the left needs a stage manager”. 

On the other hand, she says “some grievances were displayed on a public forum that should have been solved internally”. Although she recognises that disputes in such a public fashion are sometimes inevitable, Maguire posits that these contributed to a rise of “factionalism” within the union. Maguire firmly believes that her experience in organisational roles, “whether that be (DU) Players or Trans and Intersex Pride”, affords her the “perspective in order to help resolve these things”. 

When asked how she would work to ensure that dignity, respect and student welfare were prioritised within the union, amid Molnárfi’s past criticism of a culture of ‘dogpiling’ at Council, Maguire agreed with the outgoing president but acknowledged that “it’s a tricky balance” to have paid and part-time officers. She says, “I think having the responsibility and duty of care of the team is something that I will push for to help limit that dogpiling and infighting”. Maguire nevertheless stresses the importance of the social aspect of Council: “I did my first year of Council on Zoom and, oh my God, that was vicious. And then, the first Council in person, I thought, this is completely different because you go for a pint afterward.” Maguire intends to lead from a welfare-oriented and organised point of view, to “ensure that voices are nurtured and protected, instead of just an open forum for shouting at each other”.

“My existence is political”, she says, “it’s politicised by people who would rather have me not exist, and that is a weapon”.

Maguire does not believe that council serves its purpose effectively, noting “it’s a bureaucratic mess”. She clarifies that “I think bureaucracy is good to a degree, but when it starts to inhibit the people that need it, it needs to be looked at, and there needs to be no ego in that”. She touches on the obscurity of its mechanisms, noting that “the rules are confusing and then all the elections at the start of council — it’s just an instant kick to the teeth, it’s so boring”. Maguire is vocal in her criticism of the current structure, but is reticent to discuss her provisional plans.

When asked about the wait times within the college counselling service, Maguire replied, “it’s a disgrace. It’s simply unacceptable”. In terms of the service’s lack of counsellors of colour, Maguire says “I think we should be pushing for it, even if two people go because that is a service that should exist, and it must exist because it assumes that whiteness is some sort of neutral thing”. She relates this to her own experience as a queer person: “I wish my bus driver was queer. I wish every lecturer I had was queer, because I can relate to them more and there’s a shared understanding.” This prompted her commitment to securing long-term funding for college counselling services. Maguire also proposed a short-term option in the interim of hiring counsellors. Taking inspiration from University College Dublin (UCD), who “have deals with private practices and send people there”, she suggests that this “could be a good short-term solution” to combat “the current horrific wait times”. 

Maguire plans to be “unavoidable” as President: “I want to take a table and chair from my office and sit in the Arts Block and the Hamilton and open an office in James’s.” She elaborates, “we do it during the campaign week to engage students on the ground and I want to be there as President for people to come to me with their issues”. Maguire stresses, “I want to create a face for the union that isn’t just an idea or a poster you saw”, highlighting the importance of students seeing her “actually stressed out or maybe writing some emails”.

When asked whether she thinks the union should strive to be seen as apolitical, Maguire was firm in voicing her disagreement. “My existence is political”, she says, “it’s politicised by people who would rather have me not exist, and that is a weapon”. “To politicise someone’s identity makes it taboo, it makes people uncomfortable”, she continues, “but I still have to go into every room”. Although Maguire stresses the need to “adapt to the current political climate, we shouldn’t shut up”, she says “we should even be a little louder”. “The union has always been political”, she reiterates, “how it could even be apolitical, I’m unsure… to be in an apolitical union is to just be a club of people who want to run events”. 

Maguire praises the union’s collaboration with the Trinity branch of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and hopes to continue this legacy if elected: “I think I would lend to it very well”. She has been involved with the movement, most notably mentioning having “slept on the floor in Regent House” during a recent demonstration. Maguire believes that the group’s relationship with the union can be further strengthened, saying that “it can be better through greater established lines of communication between the two groups”. She nevertheless underscores the need for BDS to remain a “grassroots group and not be institutionalised too much because then you can get away with more”. Maguire highlights her experience and perspective as advantages which would help “build a stronger movement and have it be something that anyone can take part in”. 

Ending on a personal note, Maguire says that she would be “incredibly honoured” to be TCDSU President. “I think it’s a great responsibility and something I would take with great seriousness”, she says. “Perspectives like mine are not often heard in the rooms the SU President gets to go into, and it would mean a great responsibility to make sure that voice isn’t wasted when I’m given that opportunity to speak.” 

Maguire is confident and eloquent when discussing her planned policies, and thoroughly supports her ideas with her experience throughout. She has established herself as a leading candidate in a refreshingly civilised, if unconventional, presidential race, and she seems ready to use her unique position and perspective to lay out her vision for the Students’ Union.

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