In Focus
Feb 22, 2024

Presidential Hopeful Ralph Balfe Promotes “Very Serious” Policies in Ambitious Campaign

TCDSU Presidential Candidate, Ralph Balfe, reveals the motivations behind his campaign and elaborates on his ambitious manifesto pledges.

Alex PayneAssistant Editor
Photo by Bridget McBruiser for The University Times

Step up Ralph (pronounced ‘Rafe’) Balfe, running to be the next President of the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU). The Psychoanalytic Studies M.Phil. student, described by his mum as “rather handsome” (see manifesto), is running his campaign with the tagline: “Education, Education, Ban the Tourists.”

Who is he? What does he stand for? Is there any sincerity to the motivation behind a campaign that promises to replace the Campanile with a 1:1 replica of the Burj Khalifa?

A quick search on Instagram pre-interview and one finds an account named @ralph.balfe with six posts and 112 followers. Most of the posts show Ralph performing stand-up comedy. One advertises a TrinityFM show on Wednesday nights talking about comedy. Another shows Balfe delivering his new year’s resolution in a menacing Scottish accent: “My new year’s resolution is to get seagulls to do my bidding through hypnosis… I’m hoping I can get them to shit all over my ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend Craig. I fucking hate Craig.”


His intended use of seagulls is perhaps best not encouraged, but some control over the campus sea-bird population is surely a missed manifesto pledge that would have resonated with students who have suffered at the hands, or beaks, of the ever-hungry airborne nuisances.

With a self-professed “humble desire” to go down as “the greatest student to have ever graced” Trinity’s halls, he has produced a manifesto that covers a vast range of enterprising pledges that reveal a willingness to go the extra mile in his aim to “radically alter the course of the future of this college”.

Not to mention enlisting the Dubai Royal Family to sponsor building the replica of the world’s tallest building, Balfe also promises to construct a Book of Kells World theme park, comprising a Resurrection Rollercoaster which lasts for three days, a Hagiography Hotel with a Mother Theresa day care centre and a Conor McGregor go-kart track. His dismissive attitude to the current promotion of the Book of Kells on campus can be seen on his manifesto where he displays a double middle-fingered salute to the new Book of Kells Experience.

If he is elected, expect to find corporate sponsorships aplenty on campus. Notable mentions include the Coca-Cola Old Library, the Cadbury’s Chapel – “because there’s a glass-and-a-half full of Christ’s velvety blood in everyone” – the Nestlé School of Midwifery and twelve giant sequoias on the cricket pitch, costing an expected €700 million – “but we can all chip in with the digging”, adding to the Burj Khalifa-shaped shadow cast over the cobblestones and brickwork.

Critics may argue that Balfe is overreaching, but who are we, students after radical change in our experience of College, to temper ambition?

Beneath his aspirations lies a mind keen to the issues Trinity faces in its provision of a fulfilling and productive experience to students: “What is university really about? Is it about education, or is it about tourism and profit? I think it should be about education.”

Balfe describes Trinity’s courses as currently “pretty mediocre”, explaining through a familial anecdote that if you were to place yourself as the parents of this college you might “not be that worried about their exams… but are they going to win a Nobel Peace Prize? Are they going to grow up and win an Oscar? Are they going to grow up and be happy? I’d have some worries”.

Self-described in his manifesto as “aware of what is going on most of the time”, Balfe sought to highlight his concerns over student life, namely high rents and living conditions, and elucidated the motivation behind his “flagship policy” of banning tourists.

“Let me paint you a picture”, he began. “I wait 15 minutes to enter Front Gate because there’s a continuous stream of school kids from all over Europe… this is silly.” He decided to “barge through” the throngs only to find himself unable to see the “beautiful” campus through the cloud of selfie sticks in the air. “This doesn’t really feel like a quiet, calm place of learning so far”, he observed.

Balfe then proceeded to wait in the queue for an hour at the Perch café “behind a Japanese man fumbling for change”. Coffee-in-hand he then comes across some “English lads bumbling along” and delivers a stinging impression of the well-known obnoxious British lad: “Oh, mate, mate, how you doing man? Oh, I’ve heard there’s a pub on campus… where’s the fucking pub night?”

This inspired the thought that “something has got to change” as Balfe, confronted by the aforementioned array of tourist-related obstacles, found himself “struggling to concentrate on any thoughts even bordering on academic here”.

This year the TCDSU has twice blockaded the Book of Kells exhibition, a popular Dublin tourist destination on campus, to highlight a perceived prioritisation of profit over students and, in conjunction with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) group, has staged multiple protests against College’s corporate sponsorships and stance on the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Asked about his opinion on activism and, as per his manifesto, “welcoming corporate funding and unquestioned corporate sponsorship” – an opinion seemingly at odds with student movements this year – Balfe said: “I think having watched, you know, ‘big-boy’ politics for a while now, I’ve learnt that there is no contradiction between accepting unquestioned donations and sponsorships and outwardly holding policy positions and stances that conflict with those donations.” 

“I say ‘give us all the money’, we don’t care where it comes from”. Asked whether this represented a stance of realism that students needed to adopt, he replied: “Call it what you want.”

This seemingly nonchalant attitude to public perception prompted a discussion about how he saw his own campaign and himself in relation to his opponent in the presidential race, Jenny Maguire.

Balfe stated of his manifesto: “I think maybe it’s not playful enough. You know, maybe a bit dry. I worry some people could look at it and think, ‘Oh no, not just another student manifesto for SU President’,” followed by an imitated snoring noise from the presidential hopeful.

This seemed not to be his view of Jenny Maguire and her campaign, however, describing her as “brilliant”, in spite of her “lame” improv career. He went on to exalt the benefits of competition in elections: “For an election as important as SU President, it’s important for that to be contested. You know, it would be a shame for someone to stand uncontested and not have that kind of challenge, a good democratic battle. So I’m just glad Jenny can perform that role for me.”

A democratic function of the TCDSU President’s role is to partake closely in the activities of student council, the representative body of students that vote on motions intended to change student life and encourage College governance to support the wishes of the student body.

Balfe admitted that the term ‘student council’ was “new” to him and had to write it down in his notebook to remember. Despite this lack of awareness of the democratic arm of the Students’ Union, he was quick to highlight what he perceived as the “potentially intimidating” and “cliquey” nature of student politics. He criticised the TCDSU for “shooting themselves in the foot” in the proposed rewording of the constitution to make the Union “explicitly political”.

He does however agree with what he sees as current TCDSU President László Molnárfi’s stance of Marxism, but he wants to take this “even further” in adopting “Marxist Leninist Maoism”. “If you have a real understanding of what it is all about, which I don’t, you know that it is an incredibly broad church, which basically is just a label meaning ‘good vibes’,” he said.

This desire for ‘broad-church’ inclusivity is seen in his vision for future meetings of student Ccouncil. He envisages engaging students in politics through meetings in pubs and nightclubs, though “not to promote a drinking culture”, so would also encourage group walks up the Wicklow Mountains.

The ‘good vibes’ to his tenure would be marked by a fervent celebration should he win: “I would hold a huge blowout party on campus. And then I would host the first of my weekly Chem-sex raves in the Provost’s house – but not Linda Doyle’s personal home, that would be hugely inappropriate.”

Balfe also wanted to highlight his experience as a postgraduate and his empathy towards the plights of postgraduate workers. He pointed to the now-defunct GSU’s previous cash troubles when they were, according to Balfe, “apparently giving out money willy nilly”. “I’d bring that back”, he said. 

For “basically any reason” he’d happily “chuck anyone €50”, and would be able to do so through generating an “income stream of, I expect, several billion euros in year one” due to his manifesto pledges of encouraging corporate sponsorship and ticket sales from the Book of Kells World theme park.

To help with paid work, he would look to create a “nationalised workers cooperative” with a focus on postgraduate workers, tapping his head to show his adept mind at work. Employing postgraduates, he would prioritise jobs for his personal entourage: “I would employ living wage, salaried positions such as a personal stylist and a team of secretaries – hot blondes preferable.”

At the end of his interview he also had one final, previously unannounced manifesto pledge – to set up a paywall for access to The University Times, “because that’s what happens with the best journalism”.

“I practise what I preach” is a key tenet of how Balfe wants to be seen during his campaign. Some may view his objectives as outlandish and his opinions as irreverent, but there is a reflective sentiment to his focus on Trinity being, primarily, a place of learning. Whether that be centred around his pledge to ban tourists or a New Year’s resolution to control the minds of seagulls, students are at the heart of his pursuits.

Somewhat analogous to his ambitious and enterprising plans, he encourages students to: “Vote safe. Vote Ralph [pronounced ‘Rafe’].

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