In Focus
Feb 26, 2024

TCDSU Elections Poll: Clear Victors in All But Two Races

The most contested races of this year’s sabbatical elections, Welfare & Equality and Comms & Marketing, are set for a close finish.

Alex PayneAssistant Editor
Photo by Bridget McBruiser for The University Times

The University Times Sabbatical Elections 2024 poll was conducted over a five-day period from Tuesday 20th to Saturday 24th February. Receiving 274 responses, representative of approximately 1.3 per cent of the student population or approximately 10 per cent of the average turnout per year in the sabbatical elections, The University Times poll reveals that all but two of the six races polled are likely to be decided on the first count.

The election is run by the single transferable vote system, meaning that, in the event of a tight race on the first count, candidates not reaching the quota for a potential win will be eliminated and their votes will be redistributed to the candidate who was voted next in preference on each ballot. This process will continue until a winner is found.

The calculation used to define the quota often determines that, on the first count, a candidate needs to secure just over 50 per cent of first-preference votes to win.


On the first count, The University Times poll suggests that next year’s Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President will be Jenny Maguire, the Education Officer will be Eoghan Gilroy, the Ents Officer will be Peadar Walsh and The University Times (UT) Editor will be Charlie Hastings. Out of these, the race for UT Editor is most likely to go to a second round of counting, with Charlie Hastings securing 53 per cent of first-preference votes.

The races for Welfare and Equality and Comms and Marketing Officers, the two most contested races with three candidates in each, are the most likely to require at least one candidate to be eliminated for a winner to be declared. 

In the race for Welfare & Equality Officer, Hamza Bana received 49 per cent of first-preference votes. They will likely win following the distribution of eliminated candidates’ votes, due to a strong second-preference vote for Bana amongst those who voted to Re-open nominations (RON) and, if needed, Nathan Harrington as first-preference.

The race for Comms and Marketing Officer is likely to require more vote redistribution than the race for Welfare & Equality, with Beth Strahan receiving the most first-preference votes with 42 per cent, followed by Connor Dempsey with 31 per cent. With the RON vote accounting for five per cent of all votes, it is unlikely to have any effect upon redistribution, meaning the redistribution of Sarah Murnane’s 22 per cent of first-preference votes will decide the race. 

In The University Times poll, out of Sarah Murnane’s first-preference votes, Connor Dempsey receives more second-preference votes than Beth Strahan, indicating this may be the closest race of the TCDSU 2024 Sabbatical Elections.

If the race for UT Editor needs RON to be eliminated for a winner to be found, the desire for Charlie Hastings as second-preference amongst the redistributed votes of RON indicates he will win the election.

Voter Demographics

The University Times poll asked respondents their academic year, faculty association, gender, if they were an international student, if they were a mature student and whether they had ever held a position within the TCDSU.

The poll reveals that 97 per cent of respondents are undergraduates. The greatest proportion are Senior Sophister students at 37 per cent. The proportion decreases in order of academic year, with Junior Freshman making up 11 per cent of respondents. However, postgraduates and 5th year students have the smallest proportions, with three per cent and two per cent respectively.

Due to drop-out rates and failures to progress, there are generally more Junior Fresh students than Senior Sophister. Amongst Junior Fresh students there is a stronger preference for Sé Ó hEidhin as Education Officer, Hannah McAuley as Welfare and Equality Officer, Sarah Murnane as Comms and Marketing Officer and Brídín Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce as University Times Editor than any other candidate. 

Unlikely, however, to affect the Education and Comms and Marketing Officer races, if Junior Fresh students turn out to vote in more representative numbers McAuley for Welfare and Equality and Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce for UT Editor may receive a much needed boost in support needed to threaten Bana and Hastings respectively.

75 per cent of respondents are from the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS), 19 per cent are from the Faculty of Engineering, Maths and Science (EMS) and 6 per cent are from the Faculty of Health Sciences (HS). This distribution is somewhat unrepresentative of the undergraduate student body. In the year 2021/22, out of 13,565 undergraduate students, 46 per cent were AHSS, 37 per cent EMS and 17 per cent HS students.

If voter turnout is more representative in terms of Faculty association, Hannah McAuley for Welfare & Equality may receive a boost in support from EMS and HS students, but candidate preference is roughly the same across all faculties or any differences in preference are not in races that are indicated to be tight.

Respondents’ answers to the questions of gender, international status and mature student status are approximately representative of the student body. Therefore, if voter turnout is representative of the student body according to these metrics no significant change is expected.

Jenny Maguire for President, Hamza Bana for Welfare & Equality, Connor Dempsey for Comms & Marketing and Brídín Ni Fhearraigh-Joyce all receive strong support from respondents that identify as either non-binary or would prefer not to say their gender. 

Nathan Harrington’s most popular preference by female respondents was fourth (after RON), and Jenny Maguire received almost the entire female vote. Charlie Hastings received most of male first-preference votes in the race for UT Editor, with the female vote more evenly split. In the other races the gender of voters is less statistically significant, if at all.

Within the 24 per cent of respondents who said they had, at some point, held a position within the TCDSU, there is a strong preference for Maguire, Gilroy and Hastings in their respective races. There is a more equal distribution of votes from current or former TCDSU position holders between Bana and McAuley in the Welfare & Equality race and between Dempsey and Strahan in the Comms & Marketing Race

President Race: Maguire Set for Landslide Victory in Entertaining Contest

Always set for a strong majority, Maguire proves to much for Balfe in a race that was defined by the comedic pairs interchanges

In The University Times Poll, Jenny Maguire has received 82 per cent of first-preference votes, Ralph Balfe 15 per cent and RON 3 per cent. Assured of her win, Maguire is set for a lap of victory in her last week of campaigning. Although a Maguire win was never really going to be in doubt, especially in running against the irreverent Balfe, nothing should be taken away from her campaign and the sentiment behind it, well-founded in both on- and off-campus activity.

The English Studies student has consistently been at the forefront of student politics during her four years at Trinity, and has used this experience to bring a wealth of knowledge to her campaign “to make College work”. The poll indicates there are no sections of the college community in which she lacks support and she may even gain support as students realise there is no hope for Balfe come voting time.

As this has been considered by many to be a walkover from the beginning, the real anticipation of the campaign has been the potential of chuckle-inducing exchanges between the co-runner of Trinity’s Improv comedy group, Improv She Wrote, and her stand-up comedian opponent Ralph (pronounced ‘Rafe’) Balfe.

Preceding any interchanges, however, election-watchers knew they were in for a spectacle with Balfe upon release of his manifesto and interviews with both The University Times and Trinity News. His manifesto, somewhat toned down compared to his interviews, includes pledges to replace the Campanile with a 1:1 replica of the Burj Khalifa, ban all tourists on campus and build a Book of Kells World theme park in North Dublin where tourists can “fuck off” to.

In his interview with Trinity News, Balfe disclosed that, if he wins, he plans to take Trinity’s Provost Linda Doyle out for dinner to foster an “amicable relationship”. He went one further in his interview with The University Times, promising to hold “the first of my weekly chem-sex raves in the Provost’s house” upon his wished-for crowning as TCDSU President. 

Balfe also plans to hire a personal entourage to solve the postgraduate workers’ crisis, should he win, including a team of secretaries – “hot blondes preferable”. In reference to his opponent, he exalted the benefits of expected losers forcing an expected winner to keep the eye on the ball during any election race, saying he was “glad” that Maguire was going “to perform that role for me”.

Come the Dining Hall Hustings, their comedic rapport was quickly established. Having previously described Maguire’s Improv career as “lame” in his campaign video, Balfe doubled down and labelled it “incredibly cringey” in front of an expectant crowd. Maguire, however, matching Balfe’s irreverence in a self-effacing manner, exclaimed upon taking the microphone from her competitor: “He’s got my vote!”

As they took to the stage at the Equality and Council Hustings, both seemed eager to have their opinions heard. One of Balfe’s manifesto pledges is to institute all of his opponent’s pledges, so he was asked which of them he preferred most. He began by calling Maguire’s manifesto “brilliant…perhaps the best I have ever seen”, before saying: “Then I looked at my own, and remembered, mine is.” This was met by a round of applause from Maguire and a shout from the crowd: “Let him cook!”

The candidates’ camaraderie was most evident at the Piranha Hustings where they wore each other’s campaign T-shirts. At one point, Balfe also held the microphone for Maguire whilst she answered questions from Trinity’s satirical magazine. Maguire then defended Balfe from a heckler, UT Editor candidate Brídín Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce, who branded him “boring”. Maguire rebuked her by implying that her own performance wasn’t exactly scintillating.

In spite of Balfe’s intentions to bring some comedy to the race for TCDSU President, Maguire more than held her own when it came to giving the audience something to laugh about. She consistently used her opponents own comedic attempts to her favour whilst delivering impassioned rhetoric concerning the finer details of her campaign centred around representation and student engagement.

Maguire will rightly be elected as the next student to lead the TCDSU against some of the most significant challenges student communities have faced in recent times, including a worsening cost-of-living crisis and a college that is under severe financial pressure.

Balfe should also be celebrated for his jovial and in-good-faith approach to student election campaigning. If anything, he has proved to those who see student politics as unapproachable and overly sincere, that it’s okay to have a bit of fun.

Education Race: Gilroy’s Focus on Wider Student Experience Pays Dividends

In the race for Education Officer Eoghan Gilroy’s wide-ranging message of hope looks set to champion Ó hEidhin’s blinkered criticism of TCDSU’s functionality

In The University Times poll, Eoghan Gilroy has received 60 per cent of first-preference votes, Sé Ó hEidhin 33 per cent and RON 7 per cent. Gilroy looks assured of a win, perhaps due to the broader appeal of a campaign better focused on the role’s demands concerning the education of students as opposed to Ó hEidhin’s ambitions to “abolish SU Council”.

This difference of approach was most evident during the Media Hustings, when asked how they would balance any political actions of the Union with the more directly education-related demands of the role. Ó hEidhin seemed confident that they would be able to balance both however Gilroy was keen to stress that he would “put students first and ensure that students’ voices are heard”.

As well as being elected Education Officer, the winner of this race also assumes the role of Vice President of the TCDSU. As a result, their opinions on the overall direction of the Union are important, but should not take precedence over representing the educational needs of students. Gilroy seems to have formed a campaign better suited to such an interpretation, whereas Ó hEidhin’s focus on “getting the Union to touch grass”, coupled with specific criticisms of the Union’s inner-workings, has not resonated so much with voters.

Ó hEidhin has included student-specific pledges such as creating a Working Student Status and increasing the availability of lecture recordings, as well as an ambitious plan “to do a full audit of all course materials”, but these pale in comparison to the proportion of Gilroy’s campaign material that details how he plans to change student life at Trinity and engagement with the Union.

Gilroy describes Trinity’s entire assessment style as “archaic” and, not just mentioning lecture recordings, also wants to reform the accommodations given to students with respect to timetables, coursework and exams. He also wants to advocate for more continuous assessments and try to make them more tailored to respective courses.

A unique pledge of Gilroy’s manifesto is to encourage the College to face up to and develop policies concerning generative AI. He also wants to work towards making modules available through the Irish language as “Trinity needs to rectify its own colonial legacy in the suppression of the Irish language”.

At the Equality Hustings Ó hEidhin revealed his aspirations for education to be delivered in the Irish language, saying “every aspect of our lives needs to be conducted through Irish” and expressing a desire that future lawyers and doctors trained at Trinity should be able to do so through Irish.

At all Hustings, both candidates’ union experience has shone through with their awareness of how any proposed change needs to be emphasised at the various committees and subcommittees that they would partake in as Education Officer. Nevertheless, Gilroy’s attention to detail in putting forward how exactly he intends to do this has delivered stronger performances.

Gilroy’s message has overall been one of positivity, centred around students’ educational needs, whereas Ó hEidhin has taken a negative stance of throwing staunch criticism towards the TCDSU alongside expressing ambitious plans for overall reform over the Education Officer’s role.

This stance has seen Ó hEidhin garner little support amongst the 24 per cent of respondents who said they had ever held a position within the TCDSU. In line with other races, those that have criticised the Union or taken a Union-heavy approach to their campaigns, namely Connor Dempsey for Comms & Marketing and Hannah McAuley for Welfare & Equality, have fallen behind their competitors that have more student-centric approaches with clearer goals and broader appeal.

Welfare & Equality Race: Bana’s Popularity Proving Critical and Insurmountable to Opponents 

Hamza Bana looks to be assured of a win in the Welfare & Equality race due to his well-established popularity as this year’s Ethnic Minorities Officer

Hamza Bana received 49 per cent of first-preference votes in our poll, in comparison to Hannah McAuley’s 32 per cent, Nathan Harrington’s 15 per cent and RON’s 4 per cent. With Bana so close to the just over 50 per cent needed for the win at first count, and as any poll comes with a small margin of error, they are likely to win the Welfare & Equality race at first count. 

However, if he does not, Bana is almost certain to take home the position upon redistribution of votes from eliminated candidates, as they are a popular enough choice for second preference amongst RON and Nathan Harrington’s first-preference voters.

Bana, a third-year computer science and business student, has run a campaign bolstered by their extensive Union experience as this year’s TCDSU Ethnic Minorities Officer. Through this position they have collaborated with the Student Counselling Service to re-establish an Ethnic Minorities Support group. He has powerfully called on his own lived experiences throughout the campaign, saying at the Dining Hall hustings that they wanted to use their “diverse experience” to ensure “every student feels represented and supported through a supportive and inclusive campus environment”.

Some of his performances at hustings have been unimpressive in terms of delivering succinct and clear ideas, but Bana’s reputation may be enough to secure their place amongst the sabbatical team next year.

Not just a familiar face around House 6, however, they have appeared at the front of numerous protests around campus including the Book of Kells blockade and pro-Palestine actions organised by Trinity’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions group. Their public popularity, coupled with clear and achievable goals against a track record of instituting change around College, has seen Bana take what seems to be an insurmountable lead into the final week of campaigning.

Senior Sophister Radiation Therapy student Hannah McAuley still attracts around a third of first-preference votes, but her well-thought-out campaign has stuttered when it came to the hustings. Their manifesto exhibits a thorough understanding of the role and includes what looks like a long series of achievable pledges. However, at the various hustings, their promises to work hard and be committed to the role did not do much to further explain how she hopes to achieve her ambitious plans.

She has extensive union experience as a Senior Fresh Radiation Therapy Class Rep, a Therapies Convenor and Off-Campus Officer for two years. But, in line with the outcomes of the poll in other races, knowledge and reliance on experience within the Union has proved to matter little when it comes to garnering enough support for a win.

Nathan Harrington, the most controversial candidate in any race this year, has still managed to attract 15 per cent of first-preference votes. As a Junior Sophister Geography and Sociology student, most of his support is coming from Junior and Senior Sophister Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) male students, but with these years and the AHSS faculty already over-represented in the poll, he is not expected to gain further support should voter turnout be more representative of the student body.

His now-altered manifesto initially included the term “disableds” when referring to people with disabilities and said “fuck ‘em” to off-campus students. At Dining Hall hustings he said he wanted to institute a #FreetheNipple campaign week during his tenure “to make everyone more happy” and at Council hustings repeated his manifesto pledge to donate his salary in order “to buy sweets and chocolate” for students, claiming that this would “go further” than donating the same amount to a food bank.

He later admitted that this was “a joke” in his interview with The University Times, in which he also said when asked about why he had linked what he terms “disableds” with a slip ‘n’ slide on a proposed college sports day: “I’m not saying I’m going to take people in wheelchairs and throw them down a rubber mat. Unless, well, I might if they wanted me to. I have no issue with that…[but] it wouldn’t be the only disabled-friendly thing I would put in.”

Harrington also said of what he perceived as “little groups” on campus: “It’s important to not have, you know, the women’s society and then all the women go and hang out with other women… it’s important to bring people together.” The poll indicates his support amongst female voters is particularly poor, with most women voting him as their fourth-preference for Welfare & Equality, behind RON.

The only mention of the LGBTQ+ community on his manifesto includes a pledge to put on “queer sex” demonstrations. When asked why, in his interview, he said: “That’s not to say the only interesting thing about gay people is that they have gay sex.”

Currently “under investigation”, according to the Electoral Commission (EC), it remains to be seen whether Harrington’s share of first-preference votes will increase, or decrease, or if he will even be struck from the ballot, following his controversial comments.

Bana is all but assured of the win. McAuley has stronger support amongst earlier academic years and from students in the Engineering, Maths and Science and Health Sciences faculties who are all under-represented in the poll. However, due to Bana’s seemingly unassailable 17-point lead, even if voter turnout is more representative McAuley seems unlikely to challenge him for the role.

Comms & Marketing Race: Strahan’s Powerful Rhetoric Creates Strong Lead as Union Outsider

In an unexpected but understandable turn of events, Belfast-born Strahan comes out on top against Union insider Dempsey

Beth Strahan received 42 per cent of first-preference votes, Connor Dempsey 31 per cent, Sarah Murnane 22 per cent and RON 5 per cent. This indicates the need for a redistribution of votes from eliminated candidates, certainly RON and most likely also Murnane, for a winner to be found. However, Dempsey has some serious catching up to do if he is to challenge Strahan for the position of Comms & Marketing Officer.

For a position which requires skills in the dissemination of information and therefore clarity of thought, it is perhaps no surprise that Beth Strahan is in the lead. She has led a campaign of forceful and pointed rhetoric in comparison to Dempsey and Murnane, who have at times floundered or, in Dempsey’s case, relied on union-insider knowledge, in promoting their campaigns.

Strahan, a Senior Sophister Theatre and Drama Studies student, has sought to encourage voters to her side with a campaign entitled “An SU For All”, asking students: “Do you feel ignored?” Her initial manifesto plug delivered mass appeal, drawing attention to her aims of highlighting “real world” issues that may have direct impacts on equality within the SU, collaborating closely with the new Irish Language Officer but also increasing linguistic access for international students, engaging with the JCR and S2S Mentors associated with Junior Fresh students and bringing more visual content in association with TCDSense.

In contrast, Connor Dempsey, a Senior Sophister Politics and Sociology student, sought to appeal to voters through his experience with union bureaucracy, with a promise to “burst the SU’s bubble”. As this year’s TCDSU Engagement Officer, a role he created, Dempsey may have a wealth of union experience, but his overly technical attempt to focus on what is currently wrong with how the Union’s engagement operates, rather than provide a clear and pronounced set of pledges like Strahan, has seen him struggle to garner more widespread support.

Sarah Murnane, the candidate most likely to have their votes redistributed to find a winner between Strahan and Dempsey, with a campaign tagline “You Want to Make Her Comm” (pun presumably intended), has led a campaign dominated by some “big social media expansion”. Her manifesto is certainly full, seeking to highlight a “variety of student issues”, making use of “new mediums” and increasing content related to “the inner workings of the Union”. It is, however, this lack of specificity that has perhaps caused voters to disengage with her ideas. The poll indicates most of her support is coming from earlier-year students, perhaps due to her “Comm” pun, ‘fun’ 3rd-person campaign launch video and another video in which she answered an interviewer’s questions whilst eating spicy chicken wings, a viral trend.

At the Dining Hall, Equality and Council hustings events, Strahan took the opportunity to stake her place as the most effective communicator of the three candidates, an aspect of her persona which has perhaps led her to take the lead in the Welfare & Equality race.

At the Dining Hall hustings, she delivered a powerful tricolon of manifesto tenets: “Transparency, critical accountability and diverse engagement.” Her abilities in front of a crowd, drawn from her experience in theatre, were not only evident from how she spoke, but she also explicitly highlighted that experience as one she could transfer to the Comms & Marketing role and the Union as a whole: “[I can] create a public-facing product that can sell tickets, that can cater to the interest of the majority.”

Murnane, meanwhile, struggled to deliver such a clear proposition for increasing the Union’s visibility, despite founding her campaign on such a matter. At the Equality and Council Hustings, she mentioned an ambitious, but seemingly vague, “social media expansion” no less than three times, and repeated other vague phrasing such as “that’s really important”, “I’d really work on that” and “more needs to be done” numerous times. In specific contrast to Strahan on environmental issues, Murnane said she was “on board with anything to do with sustainability really”, whereas Strahan strove to highlight the specifics of College-wide energy and water usage as issues she would seek to address.

At all the hustings, Dempsey, whilst delivering answers that would have sounded sweet to those tired of union bureaucracy, may not have done enough to garner support outside Union circles. He opened his campaign on the Dining Hall steps by saying of the Union: “[I want] to dig into what’s wrong with its institutions.” At the Equality and Council Hustings he mentioned “collaboration” and “consultation” with other sabbatical and part-time Union officers multiple times, showing he understood how the Union works but failed to deliver bite-sized and take home quotes that would stick in the memory of the audience.

If, as the poll indicates, Sarah Murnane’s votes need to be redistributed to find a winner between Strahan and Dempsey, the race could be a tight one. Most of the respondents who placed Murnane as first preference then placed Dempsey as second preference. However, with an 11-point lead over her competitor, Strahan will likely find enough votes to get herself over the line before Dempsey.

Of course, polls should not be taken as strictly indicative of any result, but if Strahan concludes her campaign with more forceful and pointed rhetoric and Dempsey does not change tack from his inward campaign against union bureaucracy, the evidence suggests Strahan will find herself sitting in House 6 very soon.

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