Mar 29, 2024

Union Accountability in Question Following Arnold Resignation

Allegations concerning Arnold’s conduct in office have revealed a lack of accountability within the Students' Union.

Alex PayneAssistant Editor
Giulia Grillo for The University Times

As reported by Trinity News, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Education Officer, Catherine Arnold, resigned on Monday, March 25th, as confirmed through an email sent to other TCDSU sabbatical officers and employees, as well as members of Trinity’s senior administration, including the Provost.

In their resignation email, Arnold took aim at “all” their fellow Union officers, in particular their “employer”. They made various claims concerning their own treatment by others within the workplace and their colleagues’ capacities.

TCDSU has been contacted for comment.


The University Times, in conversation with those who have been associated with the TCDSU but are speaking in a personal capacity, can reveal that prior to their resignation, Arnold’s conduct in office had been questioned by their colleagues. 

The number of messages concerned about the conduct of Arnold increased during their organisation of Trinity representatives’ attendance at this week’s Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI) Congress, this year held in Sligo.

As Delegate Leader, it is an established responsibility of the Education Officer to organise Trinity’s representation at the USI Congress. In messages seen by The University Times, dissatisfaction with Arnold’s approach to this task arose when they claimed to have “the final say” on who attends. 

Other members of the Union Forum (UF) disagreed with Arnold’s decision to only allow current Union stakeholders — officers, convenors and class reps — to attend the Congress. 

Ella Mac Lennan, a USI Congress attendee, said: “Most members of the UF agreed that this was unreasonable.”

While Arnold admitted in UF group chat messages that “anyone can technically apply to the link”, they said that they would be “very unlikely” to select attendees outside of Union stakeholders, as “I don’t know everyone”. 

On the morning of travel to USI Congress, Monday, March 25th, issues began to appear. Those that were on the waiting list in the event of cancellations, of which there were five, were not informed that they were now expected to attend. One such student was woken at 8am to a phone call from TCDSU President László Molnárfi asking where they were. 

Arnold said: “Due to unprecedented drop out levels of delegates to USI Congress, the original waitlist agreed upon by all sabbatical officers was exceeded meaning I further reached out to applicants who were initially refused a place on the delegation.”

Given that there were then 15 delegates, instead of the expected 21, the Union spent just over €2000 on empty hotel rooms and unused amenities, such as food. One attendee, Nina Crofts, said: “Money has been wasted, people who could have attended and represented students are sitting at home.”

The Union spent just over €2000 on empty hotel rooms and unused amenities

Upon arrival at USI Congress, TCDSU delegates were met with further obstacles, mostly pertaining to delegate registration. A number of delegates were left with incomplete registration, which attendee Nina Crofts said led to “holdups voting for the Coiste Gnó”, the 11-student executive of the USI.

Arnold said: “Any change to the delegation after registration meant manual registration of several details of the delegation was necessary upon arrival.  The delegation leaders were informed of this before arriving at the hotel.  This resulted in delegates being given generic voting cards where they could write their name in.” 

Those that requested to have their names printed in Irish were either presented with incorrect translations or Anglicised versions of their names.

Pádraig Mac Brádaigh, another USI Congress attendee, took issue with the errors, explaining: “Conchúr Ó Cathasaigh, our EC chair, recently re-Gaelicised his name with the college, has taken steps to change his name with the wider community and he registered that way… Also Hugh Ó Ríordáin’s surname was spelled O’Riordáin.”

Arnold said: “I had been using Conchúr Ó Cathasaigh’s name interchangeably in English and Irish in conversation with him and he never raised this as an issue with me. Any administrative errors regarding the inclusion of apostrophes or lack thereof was a simple oversight.” 

Neither the hotel nor USI were informed before Monday morning of any specific dietary requirements from students who had previously indicated them on the application form.

Complaints alleging Arnold was the source of the issues were raised in the Union Forum group chat throughout the day. Arnold did not respond and resigned from office at 6pm. 

Mac Lennan said: “The working environment within the Union has been widely positive, and this resignation came as a surprise for most.”

The issues that arose at USI Congress follow reports of recurring difficulties within Arnold’s tenure throughout the year. 

As demonstrated in correspondence seen by The University Times, several officers have assumed responsibility for casework originally assigned to Arnold, while contacts outside of the Union have ceased communication with the Education Officer. One source’s impression of the Education Officer’s time in office was that of a “pattern of inaction”.

One project for which Arnold was initially responsible, along with Welfare and Equality Officer Aoife Bennett, is the repurposing of the Old Stone Building at St James’s, which aims to increase the presence of the Students’ Union at the hospital campus for Health Sciences students.

Communication surrounding the project began in October of last year and by early March Arnold was no longer included in discussions, leaving Bennett and later Molnárfi to assume responsibility. Incoming sabbatical officers have also been included due to the delays incurred, meaning progress is now unlikely to be made until the next academic year.

Arnold responded: “Initially there had been much enthusiasm from the school of medicine and from me in making the space another SU Café. Over time this was deemed to be a financial risk for TCDSU and so I continued to push for the space to become a TCDSU student space with Estates and Facilities and the School of Medicine.” 

They added: “I loved working with Aoife on this project but I was then informed on Med Day 2023 of the planned renovation for the Old Stone Building that will occur over the incoming Summer.”

Another incoming sabbatical officer has also been required to assume responsibility for assisting students completing a Professional Masters in Education (PME).

In reference to this, Arnold said: “At the time I was dealing with a heavy load of casework and unfortunately after a brief comment with the Head of the School of Education after a separate meeting suggesting a meeting on the issue the request slipped through the cracks.” 

They continued: “Unfortunately this can happen and I rely on the students and on any other staff contacted to also follow-up to make sure there is active dialogue to continue addressing problems.”

In further correspondence seen by The University Times, Arnold was no longer included in emails between Union stakeholders concerning LENS reports by January 9th, 2024. 

Arnold said: “I was not included on the project of the LENs [sic] report. Instead I worked with the STEM Convenor on the Big SUrvey at the time.”

LENS (Learning Educational Needs Summary) reports, facilitated by the Disability Service at Trinity, allow students to document any disabilities on the portal and are supposed to be shared with relevant bodies to better enable students to avail of specific learning supports while at college.

Arnold said: “I further worked with the Disability Service on numerous occasions to directly address issues of LENs [sic] reports with the Disability Service and Directors of Undergraduate Teaching and Learning in several schools.”

On March 12th, Arnold was not included in an email from senior management about setting up a meeting to discuss how to better implement LENS reports into the various Faculties and Schools of College.

In the Education Officer’s most recent Sabbatical Officer Report to Council, given on March 19th, they state: “I have been working with the Disability Service to explore the feasibility of running staff seminars on LENs [sic] reports in the coming weeks to ensure all staff members are certain of their responsibilities to students with LENs [sic] reports.”

During the recent TCDSU sabbatical elections, Arnold is reported to have left polling stations without enough paper ballots.  

Arnold said: “It is not my responsibility to order ballots for the sabbatical elections. This was a responsibility undertaken by the Chair of Council. Our combined work on in-person engagement this year through in-person polling meant that there has been an increase in voter turnout. This resulted in a lack of ballots during the voting period which is an indicator of the exceptional turnout this year.” 

In a statement to The University Times, the EC said: “An Coimisiún Toghcháin (EC) is not responsible for investigating if an Officer has ‘derelict their duties’.”

“This is a responsibility of the Oversight Commission under Chapter 5.2.5(c). If and where requested, however, the EC may be asked to determine if an Officer’s actions were in breach of any provision of the Constitution.” 

“Notwithstanding this, it should be noted that the EC has not received a formal complaint in regard to the actions of the 2023/24 Oifigeach Oideachais (Education Officer).”

Ailish Smith, a Senior Sophister History & Political Sciences student, also revealed that, before a Union Forum meeting in late January, the Education Officer did not give members the necessary 72 hour notice period.

Arnold referenced the President’s constitutional obligation to call UF meetings and cited “a sporadic schedule for Union Forum between trying to meet constitutional obligations, the inconsistent requests from the President to hold Union Forum and the members of Union Forum’s schedule”.

The former Chair of the OC then posted in the UF group chat that, in Smith’s words, “meetings of UF require 72 hours notice and an opportunity to make submissions to the agenda” and “dates/times and places should be set out in advance”.

“Following complaints from members of Union Forum I attempted to address the issue this term and included suggested dates in AOB for when UF meetings might best take place for this term”, Arnold said. 

“The lack of 72 hours notice from time to time did not impede the effectiveness of the forum. Quorum was always met and the forum was able to conduct business on all accounts.”

When asked via email whether they had received any complaints or were aware of any concerns regarding Arnold, the OC replied: “The OC is not at liberty to discuss any ongoing investigations, or to disclose any complaints which may have been submitted.”

“Separately, the OC is currently engaged in its annual ‘checklisting’ investigation, which involves an assessment of all officer mandates, and the fulfilment/non-fulfillment of same. A full report will be brought to Final Council.”

As referred to in the EC statement, the OC has the power, under section 5.2.5(c), to “investigate possible breaches of or persistent inaction upon: policy, mandate and constitutional obligation”, and it can do so “autonomously”.

At the last meeting of the student council, the OC brought a report into its own performance. In the report the OC said that it had “failed to fulfil its mandates” and “failed to fulfil its duties”. It also revealed that the OC had not reviewed Schedule 4 of the Constitution, nor brought a checklisting report to council, and “there have also been issues where investigations have not been fully dealt with and communicated”.

The OC brought no reports to the student council in the first semester and re-elected a Chair early in the second semester.

Ailsih Smith further professed: “If members of the EC/OC do not do their job there is no mechanism to deal with it.”

Smith revealed that at the last meeting of UF, on March 21st, concerns were raised about dealing with internal disagreements: “At the last UF, the Welfare and Equality Officer spoke about bringing in some sort of mechanism to deal with issues and difficulties that sabbats and PTOs had.”

“If there are issues with a sabbat and a PTO there is no proper procedure to deal with it”

“Previous to this I had spoken to the Welfare and Equality Officer about there not being any process to deal with difficulties within the Union between officers. There are two options which are complaints to the Junior Dean and they will only deal with very serious problems. The other option is complaints to the EC if the constitution is broken.”

Smith added, “the Union lacks oversight when certain difficulties arise,” continuing, “if there are issues with a sabbat and a PTO there is no proper procedure to deal with it”. 

Having experienced alleged issues during the campaign period with another member of the Union, Keeley Jenkinson said: “Transparency within the Union seems to depend on how good friends you are with someone. People appear to use the rules against you more if you don’t understand the constitution as well as people who have been there for a long time.”

The EC and OC are understood to be bringing reports at the final student council of the year on Tuesday 2nd April.

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