Originally published in Volume III, Issue 9 on 13th March 1997 by Shane Hegarty.
Shane Hegarty on an at times acrimonious election race which led to one of the most decisive victories in recent years.
Ian Walsh has been elected as President of the Students Union for the 1997-98. On an emotional evening in Theatre Q last Friday, Walsh defeated his opponent Justin Synott in emphatic fashion, winning every single faculty and gaining a victory by a margin of over 1,500 votes.
In the race for the Education office, Liam Dockery emerged victorious, defeating Christine Scott-Hayward and Adam Egan on the first count.
With the total poll of just under 6,000, the high turnout was a result of some of the most intense campaigning of recent times. With the Presidential race steeping in acrimony, every vote was being considered vital in what had been seen as a very tight race.
While Dockery’s win came as little real surprise, the manner in which Walsh was swept into office came as a shock to most observers. In the run up to the vote, and by the end of the election day itself, the Presidential result was believed to be too close to call. In fact, many of the seasoned election watchers had felt that Synott would win enough votes in the outlying faculties to add to a substantial Arts/Commerce vote, and that tight count would conclude in his favour.
However, from the moment the results began to filter through, it was obvious that a landslide was on the cards. Faculty after faculty came out in favour of Ian Walsh, and even before the Science and Arts votes were confirmed, his team were celebrating loudly, while the opposition sat despondent and silent.
This was a crushing defeat for Justin Synott, who has made little effort at hiding his Presidential ambitions. Last year he had put his name forward for the position of Education Officer, only to withdraw after the death of Cormac Moore’s father. He had decided that, under the circumstances, and due to their close personal friendship, to step aside and to allow Moore to enter unopposed. Since the beginning of this college year, however, he had been gearing himself up for the Presidential campaign.
Walsh’s decision to enter into the race had been a little slower in emerging. Despite being touted since September as a possible candidate, he had waited until after Christmas exams before finally committing himself. It had been known that several Union hacks, and former hacks, such as Mark Garrett, Jennifer English and Cliodhna O’Neill were keen to put forward a candidate, and Walsh was perceived as by far the best option. He was an extremely well known figure about the college, an accomplished debater and was well respected within both Union and society circles. He would also have the advantage of a large campaign team gathered from within the ranks of the L&H, of which Walsh is a former auditor. From the beginning Walsh took a very strong anti-Union stance. He criticised the current leadership, and accused those working within the organisation of lacking in ambition and general competence. He joined Liam Dockery in slatting the ethos of what he called the “hand-me-down” Union, claiming that the same people are involved year after year, handing power over to others like them, to a point where the organisation has become stale and unambitious. His campaign team knew the value of taking an anti-Union line. When put vigorously and clearly, it had always proved a vote winner.
Synott, who refused to take such a clear stance against the SU, but who did criticise it, came across as being less forthright in his views, and less forceful in general. He was also forced to continually defend his own record within the Union over the last couple of years. However, during the campaign, and despite Walsh’s constant attacks on his reputation, he failed to retaliate successfully. It seems surprising that he didn’t immediately attack Walsh on the notion of the “hand-me-down” Union. Ian Walsh may have been busy criticising the SU as being a failure in recent years, but his main backers were many of those who have been at the heart of the organisation during this time. Tom Wright is currently Finance Officer, Cliodhna O’Neill Communications and Development Officer and Garrett Tubridy was last year’s Education Officer. The irony of the situation was not exploited in any way by Synott during the early days of the campaign, and from here on in it was a battle against a strong tide.
By the time the Arts hustings came around, Walsh was looking the stronger. His speech in Theatre L was superior to Synott’s, who didn’t seem be nearly as prepared on the day, and it is probable that on the eve of the election it was Walsh who slept the sounder. He had done as much as he could up to that point, and the rest was up to canvassing at the polls.
After the result was announced, one member of Walsh’s team made the point that “at the start of this campaign, Justin had 2,000 votes. In the end he held onto these but didn’t gain any on top of them.” In the final analysis it seems a fair point. Ian Walsh was a strong candidate, a recognised ‘name’ before the campaign, with a good team and an air of clarity throughout. It will be interesting to see if this can be translated into results during his term in office. It is a cliche, but the easy work has been done, the really tough stuff has yet to come.
The Education race was an interesting one this year. Liam Dockery and Christine Scott-Hayward were both very strong candidates, with good ideas on how to advance things next year. While Adam Egan won many friends during this election, he was never seen as being in with any real chance of succeeding. His mention of the pornography on the net accusations in the Arts hustings proved the final nail in his coffin, as the majority of those present knew nothing of it anyway, but proved to be more than interested in what he was talking about once he referred to it.
Christine Scott-Hayward has also won an enormous amount of respect due to her campaign, which brought a breath of fresh air to what is often very political, hack-centred election. She proved to be a formidable opponent for Dockery, and appealed to a lot of students who may not normally pay attention to student politics.
But in the end, it was to be Dockery’s day, Despite his quiet spoken manner, and the fact that he was never a particularly charismatic candidate, he immediately, appealed to a lot of voters with a no-nonsense style of campaigning and speaking that indicated that he both cared about the position and would be competent if elected. His election will be welcomed in Union circles, and especially by Ian Walsh, as he is seen as having great potential as Education Officer.
In the two referenda held on the day, there was little surprise. Both the votes held on re-opening nominations in future elections and on having a Post-graduate Officer on the SU executive were passed unanimously. These referenda had been held in February, but failed then to reach the quorum required to have them passed.