This year’s race for President is a stark contrast to that of last year. Consisting of only 3 candidates, this year’s field is half the size of that contested towards the end of the Union’s annus horribilis.
Final year Law with Social Justice student Joanna Siewierska is the only candidate with Union experience, having organised the UCDSU’s class rep training this year. She arguably has the benefit of two year’s experience with the Irish Second Level Student Union (ISSU) and as a trainer with the National Student Engagement Program. What is obvious is her desire to see the Union become a place to empower student leaders and return to a more fundamentally political entity which seeks to “amplify [the] voices of students on campus.”
Declan Kelly and Michael Geary seem to envision a Union which acts more as a community facilitator than an overtly political group, although both suggest the need for accommodation-related campaigns and express desires to promote better mental health on campus. Kelly and Geary both advocate for a Union-society-club collaborative approach to addressing mental health issues, but with little additional detail over each other, students might anticipate a more comprehensive approach to the issue at Hustings. Geary’s wish for students required to undertake professional work placement to receive a living wage may matter a great deal to some students, but the question of whether enough students affected by the matter will be on campus to vote, leaves him vulnerable to the vaguer elements of his manifesto in relation to accommodation and education.
RAG week is a crucial element of both Geary and Kelly’s manifestos, with the former noting his Ag Soc experience organising community-driven charity events and the latter promising “record numbers in areas of attendance and funds raised”. Although societies are very distinct and separate from the SU, in terms of how they run, Geary’s time as Ag Soc auditor may indeed serve him well with the delegation and overall management of his fellow sabbatical officers, as well as garnering interest from volunteers to assist in the organisation of the week-long event. Events play a big part in Kelly’s manifesto, and the allure of a UCD Ball on campus might tempt some to vote for him, however unlikely the proposal. With few students in UCD who would have attended the last ball in 2011, many will identify it as a pipe-dream, judging him on the rest of his manifesto and the more realistic Rugby World Cup fan zones, Clubhouse shuttle buses and his environmental campaign #Trashtag Day, which would push for biodegradable and sustainable packaging on campus. Siewierska remains steadfast in the belief that RAG Week and SHAG Week can be made bigger just solely through “strategy,” a belief which may not hold up in reality, as previous sabbatical officers have reported a lack of interest from volunteers. Recent RAG Weeks have shown that UCD does not live up to the hype surrounding RAG Weeks in other parts of the country, so perhaps the candidates should consider creating charity fundraising events that better suit the atmosphere of UCD.
Siewierska’s vision, on the other hand is campaign heavy. Siewierska recognises the impact of more radical forms of student activism, believing that other options should be exhausted first. In a similar, albeit non-committal, fashion, Geary stated that he’d do “whatever we need to do” to get student voices heard. Kelly’s political and lobbying efforts are a mix of local and national, focusing on fee and fine reductions, vaguely lobbying local TDs “with regards to the housing crisis” and “lobbying the government…to achieve more affordable dwellings.” Whether Kelly’s would support lobbying efforts constituting a more radical form of student protest remains to be seen at the Union’s Hustings debate.
Siewierska eyes campaigning alongside the National Homeless and Housing Coalition, the National Coalition to End Youth Homelessness, Dublin Tenants’ Association and Homeless Period Ireland to highlight issues of homelessness and affordable accommodation. Additionally, she seeks to work alongside the Campaigns & Communications Officer and Green Committee to promote sustainability and hopes to “make noise” through Green Week, RAG Week and SHAG Week without necessarily increasing their budgets.
Neither Siewierska nor Geary recognised the Finance, Remuneration & Asset Management Committee, one of the most important boards on which the Union President sits. First contacted on 13th March, Kelly was unavailable for an interview over the March break. This may pose a harsh blow to Kelly’s campaign, as we’ve seen in previous years, namely Amy Crean’s presidential run last year, that presence on campus is crucial in promoting oneself and securing crucial votes. Kelly will only have Hustings on the 28th March to defend his manifesto against the scrutiny of voters and his opponents.
In contrast to Geary and Siewierska, Kelly’s manifesto is far broader, arguably encroaches on the portfolios of other sabbatical officers, and, in particular, a would-be Ents officer. Sabbatical officers often find themselves committing to and helping other officers to carry out their agendas, but Kelly would run the risk of getting bogged down between micromanaging projects and leading a serious commercial and political organisation with a regular annual turnover of more than €1 million.