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President: Declan Kelly – a sprawling manifesto with emphasis on community

On first instance, a number of Kelly’s proposals seem to be either extremely difficult or impossible to achieve. Although it’s difficult to imagine that his desire to establish a shop, presumably run by the Union, in a “footfall heavy location” on campus could come to fruition, there would undoubtedly be an opportunity to engage with the university with regard to commercial spaces in the new on-campus accommodation, currently under construction behind the Sutherland and Quinn buildings.

His desire to campaign and lobby for reductions in student fees, accommodation and parking fines, and repeat and resit fees are admirable. The Union in its current state would benefit to a great extent from being seen to tackle UCD’s internal cost barriers to continuing education. It would be a surprise, however, to see a significant reduction to any or all of the university’s revenue-raising measures. Given the state of public funding for universities in Ireland, it would take significant goodwill on the part of the university to budge in the face of Kelly’s proposals for fees and fines reductions across the board, and in particular, “relentless negotiations concerning the reduction of repeat fees.”

Kelly’s manifesto comments on student grants and funding are vague: “spear heading [sic] conversations with the university and the government” if SUSI fails to deliver grants on time, does little to address the concerns of students in need who, by a small margin, might not qualify for grants. Equally, his promise to “fight for the protection of grants in the upcoming budget” might fall short for students who wish for the expansion of the student grants system. While Kelly commits to “[continued] efforts…to provide the cheapest student fees as possible”, his manifesto does not mention efforts to lobby for increases to core university funding.

A plan to see the UCD Ball ‘return’ to campus is a welcome one. As ever, the notion of an end-of-year ball on campus will only truly die when the Union stop lobbying for it. However, at this stage, the UCD Ball has not been held on campus since 2011. The cancellation of the Dun Laoghaire-based festival ‘The Ball’, which had widened the pool of students to those from other universities and ITs, might have sealed its fate – without a tradition of hosting such an event, securing acts that will draw students in will be difficult; security logistics and local resident’s opposition would also be significant risk factors, all of which Kelly would have to be aware of if the university and garda representatives were willing to open negotiations. Additionally, the continuation of an on-campus ball would depend on how a hypothetical 2019/2020 ball plays out – poor ticket sales, security issues and anti-social behaviour could just as easily mean another 8 years before a Ball returns to campus. All this being said, the potential reintroduction of a full-time Entertainments Officer could foreshadow the return of the UCD Ball, but that is a discussion for another election.

Kelly’s focus on building a community is a mix of the effective and the unlikely. The introduction of regular shuttle buses from the Clubhouse into the city centre is simple and, if advertised well, could keep the Clubhouse busier throughout the year. His proposal to improve, assist and form new societies indicates that Kelly may not be aware of the distinction between the Union and the Societies’ Council. His goal of establishing ‘regulated busking’ on campus might not be as attractive as the open mic nights and performances arranged in the Clubhouse and elsewhere on campus by a number of societies including MusicSoc, MusicalSoc, JazzSoc, and LitSoc. It is unclear how a system of regulated busking would be any different to the current situation in which events held around campus must have the permission of Estate Services.

While Kelly’s goal of ensuring ‘free-in’ to clubs with a UCard is, to an extent, achievable (free-in before 11pm is a commonplace deal with societies and students’ unions), it is unrealistic and strange to imply, as Kelly does, that the Union’s President would have any sway over Harcourt Street’s alcohol prices.

Those students who do not drink alcohol may be vexed by the manifesto’s implication that they only attend social events once a month. However, Kelly’s plans for more zero-alcohol events and, in particular, for ‘fan zones’, seeking to piggy-back on the team and community spirits roused during the Rugby World Cup, are far from impractical and could easily be notable successes.

Students may think it odd that Kelly has referenced university world rankings as a benchmark of any future success, given that the rankings are often criticised for using flawed methodologies. His plans to provide an “elite standard of education” include seeking a reduction in the staff/student ratio, extending library hours and providing entrepreneurial and writing workshops. As UCD Library already provides writing workshops, the Union’s time resources may be better spent on other activities, like zeroing in on Kelly’s proposal for more plugs in the library.

Kelly’s manifesto is scant on details of his own experience, either as a team leader, society or club hack, or within the Union itself. The sprawling nature of his manifesto, itself a vision for a closer university community, suggests that he would work closely with other sabbatical officers, if not micro-manage their portfolios. While a number of his proposals, such as providing free sanitary products, free STI clinics and improving the Union’s SHAG week, are clearly in line with the proposals of this year’s welfare candidates, his focus on Ents might come into conflict with the plans of an Ents candidate-in-waiting if the position is reinstated.

Like all candidates’ manifestos, not all of Kelly’s promises are achievable, and many, such as across the board fee and fine reductions, directly conflict with and impact each other. If elected, he will have to take a more focused approach to reductions, and it would be worthwhile for him to spell out his priority in this regard before the election. Many students may identify his achievable Ents plans and ambition for record attendance and fundraising at RAG week as the most important aspects of his manifesto.

Declan Kelly was unavailable for an interview over the March break.