SU Election 2020: Katie O'Dea- Campaigns and Engagement

Katie O’Dea is a 23 year old History and Politics graduate who is rerunning for the position of Campaigns and Engagement Officer. Having been elected unopposed last year, she is seeking reelection with the promise of building on the campaigns she has started this year, with a year's experience behind her.

It is this experience that O’Dea continues to refer back to across all aspects of our interview with her. “I’ve just spent nearly a year in the position, so there’s an enormous amount of experience and an enormous amount of kinda little bits and pieces that I didn’t know that I needed to know.” She also claims that this is the primary reason people should vote for her over her opponent.

While she acknowledges that there is still work to be done across many areas, she maintains she has made improvements in her year in the role. She points to the recruitment of class representatives this year as an example; “there was a significant increase this year in the number of class reps elected, about 20%, so I think that we can definitely build on that next year.”

O’Dea lists accommodation, microwaves and student facilities and environmentalism as the most important issues to students. A pledge to improve student facilities, such as getting more microwaves and introducing ‘nap pods’ appear on her manifesto. Microwaves are an issue she says she has been working on, citing her work on the UMT’s Student Experience Group (SEG), speaking to the Dean of Science about restoring microwave facilities in the Science building, and her position on the Newman Building User’s Forum. On the issue of ‘nap pods’, she admits she has not costed the proposal, but says it will be up to UCD to pay for it, not the SU. She says the issue has been raised before with management but that it is seen as “unrealistic”. She added; “I’d like to just keep putting it on the table because I know that particularly students that commute, and we know that there’s a large number of them who commute long distances everyday, I think they would benefit from them in particular.”

A recurring point referenced by O’Dea was the necessity to “empower” the student voice. She says she has been working with current Education officer, Brian Treacy, on “strengthening the student voice in UCD, and improving the partnership between staff and students in UCD.” This would involve the SU “working more closely with the university and with the individual schools on improving the class rep structure system, ensuring that it’s fit for purpose, and that each school uses the SU class reps, and that the structures are strengthened and that the student voice, by extension, is strengthened.” she explains.

O’Dea does not think UCDSU should rejoin USI. She cites the high cost of the membership fee, feeling that “it’s a lot of money to be giving away, and I’m not sure that what we get in return would be worthwhile.” She concedes that there are arguments for and against rejoining, admitting that “there are a number of really good training workshops that they put on”.

In general, while O’Dea seems supportive of the more radical approach UCDSU has taken recently, she also seems keen to retain a good relationship with UCD management. In her manifesto she mentions wanting to pursue a rent freeze across campus. When asked how she intends to achieve this, O’Dea mentions reaching out to USI and UL, along with the housing spokespeople from each political party. She also mentions that “ideally” the SU would work with the university management, not just on this issue, but on higher education funding as a whole. When asked if she thought this would be possible, given the UMT’s decision this year despite the SU’s lobbying, she conceded “I would guess not. I suppose given that I’m not physically present in those meetings for the most part, it’s hard to say, but I would guess not.”

In terms of her record, O’Dea cites the Great Donate as one of the campaigns she is most proud of this year. “I really think it’s an absolutely fantastic initiative both in the sense of creating a sustainable cycle, a sustainable community within UCD Residence, but also in terms of the volunteers involved.” She also lists UCD Anti-Casualisation as a campaign that students should be aware of, saying “most students have tutors, but most students are not aware of this campaign.” On the issue of student housing and the rent increases, she expresses her desire to focus the SU’s efforts on lobbying on a national level. In her manifesto, she talks about running a digs campaign. When asked if this would be the same as her ‘Digs Drive’ campaign this year, she said it would be the “same idea” but that the ‘Digs Drive’ “never really properly took off, so I’d look at doing it much earlier and try and get it off the ground a bit better this time around but yeah, same idea.”

Katie O’Dea’s more soft footed approach is in stark contrast to her opponents. She seems more receptive to the idea of working with UCD management and maintaining the relationship that is there. She says she feels her manifesto is “the most constructive and the most aligned to what students actually want” and cites her experience in the role this year as the reason to vote for her. If re-elected, she promises to continue the work she has done, and improve the areas that need to be improved. In short, it seems O’Dea’s potential second term would largely be a continuation of her first.