UCDSU By-Election 2022: Welfare candidate Darragh Kane O'Toole

Image Credit: Aoife Rooney

Darragh Kane O’Toole is a Final year Economics and Sociology student, and is running for the position of Welfare Officer. O’Toole previously ran for the position of Education Officer during the executive elections, but he was unsuccessful. O’Toole is currently Auditor for UCD’s Philosophy Society and the Disability Campaigns Coordinator for UCDSU.

When asked why he was running for Welfare Officer following a failed run for Education officer, O’Toole replied that “The two main interests of mine that drove my decision, one of them was case work, helping students deal with individual problems, and one was policy based. I think the roles intersect quite a lot.”

O’Toole demonstrated a solid understanding of the structures of UCDSU and UCD, as well as the case work duties of the welfare officer, although he believes that more of a focus is needed on “preventative welfare”, such as peer to peer support and relevant workshops for students.

O’Toole believes that his experience as a member of council means he understands “what can and can’t be done through lobbying and what sort of action is taken and what doesn’t work”. O’Toole believes that UCDSU has had a “mixed” year with engagement, citing high attendance at protests and low class rep recruitment. To increase engagement, O’Toole proposes diversifying the religious events celebrated by the union. “Despite the union not being a particularly denominational union, we only celebrate majorly christian holidays... I believe celebrating everyone’s religion is a small but very tangible step for the communities that don’t involve[sic] in the union”.

In describing his vision for his proposed peer to peer mental health support groups, O’Toole described them as “safe spaces where people can discuss and communicate openly, comparable to the men's shed movement”. O’Toole highlights how such a support would not require “UCD management’s approval or support”, adding that he wishes to promise “things that don’t require us lobbying and hoping for someone to care, that’s been done before and it has failed”.

Lobbying is not being abandoned by O’Toole, as he believes “Lobbying the government and UCD, they need to be regarded as part of the same activity...The government is the most effective way to put pressure on UCD”. O’Toole also believes that if students vote to rejoin USI next year, this will increase UCDSU’s ability to lobby the government.

Food plays a major role in O’Toole’s manifesto, with proposals to introduce a digital cookbook, cooking lessons, and a promise to personally purchase microwaves. O’Toole believes “Food is at the forefront of most students’ minds”, as “the cost of living is going up”. Inability to cook food that is healthy, tatsy, and cheap is a major concern for student wellbeing according to O’Toole. “It’s not healthy, it’s not good for them, and it’s not price efficient”. He proposes sourcing the recipes for his digital cookbook from students themselves, “with consulting an actual chef”, and hiring catering professionals to deliver cooking lessons with student specific requirements.

On his promise to “personally” purchase microwaves, O’Toole was still unclear on specifics. He stated that  “I think I would start off with one or two to see how far I could push it”. O’Toole is distrustful of the reasons previous Students' Union officers have failed to bring microwaves to building such as Science, saying “The reason estates [services] often give [to disallow microwaves] is fires safety related, or electrical so plug related”.He stated he would “commission a report” from an architect to “see if those reasons are real”. In the meantime, he promised to “Buy them and put them wherever students want”. O’Toole has not spoken to Estate Services, as “Estates are part of the problem...this is a case where it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission, because estates have regularly failed students in delivering simple things like microwaves”.

O’Toole is a well informed candidate with some novel ideas on how to address the very real problem of UCD management and other authorities not engaging with student demands. If elected, however, the practicality of these ideas may prove problematic, and in any case may not be enough to alleviate the issues being addressed.