Current Mental Health Campaigns Co-ordinator and Welfare Officer candidate Míde Nic Fhionnlaoich hopes to continue her work with the SU in one of the most student-facing roles.
Míde Nic Fhionnlaoich, one of this year's Welfare Officer candidates in the executive by-election, represents a new way of doing student politics. Right off the bat, the self-assured confidence that oozes from virtually every candidate in any other election you’ve ever seen is subverted, with Nic Fhionnlaoich admitting she is “looking forward to, but also dreading” election day.
Nic Fhionnlaoich has spent many years working in different capacities to the SU, having been campaign manager for SU president Ruairí Power, as well as being the current PRO of an Cumann Gaelach and Mental Health Campaigns Co-ordinator for the SU.
Make no mistake, Nic Fhionnlaoich knows how UCD is run, and is firm in her beliefs about its future.
Some of her chief concerns, addressed in her manifesto, include the usual suspects of student accommodation prices, and the rising cost of living in Dublin. Her views on engagement with the SU, however, are what strike the greatest chord.
She states that the perception surrounding the SU has to change, and that students should be shown the pipelines that connect them to their union. “People need to be shown that this could be you, that it's not just 20 or so hacks at the top. You need to give the ownership of the Union to the students themselves”. Nic Fhionnlaoich spoke about the recent executive election, where students voted to re-open nominations in the Welfare race, amongst three others “I think the RON vote was a rejection of the lack of candidates, not a rejection of the candidates themselves. It’s great to see that I’m contested, it means we’ll get a fair shake of it on the substance of our policies and what we’ll do in the roles. I do think the previous results are absolutely valid, but I do think I’m still the best person for the role, and that’s the only reason anyone should run for any of these things. At its core, it highlighted the issue of most students feel cut off from the SU, they feel it’s not relevant to them’ that’s always been a problem, but this has highlighted it in a new and, I suppose for me, inconvenient way.”
Nic Fhionnlaoich points to the section of her manifesto entitled “empowering students” as a remedy to overall poor engagement. She hopes that by outlining the services that the SU can offer to students, and making the wider student body acutely aware of this, engagement can be increased.
Nic Fhionnlaoich is also in favour of re-joining the USI. Citing the time and money spent on trying to make the SU’s concerns heard, and also the fact that “they have a seat at the table which we simply haven’t”, she nevertheless raises some of her concerns with the USI. “They have major issues around engagement, but an ineffective USI will hinder us whether we are affiliated with it or not, at least if we are affiliated with it we can do something to change that”.
The interview veers towards the issue of housing, with the question being posed as to how Nic Fhionnlaoich plans to get landlords to sign her “draft digs” document, as proposed in her manifesto, in order to make them arguably binding. Here, the answer is not so confident. “Obviously every case will have to be taken individually, as some landlords might be more awkward than others”, she states, though mentions that having this document will reassure students when dealing with landlord issues, simply by lending legitimacy by being an official UCDSU document. “Presenting something that looks right, looks official, looks legitimate, will help greatly with that”.
This is tempered by the clear reality of how many of the grandiose objectives often pan out. “I don’t claim to be a silver bullet for the licensee system, I just want to change it. If this helps 10% of students, it's better than 0%”. It is a optimistic approach to what is achievable in student politics. Nic Fhionnlaoich evidently does not want to make large promises to outdo a rival, possibly as she doesn’t have any, but also one senses, from a deep-seated respect for the student body.
On topic of the election and the disengagement with certain elements of the Students’ Union, Nic Fhionnlaoich argued that the was to begin to combat this is “to highlight our wins, to reach out and talk more with students on the ground - it’s not enough to let students come to the Union, the Union has to go to them and they have to see that it’s not something separate from the student body, it’s part of them.” Campaigning on the ground was the way to go before and is the way to go now. I found it was not just effective for me in convincing students to vote, but it was also great to talk to students, engage with them.”