Welfare is traditionally a role that requires a more diverse skill set than many in the union, because of the wide number of ways in which welfare is dealt with. This year’s candidates both bring something to the table, but both also leave other areas lacking. Carroll’s experience as a campaign coordinator leaves her with a wealth of knowledge about the role, having sat on committees with the current Welfare Officer in relation to disability rights. Merrin’s knowledge about the role is somewhat lacking by comparison, and it shows with some of his policy proposals and ideas.
In his manifesto, Merrin promotes a number of issues which are not necessarily the Welfare Officer’s remit. He mentions the work done by Healthy UCD and although he’s aware of certain issues around Healthy UCD, such as the effect the sugary drinks ban has on diabetics, he seems less sure of how to go about what he promises, which is promoting food for a wider range of dietary requirements. He makes no mention of the SU shops and has yet to try to talk to any of the eateries on campus about the possibility of expanding their menus. He has spoken to Healthy UCD though, potentially something positive could come of this idea.
Merrin’s comparative lack of planning across the board for his policies is apparent. Carroll may not yet be able to guarantee what she can provide for free from her manifesto, she at least seems to be talking to some of the right people. Merrin’s policies regarding his consent campaigns are woefully unclear, and during the interview he gave the impression that even the vaguest outline of the nature of these campaigns hadn’t formed, leading to guest speakers being proposed by Merrin at one moment, but then critiqued in favour of “slut walk” style visibility campains the next. If he’s serious about consent campaign, Merrin is going to have to be able to articulate a cohesive plan that he doesn’t backtrack on because of a single probing question.
Both candidates offer, in different ways, a vision of more awareness raising around mental health, and neither candidate has made any mention of lobbying for any change in the student health services, save the popular demands to increase funding and space. While encouraging those who would benefit from group therapy and fellowships is a good idea, and smart way of saving money without turning people away, it is troubling that Carroll doesn’t seem to understand not only that it is difficult for people in group therapy to remain anonymous, but also why that’s the norm in group therapy. A student who is recommended to group therapy of a fellowship by Carroll may not want other members of their group engaging with them outside the setting. Merrin’s offer of a guide on extenuating circumstances for those with mental health issues seems to offer very little extra than the current all-purpose guide for extenuating circumstances already offered by the SU.
One policy area where the candidates genuinely differ in opinion is themed weeks. In recent years events like Sexual Health And Guidance (SHAG) and Mental Health week have been criticised for failing to capture the attention of the student body. Merrin proposes to revive SHAG week and spread it across campus. As the former Science Society auditor, Merrin knows the difficulty student activities can have running events in certain buildings, but he has already picked places such as the concourse where activities can be booked, and has identified the distance of the student centre from many peoples classes as one of the major factors in this lack of engagement. Carroll, on the other hand, seeks to scrap these weeks entirely, and try to maintain a steady balance of events on these subjects throughout the year.
Carroll has shown a lack of ability to work on a team through her squabbling with the Disability Inclusion and Awareness Society, as well as her blaming others for former-Disability Campaign Coordinator Amy Hassett’s videos being unpublished. In situations where a Campaign Coordinator has a student society to work with, most obviously the LGBTQ+ society and the LGBTQ+rights coordinator, they have collaborated. Rainbow week, the UCDSU-LGBTQ+ awareness week, is officially organised by the SU, but there is always involvement from the society. Carroll’s conflict and lack of collaboration with the society for Disability Awareness Week could not be said to serve well the interests of students with disabilities. Students should hope that a future Welfare Officer could put squabbles aside in favour of worthwhile and lasting collaboration similar to that between the Union and the LGBTQ+ Society, which promotes and addresses the difficulties and needs of groups of students who might be particularly vulnerable.
Ultimately the question for voters is whether they want a welfare officer who is more approachable and lenient on his ideas, but lacking concrete vision or SU experience, or one who has mostly clear policy proposals, but has raised questions about her ability to work on a team, listen to other people’s opinions, or take responsibility when things go wrong.