Welfare: George Merrin - A candidate who wants to revamp Welfare

George Merrin is a final year Science student running for Welfare Officer. He has been involved with the Students’ Union since his second year of college and feels that the Union “should be a way of welcoming students into UCD, and to tell them all the good things that UCD has on offer.” He also feels the Union should be a place for students in crisis to receive help, as well as being a force for lobbying.

Merrin says he has chosen to run for Welfare officer as he has “friends who have gone through things, myself included.” He also says he has experience in dealing with these difficult situations; “I think that if someone came to me with any sort of issue I think I’d be able to answer it, or at least point them to where they could get the answers.” While he admits he does not have much experience in SU campaigns, he says he knows people who have been involved in these campaigns, and he “knows what it takes to be involved with the SU.”

He is against UCD joining USI, believing that “we would lose some kind of autonomy, UCDSU would not be able to cater specifically towards students in UCD, but you would have to be thinking of Ireland as a whole.” On the other hand, he supports the new proposed constitution, “for the specific reason that it split the C&C role (into C&E and ENTS), meaning C&E could focus more on campaigns and ENTS could focus more on entertainment.”

In his manifesto, Merrin talks about his belief that Healthy UCD should be promoted more, as well as his plan to provide more food options on campus. When asked how he planned to do so, he admitted that it was not solely the task of the Welfare officer, but that it was down to the Welfare officer in “reaching out to the different cafes and asking them if they would provide certain foods. I know Pi, to the best of my knowledge, has a Halal option everyday.” He also highlighted the importance of advertising the different food options on campus, to allow for more students to avail of them. In terms of students with specific dietary requirements, Merrin raised the issue of UCD banning all sugary drinks on campus, which he said could be a risk to diabetic students who may need to raise their blood sugar levels.

On the topic of mental health, Merrin plans to revamp the mental health initiatives that the Union currently offers. “I felt that Mental Health week this year was not very successful. If I were to be elected, the first thing I would do would be to look at it as a whole, with each day dedicated to a different aspect of mental health.” Merrin would go about doing this with a t-shirt campaign,“different people would wear the t-shirts around campus with different slogans like ‘Are you okay?’, and the more people see them the more they know that there are people to talk to and it’s not something that has to be kept quiet.” In terms of the work done by previous Welfare Officers surrounding campaigning for improvements to the counselling service, Merrin believes they have been “reasonably successful” stating “when you go to the counselling service, obviously there are lots of options for external counsellors, which is all well and good if you have the means to go to an external counsellor.”

Merrin has also talked about his wish for SHAG week to be extended to different buildings around campus, although he has not spoken to building managers aside from Newman and Ag. He said that his experience as auditor of ScienceSoc has shown him “the difficulties in renting spaces in the Science building, so I know there are ways around it if you know the right people.” He wishes to further utilising the concourse outside James Joyce Library, due to the volume of students that pass through it everyday, stating that the Student Centre is too far away from the main campus for enough students to engage in events taking place there.

Merrin also discusses wishing to include LGBTQ+ and disabled students more in SHAG week in his manifesto. While he admits that he does not know “a lot” about how to include disabled people, he does want to highlight the rise in HIV diagnoses in Ireland in the last number of years. In his manifesto, he includes his intention to revamp the Consent campaign run by the union, suggesting one day a week be reserved for a specific topic i.e. ‘When drugs and alcohol are involved’. “This could be a day of SHAG week, like having a speaker in to talk about how drugs and alcohol don’t mean consent.” Despite this, he does not feel that having speakers in to discuss these issues are particularly effective. “If people aren’t interested in the talk, they’re not going to go to it. That’s why I think we need to have big movements.” He highlighted the ‘Slutwalk’ from 2015, which he said has remained in his mind since then.

The cost and availability of sanitary products on campus is another point raised in Merrin’s manifesto. “If I were Welfare officer I would try to have sanitary products available in bathrooms on campus, both male and female as you don’t know who is using which bathroom.” He told the University Observer that students could only purchase sanitary products in Centra, and not in any of the Student Union shops.

Merrin seemed unaware that the Student Union provided sanitary products in the Union corridor, located in the Student Centre. He also gave no indication that vendors in each of the college buildings pay UCD, and the current Welfare Officer, Melissa Plunkett has faced push-back on this issue.