What do you consider to be the highlight of your year?
Barry Murphy, President: “The passing of the constitutional review and some of the other structural achievements we’ve had over the past couple of months. When I started out in June 2018 as my first full-term as President, I wanted to look at the structure of the Union and the supports that the sabbatical officers, college officers and the campaigns coordinators had in place in order to reach their full potential.”
Tom Monaghan, Campaigns & Communications: “The world record attempt. It was something that we were working on for a long time. I think at the start we underestimated the amount of organisation that was to go into this event. Originally, it was planned for RAG Week but it was pushed forward so that we had appropriate time to get everything together. We really needed the extra time because the sheer amount of work that went into it was what made it one of the highlights of the year. We raised just over €3,200 for charity in the one day, so that was fantastic.”
Melissa Plunkett, Welfare: “If I let my ego answer I would say speaking at the ESHTE conference. In reality though my highlight would be the privilege of helping people through some of their worst times.”
Stephen Crosby, Education: “There are so many things, one of them being, I set up as part of my budget a scholarship to help people travel on Erasmus or exchange. When they apply and they get it, they also apply to me and it’s eight €900 scholarships. Telling the people, that I’d picked using a system of criteria, telling them that they got the scholarship is one of the best things.”
Niall Torris, Graduate: “Obviously it’s hard for me to talk about the real highlight of my year because most of them are in relation to cases. The real highlight of my year I have to keep to myself, but for me the highlights that I can talk about come from the Seanad campaigning, in particular, from last year there as the effort to meet Senator Michael McDowell and to lobby him on including in the new Seanad reform bill opening up NUI registration to conversion degree diplomas and graduates at level 9. ”
Do you feel that your extended tenure as sabbatical officer has been a benefit to students?
Murphy: “Most definitely. One of the downfalls of Students’ Unions, is the fact that the sabbatical officers are only in term for one year. When you’re at the peak of your learning and experience in your role, you’re moving on. Re-running enabled me to use the experience I gained in my first few months as President and continued that moving forward. I was able to maintain pressure on certain issues. I was also able to make sure that there were things that we had blocked in my first year, that they continued to be blocked throughout my second term. E.g. getting a seat on the Capital Projects Group on the university management team.
Torris: “I think so. I think a lot of students out there, even if they don’t vote, I think the notion of a sabbatical officer staying on and continuing to lobby in their interests, that level of experience is something that they understand as beneficial. For me, the big difference was that I had more time to do general campaigning because I didn’t have to habituate myself to the heavy caseload. I already knew what that was and I wasn’t trying to develop or put strategies in place to manage my time.”
What roadblocks did you encounter that you didn’t expect to deal with and how did you overcome them?
Murphy: “I faced a major roadblock in August/September 2018 when our COO, Fiona Hammond, moved on. It was unexpected and I was used to that management support, so I really had to focus on finances, HR issues and the overall running of the union on my own. At the same time, quickly trying to recruit a replacement for that individual. I overcame it by reaching out to supports, to past sabbatical officers and a lot of hard work in terms of getting the behind the scenes stuff over the line without many people knowing about it. I did not expect to face that. I also didn’t expect to face the roadblock of disagreeing with university management on a staff issue and that would have been the closure of the staff Common Room Club.
Monaghan: “One of the roadblocks was an aftermath of one of our events: Christmas Day. I think going forward, Christmas Day one of our most successful events that we’ve ever had, but we did have reports of incidents outside of the university with anti-social behaviour and I think that it’s very important for the SU to remind students to always stay respectful and be very aware of everyone else around you. You’re representing yourself, but you’re representing your university as well.”
Plunkett: “I underestimated the politics of a large organisation such as UCD but by understanding how it operates I was better able to bring my ideas to through the correct pathways.”
Crosby: “There are two main ones. The first one is personal: there is a lot of energy required by the gig and I think managing my time and energy levels against the demands of the job was probably a significant roadblock. The second one is that UCD is huge, sometimes you’d have to digitally or physically go across campus to find a solution to a student’s problem. If you’re trying to lobby for a change in UCD, but you don’t realise the amount of stakeholders you have to convince. The way I tried to overcome that roadblock was by mapping out every single person and factor in UCD and how they interact.”
Torris: “The real roadblock I didn’t expect was to hear academics use arguments that we had fought for, in terms of trying to put equity into a system about remediation, stuff that we had looked for, that we had ultimately lost and accepted what had come then which was the grade cap. To hear those arguments again, rehashed by academics, against the SU to try and get the whole thing overturned. I think maybe it came from the expectation that sabbatical officers always turn over, and they were going back to their pages from the initial meeting and looking at their notes to stop us. They were trying to use that to keep the grade cap and I encountered that at UPB. If you can progress things and make things better for people, it’s important that you don’t cut your nose off to spite your face.”
How do you think RAG Week went and what would you have liked to have done differently in terms of fundraising?
Murphy: I think RAG Week went like the last number of RAG Weeks have gone in UCD, where we have seen that a focused week on fundraising and entertainment and nightlife doesn’t really work. I think we need to continual RAG, or raising and giving throughout the year, picking charities and raising money for them across the two semesters through entertainment events and non-alcoholic events. I think the Fashion Show is an amazing event and I would love to see it return to UCD. I don’t know if the Union supporting it is the best model, I’d love to see a fashion society, it’s something that we don’t have. The Union will 100 percent be open to supporting a fashion show as long as the financial implications are sorted out, so I would see maybe a downscaled event, with lower production costs but with higher engagement being a better model.
Monaghan: When it comes to RAG Week, it’s not that same as Galway or Sligo, which are student run cities, where RAG Week is already established, and there is a very strong drinking culture over in those cities, which I think that’s something we need to steer away from in UCD. I think the fundraising aspects is what is going to make RAG Week successful. E.g The pie in the face event and Pretty Little Things.
Plunkett: “I think students enjoyed them, so to me that’s a success. I would like to see these weeks being broken down into smaller events throughout the year. It would be interesting to see if that makes a difference.”
Crosby: I think RAG Week went well. We are a huge institution and RAG Weeks have never clicked that well in UCD, or DIT or in TCD. I think the idea of a Raise and Give throughout the year is a particularly good one.
Torris: I think when we try to do RAG Week the way they do it in other campuses around Dublin, it’s just not going to work. You’re in Carlow, Dundalk or Galway and there is a handful of clubs you can go to and they need your business that week. Clubs in Dublin don’t need your business, they’re going to do as well as they do any other week. I think we need to think about RAG Week in terms of more events like the ice-cream roll and the professional headshots.
What do you think needs to be prioritised in terms of lobbying UCD management?
Murphy: Priorities change, but the core ones always stay the same. We need to be lobbying our management on investing in our mental health supports. They simply can’t get the picture in terms of our counselling not being good enough and they seem to be okay with the model of passing students onto external counselling supports, when the waiting list gets too high. Also the construction of accommodation on campus and the cost of education.
Monaghan: Myself and Barry had a conversation with Mark Simpson on the Entrance Precinct that they’re putting forward and one thing that I noticed was that they are very much focused on making it look fantastic and huge, but what I would push for is that it is accessible for all students. I’m worried that there is going to be too much infrastructure and too many buildings and too urban. I would push for more open spaces, and grass and patches of places where people can sit down and enjoy the sun.
Plunkett: “Obviously, I want Consent to remain a priority for UCD and the SU. Apart from that, from a welfare perspective, I would like to see the support we give to students in direct provision being prioritised. Currently, the SU provide Leap Card top ups and food vouchers. When you compare this to other universities it’s just not good enough.”
Crosby: UCD recently got a University of Sanctuary status, so they allow a certain number of students in Direct Provision to come into the university with their fees waived. They aren’t doing enough. We have been constantly lobbying them to give more support. If UCD is trying to provide a space for people to further their education, they have to do it with 125 percent. E.g. access to IT services, access to transport, food and accommodation.
Torris: The university relies far too much on precarious work from graduate students. Tutorials where you get paid €20 for an hour, which seems great but then it’s contact hour is all you’re getting. “You have the opportunity to earn up to €600 a week” but five-ten contact hours is going to take you 20 hours of prep, so you might on paper have that opportunity, but you don’t. If we don’t put the money into the system, if we don’t pay the human resources and the academics that we rely on, our success will be as precarious as the people we pay to try and achieve it.
What are your plans for the future?
Barry Murphy: I do know that I want to work in education of some kind, and I think there is a lot of scope in Ireland for the education on the environment and influence on the environment. A lot of people, engaged individuals, whether it be through education or current affairs, know the issues with our environment but are unaware of how to engage with that in their everyday lives. I would like to work in that field in engaging society on environmental issues in order to increase Climate Action. I’m looking forward to the Washington Ireland Program this summer and wherever that takes me.
Monaghan: As I’m sure you know I’m a foster child and I’ve gone through the foster system, growing up since I was born. I did a degree in social science and if I decided to do a Masters it may be going down the route of social work. I like working with young people, I feel like I can relate to them and tell them what they want to hear to a certain aspect as well. I’ve been offered possible positions in Túsla and in Empowering People in Care (EPIC). They did an awful lot for me and I have since gone to conferences where I have given talks to students and young people who are in care.
Plunkett: I’m returning to my final year of midwifery. Once I graduate I’d love to do a Masters, so that I could work with people who have experienced trauma.”
Crosby: Hopefully, I’ve applied to a lot of postgraduate degrees, mainly in public policy. There is a lot of interagency work that goes on outside UCD, you can get reps from UCD and secondary schools and intervention services that work with young people, but when they work together on platforms for young people is actually something I’ve become interested in.
Torris: I have a passion around helping people in casework, so I’m applying for jobs down that line, and I’m also looking at continuing down the psychology track because that gives me opportunities in that field of work as well. There is a lot of transferable skills that come from casework, could be trade work, could be clinical psychology.