Yesterday evening, Trinity College Dublin Student Union (TCDSU) decided to undertake another two campaigns against national policy.
At the second council of the year, the SU voted to support the undermining of the 27th amendment, which removed birthright citizenship from the Irish constitution, through electoral means, as well as the criminalization of ‘image-based sexual assault’.
This is nothing new. Over my nearly four years on campus, the SU has always been engaged in at least one of these campaigns. From endeavoring to repeal the 8th amendment to trying to agitate against Direct Provision, the SU spends more time engaging with issues on the national level than trying to improve the situation for students on the ground.
While the SU of course has always rejected any claims that their national campaigning has ever impacted their effectiveness at the University level, all evidence points to the contrary.
My first year in college was dominated by the Repeal campaign. One could not step foot on campus during the academic year of 2017-2018 without seeing countless posters, signs, and repeal jumpers signalling for the proliferation of abortion in Ireland. At the core of this campaign against the 8th was TCDSU, who organized the presence of TCD students at marches and ensured the registering of TCD students to vote, even going so far as setting up a Campaign Hub and Lobby Group to pressure politicians at the national level with militant efficiency.
While all this campaigning was going on, Trinity College was slowly pushing ahead with it’s Trinity Education Program (TEP) which, apart from the proposed introduction of fees for exam resits, went seemingly unnoticed by the Student Union. In short, the SU dropped the ball on an actual issue affecting students to focus on left wing vanity projects.
By the time the following academic year rolled around, the disastrous ramifications of TEP became apparent. The reforms resulted in absolute chaos around the Christmas period, with students struggling to deal with the increased workloads, and student societies reporting a massive decrease in engagement when compared to the previous year. To make matters worse, the college itself made multiple serious administrative errors during both exam seasons, such as the handing out of incorrect papers as well as the disastrous implementation of a cloakroom, leading to exam carnage as students were effectively locked out of exam halls.
Throughout the various crises of that academic year, TCDSU was basically nowhere to be found. While I’m sure Union loyalists will declare otherwise, judging by both my own experiences as well as the experiences of those I talked to, the Union did little to nothing to protect student interests. Having done nothing to prevent the chaos, the Union proceeded to do nothing to ensure that those sitting exams were treated fairly nor even given the opportunity to take their papers under reasonable conditions. The militant efficiency seen during the Repeal movement was gone and in its place was nothing bar a few functionaries posturing for positions.
This is not a cherry-picked example. TCDSU has repeatedly demonstrated that it is incapable of dedicating as much effort towards student issues as it does towards national and ideological issues. The onset of the Coronavirus saw a fairly lethargic reaction by the SU, with little to nothing done towards ensuring that students didn’t lose out on lecture time, nor remained informed as to where they stood in relation to essays and exams.
At the same time, it appeared that merely a few months earlier, then-President Laura Beston among other SU officials had plenty of time to effectively gossip and collaborate with self-described Antifa in their stated campaign against right wing students on campus.
With the introduction of two new national campaigns, the cycle begins afresh. These new fronts for political warfare, as history tells us, will be undertaken at the expense of the interests of the rest of the student body, but that is of little consequence to Union loyalists. For them, this coming year will herald the beginning of another opportunity to strike against the corrupt, crypto-fascist Irish establishment, and achieve glory for both their CVs and Twitter timelines. Much like the US government, there is nothing TCDSU loves more than a good conflict, but instead of bombing innocent children in the middle-east at the expense of the American taxpayer, SU officials give career politicians headaches at the expense of the student member.
But this wanton engagement in ideological warfare does not come without consequence. Over the past number of years, TCDSU has alienated more campus subcultures than it has endeared. From laddish sports societies to Pro-Life students, the SU has been burning bridges for as long as I’ve been in Trinity, and they show no sign of stopping. Many individuals who I once knew as SU aficionados have since become bitter after being caught up in one or more of these conflicts, and now wish for little more than for the union to burn. To make matters even worse, those who have become so extremely disillusioned are not even permitted to leave the union, which only builds on the resentment. Eventually, something has got to give.
This complete disregard for minority views on campus will come back to haunt the SU, of that I have little doubt. The organization can only disregard its membership for so long before a disaster occurs, whether that be through a crucial referendum loss, the election of an anti-union candidate to a senior position, or something else entirely. Such a disaster is destined to occur in the near future, though its exact nature will remain unknown to us until its time has come. For now, we can only wait.