By Seán McKillen
This is my last An Focal article as PSU President. This year has absolutely flown by. It has been a hectic, challenging and rewarding experience for me personally. I have enjoyed taking on the challenge of this role, and hope that I have done it the justice that it deserves. I would just like to start by thanking the people that I have worked with most over the course of the year. Firstly I have to thank my VP, Elaine O’Connor for all her hard work during the year. Her work in getting the budget together and her planning of the PSU Ball stand as testament to her dedication and loyalty to the postgraduate community in UL. Although much of her work was behind the scenes, she deserves immense credit for helping to drive on the work of the PSU. A lot of credit goes to all the members of the Executive and Council for providing steadfast support to me throughout the year. We were able to debate and talk through issues and I believe the PSU was much stronger for this openness. You gave up your time to be a part of something vital, and I was lucky to be able to count on your support. Finally, I would like to thank the ULSU Sabbats, Colin, Ciara and Marian for all their hard work this year, particularly in terms of the Medical Centre and Counselling service. Along with Liz Gabbett, they have made the working relationship between the two Unions a stable and effective one, and for that I am grateful.
Now that the soppy stuff is out of the way, I’ll focus on what the PSU has done in the past year. We tried to make the Union more accessible to students who traditionally would not have been aware of our services. We didn’t accomplish all we would have wanted to in this sphere, but I believe that we have laid the foundations for next year’s team to achieve this. I spent much of my year advocating on behalf of individual students in various degrees of distress. I met supervisors, Heads of Department, and Deans in the hopes of resolving issues affecting students. We advocated for the rights of the precariously employed tutors at every turn. As you read this, these efforts are still ongoing and will be until my term expires and beyond. We have managed to get the word out about the unfair conditions being foisted on a section of the student body. We have succeeded in bringing students together to realise that they are not alone. Not only do they have the full support of the PSU, but they have also found allies amongst their peers. To the many UL staff members, both academic and administrative, that have given me private encouragement and support in furthering this cause, you are to be commended. These issues are unresolved and my successor, Aimee McKenzie, will need your help in making sure that we keep up the pressure on the University to provide the fair treatment that we are owed.
The PSU will always be there to help students to navigate through their time here. As one of only two Postgraduate Students’ Unions in Ireland, we are in the unique position of being able to provide a strong and coherent service for our entire postgraduate community. We are able to serve the students in a more effective manner than the other Students’ Unions with often part-time postgraduate representatives. The PSU will continue to be a permanent feature of the students’ lives. I have spent my year highlighting the need for the continued proliferation of Postgraduate Unions across Ireland. I hope in the next few years that this advocacy will help create the change necessary for postgraduates to have a strong voice on the national scene. We spent our year highlighting the challenges faced by students. Through events like the PSU Ball, we tried to provide some relief from the daily grind. Our decision to slash the prices of our tickets to €25, with €5 from every sale going to charity was one of the ways that we sought to give something back to our students. I hope that policies such as this continue to figure in the PSU platform in the future. The PSU is not a business, it is there for the benefit of the students, whether through advocacy, financial aid, or just free coffee. In summing up, I would just like to reiterate my thanks to all of those that have helped me throughout the year. I would also like to thank the students for electing me in the first place. It has been a great privilege to serve you for the year.
I would like to wish my successor, Aimee McKenzie the best of luck in her new role. From my interactions with her this year, the PSU will be well served. She is bright, energetic and funny. I have no doubt that she is going to do a wonderful job. She will fight for you and she will continue the process of implementing the change necessary in the PSU. I’m going to go back to writing my PhD now so chances are I’ll see some of you around next year again.
All the best,