ULSU sabbatical election campaigns kicked off early this year. The Wolverine Wolfpack assaulted the Students’ Union on Thursday of nomination week causing quite the racket as they collected their nomination packs. The team, all running on the same ticket for the three sabbatical positions, were hurried out of sight until they could be questioned by the secretariat of the Electoral and Referenda Board (ERB) as to their intentions. Hurdle overcome, the campaigning began in earnest despite clear regulations forbidding early campaigning. Most of the campaigning did appear to centre around a near empty Stables Courtyard but this team was not to be discouraged. The €50 fine which would be the expected reaction from the ERB was considered money well spent to get the 24 hour jump on the competitors and one member was even quoted as saying “If the ERB and their false sense of authority feel like putting the wolverines at a disadvantage then we will play the hand we are dealt” (boards.ie 2014). Due to unforeseen circumstances, and in no way related to the hard night of campaigning the night before, each member of the Wolfpack failed to hand in their completed application form before the 5pm Friday deadline and unfortunately a great opportunity was missed.
Friday afternoon was a tense time for all potential candidates and anyone who was hanging around the main courtyard was ambushed by various potential candidates for a last minute proposal name and student number to replace another, which for one reason or another had been deemed not valid. Some awkward glances were exchanged as one presidential candidate almost asked another to propose him. Some names were harder got than others and one proposer drove a hard bargain at selling a raffle ticket in return. The deadline passed and VP/Academic candidate Mike Forde breathed a sigh of relief to find that he was the only candidate to take over the role from Paddy Rockett and would be deemed elected unopposed due to an inability of the electronic ballot to provide for reopen of nominations.
Tensions heightened even more as the scheduled meeting of candidates and campaign managers was delayed by 20 minutes as one potential candidate’s campaign manager was already under scrutiny from the ever vigilant ERB. The campaign manager left the building through the assembled teams followed by rumours varying from an incomplete application to forged names on the form, and so the race for DP/Welfare was left to two.
Monday morning was the calm before the storm as teams made last minute alternatives for posters or t-shirts as Snap Printing had broken down, t-shirts were not delivered or on account of other unexpected early misfortunes. One thing for certain however, there was no shortage of sweets, lollipops or even strawberries. Nobody will give away free pain au chocolat though and get away with it on Red Raisin’s turf. Mark Nother’s presidential placards were very prominent around campus, quickly paired with Caroline Hennessy’s considerably smaller placards running the same colours as the current Welfare Officer’s winning campaign last year, leading to concerns that the SU may be endorsing a particular candidate. Students were brought down memory lane for another brief period as an emotive campaign team set up stall to re-elect ULSU President 2009-2011 Ruán Dillon McLoughlin. A short lived dream as they were quickly closed down due to fears, from the current President, of confusing the electorate. Campaign manager Oisín Bates was quoted as saying “Ah here lads”.
Tuesday kicked off with a bit more life and the fine weather had the campaign teams out in force with treats, fliers and promises, ready for any passers-by who made eye contact with them. There was only one thing missing. Had Tommy Bolger dropped out, was he a joke candidate or was he still suffering from the weekend? He had posted a great video Monday afternoon, but that got taken down within minutes, and surely the ERB would not approve a campaign video which seemed to take the piss out of the role. And was that a clip of the current Academic Officer getting sick into a bucket? Concerns were allayed by Tuesday afternoon as there was Tommy in the courtyard, with his widescreen TV and speakers blasting the video on loop right across from the Union door.
Within hours the plan began to unfold as the video went viral and got attention from the international press. Tommy had only to set foot on campus and he had voters coming up to him eager for a chat and a picture with “yer man from the video”.
Hustings were held on Wednesday evening and despite expectations of another display of publicity from the Wolf of Students’ Union, they turned out to be a rather mundane event. Mike Forde, who was running his information campaign, spoke about his plans for the Academic Office after Paddy finally hands over the keys in June. Caroline and Shane put forward their plans for greater student engagement, largely based around the existing Welfare Team which Catriona set up this year. Chats with Carol and healthy budget dinners from Shane were the candidates other two main selling points.
Lorna justified her plan for a 65% pay cut which would go back to the students most in need, Mark addressed the on-going co-op concerns and Tommy told us about his list of every student in Plassey and Kilmurry. He never did quite explain what he plans on doing with the list but to quote the man himself “there is method in his madness”.
Voting day there was a distinct carnival feeling around the Union Courtyard, with different coloured chalk being used as the final campaign strategy and Mark had the music pumping. Voting began and the total numbers rose quickly in the early hours but they never reached the total engagement figure of last year. On Tommy’s only concrete campaign promise of the entire campaign, to double the number of students voting this year, he owes a fiver to the person he made that bet with at Hustings.
Half 8 at night in the Stables and the numbers were in. Without RON, Mike graciously won unopposed. Did the people want to go for a run with Caroline every Tuesday and Thursday or did they want Shane’s STI packs? Would Lorna’s proven record of student activism reach the voter, or Mark’s extended library facilities or would it be Tommy, who promised nothing but “personality” (Late Late Show 2014). Shane’s personable approach obviously reached people and he won with a sizeable margin, while Tommy, currently on a running total of 170,277 votes, now has the opportunity to fulfil his promises of engaging the students who were never previously reached. A task I have no doubt he will complete considering that within less than 48 hours of being voted President-elect, he has quite likely had more national and international exposure than any ULSU President before him.
Tommy, Shane and Mike, I wish the three of you the best of luck in the coming year. I have no doubt it will be an interesting one for all concerned.
By Paul Austin