The College Tribune spoke to Edward Leonard who is one of three candidates for the President’s position in the upcoming UCDSU elections. Leonard, a final year law with politics student from Roscommon, wants to “start setting the wheels in motion” if he succeeds in the election.

Leonard has been involved with the Students’ Union as both a Class Representative and the Law College Officer.  He says he “knows how the SU works” and has “seen UCD outside of the SU”. He claims that he can “ensure that the SU represents all students and all students feel valued as members of UCDSU”.

When asked what makes him qualified specifically to lead the SU, Leonard responded that he feels that “[I] have good people skills” and thinks “that the leadership of the SU needs someone that is dedicated and passionate but also somebody who has the drive to push the SU to bigger and better things”. He continued that he can “use the experience gained from being a Class Rep and Law College Officer … [I’ve] been around UCD for four years, I know how the university operates and this is something I can add that my opponents can’t”.

From his involvement in the Union, Leonard identified student engagement as one of its biggest failings. He recalled, “when I was in first year, 1,200 people voted for Katie Ascough for president. 6,600 people voted in the impeachment referendum. 1,000 people voted in the presidential election last year and that’s a massive drop.” While the Union has “done great work campaigning”, it needs to go further “to bring people to the SU so we need to have events on campus when we can or online events and show people that the SU is going to benefit them”.

Leonard believes that extravagance with the SU “is not always the way”; it’s about “the little things that will improve the lives of students”. These little things include coffee mornings which allow students to “benefit straight-away”. The question of how to help students around the structural issues at play in UCD was answered with a football analogy in that “you can’t score a goal from long distances”. Leonard believes that by doing the small things, students will get engaged and therefore, get involved with campaigning for structural reform.

Leonard’s manifesto focuses on library supports as a key issue and working for “better online resources” as he believes “it’s not acceptable that students are asked to pay €125 for core textbooks because they are not available in the library”.

Period products also need to have “increased access”  and Leonard wants to do this by increased advertisements and promotions on social media.

When asked whether not having an Irish copy of his manifesto, like opponent Ruairí Power, was a tactical decision, Leonard conceded that “it was an oversight and I do apologise for that but I also wouldn’t have the knowledge to accurately translate it”. He reassured that “it wouldn’t matter if I was anti-Irish, I would still have to promote it” as it is one of the core responsibilities of the President in the Union’s Constitution.

Leonard has also promised to increase study spaces in UCD. When asked how important this promise is during the pandemic when fewer people are on campus, Leonard answered that “a lot of students have decided to live in Dublin because it creates a more college-like environment […] and there need to be study spaces available for them on campus”. Leonard believes the SU should advertise what rooms are open and available for students, it should push for “financial support in the library so they can afford to get the required number of staff to open Monday to Friday as well as weekends”.

On the housing section of his manifesto, Leonard plans to continue to lobby for reduced rent prices with the view to increasing accessibility for students. He believes the rent prices are “saying to a student who has a disability, in a wheelchair, or is visually impaired that you have no choice but to pay these extraordinarily large fees or commute” and this makes going to UCD a less viable option for students. He believes this is an important campaign to run because it is one “distinctively related to UCD on-campus accommodation” and therefore to exclusively “UCD students”.

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Leonard also hopes to establish a bursary for students facing difficulties in paying their rent that comes solely from the Union’s funds. When asked for more information on this bursary, The College Tribune was told that it would be means-tested and “if you are helping 20 or 30 students, you’re really benefitting the lives of those students”.

When asked about how much he can guarantee the financing of such a bursary, Leonard answered “it would be wrong for me to say how much because we don’t know what the state of the SU is going to be in a year and it would depend on how much the shops can open so we don’t know what the financial situation is going to be like”. However, “there’s money there, the SU isn’t in a terrible financial state”.

Whilst a lot of Leonard’s manifesto plans revolve around students having a physical presence on campus, the three most important promises that Leonard promises to deliver on whether students are remote learning or not: improve library resources, better access to welfare services such as counselling and period products and ensuring issues students care about are campaigned for.

One thing that distinguishes his manifesto from his opponents, in Leonard’s view, is his experience of what it is like to be a student through all the stages of university life. One thing “which one of [my] opponents can’t do is say what it’s distinctively like to be a student this year because he wasn’t a student this year”.  Leonard believes his manifesto “is designed to benefit the wider student body […] to ensure all students can benefit from the SU”.

Leonard’s manifesto focuses on “the little things” like daily interactions with students through the likes of a specially designated social media account to increase engagement. He would “like to think [I’m] in between the two candidates […] and want all students to benefit and feel valued and represented”.

Mahnoor Choudhry – Deputy News Editor