“The whole point of an election is that you stand up there and put your head on the block.” What has become the most hotly-contested race of the UCD Student Union election season, the soon-to-be-open welfare officer role sees three hopefuls put their names and manifestos forward, Shauna Young, Ciara Donohue, and Jacob Miller.

Ahead of the voting, the latter sat down with the College Tribune for an hour and sixteen minutes, chatting about policies, addressing flaws in his proposals, and presenting his case as the candidate most suited to the gig.

The 29-year-old PhD student, originally from Derbyshire, holds experience working in student accommodation at the University of York, acting as the current UCD Arts Society Auditor, spending a year as a PHD rep and tutor for 1st and 2nd years. He believes the skills he learned at the University of York will prove crucial to his success as a Welfare Officer, should he be elected.

Those who have preceded him and his opposition candidates have attempted to tackle sky-high rent prices, the inconsistent mental health appointment system, and the lack of disability-friendly amenities within buildings across campus, all coming to little or no avail. These challenges have survived many welfare officers.

Jacob Miller UCDSU Welfare Officer Candidate - Photo by Hugh Dooley
Jacob Miller UCDSU Welfare Officer Candidate – Photo by Hugh Dooley

Miller cites his frustration with the current student housing crisis and UCD’s glaring accessibility issues, as two of the core motives for his decision to run for welfare officer.

Miller is hoping to succeed the current welfare officer, Jill Nelis, Miller summed “I think Jill has done some good things, especially around trans-healthcare. I know she was trying to deal with (UCD) estates and wasn’t getting very far with them. But I think it’s more of an institutional problem (the lack of long-term results in the role in recent years).

Simply put by Miller, “real change”, realised by more aggressive and persistent stances towards the relevant actors, is what will set him apart from his competitors in this year’s election race.

“It’s just absolutely shocking, every student that I talk to, housing comes up.” In terms of addressing accommodation issues, Miller proposes several new initiatives, intending to drastically improve the UCD student experience. The proposal which stands out amongst some very important notions is Miller’s idea of a rent strike.

“We would go into negotiations with UCD..if you’re not prepared to meet whatever demands we might have… we would move to occupations, protests, and ultimately rent strikes.”

A graduate of the University of York, Miller points to the University of Manchester as a rent strike success story. However, similar strikes at home, i.e. Trinity College Dublin, have failed to achieve any major change to renting pricing.

CT: “What makes the proposed protest any different to other Irish universities?”

JM: “Trinity’s kind of a different case, I don’t think they have the same level of on-campus living as we do here. Undoubtedly, there’s going to be resistance, none of this stuff is ever won without a degree of trouble.”

Then there is the possibility of evictions: “The larger numbers you have, the less likely evictions are. If it gets to the point where the vast majority of students are involved, it’s very unlikely that a university is going to evict all of their residents.”
However, within Miller’s study of success, at the University of Manchester, in March of 2023, students were ‘brutally’ removed and ‘dragged’ from campus buildings by authorities during rent freeze strikes, for ‘illegally occupying’ accommodation rooms.

Although the university agreed to a 30% cut for a fixed period, the same issues arose following this term in the 2020-21 academic year. Predictably, the reignition of similar protests/freezes occurred, this time, throughout 2023.

No demands of the protestors were met, but rather, the enactment of frequent fines, 5 am forcible evictions, and disciplinary actions (such as potential expulsions and delayed graduations) characterised the 2023 protests. The 2023 rent strikes were announced to be withheld until January of this year; there has been no sign of the movement’s rekindling.

Making mental health services more accessible to those who need them, ending the €30 on-campus GP visit fee, and introducing a trans-led complaints procedure, are the head of Miller’s health strategies.

“I am someone who has dealt with depression, I was diagnosed with depression in my second year (of college).” Through his own experiences with mental health, Miller maintains a passionate drive to improve the availability of relevant services. Targeting the inconvenient application hours, shortage of on-campus staff, and poor overall funding. While this is a proposal most if not all, could get behind, it is a task taken by several before, and a task several have failed in. What makes Jacob Miller any different?

JM: “I’ve spoken to counselling (services), unfortunately, they haven’t gotten back to me yet. I’ll hopefully have more details when they do. (In terms of) differences in approaches, just being extremely persistent.” Miller’s intentions are in the correct place, but unfortunately, no candidate can promise results in this area. Miller’s policies regarding trans-health draw parallels to Jill Nelis’ progressive work over the course of this academic year, as he plans to continue to advocate for trans-rights in UCD and the provision of specific healthcare products.

Something that has been left out of Miller’s written manifesto, however, is the topic of sexual health.

“Unfortunately we get one A4 page for that (manifesto). But also, sexual health to a degree, kind of rolls into other stuff, for example, the GP visit charges… It’s (sexual health policies) absolutely something that I’d be happy to pursue.”

While Miller expresses his interest in highlighting its importance, voters have little to work with in that sector as his manifesto lacks any concrete, or even direct plans pertaining to sexual health.

Plans for lecture theatre/seminar room sit-in protests, focus group surveys, increases in the availability of recorded lectures for those who commute, financial support for international students, and the introduction of a UDL (a diversity-learning program) These plans make up a strong package of ideas for improving UCD’s on and off-campus accessibility, “Co-ordinating action is the best way, creating a spectacle and generating a lot of media attention.”

Dealing with campus safety, Miller’s plans include improved lighting around campus, the promotion of the UCD Village as a ‘safe space’, and the distribution of contact number cards to students, which would feature numbers and information to help ‘keep students safe’, such as the UCD safe walk service.

Miller also proposes the introduction of a safe taxi scheme, with the cooperation of companies like FREE NOW and Bolt. The scheme is intended to help those who lose possessions on a night out. The student would be capable of getting a free taxi, and then paying at a later date via their SISWEB account.

Although many would welcome such a concept with open arms, it is a complicated one to execute. FREENOW being a European-wide organisation, which relies on the individual cooperation of its drivers, would prove a difficult platform to establish such a concept with and subsequently enforce.

“I don’t really think it’s going to be an issue… we have these taxi schemes in England and they work perfectly.”

Miller is a candidate with many progressive, positive ideas and plans, but whether his proposals come to fruition, should he be elected, may rest on the biases of those who oppose him. Only time will tell.

Dara Smith-Naughton – Sports Editor