The College Tribune spoke to Liam Coyle, one of the three candidates running for University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) President in the upcoming elections. The Longford native, a final year Commerce student, claims that he is the best candidate to promote ‘A better student life’.

Coyle, who is currently the Business College Officer with the SU, was suspended from running his campaign in early-March, due to a breach in the regulations of the Executive Elections. He had sent an email advertising his candidacy to 943 Business and Smurfit college students from his official UCDSU email account, which resulted in him being suspended from running his campaign until March 19th.

Despite having previously ran a successful campaign to run for a UCDSU office, although it was not a sabbatical or executive position, Coyle said that the sending of the emails from his UCDSU account was a “a genuine mistake”, and that he “was not aware of the regulations at that time”. Coyle mentioned that he had reached out to the returning officer, Stephen Crosby, for the regulations, but decided to send the emails without hearing back from him. “Perhaps I could have had a bit more patience and waited,” Coyle said, “but it was three days, and the other candidates could have capitalised on that.”

Coyle did address the issue at the next SU Council meeting, in which he apologised for the breach of the regulations, and he opened the floor to be questioned about his breach. He believes that this transparency in admitting his mistake makes him a better candidate than his opponents for the role of president. “I will make sure that the SU is transparent, and I think, through that, it will bring trust with the students in the SU,” Coyle said.

First and second year students are Coyle’s priority

As part of his manifesto, Coyle has stated that he aims to make the first and second years his priority, as they “have been most severely impacted by [COVID-19]”. “I believe that this is not something that the other candidates are really prioritising much,” Coyle said.

Coyle promised that, prevailing government restrictions permitted, he would intend host events on campus and ‘blended’ events with a mixture of in-person and online elements in order to ‘get to know UCD as much as the rest of us’. These events, Coyle said, would be undertaken in conjunction with societies, although he did not go into any specifics of how these events might take place. What he did say, though, is that these events would be focused on socialisation, so that first and second years “are not disadvantaged from the lockdown, and the virtual learning that they did start off with”. He believes that the only way to do this is through cooperation with the entire executive team.

Coyle then suggested that he was the only candidate that understood that the presidency role would require him to work with elected members of the executive team, despite knowing that both of his opponents have experience in doing just that. “I don’t believe that the other candidates have these brilliant leadership, but also teamwork skills,” Coyle said. “Not many people that roll up for this position understand that you are going to be working with an executive team that you don’t actually get to choose; they are all elected officials.”

Funding the UCDSU

Coyle has a number of ideas and plans, detailed in his manifesto, which could cost the UCDSU a portion of their budget to fund. When asked about where the funds that the SU receives for these type of projects comes from, Coyle was unable to answer other than to allude to the Student Levy paid by UCD students upon registration. Despite this, he claimed that the budgets for the SU ‘are quite plentiful’, although he admitted not knowing the exact details of the current budget.

According to the latest audit reports on the SU, published by The College Tribune in August 2020, taken from the accounts of the previous financial year, it was projected that there would be no income for the SU in the 2020 financial year. This means that the ‘plentiful’ budget referenced by Coyle is likely to be much less than he is expecting, particularly because one of their largest revenue streams outside of the support provided from UCD itself, the SU shops around the campuses, have not been able to make money since March of last year.

Additionally, Coyle suggested that his plans for the future, particularly his suggested ‘Grinds’ system and an ‘Online Noticeboard’, as well as an extension of the Laptop Loan scheme, and even a second student payment, could be supported by partnerships and sponsorships which are yet to be negotiated. He suggested that, if the SU could not afford to implement an idea, that he could engage with third parties to financially support these projects. “It might cost, but in the long run, the advantages would far outweigh the disadvantages, or the costs involved,” Coyle said.

Diplomatic dreams as opposed to the current ‘militant’ style

As can be seen by the 4% registration rate in the previous SU elections, the union has been suffering from a lack of student interest and engagement over the years. In his manifesto, Coyle mentioned that the “SU is not the most popular it has ever been”. For Coyle, the reason that the SU has lost a lot of its credibility with students and management is due to their ‘militant’ style, as opposed to a ‘diplomatic’ approach that he hopes to bring to the office. “I do believe that the militant approach that they have gone on about has severely damaged their reputation and their ability to be taken seriously,” Coyle said.

“I do believe that [Conor Anderson] has done a lot of positive things,” Coyle said of the outgoing SU president, “but I will say that I am not a fan of the militant SU approach that he has been advocating for. I do believe that the SU can go about its business and get things done in a more diplomatic manner; a more calm and collected manner.”

Coyle believes that a protest in favour of a certain agenda or issue should be ‘the last resort’ that the SU should go to, instead opting to converse with UCD management and the UMT, as well as other groups. “Through communication, negotiation and diplomacy, the SU will be taken seriously again by UCD and others,” Coyle said.

These claims by Coyle that the current SU has been a ‘militant’ SU does not wring true, however, as outgoing president Conor Anderson, as well as other members of the executive team, have routinely held discussions with UCD management and the UMT in an attempt to achieve the mandates of the councils, in particular around the controversially ‘advisory not mandatory’ ‘No-Disadvantage’, or ‘No Detriment’, policy, with little to no success. Only after these initial diplomatic means were shut down have the SU sought a ‘militant’ solution. Coyle, though, claimed that the reason that UCD has recently not been cooperating with the SU is due to their “militant approach”.

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‘Unrealistic’ No-Detriment policy and not promising ‘false hope’

Coyle criticised the outgoing SU for the ‘unrealistic’ promise of a blanket no-detriment policy which was not renewed for the 2021 academic year. “I think that it was a miscommunication; it should not have been communicated like that,” Coyle said. “They should have cut it off before it got too much of a movement. The idea in principle, while it is for the benefit of students, you would have to look realistically here.”

Coyle is a firm believer of not giving students false hope, suggesting that the promised no-detriment policy was unrealistic, and that there were other options that could have been explored, and that he would like to explore if he is elected. “I think there are other ways of tackling the workload and the stressful environment that students are in,” Coyle said. “Through giving UCD examiners more power in trying to come to a solution to a grade or extending guidelines [sic], and being more lenient. I think that could be a powerful tool as opposed to a blanket solution. I don’t believe that a no-detriment policy can be implemented.” However, Coyle does believe that the idea to reduce or get rid of resit fees could be possible, if he is elected to the SU presidency.

Coyle’s campaign is run around a ‘better student life’ platform, however the lasting message from The College Tribune’s interview with him is one of compromise, diplomacy and his desire to keep the SU transparent. “I will make sure that every student is represented to the best of my ability,” Coyle said. “In terms of improving their mental health and well-being, financial support and even non-financial support, and in terms of collaborating with UCD to ensure that it is a more transparent institution.”

Stephen Kisbey-Green – Co-Editor