The conduct of the election of Trinity College’s postgraduate committee has caused immense conflict between the Trinity branch of the Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation (PWO TCD) and the Universities Student Union (TCDSU).
On October 5th, many members of the PWO were unable to vote as polling stations across the campus ran out of ballots while other students were turned away as they had a list of candidates they wanted to vote for on their phones.
The PWO also claimed on Twitter that there was “no online voting option and no PGR consultation” which it deemed to be “unacceptable”. PWO president Jeffrey Seathrún Sardina was denied a ballot because the station at the Arts stand had run out of paper.
On October 5th, the PWO Twitter account further highlighted the experiences of some of their members when trying to vote. “We have now received reports from members that some polling stations are closing at 5, not 6 (as originally promised by TCDSU) @tcdsu – you cannot just make up the rules as you go along. This needs to be challenged, and we need an immediate resolution that affirms PGR voting rights”. On Twitter PWO TCD released a statement declaring that, “TCDSU’s voting system is disenfranchising PHDs en masse”.
TCDSU responded to these allegations and, in a statement to the University Times, claimed that the ballots were withdrawn due to “election interference”. They had been made aware of an email sent by the PWO endorsing their own candidates and this was “in violation of the Union’s longstanding electoral regulations”.
The Union also denied the claims that there was no online voting alternative stating that there was an “accessible voting form which was circulated on September 25th … to the entire student body”. However, former chair of Council and chair of the Electoral Commission, Yannick Gloster tweeted that the Union, “previously had a contract with an online voting platform which had been built for TCDSU by software engineers who had been former students but the current sabbatical officers opted to break out of that contract this year”.
TCDSU has also accused some members of the PWO of harassing polling clerks at the stations. In a statement to Trinity News, the Union said it was “extremely disappointed by the behaviour of some PWO members who harassed polling clerks in person. TCDSU strongly condemns this”.
TCDSU President László Molnárfi said in a statement to both the University Times and Trinity News that he did not authorise the TCDSU statement and asked for his dissent to be noted, but he did not elaborate at this time.
As reported by the University Times the electoral commission decided to re-run the election to “remedy this breach of election regulations by the PWO” and stated that “candidates will be reminded of the appropriate decorum and behaviour which is expected”.
In response to the allegations of electoral interference and misconduct against them, the PWO TCD released an open letter on October 6th to the electoral commission (EC) and TCDSU. This letter can be viewed on the PWO TCD Twitter account.
This letter addressed the claims of electoral interference by stating that these claims have “no basis in any past precedent, in former EC communications, or written communication to PWO members”. They also highlighted that PWO campaigns last year openly used the same approach and were met with no opposition.
Therefore any violations of rules on their behalf mean that these “rules have either been changed or knowingly re-interpreted by the EC without any communication”. In addition to this, the PWO said they were repeatedly misinformed about the election investigation and were instead told that the stations had simply run out of ballots.
The PWO deplores any form of harassment but they deny the claims of harassment made against some of their members, stating they “have received no evidence from the EC with regard to any (let alone multiple) claims of harassment by PWO members”. In addition to this, there has not been a sign that there will be an investigation into this supposed misconduct.
The PWO continued to highlight that the EC or TCDSU have no way of knowing that the alleged harassment was conducted by members of the PWO as they do not have access to the register of members. The PWO voiced their unhappiness that the EC and TCDSU decided “to air their allegations in student media without following any due process, without conducting an investigation”.
In light of this information, the PWO has asked the EC to conduct an evidence-based independent investigation into any alleged harassment and to withdraw their previous claims of harassment until this investigation is completed. The PWO claims that if harassment is found to have been conducted by a PWO member then the organisation will stand in full support of TCDSU and the EC in ensuring full justice is given to victims.
In response to these arguments from the PWO, TCDSU released a statement to Trinity News on October 6th. They said that “the endorsement of candidates on the behalf of recognised groups … has long been banned by electoral commission rules and is interpreted as a serious breach”.
They also claimed that, “postgraduate voters were informed that the ballots had run out on instructions from the EC while an investigation was being undertaken”.
In relation to the claims made by the PWO about the lack of evidence regarding the alleged harassment, TCDSU says, “It stands by the victims of this behaviour and … these allegations will be rightfully referred to the Junior Dean for independent investigation”.
Despite the ongoing dispute, in a recent tweet President Molnárfi called for students to “stand in solidarity with PWO Ireland and PWO TCD demands for a living wage and workers’ rights”.
Ellen Clusker – News Reporter