Following a majority ‘Re-open Nominations’ vote prevailing in the UCD Students’ Union executive elections, the upcoming By-Elections are seeing significantly more contested races and candidates on the ballot.

The Welfare Officer role is now facing a contested race between Míde Nic Fhionnlaoich, a final year Law with Social Justice student and the current Mental Health Campaigns Co-Ordinator, and Daragh Kane-O’Toole, a final year Economics and Sociology student and the current Disability Campaigns Co-Ordinator. Both candidates were on the ballot for the Executive Elections and now are back with Nic Fhionnlaoich running for Welfare again and Kane-O’Toole opting for Welfare in the upcoming By-Elections after having lost to Martha Ní Riada in the Education Officer race.

Below is the College Tribune’s interview with Nic Fhionnlaoich.

1. Why are you running for the role of Welfare Officer in the By-Elections? 

I’m running again because I believe I’m best suited for the job and I care about making UCD a better place for students. That’s at the core of what the SU should be and it’s the only reason anyone should want to be Welfare Officer.

2. What skills and experiences do you have that make you well-suited to the role of Welfare Officer?

I’ve fought for student welfare since day one in UCD, protesting rent increases, calling out the chronic underfunding of the counselling service, and working on the review of the Sexual Harassment and Bullying policy. 
These are big issues with no straightforward solutions, I don’t claim to have a silver bullet to fix everything but I understand what’s been going on the past 5 years and what needs to change.

3. What is different in your campaign for the upcoming by-elections from the executive elections? 

Students rejected the lack of candidates in the exec elections, not the candidates themselves, so the bones of what I’m running on are the same because the main issues affecting student welfare are the same. Hopefully, this second round means interest has been piqued in the elections. Week 12 or not I’m going hell for leather to reach as many students as possible. I think my track record sets me out as the best person for this role and I hope to communicate that. Housing, mental health, sexual health, and consent are always top of the agenda so they remain the main focus of my campaign. 

4. If there was one part of your manifesto that you could ensure follows through, what would it be? 

Everything ideally! If I were to choose one part to follow through on I’d say Mental Health. We’re at a vital time where the political situation around mental health is changing, with a new UCD president, a new HEA bill, a Mental Health Strategy on the horizon. We can’t afford to drop the ball now because we won’t get another crack at it for years

5. Why do you think students don’t feel empowered and how will you empower them, if elected?

Students don’t feel empowered because the problems they face are so enormous, so entrenched in UCD and wider society, that change feels impossible. They’ve seen how counselling waiting lists have gotten longer and longer, how rents keep rising, and how living costs have spiralled.

And they’re right. These problems are enormous. It is David and Goliath. It’s hard to keep momentum when students don’t think they’ll ever see results.

Empowering students means we help them with the things they can change now, with housing rights campaigns, digs agreements, consent workshops, while we work on the longer-term goals, the policy bits that take 5 years of work to get over the line but will make all the difference.

6. What do you think sets you apart from your opponent in the race? 

My record. I have had a long time to think about being Welfare Officer, what I can achieve in the role and what’s the best way to support students. I’ve worked closely with the past 3 welfare officers. As College Officer I helped write the new sexual harassment and bullying policy, I founded a book voucher scheme, and I supported students directly during covid.

As mental health campaign coordinator, I’ve fought alongside the sabbatical team on getting a fully-costed Mental Health Strategy on the agenda.

That experience means I’ve shown I can get things done, and that’s I know the issues I’m dealing with
There is nothing on my manifesto that I cannot deliver on because I know the job and I’m ready to do it.

7. Could you please provide a short, roughly 75-word bio and summary of the main parts of your manifesto?

I’m a final year law student from Conamara, Galway. In my time at UCD I’ve also been heavily involved the SU and societies like the Cumann Gaelach. My manifesto is focusing on 3 key areas, mental health, sexual health, and housing. We need increased and sustainable funding for our counselling service, we need better protections for student renters and we need to create an atmosphere that is hostile to sexual predation on our campus and that’s what I will focus on as Welfare Officer.

Mahnoor Choudhry – Co-Editor