Dave Ryan presents a closer look at what we can look forward to this year
On July 1st, Maynooth’s new SU Exec took power. With this transition, some may wonder what will change? What will stay the same? In that spirit, The Observer’s Inside Eye returns to present you with a closer look; a preview of five of the major players in next year’s Exec. In this feature we will discuss their responsibilities, motivations and promises for the year ahead. Time to look into the crystal ball and see what 2010/11 has in store.
Of course, the central figure in this change of power is the head honcho, The Big Cheese, Aengus Ó Maoláin. Our new President takes control of the first post-recession (in theory) Union, so can he look forward to a smoother reign than his predecessor? Certainly, during his campaign trail last Spring, he was every inch the politician. Proving to be personable, accessable (he had actually approached me more than once to ask if I had any questions about his manifesto etc.) and above all competant, he swept to an incredible victory as the red-hot favourite. His detractors may say that he was flattered by his opposition, with his only serious competition appearing to come from Gavin Brady, but Aengus’ huge win makes him the people’s President, and that carries with it an enormous reponsibility to deliver on his election promises.
His manifesto, and his speeches during hustings, promised SU Bar improvements, better and cheaper services for students, more sports awareness and participation, more transparent capitation for Clubs and Socs, Weekly C&S Newsletter, no increase in student levy. My thoughts are that Aengus genuinely does want these things for the student’s of Maynooth, but some of his promises are going to turn into difficult struggles. Aengus’ legacy after this year may not be as the man who turned our Union around, but rather as the stepping stone, as the man who got the ball rolling for greater changes in the future. Perhaps the more pertinent question is if at a point, he will resign himself to the role of the stepping stone, or will he keep pushing, and taking on the right people (or wrong, as the case may dictate) when the time comes? Our outlook on Aengus right now is quite positive, but only time will tell if we too have been caught up in the tide of public opinion. As we wrote of him way back in election week, ‘the people so far seem to suggest that Aengus is their man for the job, and in the best of worlds, the best man for the job is the one who gets it. Is he the best?’
But the Union does not solely rest on Aengus’ shoulders this year. In a similarly decisive victory, Rob Munnelly was elected VP Comms & Dev. The mountain ahead of him is perhaps even greater than Aengus’, though he benefits from not being the Union’s figurehead. When I went to see Rob at Hustings in the Common Room I thought to myself that he was a guy who had great ideas, and genuinely cared about what he was talking about, but I didn’t quite believe he was capable of the things he promised: an upgrade of the archaic SU website, a complete revamp of the almost-laughable at times Print, and the introduction of printer chips into student cards. These are necessary, but radical promises. The website and paper appeared content to dwell in mediocrity, and were part of what necessitated us coming into being. And while the printer idea was really good, was it a step too far to try to get the college to change the student cards?
In the couple of weeks he has held his position, Rob has done admirably, having gone straight for the website. Those who have seen the new website (or read our article on it) will know that Rob’s work has led to a new and vastly improved SU site. It’s hard to decide which is the greater feat: the huge upswing in quality of the website, or the speed at which it was put into place.He had also promised the introduction of a message board to run parallel with the SU website, though The Observer has yet to see the full plan for what this might entail. It would, no doubt, be a vastly improved means of communicating between students, and disseminating information amongst them.
But perhaps what lies ahead is the greatest challenge of Munnelly’s tenure. He is not the first person with dreams of turning the Union newspaper into a proper news source, and in the last few years the only thing that has really changed is the name. It remains disgraceful that the official newspaper of the Union packs its pages with reviews and glossy pictures without actually properly reporting on the events of the Union Council. An email we received earlier in the year pointed out that the Print’s election special, in terms of word count, had less than twenty per cent of the coverage The Observer dedicated to it. Which is a fact made more astonishing by the fact that we had only started blogging days before hustings began, with only two inexperienced journalists.
The main thing that needs to be sorted is editorial control. The Print needs to be allowed to criticise the Union, and the college- to take shots when they need to be taken. Without the conscience of the Free Press keeping the Union in check, the Union will continue its detachment from the student body as a whole. In a quote from Hustings (one that we may use so much it may become his catchphrase), Rob Munnelly told onlookers that ‘An effective student newspaper is the lifeblood of a college’. If the Print isn’t used as a proper and critical intermediary between Union and students, then why bother? At this point it’ll be cheaper to hang a poster saying ‘AREN’T WE JUST BRILLIANT?’ in giant letters above the Union. It’d save money, and do the same ridiculous job The Print did last year.
But can change really come from Rob’s ambitious plans? He knows as well as anybody what’s gone wrong, but will he be stopped dead in his tracks in an attempt to make the Print readable? Have the things that have prevented a real difference being made at the Print changed? He’ll certainly try, but only time will tell if a real difference can be made.
Declan Meenagh will step into his role as Finance Officer following a year of criticism over SU expenditure. Though expenditure was not widely criticised, the ire of some students was drawn over what was deemed unnecessary expenditure. In tandem with the Ents officer he may be faced with some tough choices over the coming year, particularly as regards The Gathering. Though it is a great idea, and though some did really enjoy it, it was an enormous expense, and the argument that one could make is whether it would be better in future to use that money over a number of special events, rather than throw it all into one massive event, gambling the whole investment on a one-shot game. Declan appears to have his head screwed on straight, with his feet on the ground, and a third terrible cliché, so the SU’s financials will (hopefully) be in safe hands.
Let’s face it, Pat Byrne has the dream job. His job is fun. And by that, I mean that it is his job to dispense fun amongst the students. His campaign was full of sing-alongs and chanting, so it’s a bit difficult to tell what exactly he’ll do, but he has identified a need to give Monday nights in the SU bar a swift kick up the arse. How exactly he’ll do that remains to be seen, but he may benefit from close work with Declan Meenagh on the issue. Meenagh did say he had ideas to improve the SU bar during hustings, his practicality and know-how may go a long way toward Pat’s aim of a world wide revolution to make every student “his lad”.
And, saving the most interesting for last, Liz Murray will return to her position of VP Welfare/Education, bringing with her experience and controversy in equal measure. Judged by most to have done a great job in her first year in the job, and in a competitive campaign with James Boyle, Lydia Farrell, and others, the people decided to let Liz love their student body for another year. But all did not go smoothly for her as the year drew to a close. Grudges which had quietly simmered within last year’s exec came to a head, as an emergency Union Council was called for a vote of no confidence in Liz. The quota was not reached, and Liz survived in her job, but as her second term begins, will the mystery that still surrounds that Union Council meeting in May follow her? Even those at the meeting that day don’t know the full story of what led to the vote, many describing it as ‘a shambles’ and ‘a farce’. One can’t help but wonder if Liz will spend the year walking on eggshells, with the Union Council closely scrutinising her every decision.
The other interesting thing about Murray’s re-election is whether she will be the fly in the exec’s ointment. In what we dubbed as the ‘Year of the Left’, four candidates with Labour party affiliations ran for the four key positions in the Union, with Aengus, Rob, and Declan all being elected. The only one defeated was James Boyle, by Liz Murray. Some have suggested that her inadvertent foiling of the so-called ‘Dream Team’ will be enough for her to lose favour with her new colleagues.
The official line though is that this speculation remains just that. In an exclusive interview with The Observer following his election, Aengus said to us of this ‘Dream Team’ idea:
‘Ok, first off I should explain how this “dream team” thing came about. Initially it was suggested that Rob, Declan, James Boyle and myself would make a dream team as we all post on boards.ie… that then morphed into a presumed ticket which I at no point endorsed. Of the seven candidates for the other two sabbats I was good friends with five of them before the campaign and became mates with the remaining two during. I knew Rob and James best obviously but I never backed either of them publicly. In fact the only candidate I canvassed for was Shmick Hughes as he was running unopposed for St. Pat’s Rep. So, I have issues with this ‘running mates’ question.’
And when we enquired about the VP Welfare position, he said:
‘How would I have worked with the exec if none of my mates had been elected? Just fine thanks!……. and I get on very well with Liz as it is so I have no problems in that regard.’
It appears, on Aengus’ words, that Liz will be an active part of a harmonious Union in the forthcoming year. I can only hope that this isn’t another year marred by internal struggles, because we the students are the ones who suffer most from an Exec devoid of cohesion. Although, it’ll make some bloody great articles…..
The association with the Labour Party among elected members of this year’s Exec may trouble some more conservative students, those who may be unsure of the possible implications of blurring the lines between student and party politics. What about the student’s who voted for the person, not the party? How big a factor will the party affiliations and liberal leanings of this exec play in the year to come? This left wing influence was another question we put to Aengus in our interview at the time, to which he assured us:
‘I believe the reason for the Left’s successes this year has been the unprecedented level of co-operation between the various hews of red around campus. I took the view early in the year to involve NUIM LY in the Social Solidarity Network and assist FEE when we agreed, which turned out to be almost all the time. We took a leading role in both the Bertie Ahern campaign and the ICTU Day of Action by using our union contacts and friends in the media and by using our own not insignificant membership and visibility on campus to bulk up already extant campaigns.
I wrote an article for the print in November where I pointed out a few major problems which people were ignoring, and encouraged FEE and other groups to focus on the major national problems as well as unique Maynooth issues. I hope that had some impact, but I believe the strength of LY’s input into the major campaigns was due to our interest in lending what little credibility we had, where people might have ignored a Workers Solidarity Movement protest, a Labour banner drew a little more interest.
However, the struggle is not over and for the next 16 months I encourage everyone to get me doing what I said I would, and if anyone has any problems I can help with send me an email and I’ll get on it happily.’
So all the pieces are on the board, and ready to move come September. What will happen when the campus is once again flooded with people is anyone’s guess really, but if the promises are delivered on, it’s going to be a pretty special year.
President: Aengus O Maolain
VP Welfare / Education: Liz Murray
VP Communications and Development: Rob Munnelly
Finance Officer: Declan Meenagh
Ents Officer: Pat Byrne
Facebook, Just Search ‘The Student Observer’