Thursday 23 February saw the start of another Student Union election race in NUI Galway.
Students are competing for the role of President, Welfare Officer and Education Officer, the three full-time positions in the Students’ Union.
As candidates launch their campaigns over the next week, Student Independent News spoke with current Students’ Union President Jimmy McGovern. Reflecting on his term as President, he explained his role, the importance of the Union, and why the 18,000 strong student population of NUI Galway need to get out and vote for the candidates come Thursday 2 March.
“It’s been the greatest experience of my life,” he said.
“You’re the principle spokesperson and you’re the team leader of a democratic organisation of 18,000 members – which is huge. The biggest part of the job is learning about your members, the students and what their needs are because at the end of the day you’re going to be the person speaking on behalf of others in all the committees.
It’s great that within the university we’re recognised, we’re put on to all the boards, right up to governing authority.”
Jimmy expressed how the role of President will be an extremely varied job for his successor.
“It’s an incredible job,” he explained.
“One thing we always say about our jobs is that if anyone could do them for one week every single student would run.
“Although it’s hard to know what it entails, every single day is different,” he said.
“On a Monday morning you could be on Galway Bay FM or talking to the Irish Times or then you could be in a board room meeting talking about the finances of the university and then you could be at a disciplinary hearing with a student, you could have a student call in needing support for SUSI, or needing to appeal an exam.
“Then you could be at a charity table quiz – it’s just constantly changing every single day. You’re working from first years who are just coming into college right up to the university president on a daily basis and it is an incredible experience.”
Jimmy was aware that some students may feel distant from the Students’ Union, think that it is irrelevant and may not feel the urge to vote.
“Some of the most important work we do isn’t advertised. We also have drop in services for anyone who needs support so the two vice-presidents deal with a lot of students and case work; Students who are maybe in financial hardship, having mental health difficulties, promoting sexual health on campus, if you failed an exam, if you need to appeal that, things like that,” he explained.
“We are aware that we’re not experts but we will find people who are. Our job is constantly networking within the college. It is important we can go to the Head of the School or the Dean of the College about a student who might need to appeal an exam while the student might not be able to do it themselves.”
He summed it up; “We are almost like an insurance policy – you might not need us till you realise something goes wrong.”
Choosing someone to vote for can be hard. Jimmy offered the advice that when you are deciding “you have to think does that person come across that they could make a good argument”.
And is it all a popularity test?
“There will obviously be a few people who think it is but in general you can be as popular as you want but once you get the role you’re going to be in these positions,” said Jimmy.
After nearly a year in the job and another year as the Union’s Welfare Officer, Jimmy had a well of knowledge for candidates.
“The number one thing you can do is go into lecture halls and say ‘I’m going to run for this job and going to take on these responsibilities and this is what I have done to date and this is what I’ve planned to do’,” advised Jimmy.
“Go in and you can show that you’re genuine, sincere and willing to work hard, and talk about why the job is important,” he said.
“When I ran for Welfare, a big part for me was suicide awareness – people tend to get involved in the Students’ Union because of something they’re passionate about. Suicide awareness for me was a huge one as I had lost a friend and I promised myself when I came to college I was going to do something. And then I saw the job.
“I had done a lot of training around suicide intervention and I thought this is a key thing – I know students can drop in on a daily basis and I’ll be willing to get them help they need. I said to a lot of people in lectures; ‘Look you might not use the Students’ Union but I can guarantee you know someone who will.’”
The election takes place Thursday 2 March with polling stations in An Bhialann (10am-7pm), Áras na Mac Léinn (11am-8pm), Engineering Building (12pm-4pm) and on the SU Website via Remote Vote 10am-8pm (pre-registration required before midnight Wednesday 1 March). Voters will also be asked to vote Yes or No to the motion: “NUI Galway Students’ Union supports the reunification of the island of Ireland and calls on the State to hold a national referendum on the question of such reunification.”
-By Sorcha O’Connor