Students’ Union Presidential Candidate: Diarmuid Ó Curraoin

Interviewed by Sorcha O’Connor

Why are you running for election?

I’m running for election because I would like to make a positive contribution to the student body and indeed the university. I’ve been an executive officer for the past year, I’ve been the convenor for business, law and public policy and in my time there I’ve noticed there’s a few things that need to be adjusted – and I know students feel they are a bit disconnected from the Union itself. I think this is something that needs to be addressed more. Although there is six candidates this year, student engagement needs to be implemented upon even more.

What are the key skills/personality traits an SU President should have?

The SU President should have very good communication skills. So being able to get the students’ voice across is a very important skill when you’re approaching the university on things such as the cloakroom or water fountains. And even approaching politicians – we had a march for free education back in October and that had a very, very big impact in terms of national decision making. That wouldn’t have been able to be done unless the students got behind it and feel like the President Jimmy McGovern did a brilliant job communicating it across to students and how important it is to have free education so that would be one key skill a president should have.

A personality trait is to be approachable. If you’re not, people are going to be reluctant to say anything. If you are, you’re going to get way more done and students are more comfortable about the Union and the President is going to listen to them and get their point across.

What do you think being SU president is about?

Being SU President is quite an important job, you’re representing 18,000 students on campus and it’s a big role and responsibility. You’re trying to get students’ opinion, students’ voices, and students’ issues and needs across to the university and across to locals – and society in general.

The president should be able to tackle issues about accommodation, education, anything within the university at all, between parking, the bus service – such as the Dangan bus service.

The President should be a very outgoing person. Rather than being cooked up in the office in Áras na Mac Léinn, you have to be outgoing, you have to know what students want and more importantly, need. I’ve heard many things from students – we need more microwaves at Smokey’s is a big one. You can see during lunchtime there’s a big queue and it’s quite irritating – and a bit of a health hazard; if there’s people rushing through and others have hot food in their hands for example. There needs to be more microwaves around campus. The Engineers are saying it as well, they can’t trek over to Smokey’s on their break and have a class in 15 minutes.

I hope the SU president, whoever gets it – hopefully me – can be an outgoing person and be able to deal with all these issues, no matter how big or small.

Outline your main objectives if elected.

Engagement is the main one. As we know last year a tenth of the student population came out to vote. I think that is an unreasonable reflection on the Union itself as nine tenths of the students didn’t vote, didn’t know it was on, or were annoyed by canvassers. I think more engagement and intuition from the Union to know exactly what students want, to know exactly what kind of campaigns we want to run. Although we have great campaigns at the moment, I’m sure there are more issues in terms of accommodation for example.

Another one is Gaeilge. Is Gaeilgoir líofa mé as Cathair na Gaillimhe. My parents, both from Connemara, brought me up with Irish. I think the recent decision from the university to take away the requirement for the new university president to not have Irish is a step in the wrong direction. Irish needs to be promoted more – I always hear people saying they wish they had Irish or that they didn’t learn it properly in secondary school. I think the Union should promote Irish more as an accessible way of learning and if I was elected I would be working with university staff to come up with plans to tackle this issue and keep the bilingual status that we have, as the only bilingual university in the country.

The role of class reps is very important and I would hope to provide even more effective training to class reps so more voices can be heard and engagement will be at an all-time high. I’d like to market the SU, to promote the services that we have and advertise these facilities within the university.

What are the key points of your manifesto?

Campaigns – so free education is a big one. Education is a public good. I’ll always say it: education is a right not a privilege.

Postgraduate grants to be reinstated to 2011 levels which will make education more accessible.

Fixing the grant system: 51.4% of students in NUI Galway are on the grant on some level. The system at the moment is flawed. It doesn’t fit the requirements of modern society. As we know, rent has gone up, the price of food is gone up. We need to lobby the government.

We have a big shortage of accommodation. There’s going to be more accommodation by 2018 just on the outskirts of campus and I want to keep the pressure on the university to make sure it’ll be in for September 2018. We saw the SU and the Accommodation Office invite landlords from around the county last summer to take in students. 100 students were given accommodation on that day during the conference, but that wasn’t enough to ease the pressure. Demand keeps rising, especially for international students. More information needs to be given.

Work closely with the Welfare Officer to keep putting pressure on the Government to keep increasing the budget on mental health. Mental Health is just as important as Physical Health. A lot of resources are being stretched and you can even see it in the university; the counselling services are stretched. We need to keep going – the stigma is broken down – but this is what we need.

Online elections on Blackboard to elect class reps instead of someone having to put up their hand and talk for five minutes. In Queens, Belfast they managed to elect 300 class reps in one day so it takes pressure off, people will be voting for who they actually want.

A book rental scheme would allow students to get their recommended reading done. I’d like to extend the library opening hours too. Students are crying out for more hours, especially during study week. It would ease the pressure on the Reading Room as well; that becomes a bit tense to say the least!

Gaeilge is a big one. So working with staff to make modules more interesting, to have a weekly podcast as Gaeilge for students who love speaking Irish but maybe don’t feel comfortable enough doing it. It lets them talk about the issues they want to speak about through Irish and it will be published on the SU website.

I’d like to have a bilingual Blackboard and bilingual mail – something that can be easily done. And just making Gaeilge and the Irish culture stronger on campus.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to make stronger ties with our satellite colleges. So for one example Shannon School for Hotel Management don’t have any Union reresentaion so they can feel they can come up here with any issues – or even send a Students’ Union down there.

I hope everyone comes out and votes on 2 March. If you vote for me or vote for someone else, it’s important to be an active citizen. If you vote you are getting your voice across – and I highly advise you give me your No 1 on Thursday!

 

 

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