‘[We need to] put an end to this particular line of conversation one way or another”
- Megan O’Connor, then-TCDSU Education Officer, now-USI Vice-President for Academic Affairs.
It is safe to say that Trinity-owned accommodation is in a constant state of crisis, spurring out continuous scandals.
Documents from last year obtained by Irish Student Left Online show that Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President Eoin Hand, alongside the Education Officer Megan O’Connor and the Communications Officer Philly Holmes attempted to suppress an agenda item brought to 4th Council which was due to take place the 9th of February 2021. Joining them was the Disabilities Officer Niamh Herbert, STEM Convenor Daniel O’Reilly, JCR President Alex Clarke and others who met to discuss a variety of issues at the Union Forum meeting on the 8th of February.
Amongst others, they discussed a document titled ‘On the Situation in Halls’, submitted by then-JF PPES class representative László Molnárfi to the 4th Council. This discussion was done in camera, meaning that it was censored to Union Members, and the student in question was not invited.
The document that they discussed spoke of the abuse of authority in Trinity Halls by those in charge, empty threats and the disproportionate and unfair punishments meted out to those deemed a threat to students’ health amid the lockdown restrictions of 2020-2021. As reported in both University Times and Trinity News, “students felt terrorized and traumatized by a reigning atmosphere of lawlessness and [the] seemingly unlimited power of the security guards, the Junior Dean and the Warden, amounting to a perversion of justice”.
The document mentioned three examples. “One student who I spoke to said that she was caught with 4 others and eventually kicked out of Halls. ‘They told us falsely that there is no appeals process and that we would be expelled from college. They did not let us talk. Half of my friends were hysterically crying and one of them had a panic attack over Zoom’, she says, “ says the document, continuing on to say that “the Warden at a disciplinary hearing compared an American student to Trump for not being ‘covid-conscientious’ because he was caught hanging out with 3 people. Recently, at the joint Town Hall of the JCR and the TCDSU, more examples were brought up, such as the Warden calling students ‘f*cking disgusting’”.
A group of students were also told to ‘go back to their home countries’, as per newspaper articles from last year. The student who submitted the document wanted the Union to take definitive action on the issue.
According to the uncensored Union Forum minutes obtained by this newspaper, the line taken by those in leadership positions was to downplay and suppress the issue, while attempting to pre-draft a statement for, rather than listening to the students’ voice at, Council which was due to take place the day after. Since the minutes are not verbatim, the quotations are taken to be a general summary of what the persons said, unless otherwise specified.
The minutes say that at first, TCDSU Disabilities Officer Niamh Herbert spoke. She was also the Trinity College Dublin Renters’ Union’s (TCDRU) Disabilities Officer at the time. “The individual who is pursuing the line of questioning of Halls has started to attend these [TCDRU] meetings and tried to commandeer the conversation about rent to focus more on ‘the terrible conditions in halls’ and is unsure as to how tomorrow will go in relation to this, “ she said as an opening remark.
In reply, JCR President Alex Clark said that it is “a fine line”, but that the “media seems to be ignoring all the legalities of this”, following which TCDSU President Eoin Hand stated that the “newspaper is missing the mark and there are serious concerns for students’ welfare at this time and they are instead giving light to the wrong things”.
TCDSU’s now-President Leah Keogh and then-Welfare Officer said that at the Town Hall the TCDRU had held at the time, many students voiced their concerns about the lack of clarity and transparency regarding Trinity Hall’s rules and fines, and said that the Union needs to advocate on their behalf.
After her, TCDSU Education Officer Megan O’Connor, who is now the Union of Students Ireland (USI) Vice-President said that the “some students have raised concerns about this same individual [JF PPES Class Representative László Molnárfi] ‘pressuring’ them as an elected rep and this is a very unfortunate situation,” continuing on to say that “If this is to continue this is something we may have to address with this individual but believes, and really hopes that this is not of malicious intent but rather misdirected energy and this individual thinks they are doing what is right”.
She also mentioned that the Sabbatical Team has not received a “single official complaint” on the issue. However, this could be seen as representative of the Union’s long-standing engagement problem, since students did raise the issue at the TCDRU Town Hall.
Education Officer Megan O’Connor also commended JCR President Alex Clarke, saying that “he has gone above and beyond, and should be proud of himself”.
Philly Holmes, the SU’s then-Communications Officer said that “It was ‘fiercely evident’ that the article was intentionally framed to be the worst case scenario” and went on to say that there it is very difficult to defend the Wardens’ actions as there is a power dynamic, but that equally, ‘It is our job on paper to support students, but that is very difficult to do so in such an indefensible situation [since students are breaking the law]”.
STEM Convenor Daniel O’Reilly asked the Union Forum “if we have a responsibility to stand up at council tomorrow when this comes up, to not stay silent but comment in support of the wardens”, since they are protecting students’ health.
The President noted “the importance of the language we use and not saying “we support the
punishment of students”, a point which was echoed by Secretary of Council Cian Walsh, who cautioned the Sabbatical Team to not speak ‘off the cuff’ on this issue.
The Education Officer Megan O’Connor finished by saying that “the Sabbatical team has discussed this earlier today and will be drafting a statement to be read at Council tomorrow,” and noted the need to ‘put an end to this particular line of conversation one way or another as it is so harmful to students’.
At Council the day after, the President Eoin Hand and the Education Officer Megan O’Connor said that since no official complaint was submitted to the Union, no action could be taken.
Just recently, the TCDRU was forbidden by the Central Societies Committee (CSC) from forming a society. In an email to Tom Comer, current Chairperson of TCDRU, the Secretary of CSC Claire Stafford said “a society may not be established whose principle aim might potentially be covered by any other entity on campus, in this case, […], the SU”.
As per latest developments, the management of Trinity Halls has temporarily suspended overnight guests to the accommodation, due to rising Covid-19 cases. This will be lifted on Monday the 29th November 2021. Students have criticized management for not instating Covid-certificate checks for overnight guests to prevent a ban. As per an email conversation seen by Irish Student Left Online, Dr. David McGrath said that “the statutory instrument that requires hotels to require Covid-certs and makes it a condition for entry does not apply to student accommodation, “ continuing to say that such a decision would be in the “remit of the Registrar of Chambers and the Warden of Trinity Hall”.
It was reported to this newspaper that residents feel yet again uneasy about the tone of College communications. The attached picture shows a communication which a student speaking to Irish Student Left Online said was “needlessly rude and patronising,” adding that “no one is making the noise, we think it’s the building”.
In November 2020, the TCDSU’s Communication Officer Philly Holmes slammed a ‘condescending’ email to Temple Road residents about reducing light pollution, which was said to be ‘wholeheartedly inappropriate’.