Interview conducted by Pete Hodson, news editor, @PeteHodson
Motivation for standing for VP Campaigns and Communication?
Campaigning is a passion. I have great faith in collectivism and an indescribable faith in humanity. The student body at QUB can be harnessed for unprecedented change. It simply hasn’t been the last couple of years. Recent protests against DEL cuts simply weren’t good enough. Based on current political circumstances and what may exist after the next general election – it could prove a very tough year for students and young people. Now more than ever we need a strong Campaigns officer. I’ve been campaigning since 16 or so. I’m 20 now, and there’s unprecedented potential here at Queen’s for the student body to collectivise.
Do you think there is a democratic deficit and/or lack of engagement with students?
I can understand how many people feel that after last year with 6 of the 7 positions being uncontested. Obviously there’s a much stronger field of candidates now. People don’t understand what the student council does – they see this random box on their QOL. As part of my manifesto I want to do simple things, like a noticeboard and posters around campus saying this is what happening at the latest council meeting this is how it affects you. For every month of the academic term I’d showcase one theme in accordance with council or a survey, just find out what people are interested in. Student poverty would be of primary importance around Christmas and New Year. I’m only taking a living wage from the 17.5k stipend. I’ll be taking around £14.5-15k. The other £2.5 will be going towards hopefully setting up an emergency relief fund for students which will be operated through direct debit. That’s the idea at the moment.
Most people know you from the poppy motion and Irish unity referendum. Does this risk segments of the student body being unable to pledge their support for you?
Now more than ever is the time to get one voice that was not heard specifically with the poppy motion. I suffer from anxiety and I was not in the right place at the time of the poppy motion to voice my opinion. WIP (Washington Ireland Program for Service and Leadership) gave me confidence to speak my mind on the issue of the Irish unity referendum. The poppy debate was entirely blown out of proportion. I firmly believe in the idea of parity of esteem, neutrality and equality. No way would I want the Easter lily sold here and I’m an Irish Republican, because I know it would disillusion and disengage a lot of people. I recognise that the poppy had a similar effect on many students, and for that reason and that reason only I wanted a mature debate on it – of course we didn’t get that. We needed a secret ballot that night, there was security and there were death threats made to myself and others. With the Irish Unity referendum the effect was quite similar. It does affect us in this part of the world and there’s no point running away from it. Specifically for people with national aspirations within Northern Ireland, whether they’re British or Irish, let’s have a debate on it. If elected in no way will that be an issue. My national aspirations are private. They are of no concern to any students and the help they may need with campaigns or communications. To those hysterically calling me sectarian, they should take the time to get to know me personally.
What’s your plan of action if elected?
With the resources the position has, they simply aren’t being used for a network of volunteers. There are a lot of activists around Queen’s that want to be involved, to get those people involved together and actively resisting against cuts, any increase in student fees which may well come down the road, these are the things that are going to affect the fabric of society at Queen’s. If we don’t organise on that basis there will be problems.
Message to the electorate?
Unite behind a candidate that is absolutely in this for political reasons and no personal gain. The student body is so overwhelmingly stronger than we realise and we can accomplish infinitely more than we have done, whenever we realise our similarities and not our differences. Unite under everything we can and resist everything that comes out way, be it a Tory or Labour government or whatever Stormont decides to do in the next couple of months of years. It’s the first port of call to protect every single student from those decisions if the negatively affect us.