TCDSU is the most democratic it has ever been, via grassroots participation

By László Molnárfi 

Sunday 21 April 2024

It is with bewilderment that students read the Trinity News editorial dated 21st of March 2024 accusing the Students’ Union of authoritarian tendencies. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, this year has seen student participation in the union skyrocket and power decentralized, due to the grassroots structures that we created. 

Throughout the year, the union held consistent meetings of the Campaigns Committee, on topics including but not limited to the housing crisis, masters’ fees and period products. This committee has been transformed into a powerful structure within the union. It runs like a town hall, with all students being invited to attend and contribute. As well as this, it has been bestowed with mobilizing capacity via a dedicated group chat, which has over 150 members. Therefore, everything from the issue at hand, our demands as well as the escalation plan of the campaign are discussed. Afterwards, the plan is collectively carried out. In this way, students truly have a say in what our union does, from start to finish. This modus operandi is extremely efficient, with detachments of students, supported by the union, able to carry out collective action. Furthermore, it establishes a bottom-up relationship in which students have a direct lever on the use of the union’s resources. 

This structure broadly mirrors the rest of the union’s successful democratization. We decentralized the union’s power when it comes to advocating for renters on-campus and in Trinity Hall. The establishment of the TCD Renters’ Solidarity Network has allowed the political activity of tenants to mushroom. Over 130 students have unionized. Taking action on rents, the overnight guests policy as well as the exploitative Circuit Laundry, apathy has been replaced by faith in collective action. Also, the National Student Action Group (NSAG) has 110 members and is designed to take national action with decisions being taken in a horizontal way by students from across the country. It is endorsed by 8 student unions, highlighting the grassroots style of leadership as an inspiration throughout the island. This is not to mention the TCD BDS sub-group of the union, which has over 230 members and has been operating autonomously to take direct action forcing our university to cut ties with Israel, resulting in significant engagement from the student body. 

These are avenues of deep participation that are open to the student body, as opposed to the shallow workings of Council. The issue with Council, which is the union’s supreme decision-making body, is that it is confined to passing motions. These motions are broad, symbolic and uncontroversial in nature. Their implementation, which is where real questions of organizing arise, is wholly left to the upper echelons of the union. This cuts off participatory democracy at policy-making, a premature move which leaves students without a say where it matters the most. 

As a consequence of this democratization of the union, it has rapidly shifted to the left, and began practicing the principles of solidarity, radicalism and political action. Arising from this, inevitably as a result of 80% students intending to vote against government parties, is our resistance to the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil-Greens coalition. This met the institutional barrier of the TCDSU Constitution, which forces apoliticism. The shackles of officialdom have thus come into conflict with the living, breathing and mass student movement that is awakening from its decade-long slumber. A student union should be able to explicitly call out forces who promote policy that is harmful to students and staff. The scripture of the constitution cannot be held per se to show these actions to be undemocratic. 

The support for this direction of the union has been palpable. The collection of over 520 signatures in just 6 days for abolishing the apolitical clause in the constitution has demonstrated support for politicizing the union, alongside a similar motion passing near-unanimously at Council. A poll showed that 77% of students believed that direct action taken by the union this year was effective. Only 27% of students disagree with the statement that the student union represents them. Conversely, right-wing conservatives voices on campus have made feeble attempts but ultimately failed to garner student support for their reactionary agenda. 

Throughout the editorial, a sense of mistaking the form for the content pervades. This is most apparent when it comes to the magical, liberal and apolitical unity in the student movement that the writers profess in the final paragraph. There is, alas, no such thing. Schism, the fracturing of the student movement along ideological tendencies is both an inevitable consequence of its radicalisation and a desideratum as it embodies the rise of political consciousness.  

The walk-out from Council is thus unrelated to vindicating our position in the direction of the union. The belief that the motion of censure will fail was never in question. That much has been demonstrated by mass student support for the union throughout the year. It is, rather, a democratic act in itself. It symbolizes a break with the idea that it is possible for a union to be apolitical. As well as this, it seeks to crush the bureaucratic handbrake that has been imposed on the student movement. Overall, it is the self-organization of the student body into a politically-conscious unit, which has now thrown itself into outright rebellion against the apolitical section of the student movement, as well as senior management and the state. 

Having been elected on a platform of bringing the union back to the grassroots with 56% of the vote in March 2023 following a three-way race, students this year were directly handed the levers of power to the union. We used it to unapologetically advance our interests in solidarity with the workers’ movement. Through showing that fightback is possible, we have begun building a radical student movement, and have seen rising student participation in our campaigns. We are nowhere near the mass movements of the past that saw tens of thousands of students on the streets, clamoring for a better world. The die has, however, undoubtedly been cast, and the re-birth of the radical tendency will be our legacy. In the end, paradoxically, we hope that the same reason we will be remembered is also the same reason that we will be forgotten, becoming a mere footnote in history books; because what we have achieved this year will pale in comparison to what is yet to come.


Why We Call Him “Butcher” Biden

By Nikola B. Karin

Friday 10 November 2023

There is a new name for the 46th president of the United States, Joe Biden. Ironically it harkens to the exact same name Biden tossed at Vladimir Putin right after his invasion of Ukraine1. Throughout Belfast, right after American envoy Joe Kennedy III visited the city, the shouts, “Butcher Biden” filled the air2. At this point, over 7500 civilians had been massacred in Gaza by Israeli forces with American-funded weaponry. The same cries have been heard all throughout Ireland, from major cities to tiny towns to busy streets, it has been whispered in workplaces and shouted out across college campuses. What is especially important to note is that this, however, is not the first sin of “Butcher” Biden, and it is far from his last.

Joe Biden’s Track Record

Joe Biden was elected to the senate in 1972 on an anti-war, progressive platform. But his opposition to the Vietnam war was not based on any sort of loyalty to the working class, or moral outrage, it was a purely calculated position. To Biden, the war was nothing more than “lousy policy.”3

Biden’s lack of moral fibre would become evident quite soon with his hawkishness on the drug war. Joe Biden could in fact be described as nothing less than an architect of the American drug war. Biden constantly criticised president Carter for not taking business as usual in the war on drugs4, and during the 90s authored a major crime bill that would accelerate the war on drugs. Largely as a result of the drug war in America, roughly 2 million Americans are in prison – as a proportion of the population this is the highest in the world. In spite of this, the amount of drug-related deaths in America since the beginning of the war has only increased. It is arguably clear then, that Biden neither has the heart to be in opposition to draconian measures or the brain to be talking about, “lousy policy.”

In 2002, Joe Biden was one of 77 senators to vote in favour of the Iraq war. Over 280,000 have been killed in Iraq ever since the war5. During the war itself, over 150,000 were killed, and the escalation in violence in the region can be placed on the war as well.

While Joe Biden was vice president, the POTUS, Obama escalated the usage of drone strikes by tenfold. In 2016 alone, Obama’s drone strikes in Afghanistan for example, killed over 1000, in Somalia, which America never even declared war on, over 200 were killed6. Over 100 were killed by American drone strikes in Yemen.

Under Obama, weapons sales were agreed upon with Saudi Arabia during its invasion of Yemen. After almost two years in office, despite his thorough lambasting of prince Mohammed bin Salman and his promise he would not cut arms deals with Saudi Arabia7, more arms sales were approved. Over 150,000 have been murdered since the start of the war. 

Biden’s Relationship With Zionism

Joe Biden’s support for Israel is nothing more than a cold and calculated position. In 1986, after praising America’s aid to Israel as one of the best investments ever made, Joe Biden infamously said, “Were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel.”8 Of course, Israel was also a largely British and European invention of settler colonialism. Regardless, for Biden, all that matters in a deal is that more profits flood in for the war industry, no matter how much blood is needed to oil the wheels. This is clear from the approval of an over 14 billion dollar aid bill to Israel during its terrorist invasion of the statelet of Gaza.

The Plans For Gaza Must Be Opposed

Despite Israel’s increasingly wanton acts of violence in Gaza, the mass bombing of hospitals, of United Nations shelters, of schools, and of even graves (Perhaps the IDF has concluded that using the miraculous technology at their disposal Palestinian fighters have begun recruiting zombies), Biden’s support of Israel has not changed. 

Where Biden has differed on Netanyahu is very important to highlight, as Israel is the junior partner in their bloody alliance. Joe Biden has made comments recently in support of putting the Palestinian Authority in charge of Gaza after the war, saying “There needs to be a Palestinian authority. There needs to be a path to a Palestinian state.”9 Only a day ago, the Palestinian Authority said that they would be interested in playing a role in Gaza if the US properly backs a 2 state solution10

Biden is attempting to paint this as a necessary change to keep “extremists”, such as Hamas out of Palestine. But, we should be absolutely clear, Hamas has become synonymous with the entire opposition force of Palestine. Every single political party, group, etc which is not part of the increasingly isolated Fatah camp has been either branded a terrorist or lumped together with Hamas to paint Palestinians as bloodthirsty Islamists similar to ISIS fighters. Such comparisons are absolutely shameless, we should note that extremists such as ISIS do not even support Palestinian liberation because they do not recognise the moral authority of any modern Arab nations. 

The Palestinian Authority has become an unchecked dictatorship that regularly murders and silences any opposition. Edward Said rang the alarm bells even in the 1990s, describing Arafat as increasingly becoming a dictator11. Fatah has not even won an election for decades, they have roughly the same level of support as Hamas – by no measure of democracy is the Palestinian Authority the body that should be ruling Gaza or anywhere. There has already been an assassination attempt on Abbas since the start of this war and a mutiny by P.A. security forces12. The rank-and-file of Fatah itself is unhappy with Abbas’ and the leadership’s compromising attitude towards Israel, even at this time.

If the P.A. is put into power in Gaza, it will be put into power, once again, as a junior partner of the Zionist regime, it will be put into power upon the mass graves of the entirety of Palestinian political society, ranging from opposition groups within the PLO itself, within Fatah itself, and as well as those outside the PLO. The expansion of settlements will not end, and as the war floats once again into the background, much of the world will forget. Palestinians will suffer as the slow genocide rolls on. There is only one solution: A secular, democratic Palestine, from the river to the sea, and we must vigorously push against Netanyahu or Biden’s plans for Palestine.

  1. Daniel Boffey, Shaun Walker, Philip Oltermann. “Biden: ‘butcher’ Putin cannot be allowed to stay in power,” The Guardian, 27 March 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/mar/26/biden-butcher-putin-cannot-be-allowed-to-stay-in-power
  2. Christopher Woodhouse & Press Association. “There should be ‘no red carpet’ for US Special Envoy in Belfast, Palestine rally told,” Belfast Telegraph, 28 Oct 2023. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sunday-life/news/there-should-be-no-red-carpet-for-us-special-envoy-in-belfast-palestine-rally-told/a972496916.html
  3. Jeremy Scahill. “1970S: Vietnam War”, The Intercept 27 Apr 2023. https://theintercept.com/2021/04/27/joe-biden-vietnam-war/
  4. David Stein. “The Untold Story Joe Biden Pushed Ronald Reagan to Ramp up Incarceration Not The Other Way Around,” The Intercept, Sep 17 2019. https://theintercept.com/2019/09/17/the-untold-story-joe-biden-pushed-ronald-reagan-to-ramp-up-incarceration-not-the-other-way-around/
  5. Neta C. Crawford. “Blood and Treasure: United States Budgetary Costs and Human Costs of 20 Years of War in Iraq and Syria, 2003-2023”  Costs of War, Mar 15, 2023. https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/papers/2023/IraqSyria20
  6. Jessica Purkiss, Jack Serle. “Obama’s Cover War In Numbers: Ten Times More Strikes Than Bush,” Jan 17 2017. https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2017-01-17/obamas-covert-drone-war-in-numbers-ten-times-more-strikes-than-bush#:~:text=Obama%20embraced%20the%20US%20drone,to%2057%20strikes%20under%20Bush.
  7. Jeff Abramson. “Biden Urged to Halt Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia,” November 2022. https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2022-11/news/biden-urged-halt-arms-sales-saudi-arabia#:~:text=At%20the%20start%20of%20his,months%20of%20the%20Trump%20administration.
  8. Middle East Eye. “Joe Biden’s long history of pro-Israel statements.” YouTube, uploaded by Middle East Eye, 21 May 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86Nrv5izaTs
  9. Peter Baker. “Biden Warns Israel Not to Occupy Gaza,” New York Times Oct 15 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/15/us/politics/biden-israel-gaza.html
  10. Mark Landler. “Palestinian Authority Open to Gaza Role if U.S. Backs 2-State Solution” New York Times Nov 9, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/09/world/middleeast/palestinian-authority-gaza.html
  11. Edward Said. “Edward Said interview (1994).” YouTube, uploaded by Manufacturing Intellect, 6 June 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAu-52feMS8
  12. Palestine Chronicle Staff. “24 Hours Ultimatum to Mahmoud Abbas – Who are ‘Sons of Abu Jandal’?” Palestine Chronicle Nov 6, 2023. https://www.palestinechronicle.com/24-hours-ultimatum-to-mahmoud-abbas-who-are-sons-of-abu-jandal/

Maynooth’s New Strategic Plan Faces Protests By Postgraduate Workers

By Lean Tolentino

Wednesday 25 October 2023

On Tuesday this week, members of the Postgraduate Worker’s Organisation (The largest Postgraduate union in Ireland boasting well over 1000 members) protested the launch of Maynooth’s New Strategic Plan by the university’s president. This is part of recent escalations nationwide by the union, which has balloted across universities in support of Collective Action. It has proven itself a militant union in its actions, rapidly growing since the merger between PhDs’ Collective Action Union (PCAU) and the Postgraduate Workers Alliance Ireland (PGWAI).

In a press release provided to us by PWO, Sian Cowman, Maynooth Student Union Doctoral Postgraduate Representative stated, “Today every PhD researcher in Maynooth University was asked to vote in a national ballot in collaboration with the PWO, on state supports and collective action. This protest shows the urgency of a change in conditions for PhD researchers in Maynooth and across Ireland.”

Several issues have recently plagued PHD researchers. The National Review for PhD supports recommended stipends of Irish Research Council (IRC) and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) researchers be raised to €25,000 per year, which is already far below minimum wage. Even in spite of this, the recent budget only increased it to €22,000. Furthermore, protesters felt that the supposed plan to make the university a “globally recognised leader in research excellence,” lacked any clarity as to how it would support the actual postgraduate researchers necessary to achieve such status. The issue of unpaid work in lectures, tutorials, lab work and research assistantship was also brought up.

Tara Ciric, Vice Chair of PWO Maynooth said “Maynooth University cannot continue forward with this Strategic Plan without clear guidance on how they plan to support PhDs. Without us, the entire research, teaching, and community outreach structures collapse… We do this all without a minimum wage, without sick leave, and without any protections that employment status should give us.”

The chair of PWO Maynooth, Bana Abu Zuluf stated, “It is important to listen to the demands of all of its PhDs stipulated in the Fair Researcher Agreement (FRA).”

The Fair Researcher Agreement is a list of demands formulated by the former components (PCAU and PGWAI) of the merger that formed the PWO, which has several demands such as a living wage and a working week that does not exceed 48 hours. The demands are also endorsed by the Union of Students of Ireland, the national union of most higher-level students of Ireland, including various constituent unions such as Maynooth University, TCD, TUD, and UCD Student Unions. Both such demands are moderate in contrast to the rights granted to most other workers, which Postgraduate researchers are not legally recognised as. Additional demands include anti-discrimination protections, according to the 2021 Race Equality Survey by the HEA (Higher Education Authority) “More than a third (35%) of staff from minority ethnic groups have been subject to racial and/or ethnic discrimination on campus or online in the course of their work.”1

This recent escalation by the Postgraduate Workers Organisation is part of a larger trend of increasing grassroots union struggle in the face of an unprecedented crisis for workers. The response by Maynooth and universities across Ireland, which currently does not appear satisfactory will set the tone for PWO’s upcoming activities.

  1. Race Equality Survey (2011) Higher Education Authority. https://hea.ie/2021/10/18/first-ever-race-equality-survey-shows-opportunities-exist-for-higher-education-institutions-to-lead-on-tackling-discrimination/

Maynooth University “Systematically Excludes” Staff From Key Decisions in Trend Towards Commercialisation

By Steph Collins and Naoise McManus

21 October 2023

Steph Collins and Naoise McManus are both socialists, students and members of S4C (Students4Change) at Maynooth University. Steph Collins is a member of CATU and organiser with S4C Maynooth. Naoise McManus is a member of the Socialist Party and also involved with S4C.

In recent weeks the Maynooth University executive staff have come under fire over their recent decision to appoint internal members to the governing authority rather than elect them as has been the case in years gone by. The provision for appointing internal members to the governing authorities of universities was included under part 10 of the  Higher Education Authority Act 2022 which amends the previously applicable 1997 Universities Act.

The change that has sparked the most controversy is that of the composition of Governing Authorities. In the 1997 Act, Governing Authorities could range in size between twenty and forty people, and internal members who sat on the authority had to be elected by their peers. The 2022 Act slashes the permissible size of governing authorities from a potential forty to a set nineteen. While this change has proportionally increased student representation, allowing for three elected students of nineteen rather than a potential three elected of fourty, the act notably undermines the democratic element of governing authorities, allowing for 5 internal members of academic staff to be “elected or selected for appointment”. Maynooth University has taken the controversial decision to exclusively select these members, going against the grain as other HEI’s have decided to maintain the democratic election process. 

Although the Act was at various stages criticised for its potential to undermine the academic autonomy of HEI’s, Maynooth’s decision to appoint rather than elect internal members of governing authority cements this concern in reality, materially undermining the autonomy of the academics that comprise the institution.1

Profit motives

Maynooth University’s president Professor Eeva Leinonin is no stranger to controversial decisions. In her previous post as Vice-chancellor of Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, her leadership was responsible for axing jobs, and in some cases even whole departments, and reallocating research time to teaching time.2 Unions criticised such decisions for their short-sightedness, even accusing the institution for using the COVID-19 crisis as a cover to cut research time.3

The shift in focus to more teaching hours was presumably a bid to increase student numbers thereby increasing revenue – student fees account for a large portion of university revenue, especially international students, which Leinonen’s previous university was accused of targeting4, who generally pay higher fees than local students. According to documents shared with Aontacht, a similar growth strategy is expected to be implemented in Maynooth with the launch of its 2023-28 strategic plan in October. Student fees accounted for just under half (45%) of total income for the university.5

In spite of the push for increased revenue, for the past 3 years, Maynooth university has produced a considerable budget surplus (€6.389m in 2019-20, €13.199m in 2020-21, and €14.227m in 2021-22). The Bursar maintains these surpluses were the result of reduced operating costs during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they have also been attributed to “ongoing prudent financial management which will continue to 2022-23 and thereafter.” This prudent financial management essentially constitutes austerity being enforced on the academic community in Maynooth. The choice to appoint rather than elect internal members to governing authority can be read as a deliberate measure taken to weed out dissenting voices in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the Murdoch whistleblower scandal. In an interview with Aontacht, Bana Abu Zuluf, a researcher and a member of the PWO national committee claimed the decision taken to appoint staff may allow the University Executive to create a “controlled opposition” and constitutes a “breach of trust”.

Another researcher interviewed by Aontacht indicated a concern regarding how humanities will be affected by the decision. “If the university were to go for a more profit-driven model and not be [governed] by people elected within the university then you could have a situation where subjects like STEM are prioritised while arts and the humanities are left by the wayside”. The same researcher noted there was widespread “concern” when the current university president was appointed given her record in Murdoch University. Although thus far there has been no major restructuring, the abolition of governing authority elections indicates a harrowing direction for the university. 

Cause for concern

Staff are afraid to speak out given Professor Leinonin’s litigation record – in 2019 Murdoch university took the decision to sue a whistleblower who publicly questioned the university’s practise in recruiting international students, a move that was criticised by prominent Australian academics as setting a “dangerous precedent”, severely curtailing academic free speech. As such, a recent petition circulated by Maynooth branch of IFUT,6 the Irish Federation of University Teachers, and the primary union for academic staff in the university, can be seen as all the more valourous. 

In a conversation with Aontacht, Professor Peter Coles, a member of IFUT and prominent academic within the Theoretical Physics Department outlined some of his concerns. ”I am worried about the growing gap there is between the university executive […] and the rank and file of the academic staff who actually do all of the teaching and research here,“ he stated. “It seems that we’re being systematically excluded from the process and things are being announced through the press that have never been [communicated internally] … They seem to be separating themselves deliberately, just deciding things”. 

We reached out to President Leinonin’s office for comment early last week but they failed to get back to us.

Bana Abu Zuluf echoes Coles’s concern; she believes that the existing feedback mechanisms between student & workers and the University Executive are “all tokenistic,”  going further to state “I don’t believe there is an interest to create a relationship [with researchers and workers in the university] […] with the selection process it’s going to be even more distant”.

Further action

The issue of staff elections to governing authority is not likely to go anywhere anytime soon. When prompted whether we can expect further action from IFUT, Professor Coles referenced an article in the Irish Independent 7 outlining that the university may back down; however he went on to state “for me it would be unsatisfactory if they weren’t entirely elected […] Just because a decision is lawful doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do”. Abu Zuluf noted that the PWO has solidarity with the staff unions currently opposing the decision, further calling for all student unions “to publicly support staff unions in their fight because this is not just about saving democracy, it’s about saving workers’ rights. This is something that will affect us all in the future”. 

Given the level of discord between those making the decisions and those whom the decisions affect, it’s safe to say that further action is a necessity. The conditions of staff, students and researchers depend on it. 


  1. https://www.irishtimes.com/ireland/education/2022/10/02/trinitys-provost-warns-new-bill-could-threaten-university-autonomy/
  2. https://www.watoday.com.au/national/western-australia/murdoch-uni-spends-millions-on-pay-rises-and-new-logo-as-staff-circle-the-drain-20210524-p57und.html 
  3. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/murdoch-accused-using-crisis-cover-cut-research-time
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/oct/22/fifty-top-professors-condemn-pursuit-murdoch-university-whistleblower-schroeder-turk
  5. https://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/sites/default/files/assets/document//Signed%20MU%20Consolidated%20Financial%20Statements%2021-22.pdf
  6. https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/defend-democracy-at-maynooth-university
  7. https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/maynooth-university-to-review-controversial-selection-proposal-for-governing-authority/a1682821435.html

In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false

According to Guy Debord, organiser of the Situationist International (SI) anti-capitalist movement, “in a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false”. What appears as true is false; what is false is true. We, students, see this everywhere, including in our universities and student unions.

What use is theory for activists? 

Theory. The word conjures up, in the space of left-wing discourse, the image of an isolated bunch of intellectuals discussing arcane and abstract concepts. The term is used and abused to mean anything from the dogmatic principles of political pamphlets to tomes of economic and philosophical writing inaccessible to any but the most erudite among us. It is not unreasonable to ask any student of left-wing theory “but what use is it for us in the real world!?”.

The Far Right and Migrants

The lockdown and pandemic marked a turndown for the working class. After years of stagnation following the water charges, which was briefly interrupted by a militant student movement, the left suddenly found it’s meagre gains completely halted. The far right seemed ascendant – isolation, failures by anti-racist groups and mass proliferation of disinformation on social media resulted in large scale protests by disenfranchised communities against the government’s covid policies. For a short period after the lockdown, the far right seemed to have retreated, but with economic downturn, endless government corruption and mass migration following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the far right made an explosive reveal at Sandwith Street.

Far from an “opportunity”, the Premiership of Liz Truss spells jeopardy for Ireland

By Jack Nolan. On Sunday, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence, Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney, remarked on the recent election of Liz Truss as Leader of the Conservative Party and British Prime Minister as “an opportunity to try and reset relationships” between Britain, Ireland and the European Union in the wake of the fallout from the posturing over the Northern Protocol.