Phoenix on USI President Gary Redmond
Thursday November 04, 2010 21:47 by Pax
Article on, “centre right”, USI president, Gary Redmond, from this week's Phoenix magazine.
Published here in the national interest and in light of recent events.
With the capitalist system coming apart at the seams in Ireland, one might expect that the time is ripe for a radical student leader to emerge spearheading protests at barricades and so on. Instead, Irish students – who are certain to be subjected to savage cuts in the forthcoming budget – have Gary Redmond, the president of the Union of Students of Ireland (USI), to lead
them. Redmond (24) can hardly be described as the Irish answer to Daniel Cohn-Bendit.
Minister for Education Mary Coughlan can take some comfort in the fact that steady-as-she-goes Redmond is anything but a student radical. Redmond – who is from Arklow and went to UCD in 2004 to study computer science, a degree he has yet to complete – describes his politics as “centre right.” He styles himself as being a pragmatic student leader and places a particular emphasis on lobbying and raising media awareness about student issues – not exactly the spirit of 1968. He is certainly media savvy and came across as a very competent media performer in recent appearances warning about proposed education cuts. The trouble is that all the media savvy in the world will not protect students from the inevitable cuts to come in the forthcoming budget.
Redmond was regarded as careerist and cliquish during his time in the UCDSU but even his detractors point to a ferocious work ethic. In 2009, having by that stage pretty much done every job going in the UCDSU, including a stint as ents officer, and having been a fulltime UCDSU employee since 2007, his hard work paid off. He was elected UCDSU president, narrowly beating his nearest rival, Donal Hanratty, by some 33 votes in an election that saw around 2,800 students cast their vote.
As UCDSU president, Redmond earned a reputation as someone who wouldn’t rock the boat. He had a very good relationship with the university authorities and was even asked by the college to run for a second term as UCDSU president. One indication of Redmond’s conformist credentials was his proposal to overturn a college ban on selling Coca Cola. This ban had been introduced in 2003 in protest against the multinational’s alleged involvement in paramilitary murders in Columbia, in solidarity with Columbian trade unionists. Redmond proposed a referendum on whether the ban should be overturned; a narrow majority of students agreed with him and voted to overturn the ban.
Redmond first began to eye up the big prize in student politics – USI president – before Christmas last. Early on in Redmond’s tenure, he and the president of Trinity Students Union, Conan O’Broin, teamed up and ran their own campaign against proposals to re-introduce third-level fees. This partnership would be mutually beneficial; later Redmond helped persuade O’Broin to run for deputy president at USI in a quid pro quo deal that would see O’Broin support Redmond’s bid for the USI presidency. This meant that each of the boys would have the backing of the two big Dublin colleges in the USI elections.
While Redmond was reasonably successful in grabbing the headlines and raising awareness about student issues, one stunt he was behind in August 2009 badly backfired. To campaign against proposals to re-introduce third-level fees, UCDSU took out a full-page advertisement in The Irish Times, which stated every TD’s position on the issue. Green Junior Minister Mary White was stated as being in favour of a means-tested system of fees and the UCDSU later lashed out at the Carlow TD, with Redmond telling a national paper that he believed FF to be “corrupting the once- principled Greens.”
This would have been a nice put-down were it not for the fact that the advertisement completely mis-stated the minister’s position: in fact she has consistently been against the re- introduction of fees. It transpired that when a UCDSU rep called the Oireachtas to speak to Mary White TD to seek her position, the rep had been put through to the office of FF Senator Mary White (FF). The UCDSU claimed that this was the fault of a Leinster House staff member and also claimed that it had written to Mary White TD twice to ask for her position, which she didn’t respond to. The UCDSU had to apologise to the livid junior minister, who still hasn’t forgiven the students for the cock-up, with her spokeswoman recently telling Goldhawk that she “believes she was damaged by the claim that she was in favour of the re-introduction of fees.”
With his year as head of UCDSU drawing to a close and with his profile raised considerably by his campaign against fees, the ambitious student leader’s next move was to seek the presidency of the USI. Redmond’s opponent was the incumbent USI Equality Officer, Linda Kelly, who had served in that position for two years. Redmond argued that while Kelly, who went to University College Cork (UCC), was away from the “coalface” of student activism, he was in the thick of it as president of UCDSU.
Kelly claimed that she had provided “continuity” within USI that Redmond couldn’t match but ultimately it was Redmond who won out. Last April, he defeated Kelly by just three votes in a 250-delegate race. It wasn’t exactly a case of the city slicker vs the culchie: Redmond had the backing of UCD, Trinity, and the Dublin Institute of Technologies, but was also supported by NUI Galway. Kelly, meanwhile, had the backing of her alma mater, UCC, as well as Queen’s University Belfast and a number of other Institutes of Technology. Redmond now looks very likely to seek re-election as USI president next year.
Whether he is successful in this or not is of course dependent on how he does in his first term. Redmond is faced with a very difficult task because students – like any number of interest groups – are certain to be targeted in the forthcoming budget, with at least another 5% reduction in the student grant likely (which was reduced by 5% last year) as well as a reduction in the threshold for which students can qualify for the grant. An increase in registration charges is also likely. The difficulty for Redmond is how best he can limit the damage that will inevitably be wrought in the budget. While Goldhawk expects Redmond to pull his fair share of stunts and to make some noise in the media – he was recently pictured with a papier-mâché of Minister Batt O’Keefe beside a plaque reading, ‘Department of Unemployment and Emigration’– this may not be enough if the students finally wake up. Perhaps the students too are ready to return to the barricades?"