home Features An interview with outgoing UCCSU President Alan Hayes

An interview with outgoing UCCSU President Alan Hayes

With the end of another academic year here at UCC comes the natural cycling of new SU Officers into their recently-won positions. Alongside this, of course, a thought must be spared for those who are on their way out. Having completed his year at the masthead of the UCC student body, Alan Hayes is currently wrapping things up in the closing months of his Presidency. For Alan in particular, the winding-down of his role as President marks the end of an era. Having graduated with a degree in Social Science this year, Alan’s departure from the SU also marks the end of his time as an Undergraduate student at UCC. From the early days of seeking nominations and campaigning, to the months of full-time work and responsibility to a vast body of students, Alan Hayes sat down with the University Express to reflect on all aspects of his 2018-2019 Presidency.

Hailing from county Kilkenny, Hayes attended St. Kieran’s College secondary school – a school well-renowned for hurling. From here, Alan went on to develop a keen interest in music, citing his current main hobbies as “singing, and playing the guitar and drums”. This was a skill which would prove to be useful during Hayes’ campaign for the Presidency back in early 2018, when he uploaded a video of himself to Facebook, performing an original version of Taylor Swift’s ‘Everything Has Changed’ – which encouraged students to “Vote Hayes”. At the time of writing, the video has amassed over 15K views on Hayes’ still-existing campaign Facebook page.

Coming to UCC after receiving a Quercus Active Citizenship scholarship for his work in co-founding and directing the Thomas Hayes Trust in Kilkenny, Alan has a long history of charity work and activism. Alan cites his work with the Thomas Hayes Trust as being his “main motivation for running for the position of SU President”. The Trust, named in memory of Alan’s late brother Thomas, “provides free counselling services for families affected by suicide and supports for people contemplating suicide”. Alan’s involvement with such a powerful organisation led him to believe that he would be “a good person to focus more on what the students need in UCC, rather than what they want” – and thus, his interest in running for an SU position began.

“The Students’ Union was always something that I thought was prestigious, and I never really thought that someday that could be me in the SU”, Alan confesses while recounting where it all began. “As the years went by, I found myself identifying gaps within the student experience and I felt that I could do something about them”. Then, at the beginning of 2018, after taking inspiration from his role within the Thomas Hayes Trust, Alan took the leap and began to get his campaign underway. “The election process was exhausting, but if I could go back in the morning to relive it all I would”. For Alan, the rewards undoubtedly outweigh the gruelling burden of work that an SU campaign inevitably brings. “I was very lucky with the team I had around me, and my girlfriend Grace was the real driving force behind it all. During the election campaign, I kept saying to my team to just give it their all, and thankfully they were incredible”. With the help of a passionate team, along with some impressive social media campaigning, Alan powered through the election process; and as we all know, came out with the victory on the 8th of March 2018. “What started out as just myself and Grace collecting signatures quickly turned to a campaign team of over 30 people. I’ll never forget the feeling of my name being called out and the roar from my team”.

A lot has happened since Alan was officially deemed elected as UCCSU President in early 2018. Reflecting back on everything now, he describes the year as being “a rollercoaster of emotions”. Leaving one’s studies behind to take on a full-time role with SU is an undoubtedly daunting and stressful feat. For Alan, it seems that his time as President has served as somewhat of a learning experience, along with everything else. “I’ve really discovered what I’m comfortable doing and what I’m not comfortable doing. I’ve enjoyed being put in to situations where it was sink or swim”. Overall, Alan is evidently happy with how the outgoing SU has performed over the course of the past year. “I feel that things went well this year. We’ve done so much that will have a lasting effect on students for years to come”.

I ask Alan to give us a breakdown of what he feels were the outgoing SU’s most important accomplishments. Right at the top of his list are the strides made in the area of mental health, which was a massive focus’ of Hayes’ own SU manifesto. “Since being elected, we established a new link-up between the counselling department and Niteline. Which meant that there is now an opportunity for students to be referred to counselling by Niteline. We also helped to introduce drop-in counselling.” In terms of policy changes, Alan regards the reviewing of UCC’s mental health policy as being “the most important thing that we did regarding mental health”. The policy, which previously hadn’t been reviewed since 2011, is an important document in terms of how mental health is dealt with throughout UCC in a professional manner. “As of May, we will have a new mental health policy for staff dealing with students”.

Also noted in Alan’s list of accomplishments are the advances made in pushing for Autism-friendly spaces on campus. “We worked hard this year to push UCC in the direction of being an Autism-friendly university. Our proposal was approved, and we received funding to renovate the Old Bar in to an Autism-friendly space”. Alan mentions a host of further achievements made by the SU over the course of the past year. “We have plenty of achievements from the [past] year. Some of these would be pledging UCC to be plastic-free by 2023, supporting the Emergency Care Society in their venture to be Ireland’s first student response team [and] supporting the Pharmacy students in their protests regarding fees. The ‘Can You See It?’ mental health campaign resonated with our students also”.

Arguably, serving a year as SU President wouldn’t quite be complete without a scandal or two. For Alan Hayes, this came along on February 15th of 2019, when he was impersonated on live radio during Cork 96fm’s Opinion Line show. The show, hosted by 96fm’s PJ Coogan, was discussing the behaviour of UCC students across the city during 2019’s RAG week. Hayes’ impersonator chatted with Coogan for a good five minutes, making controversial claims and aggressively defending the antisocial behaviour being reported against some UCC students throughout the week. Recalling the morning that the impersonation took place, Alan still seems to be somewhat in disbelief about the whole ordeal. “That was just madness to be honest. I was very busy that morning and my phone started buzzing with messages from my friends, saying ‘Alan, you’re on the radio, but it’s not you’. I immediately rang the station and cleared it all up, as I was concerned about some of the things he said. The weirdest thing is he actually tried to represent [UCC] students, but he did say a lot of things that I wouldn’t say”. Alan went on air shortly after to clarify everything, and later published a tweet with the hashtag ‘#FakePresident’, in an effort to further clear his name. “96fm were fine to deal with, but they left the podcast up on their website for three days [after the impersonation], which didn’t sit well with me. However, they took it down as soon as I informed them”. It was an unprecedented SU fiasco, with the bright side for Alan perhaps being that it arose through no fault of his own. “The bottom line is it shouldn’t have happened. It shouldn’t be easy for someone to ring up and pretend to be someone else. [96fm] gave him an opportunity to say anything that he wanted, while representing someone else”.

With the accomplishments far outweighing the scandals, it’s only fair to say that Alan Hayes has had nothing short of a fantastic year in his time as UCCSU President. Leaving his time in the SU behind and looking to the future, Alan – like any sensible man – is as of yet uncertain about what is waiting for him down the line. “I’m not really sure where I’m going to be this time next year, but I am excited to see what comes next for me. I’m incredibly privileged to have served a year as SU president and I’m looking forward to using all the priceless experience that I’ve gained this year”. Alan’s time in the SU is quickly coming to a close, but for many other UCC students in future years, the prospect of serving as SU President lies open and ready for the taking. For those looking to follow in the footsteps that he has paved over the course of the past year, Alan offers the following sentiment of guidance: “If you can recognise the gaps in the student experience, and you feel that you can change things, then I would highly recommend running for the SU”.