Stephen is a former member of the USI LGBT Campaign from 2005-2006 and has been heavily involved in the Irish political system for the greater part of a decade, most recently during the Marriage Equality referendum.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) announced on Tuesday October 27th that they would consider running a candidate against Senator Ronan Mullen in the National University of Ireland (NUI) Constituency “if he continues to represent hateful and outdated views”.
Since first being elected to the Seanad in 2007, Senator Mullen has not changed his views on any of the issues that USI oppose him on. From LGBT rights to abortion, Senator Mullen is the rival to USI and will continue to be despite any threats from USI.
In the most recent Seanad Elections in 2011, Senator Mullen topped the poll with 6,459 votes (19%) and was elected to the first seat. Twenty-Seven candidates contested that election.
Why do USI think that a candidate backed by them would damage Senator Mullen?
Senator Ronan Mullen is one of the most visible and active Senators among the University Senators. His run in the 2014 European Elections in the Midlands-North West Constituency where he received 36,326 votes has certainly raised his profile. That is more than the total number of voters in the 2011 NUI Seanad Election which totalled 33,831.
He played a high profile role in the No Side of the Marriage Equality referendum, taking part in many Television and Radio debates, further raising his profile.
While he failed to get elected and the no side lost the referendum, no damage was done to Senator Mullen and further entrenched him as a strong candidate in the eyes of his voters.
Senator Mullen is a well-financed candidate and according to his Standard’s in Public Office returns for 2014 he received €25,500 in donations from eleven individual donors. USI will find it hard to campaign against a candidate with such a large war-chest and a core donor base.
By running a candidate in an already crowded field, USI too could damage other progressive candidates such as Senator John Crowne. Senator Crowne who came 2nd in the 2011 election with 4,703 votes (14%), narrowly beating Feargal Quinn’s total of 4,591 (13%), could see his vote share decline if the USI was to run an anti-Mullen candidate.
This of course could see Ronan Mullen easily returned to the Seanad as his opposition is split.
David Barrett PhD student in Irish Politics in Trinity College Dublin says, ‘The USI and Mullen are targeting completely different constituencies. It suggests a misunderstanding of why people vote the way they do to think that suggesting that Mullen is hateful will somehow persuade his voters to switch to a candidate expressing the opposite view than what they have been voting for, for years. The USI would likely draw votes from those who never supported Mullen, which would not hurt his re-election prospects but would help him solidify his place as a likely poll-topper.’
With many USI Colleges outside the NUI Constituency including large colleges such as TCD and the institutes of technology, as well as UCD remaining outside of USI, plus a lack of an effective alumni contacting system, instead being dependent on its member unions, would make it very difficult for the USI to effectively challenge in the NUI Constituency.
If the Government passes the Seanad Electoral (University Members) (Amendment) Bill 2014, which is still at draft stage, to legislate for the Seventh Amendment passed in 1979 to extend the franchise of voters in the University Panel’s then the USI may have a hope, until then, any action taken by the USI to run another candidate in the NUI panel would surely backfire.
The USI would be far better off working with established candidates such as Senator John Crowne or working with organisations such as the National Youth Council of Ireland to run a candidate in the NUI Constituency and ensure another progressive voice in Seanad Eireann at the expense of one harking back to a different Ireland.