Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Big Interview: Aengus Ó Maoláin

El Presidente chats with The Observer

This week's Big Interview is just that, as we have been granted among the first interviews with NUI Maynooth's President-elect, Aengus Ó Maoláin. Having won the election convincingly, we sit down (metaphorically) with Aengus, and talk success, Lefties, and....Van Halen?!

How was the whole campaign experience for you?

It was brilliant. I have never had a more demanding and enjoyable month than this February. My campaign manager and I had every hour of the day time-tabled out in the most detail I've ever lived by and the last ten days were insane, 19 hours a day, with specific tasks every half an hour, from when to take my flu meds to which class I had to address next and where.

That probably makes it sound terrible but while all of that was happening I got to meet hundreds if not thousands of wonderful people and listen to what they wanted from their SU, share a joke, even just a casual conversation about Leinster's chances this season. The day after the count I was like a lost puppy, with no idea what to do, and adjusting back to normal life will probably take a while, but I have had a fantastic experience, that will stand to me for the rest of my life.

Why did you decide to run in the first place?

The first person to ask me about running for the SU was a girl in my class called Fran and I think I laughed in her face, I didn't think I had the requisite personality or the arrogance to go for the job. But in the months after that first conversation people started talking to me more seriously about it. Then there was the ICTU day of action, and the Bertie protest and a few serious talks with friends, and people started mentioning my name without my knowledge. I knew we needed a strong leader in the SU, and I knew I wanted a left-wing voice, but only by the end of the first semester did I think that it might be me.

By December one person in particular was texting me daily with sentiments like 'do what people do in marathons' and I finally had to say to everyone, I'll think about it over Christmas and let you know in the new year. When I finally sat down on Stephen's Day I thought about it for about two seconds and just said, 'sure why not?' I made a few phone calls and talked to my family and girlfriend and next thing I knew we were planning a campaign.

What was the highlight of the campaign?

There are so many, having the craic with an Irish lecturer during a lecture address, the day the smiley-face stickers arrived, the first big night in Brady's when I was mobbed like a celebrity, seeing my pile of votes on count-day... Overall the kindness and love I was shown by all my friends, old and new, over the course of the entire campaign.

The worst point?

I think the worst point had to be the meeting when Sarah, Ronan and I finalised the manifesto in three hours, and were going quietly insane. We laugh about it now, but we honestly tried to solve the parking problem in two minutes at one stage. Another low point was just before Hustings when my flu meds had me kind of stoned and I honestly thought I wasn't going to make it through the speech!

Do you feel you ran a good race?

I do, I think I threw everything I had into this campaign and had a fantastic team to help me out. Most importantly for me, all five candidates managed to keep the campaign completely positive and clean, unlike some of the other races.

What would you have done differently?

I probably could have spent a bit more time studying...

What did you think about the result?

Absolutely shocked. From the moment the polls closed to the moment I saw the initial count I was convinced I had lost, maybe it was a defence mechanism, but I honestly had no idea I would win, let alone on the first count. To be honest it still hasn't really sunk in, and I keep expecting a phone call telling me the whole thing has to be done again, or that there was some horrible error, but until then, I'm laughing!

What's next for you?

Well I've got four months before I take office, and I have a pretty huge thesis to get done, so as well as going to all the USI things with Brian, I'll be mainly concentrating on that. I've also got commitments with the Chamber Choir and NUIM Labour which will keep my free time pretty packed. I'm already looking forward to the first day in the office and getting the first point checked off my manifesto. I hope to sit down with Gav, Tara, Shelly and Jason at some stage in the next few weeks and get some of their manifesto ideas worked out as well.

As the campaign favourite from the very beginning, were you confident that you would win? Did any of the other candidates give you a scare throughout the course of the election?

Sigh, every time someone called me 'the favourite' a chill went up my spine. I had high hopes that I would win, but never once took it for granted. Every time I thought about staying in bed a few minutes longer, I just thought about the prize and how much I wanted to win. As for the other candidates, its safe to say they all gave me a scare at one stage or another. Shelly's campaign team were really strong and passionate, and made genuine personal connections in a way that wasn't in my strategy. Tara had green week which was really scary, as I though it was a massive boost for her campaign. Gav's team were dedicated and high-visibility and Jason was always a threat, with the constant reminders of his 'surprises' and his tendency to monopolise the time of my canvassers. Maybe it was my own insecurity speaking, but I never once believed I had it in the bag.

It has been suggested that you and some other contestants for the other Union positions considered yourself the "dream team." How much of a dream is the team that got elected? How well do you think you would have worked with the Exec if none of your running mates had been elected? Or if yourself had not been elected would the likes of Rob have worked with Jason or Gavin?

Ok, first off I should explain how this "dream team" thing came about. Initially it was suggested that Rob, Declan, James Boyle and myself would make a dream team as we all post on that then morphed into a presumed ticket which I at no point endorsed. Of the seven candidates for the other two sabbats I was good friends with five of them before the campaign and became mates with the remaining two during. I knew Rob and James best obviously but I never backed either of them publicly. In fact the only candidate I canvassed for was Shmick Hughes as he was running unopposed for St. Pat's Rep. So, I have issues with this 'running mates' question.

How would I have worked with the exec if none of my mates had been elected, just fine thanks! And if it had gone the other way I trust in the professionalism and integrity of all the candidates for every position to work under whoever the voters chose as President.

I feel sorry for James, as I know he would have made an excellent VP Welfare, but so would Lydia, Mark and Mary, and I get on very well with Liz as it is so I have no problems in that regard.

Although you have been supportive in the run up to the USI referendum, you were slightly allusive to whether you supported it or not at hustings and during your campaign. Was this out of not wanting to split your vote or for fear that it would not pass?

I am delighted Maynooth has rejoined USI, and I voted in favour of that. I could have been more partial on this issue, but I decided early on to take no sides in any other election or referendum, and that extended to the USI referendum as well. No tactics, no fears, just good politics, sorry!

Did you think USI would win in such a landslide?

I did, the No campaign was very weak and the one significant piece of No campaigning was horrible and transparent. Maybe I thought it would be more like 60 / 40 but the FEE lads and USI themselves put in the hard work on the ground that their opponents did not.

On their twitter page Labour Youth posted "NUIM students' union election sees 4 of our members elected. In a college where we had no branch a year ago, this is a terrific day!" What is you belief on associating student politics with party politics?

The reason students are so often overlooked by National politicians is that they refuse to involve themselves in national politics. I believe that if we, as students, want to get ourselves listened to we must vote, we must get involved with parties, and we must join parties. I will be very strong on this point, I am a member of the Labour Party, and I joined that party because they have the policies that are closest to my own beliefs. At no stage did I consider myself 'the Labour candidate' nor should I have done, but I am proudly a member of Labour and am flattered that my party are proud of my branch!

Do not for a second doubt that I will protest against Labour with all my heart as SU President though, if they go against our beliefs as students of Maynooth.

And what do you say to those who elected you, not the Labour Party and believe they have just inadvertently elected a party they don't follow?

I would say this, you have elected a dedicated activist from the left who will work tirelessly on your behalf. From the first of July on I am first and foremost the President of Maynooth SU. I will be encouraging our other elected members to comport themselves likewise.

Many people see your election and the majority of left wing candidates being elected as a positive while others as an extreme negative. What's your opinion on this and do you see it as an overall swing in national opinion on our public representatives?

I think the majority of lefties on the exec is a good thing personally, but am pleased to see at least one FFer get elected as a good argument is worth hours of personal thought. I have had some fabulous arguments with Joe Byrne which have helped cement my own views, and the more opinions at a table the better the eventual decision. However, many of the members of my own team and supporters came from every possible part of the political spectrum, even after my election one person warned me that he will disagree with me from time to time, and I welcome that. Ultimately the SU is run by Union Council and it is they that set the direction of Union policy.

Does this election represent a national swing to the left? I don't believe so, I think people voted for the best candidates for the job, not for their political leanings.

As President will you be taking an active and vocal role in the fight against Fees? Do you see this as a winnable battle, or one of the many sacrifices need to be made in order to control the economy? And if so is the fight just for public opinion?

Yes of course I will. University fees are sadly a reality already, and it is a primary objective to ensure that the University obey the legislation which allows them spend a proportion of the registration fee so long as student groups are consulted. To date this has not happened. I completely oppose any rise in the fee and will demand a full say in how the University spends your money.

The economy is suffering because thousands of graduates are leaving the country instead of investing in the country by getting a job and paying tax here. If, for example, the government allowed graduates fill vacant teaching jobs, instead of standing in a dole queue, we would not be wasting the investment in free education. Charging fees for University is a ridiculous solution to our economic woes, it says "let's get out of the recession by having a less attractive work force for foreign investors." So no, I don't give any time to the argument that free education is a luxury we can do without.

This year has been regarded by some as "the year of the Left" for NUIM politics, with a number of campaigns being successful. Who do you see as the main organisers of this and why now in Maynooth when it is regarded for being a conservative college? What have you and Labour Youth done in this historic year that can be attributed?

I believe the reason for the Left's successes this year has been the unprecedented level of co-operation between the various hews of red around campus. I took the view early in the year to involve NUIM LY in the Social Solidarity Network and assist FEE when we agreed, which turned out to be almost all the time. We took a leading role in both the Bertie Ahern campaign and the ICTU Day of Action by using our union contacts and friends in the media and by using our own not insignificant membership and visibility on campus to bulk up already extant campaigns.

I wrote an article for the print in November where I pointed out a few major problems which people were ignoring, and encouraged FEE and other groups to focus on the major national problems as well as unique Maynooth issues. I hope that had some impact, but I believe the strength of LY's input into the major campaigns was due to our interest in lending what little credibility we had, where people might have ignored a Workers Solidarity Movement protest, a Labour banner drew a little more interest.

However, the struggle is not over and for the next 16 months I encourage everyone to get me doing what I said I would, and if anyone has any problems I can help with send me an email and I'll get on it happily.

As a Music student, what music are you listening to now? Have you had a campaign theme song and what victory music did you play on Thursday night?

Right now I'm listening to Viderunt Omnes by Perotin, but just before that I was listening to Jump by Van Halen, and before that Nothing but a Casablanca Cold Turtle Slide Show Dinner by Jeff Neve. So, my taste in music is pretty varied!

I don't think we had a theme song but I Got the Power by Snap was one proposal we considered for a while! Yellow Submarine with the words changed to 'yellow smiley face' got an outing during election day. At the party on Thursday I started out by playing Come Together by the Beatles with Rock Soc in O'Neill's and probably finished with The Red Flag sung at top volume by the lefties in Sarah's flat!

And finally, what's your favourite small kitchen appliance?

By far the hardest question so far. I'm going to go with my portable coffee mug.


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