Current Affairs Editor Adam Dinan talks to Students’ Union President elect Ben Honan
Given his stature, Ben Honan cuts an intimidating figure. A tall, dark haired basketball coach who could probably pick most people up with one hand, he is actually surprisingly gentle when you engage him. Wearing his trademark zip-up hoody and blue jeans, he greats me with a friendly handshake and accepts my congratulations modestly. “I’ve spent most of the past few days sleeping to be honest”. It’s not surprising; last week, he was elected the new President of UCC Students’ Union having taken on and beaten the incumbent officer.
“It was a very draining and tiring experience … these elections really aren’t a healthy thing to go through!” He smiles. “But they’re also very rewarding, we had a huge team, a very active team and I’m really proud, I hope I can restore their faith in me.” He looks earnestly with wide eyes and leans forward in his chair, it’s clear that he genuinely means it. Given the introduction of a spending cap of €500 for all sabbatical election campaigns this year, the mood on campus – though still hectic – was noticeably more civilised than in previous years. “I do think it helped, people were forced to be a bit more innovative in how they approached things; it added a personal touch that I really enjoyed.”
With all the hustle and bustle since the results came in, Honan could be forgiven for not having sat down to work just yet, but he does have a clear plan of action for the year ahead. “I’ve got big picture stuff and small picture stuff that I want to work on,” he enthuses. “In terms of the big picture, I’m trying to reconnect people with the Union as much as possible.” On this front, he is pleased that students voted in favour of splitting the Deputy Presidential position into Campaigns and Communications portfolios. “Now that we’ll have a full-time campaigns officer, someone who can give their full attention to the job, it will help a lot. They’ll be working closely with me, so I think that reconnecting with the students will be very achievable for us.”
He is big on the issue of college pride, which he says has been lacking in recent times. “Ideally, I’d like to work with clubs and societies. There are a lot of things which should make us proud to be in UCC; we’ve got fantastic debating teams and sports clubs. We should make people feel a connection with that.” He also believes that the Students’ Union can play its part in this reconnection process. “The Union, as it is, is quite disjointed.” He clearly feels strongly about the matter. “People are going on solo runs, and perhaps the workload could be a bit more overlapping and spread out, rather than having different people doing entirely different, even conflicting, jobs. That’s not a personal slant on anyone, it’s a structural thing, and I think that from the get-go we need to have a cohesive approach next year and it’ll be my responsibility to ensure that it happens.”
While he is happy to take the responsibility on his shoulders, he recognises that there is a high level of bureaucracy within the University structure that will prove time-consuming once he assumes his new role. “On a personal level, I don’t want to sit on a load of boring committees, but of course students need to be represented. These committees will go ahead either way, so all I can do is try to do my best for students on them. This is a bureaucratic job in some ways, I’ve just got to get on with it.”
In terms of reform, Class Council, the decision making body above the Students’ Union executive consisting of all Class Reps from across the University, is something which he picks out. “I think, for a start, class reps should be primarily accountable to their class and not to the council. It should only be the class who have the power to punish or to remove a rep. In terms of promotion, we need to be doing more than giving free drinks and pizza to encourage people to attend, because it clearly isn’t working.”
Honan also has a renewed mandate for opposition to third level fees, after close to 90% of voters came out in favour of maintaining the campaign. “I’ve said previously that I don’t see fees as being the number one priority in the year ahead. Ruairi Quinn, the new Minister for Education, was part of the government that initially abolished third-level fees, and he also signed USI’s anti-fee pledge recently.” He seems eager to stress the point that he doesn’t take it for granted. “There will be a lot of things to fight, but I don’t see fees as being as big a priority as they have been in previous years.”
Ben answers your questions
“If you could change one thing about the SU this year, what would it have been?”
I think the Union needs to present more of a united front. I saw one of the officers this year was publicly attacked on an internet forum board, and not a single fellow officer came on to defend them. I think that the SU needs to be seen as a brand; every thing that an officer does is a public representation of the Union. If an officer speaks, the Union speaks. If an officer is attacked, the Union is attacked. Particularly with the sabbatical officers. If someone does something wrong, the Union should rally behind them but deal with the matter internally. You have to present a united front as much as possible.
“Do you still plan to introduce a Farmers’ Market in UCC next year?”
This is something that I put in my manifesto, and something that I’m very excited about, I spoke to a lot of people on the campaign trail about the idea. It’s done in UL to great effect, there’s a perfect spot for it in UCC. I think it’s awful that it hasn’t been done in UCC yet, and I’ve already received contact from people interest in getting involved in the running of it. I know a group of students have already been working away on the idea, and I plan to sit down with them and talk to them about it. Hopefully come September, we can have one up and running in UCC.
“What are your plans for Motley next year?”
Audrey Dearing, Motley Features Editor
I’ve no specific plans on a personal level. I love Motley, and I’m happy that there’ll now be a specific Communications officer who will have a bit more time to dedicate to it and to make all UCC publications a bit more financially viable, but I am very keen for Motley to continue next year. Of course, it has to remain autonomous but I’d definitely like to show support in terms of strong Union backing.
“Where do you buy your tall-man hoodies?”
Daithi Linnane, Deputy President Students’ Union
I’ve actually had to reform my dress sense in recent times… I’m only allowed wear my tall-man hoodies once a week now. But if anyone wants some, I’ll have a few lying around that I’m not using anymore. I don’t think they’d fit Daithi though
“How do you deal with your grey hair?”
The elections probably haven’t helped, I think it’s rapidly increasing at the current rate … I’d also question why a CIT student is being given space in a UCC magazine!
“Despite there being an SU president from Limerick City serving just the year before last, there was a distinct and disappointing lack of free yokes on campus. As you hail from marginally closer to the national cultural centre of yokes, Shanaboolie, can we expect loads of free yokes next year?”
My heart goes out to you Julia, but unfortunately in economic terms, by giving out free yokes, we would destroy the yoke trade and a lot of people wouldn’t be happy about that. (Disclaimer, I’m completely opposed to drug use!)
“As a basketball man, who do you think is going to win the NCAA basketball championship this year?”
I think Duke got a bit of a hiding, so they’d. I think I should sit down with you and fill out a bracket some night, but for the moment I’m gonna go with the ‘Tar Heels’, North Carolina University.
“Do you prefer to high-five or bonesed?”
I have yet to discover what bonesing actually is! If you mean fist-pumping, then I think it’s highly appropriate for a more low-key celebration, whereas a high five is more exuberant. So it depends on the circumstances.