“We have seen the radical student movement reawaken”: USI’s Student Achievement Awards

May 6, 2024
Five students (members of TCD SU) stand on stage behind their president as he gives a speech.

Lázló Molnárfi and members of TCDSU on stage at USI SAAI, Dublin. Photo: USI

Last Thursday May 2nd, a cohort of Ireland’s student activists, union officers, unions, and societies gathered at the Sugar Club in Dublin 2 to celebrate the achievements of the academic year. Held by the Union of Students Ireland (USI), the Student Achievement Awards Ireland (SAAI) have been running for eleven years and recognise the work of individuals and groups involved in the student movement in Ireland.

This year, STAND sponsored two awards, Student Activist of the Year and Environmental and Sustainability Activism of the Year. The three short-listed nominees for Student Activist of the Year were Baisat Alawiye (MSU), Annabel Biddulph (TUDSU) and László Molnárfi (TCDSU). 

Molnárfi won the award for his continuous activist work throughout his time at Trinity College, and in this past year as TCD SU President. Molnárfi and his union have worked towards not just on-campus change, but systemic change, challenging power structures, and lobbying for the rights of students and other oppressed peoples. He was also awarded the President’s Award.

Molnárfi spoke out about the importance of student grassroots movements: “Power is with us, with students and workers on our university campuses. It is in trade unions and in Student Unions. And we must always remember that”

“Power is with us, with students and workers on our university campuses. It is in trade unions and in Student Unions. And we must always remember that”

Lázló Molnárfi, TCD SU President 2023-2024.
A dim, red-walled room. Audience of around 50 people in black tie.

SAAI Awards audience, Dublin. Photo: USI.

The three short-listed nominees for Environmental and Sustainability Activism of the Year were Molly Hickey (CMLOG), Queen’s Student Union and Dearbhla Richardson (UCCSU).  Dearbhla Richardson was presented the award for her work as UCCSU Environmental & Sustainability Representative. In this role, Richardson worked to get three of UCC’s badges granting access to COP28 redistributed to climate activists from South Africa, Kenya, and Columbia. She is also active in Fridays for Future Cork and is a Youth Climate Ambassador for Concern Worldwide.

This year, the SAAI’s came at a turbulent and important time in student politics. That very morning, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) had been fined €214,000 by Trinity College, which was mentioned by various speakers throughout the night. This fine was issued in response to TCDSU’s numerous protests of the rising tuition and rent prices on campus, in which they blockaded the Book of Kells. In a statement released on May 2nd, Trinity College said that the student protests “had a negative financial impact as visitors could not enter,” and stated that the fine was issued in order to cover these costs.

The majority of student unions in Ireland have also been vocal about supporting Palestine. Many Irish campuses have active Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movements who are condemning their institutions’ ties to Israeli universities and companies, and silence about the genocide ongoing in Palestine. 

TCD BDS recently erected an encampment on campus to show solidarity with Palestine and to increase the pressure on Trinity College to sever ties to Israel. The encampment was successful, with Trinity releasing a statement on Wednesday in which they vowed to divest from all Israeli companies by June. In UCD, students protested against Nancy Pelosi being awarded an honorary degree by the university. UCDSU president Martha Ní Riada shouted, “Pelosi is a Zionist and a war criminal,” before being forcibly removed from the ceremony. 

Queen’s University Belfast occupied the entrance to campus and the Lanyon Building on Tuesday of this week, University College Cork SU has condemned the college’s lack of statement on the genocide in Palestine, University of Galway is holding an emergency march tomorrow, and Maynooth University SU are lobbying the university to employ a “sector-wide Boycott, Divest, Sanction policy.”

Over the past year, students have also held protests and events for causes such as sustainability, trans rights, women’s rights, and the housing crisis. The night ended with NCI Students’ Union, MTU Cork Students’ Union, and TCDSU winning awards for Small, Medium and Large Students’ Unions of the year respectively. The overall tone of the evening was one of joy and determination, and a welcome reminder that there is power in a (student) union.

A full list of nominees and awardees can be found on USI’s Instagram account.