Over a hundred people attended a demonstration outside the offices of Dublin City Council on Wood Key this afternoon. UCDSU organised the protest in response to comments made by DCC CEO, Owen Keegan, in communication with SU President Ruairí Power.

The event attracted many activists and politicians including Richard Boyd-Barrett, Rebecca Moynihan and Cian O’Callaghan among others. Speaking before the protest, the student unions Campaign and Engagement Officer Darryl Horan told the College Tribune that ‘he (Owen Keegan) has to resign, we want him to resign.’ He also said the protest ‘is on two parts, it’s on student accommodation and its on him.’

Today’s protest was a result of correspondence exchanged between Owen Keegan and Ruairí Power who originally contacted the DCC CEO regarding the decision to allow Uninest to convert 571 student flats into ‘temporary’ tourist accommodation. In a subsequent letter, Keegan suggested to Power that the union should become developers to provide ‘Power-cost student accommodation for its members.’

The comments sparked backlash including from the Taoiseach and Táiniste. It also inspired today’s demonstration in Dublin city centre.

One of the speakers at the event was Sinn Féin spokesperson for further and higher education, Rose Conway Walsh who told the crowd that ‘things have to change,’ before adding ‘with students in poor accommodation and people being pushed into poverty, it can not go on, it is no longer acceptable.’

Sinn Féin Further and Higher Education Spokesperson Rose Conway Walsh

People Before Profit TD, Richard Boyd-Barrett gave a passionate speech. Speaking about Keegan’s comments, he said ‘sometimes the mask slips and you get a glimpse of the attitudes that leave us with the unprecedented student accommodation crisis.’ He added that it shows ‘the true contempt that well-paid people at the top of our society who are not accountable to anybody, who is not elected by anybody, the contempt they show for people who are really suffering. He concluded by calling on students to make the most of their ‘special responsibility,’ by ‘fighting not only for your own rights but to lead other people affected by the housing crisis.’

After the protest, the College Tribune spoke to Cian O’Callaghan, the Social Democrats housing spokesperson and another speaker at today’s event. He described the letters from Owen Keegan as ‘absolutely disgraceful’ and said ‘converting student accommodation into short term letting in the middle of a housing crisis is completely outrageous and cannot be justified under any grounds.’ 

O’Callaghan went on to discuss the alternative strategy being proposed by the Social Democrats including the funding of 20,000 public homes to be built each year which he said could ‘massively take off some of the pressures in terms of supply and in terms of rents. He also said they want other measures saying ‘we want a rent freeze, we want a deposit protection scheme but if we don’t start building affordable cost rental we won’t really crack this and we need to be doing thousands of those.’

UCDSU President Ruairí Power also spoke to the College Tribune after the event and he spoke of his delight with getting ‘great solidarity from other student unions.’ The event heard speakers from several other student unions including Trinity, DCU and IADT among others. 

Power was also pleased with ‘the good political backing’ and said he is ‘looking forward to sitting down with Simon Harris and Darragh O’Brien over the coming weeks to discuss the scale of the accommodation crisis’ He also called for the National student accommodation scheme to be scrapped calling it ‘inadequate and described it as ‘handing universities and private providers a blank cheque to charge extortionate rents.’ 

Conor Paterson – Co-Editor