Dáil students demonstrate against housing crisis

Students from across the country gather in front of the Dáil to highlight the third-level housing crisis, which they say is worse than ever.

The protest is organized by the Students’ Union of Ireland, which said some students are being forced to postpone or drop out of third-level classes due to lack of suitable accommodation.

Some of those who have gathered will sleep outside the Dáil overnight to highlight the problem.

USI President Claire Austick said there was tremendous anger and frustration among students who felt the government had ignored the situation for too long.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Ms Austick said the housing shortage was not a Covid-related issue and that students should have the right to stay in secure accommodation.

She said students staying in hotels or guesthouses would not be able to cook for themselves or properly enjoy the university experience and called for more specially designed accommodation to be provided.

“Access to education is not just about walking through the door… it is also having a place to stay and that is often forgotten,” she said.

Ms Austick said the government must commit to long-term sustainable solutions and provide capital grants to higher education institutions to provide housing, so that students in the years to come do not face the same problems.

Dublin City University (DCU) called on the state to provide mechanisms to support the construction of affordable student housing.

Commenting ahead of the protest, the university criticized proposals in the government’s universal housing plan, which it said are based on a false assumption.

He questioned what he said were suggestions in the plan that extending loan facilities to third-tier system institutions would solve the supply problem.

In a statement, DCU said that even with the availability of profitable loans from the European Investment Bank and the Housing Finance Agency, “escalating construction costs mean that it is now simply not not profitable for universities to undertake the construction of student housing “.

The university said currently the cost of building a single additional student bed exceeds € 150,000 “and this is expected to increase further with construction industry inflation exceeding 10% per year.”

He said the rental levels that should be charged to finance construction and ensure continued investment to maintain housing would be beyond the ability to pay of most students and their families.

The university said that although it has no evidence of postponements due to lack of housing, “we are aware from our students’ union of the significant pressure this deficit is putting on students and their families. families “.

He said using local hotels and guesthouses as an interim measure is not sustainable.

DCU President Daire Keogh said: “Demand now far exceeds supply. This will inevitably create a family income-based barrier to entry into higher and further education.

“A sustainable solution is urgently needed to enable the sector to provide additional affordable student housing. This will require creative solutions and incentives to make the construction and maintenance of new student housing cost effective and to enable universities to offer housing at an affordable price.

Echoing comments from other student leaders, DCU student union president Terence Rooney said the crisis had worsened significantly this year.

“We are seeing guesthouses and hotels in the surrounding area filling up to capacity as emergency accommodation for students, and many students will choose to defer because attending university this year is simply too much. unaffordable and unsustainable. “

Mr Rooney called for immediate action to prevent more and more students from postponing and dropping out.

Accommodation is “impossible to find anywhere”

Waterford IT Student Union President Rachel McCartney said one in ten WIT students – around 1,000 – are homeless.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, she described the situation as “absolutely ridiculous”.

“Unfortunately, I don’t see a quick fix unless houses can appear overnight.”

Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) student union president Colin Kearney called the plight of Galway students a “disaster”.

“We cover Galway City and rural towns outside of Galway… and the housing crisis has never touched Letterfrack before,” Mr Kearney said.

He said more than 10% of students at Letterfrack, 85km from Galway City, are on waiting lists for accommodation and are forced to commute.

Second-year GMIT student Therese Pine said she stayed in hotels to avoid commuting for several hours to and from her home in Kilmaley in County Clare.

“It is even very difficult to have time to study, because it is almost 8 pm when I am at home.”

She said accommodation is “impossible to find anywhere”.

In Limerick, Mary Immaculate College has, for the first time, entered into accommodation agreements with hotels in the city, and in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, where it has a smaller campus, for students to pay. up to 390 € per week for five nights. to stay.

College accommodation manager John Randles said the housing shortage is much more extreme this year compared to previous years, citing distance learning in the past year and a half, and homes that were available for students became lengthy. term rentals.

There has also been a dramatic drop in the number of people offering traditional “dike” accommodation to students.

Question raised in Dáil

The Tánaiste told the Dáil that “the students have suffered a lot from this pandemic”.

Speaking during questions from leaders, Leo Varadkar said Covid-19 has had a “significant impact” on accommodation on campus, as shared rooms are generally not currently offered.

It also appears that fewer people are offering digs, he said.

However, the initial payments for student accommodation have been removed, he added.

He was responding to Pearse Doherty of Sinn Féin who said many people are suffering from government failures on housing.

He said the government should be ashamed of overseeing “a crisis that is ruining people’s lives.”

MP Doherty said it had a “profound effect” on access to education and affected students.

Emma O Kelly Additional Reports

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