Dublin City University (DCU) students protested increased accommodation costs outside Dáil Eireann this afternoon, as part of the Shanowen Shakedown campaign. The protest took place as Teachta Dala (TDs) sat for the first time after the Easter recess.
The DCU students were joined by several Take Back Trinity campaigners, creating a crowd of approximately 25 students outside the gates of Leinster House. The students are calling for the creation of a rent cap on student accommodation, to prevent large price hikes.
The Dáil protest is the third direct action from DCU students this year, sparked by the news of a 27% rent increase in the Shanowen Square student accommodation complex and a 23.5% rent increase for the nearby Shanowen Halls for next year’s tenants. Both complexes are inhabited by DCU students, who have been contacting Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy and Shanowen management over the issue throughout the past few weeks.
Student representatives, such as Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President Kevin Keane and Union of Students in Ireland (USI) President Michael Kerrigan, lent their support to the DCU protest today. Kerrigan gave a short speech, saying that the Take Back Trinity and Shanowen Shakesdown protests were only the beginning. “This is not just a Dublin issue, but it starts here,” he said.
Prior to the protest, Dublin City University Students’ Union (DCUSU) President Niall Behan told Trinity News: “We are protesting to firstly bring further attention to the realities concerning the gap in legislation dealing with student accommodation centres and their immunity from residential tenancy boards and rent caps.”
Purpose-built student accommodation does not fall under rent pressure zones, which limit rent increases to a maximum of 4% annually, as they are seen as a license rather than a tenancy. Kerrigan highlighted this at the National Homeless and Housing Coalition march last week, adding: “Even in private, rented accommodation, students do not benefit from rent pressure zones, as a new nine month lease is taken out every year.”
Today, Behan reiterated the campaign group’s aim to “put pressure on [Minister for Education and Skills] Richard Bruton and Mary Mitchell O’Connor to amend Minister Murphy’s rent cap legislation”.
Speaking to Newstalk after the first Shanowen Shakedown protest, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said: “Certain student accommodation is structured in different ways, so we’re looking at that at the moment to make sure that we can protect students”.
Murphy went on to describe the cost of living for students as “expensive” and that “accommodation is a very expensive component of that”. He also said that the government “have a plan to build student accommodation, to build thousands of new student accommodation units. And actually as we look at the plans now, we’re going to deliver in excess of about 1,500 more student bed places than were originally in the plans for student accommodation”.
In reference to Eoghan Murphy’s comment to Newstalk, Behan said: “We welcome Murphy’s recognition of the costs involved of being a student, and we are happy to hear of the plans to build more student accommodation.” He stressed that action is also needed now, however, “before the market allows for further increases”.
“We understand basic supply and demand and we do not wish for the Minister to interfere directly in a private companies price mechanisms, rather, introduce a cap that is understandings of the realities involved in the cost of going to college.”
The Shanowen Shakedown campaign group said that Shanowen management have not commented on the protests. They claim that Shanowen Square management threatened legal action in response to accommodation conditions the campaign group claim to have exposed. At the time of publication, Shanowen Square management had not responded to a request for comment from Trinity News.
On Monday, DCUSU Vice President Craig McHugh and representative of the Shanowen Shakedown campaign Sorcha Murphy met with Fine Gael TD Helen McEntee, Minister for European Affairs, about rising student accommodation costs.
In a Facebook post McEntee stated that the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government met with DCUSU and that both departments “are looking at any challenges in recent legislation that might allow major hikes in rent for students”. McEntee continued: “THIS MUST BE ADDRESSED. 24% increase in one year alone is completely unacceptable”.