Take Back Trinity have tonight protested Leader of Fianna Fáil Micheál Martin, as he spoke to Trinity Political Society (PolSoc), as a guest speaker. The event, “The Homelessness Crisis, Micheál Martin”, took place in the Swift theatre this evening.
Explaining the actions, President of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), Oisín Vince Coulter, said: “From Monday onwards, right up to today, Tuesday evening, we’ve been in contact with his office requesting that he meet with student representatives to discuss the housing crisis. It proved very difficult to confirm a time, they insisted that it was going to be impossible. We needed a meeting now to discuss whether or not he was going to support the bill tomorrow. We were told eventually that he was going to ‘look out for us’ as he came in. As we saw, me and the President of the Students’ Union were standing outside of the lecture theatre. [He] didn’t even look at us, walked in to the lecture theatre, did not speak to us.”
Vince Coulter continued: “The reality is we don’t need a meeting in month with Michael Martin, we don’t need a meeting with his housing advisor or whatever, we need a meeting in order to confirm whether or not Fianna Fáil is going to support the motion on housing and homelessness tomorrow, which the Union of Students in Ireland has a democratic mandate to support. If they are going to abstain or vote against that motion, it raises serious questions about Fianna Fáil’s commitment on these issues and more generally why it is that they continue to prop up a government that has proven fundamentally incapable of tackling the crippling and disastrous housing and homelessness crisis and, in particular, the serious problems around student housing and student homelessness.”
A later press release from Vince Coulter and Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President Shane De Rís confirmed that Martin stopped to meet with the two Presidents after the talk: “We had a very frank and open conversation with Deputy Martin in which we stressed the impact of the housing crisis. We outlined, in particular, student homelessness, the inadequacy of the current rent pressure zones, as well as the other hardships faced by students as a result of the housing crisis. We outlined that thousands of students will be taking to the streets tomorrow in support of the motion coming before the Dáil and we pressed him and his party to support said motion. We hope that Fianna Fáil will listen to students, trade unions, and civil society, and vote in favour of tomorrow’s motion.”
In a statement made by Take Back Trinity, they noted that it was “almost certain” that Martin would “use this opportunity to make sharp-tongued criticisms of Fine Gael’s dismal record on housing”. They noted that these criticisms would “ring absolutely hollow, when Fianna Fáil’s own record on housing policy is examined more closely”.
They criticised his role in “facilitating the government’s disastrous market-led approach to the crisis through confidence and supply”. They accused Fianna Fáil of “[justifying] their approval of Fine Gael policy by making vague allusions to stability and the ‘national interest’”. They also wanted to know “who’s [sic] interest is Fianna Fáil truly serving”.
They looked to the past, and accused the “party of the Galway Tent and Brown Envelope” of leading the country into “absolute ruin, laying the foundations for the present crisis”. They recalled that in their 13 years of government “Fianna Fáil did no better than the current government in delivering social housing”.
They noted their confrontation of Micheál Martin, and how they would “attempt to cut through his spin and obfuscation and to correct the record that he is as much to blame for the present crisis as anyone in government”. In concluding, they noted that “politician like Micheál Martin are accustomed to fobbing off young people and their concerns, for us this demands confrontation and action”.
During the event, De Rís questioned Martin, asking him will Fianna Fáil support tomorrow’s private members bill, which comes alongside the Raise the Roof protest. Martin addressed this by saying this needed to be addressed through Budget 2019. He noted that his party supported “a lot of what was in that motion”.
Speaking to Trinity News tonight, Take Back Trinity member Seán Egan said that they had “attempted to get some real answers out of Micheál Martin tonight, which would not have happened if we attended the PolSoc debate. He was critical of those holding the debate and said that “you have to submit your questions beforehand, and if they don’t like tone or the tenor or the content of the questions, you’re shut down”. PolSoc’s Auditor, Micheál Ganley, refuted this, saying: “This statement is entirely untrue, all are questions were from the floor as I’m sure your reporter could attest. We are a politically neutral society and value everyone’s opinion and perspective.”
Egan criticised the event further and said that “these sorts of meetings are an exercise in fawning and networking, and they’re only for the good of the people involved”. He pointed out that “if students do want to hear anything legitimate out of the politician they kinda [sic] do have to take actions like these, they have to catch them on the hop”.
The protest comes after Take Back Trinity’s involvement in various forms of direct action across the capital to protest the housing crisis. Students joined housing activists in taking to the streets over two weeks ago, where they staged a sit-down protest on O’Connell Bridge, stopping traffic for nearly an hour. Students are also currently engaged in an occupation of a 41 Belvedere Place property, which began almost a month ago, and is the third property to be occupied by the Take Back the City group.
The event was described on Facebook as a discussion between PolSoc and Martin on “what can be done to end the suffering”, with the “effects of the housing crisis looming large upon Irish society”. They talk also hoped to answer the question of “why the most vulnerable in society being left behind”.
The event also comes a day before students will march in the Raise the Roof demonstration. The march, which is supported by the Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI) and various SUs around the country, will march to Dáil Éireann tomorrow. TCDSU have also publicly supported the demonstration, staging a banner drop on campus today.
The chairperson of PolSoc, Micheál Ganley, refused to comment on the event to Trinity News.
This article was updated at 23:33 on 02/10/18 to include a comment by PolSoc Auditor, Micheál Ganley, refuting an quote in the article.