Students were among thousands participating in the Raise the Roof march across the city centre today, protesting the increasing unaffordability of accommodation and rising homelessness figures.
Union of Student in Ireland (USI) representatives gathered at the Garden of Remembrance this afternoon ahead of the 1pm march, which walked towards Liberty Hall and finished at a stage outside the GPO, where speeches were given by housing activists. Organisers said close to 20,000 people joined the march, while other estimates suggest 12,000-15,000 attended.
The march was organised by a coalition of housing activist groups, trade unions and political parties, which form the Raise the Roof campaign.
On stage, Colm O’Halloran, USI Vice President for the Dublin Region, recounted students’ struggles to find accommodation, before telling the crowd: “When the government said they would give us more beds and rooms, they never once mentioned the word ‘affordable’. We never asked for luxury apartments that we can’t afford. We want fit for purpose and affordable accommodation.”
“This government doesn’t care or listen to the people it claims to represent…Housing is a human right and we deserve better,” he said.
Figures from the National Homeless and Housing Coalition, Mandate trade union and the Irish Travellers Movement were among those who gave speeches. Musicians Damien Dempsey, Paddy Casey and Senator Frances Black performed.
Today’s march marks the first large-scale Dublin housing protest of the year. The first Raise the Roof march was held in October in support of an Opposition Dáil bill on housing, attracting over 10,000 people. Irish housing activists had launched the Raise the Roof campaign in September, bringing a broad range of organisations together to escalate direct action against the housing crisis, including USI. The national student’s union participated in the first Raise the Roof march rather than hold their annual higher education funding protest.
Before today’s rally, USI stressed their desire to “keep the issue of housing to the forefront” ahead of the European and Local Elections being held on May 24. “We want Councillors who will support affordable student accommodation and social housing. We want MEPs who will advocate for us all on this,” USI said in a statement on their Facebook event page.
The demonstration follows the government’s introduction of amendments to legislation that would include purpose built student accommodation under the rent pressure zone legislation, as well as the Dáil’s rejection of a proposal to call a referendum on enshrining the right to housing in the Constitution.
As well as the launch of the Raise the Roof campaign, last autumn saw the emergence of the Take Back the City housing activist group, whose members occupied three city centre houses and held several protests to raise awareness of the housing crisis and demand action.
The latest figures from the Department of Housing show that there was a record 10,305 people accessing emergency accommodation in Ireland in March.