The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) will campaign for a rent suspension for students, for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic, following a vote of union delegates at the USI’s National Congress.
The motion passed by the Congress contains several proposals designed to support student renters during the Covid-19 crisis.
USI’s Congress acknowledged the work of rent strikes carried out this year, but demanded that more needs to be done because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The motion called for “an immediate” rent suspension for students during the crisis with “no subsequent repayments”, a ban on all Covid-19 caused evictions, which is to “protect the most vulnerable students during this period of uncertainty” and “clarity” from higher education institutions regarding plans for the 2020/2021 academic year to allow students to “make decisions” on their accommodation.
The motion proposed that the USI campaign for the protection of student renters both during and in the months after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ciaran O’Brien, a member of Queen’s University Belfast’s Students’ Union (QUBSU) proposed the motion. Speaking during the proposal, O’Brien said: “We are about to embark on strikes to help students get out of contracts with landlords”.
The second speaker for the motion, QUBSU’s Grian Ní Dhaimhín, said: “We have students that are getting threatened with law action because they can’t pay their rent”.
“There is a rent strike going on at the moment,” she added, stating that while it’s “not organised”, the USI “need to support these students”.
Ní Dhaimhín stated: “This crisis just exposed the inequalities that already exist.”
Several other motions were also passed today, the third and final day of the USI Congress.
“Protect our students”, a motion to support students from the impact Covid-19 will have on education in the coming months was carried in today’s debate. The motion was supported by Kevin McStravock, who was elected to his second term as Vice-President for Academic Affairs today.
Another Covid-19 emergency motion was passed, in relation to the pandemic unemployment payment. This motion mandates the union to lobby the government to take into account that students would work additional hours on average during the summer than they would during the semester. This is in response to the “means-test” which is being put forward by government, which will provide benefits based on the hours people were working when the lockdown commenced.
A motion for internet and infrastructure for distance learning was also carried today. This motion proposes for the union to lobby for access to reliable, affordable internet connections, noting that it is a key barrier to equal access to education.
A motion designed to broaden the participation in the students’ union movement by reaching out to the student wings of political parties failed to carry, following a vigorous debate.
Several “emergency motions” were proposed today during the congress, many directly relating to the union’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.
Elections for executive officers took place today, with ten executive officers elected. Lorna Fitzpatrick was re-elected to a second term as president of the union.