Galway students stage campout to protest rising rent costs

The protest is taking place this evening in Eyre Square

Students from both National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) are set to hold a campout at Galway’s Eyre Square in protest of the rising rent prices for student accommodation.

From 6pm today 250 students from NUIG and GMIT plan to engage in a mock campout in the northern part of Eyre Square. The protest is in collaboration with ONE Galway and is supported by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and the Mayor of Galway, Niall McNelis.

Speaking on the issue GMIT Students’ Union (GMITSU) President Aaron Burke explained the the campout is “symbolic”. Burke outlined that “tents by their nature provide very basic shelter and that is what students’ need, adequate safe and secure shelter, not luxurious apartments that are out of the reach of most people.”

“Students are not cash cows,” Burke continued, speaking of the “pressure” that students and their parents face in paying fees. “This kind of [luxury] accommodation far exceeds the already high rental prices that exist in the city.”

Earlier this year, several Galway students resorted to sleeping rough in Eyre Square because they could not find affordable student accommodation. Each year there is an increasing number of students forced to live in hostels, travel long distances and couch-surf to attend school.

USI President Síona Cahill stated: “Students are being priced out of education not only by the second highest fees in Europe but by accommodation providers charging extortionate prices.”

“Students don’t need luxury accommodation, they need fit for purpose, affordable accommodation. We are in a crisis and we need to act now to protect our students. This is of particular concern and relevance to students in Galway, since they had to recently take to the streets to protest significant rent increases because of the lack of rent controls for PBSA. We’re calling for 4% rent caps as a matter of urgency in this sector for all new builds”

As a follow-up event to this evening’s protest, ONE Galway is organising a housing accommodation workshop next Wednesday. The workshop includes a panel discussion comprising the Presidents of GMITSU and National University of Ireland Galway Students’ Union (NUIGSU); Martin O’Connor from COPE; Rachel Timothy from Threshold; and a speaker from the Irish Secondary Schools Union. After panelists speak on their perspectives on the housing crisis, the discussion is to be opened to the audience for questions.

The ONE Galway initiative is a cooperative venture between the student unions and the trade union. Their focus is to make legislative change and policy outcomes to increase the level of decent work, income and living standards for the local community. This aim includes the housing crisis that Galway now faces.

This campout follows NUIGSU taking a case against student accommodation provider Cúirt na Coiribe after an 18% increase in rent costs for students. The increase would result in students having to pay an additional €1,000, and was announced earlier this year while students were sitting exams.

NUIGSU filed the case through the Residential Tenancies Board after the Residential Tenancies (Students Rents, Rights and Protections) Bill 2018 passed in May. This bill aims to give students living in purpose-built student accommodation under license the full protections of the Residential Tenancies Acts. The bill is currently before Dáil Éireann, Second Stage.

Currently, NUIGSU is waiting to receive a verdict on the Cúirt na Coiribe case.

Shauna Bannon Ward

Shauna Barron Ward is a staff writer at Trinity News. She is a Junior Sophister Law student.