As over 3,000 students from across the country marched to Leinster House for the Raise the Roof rally, Union of Students in Ireland (USI) President, Síona Cahill, spoke to Trinity News on how protest marches impact government policy, the damaging effects of the housing crisis on students, and students’ demands for a resolution to the housing crisis.
Cahill explains that while protests “don’t fix everything”, they can have a tangible impact on government policy. “The reality is we have thousands of students on the streets today, and we’re going to be very very clear that we’re not going to stand by and allow a housing crisis in Ireland to continue,” explained Cahill. “It creates a huge pressure when you can prove that the public are behind us on a certain issue or concerns about a certain issue.”
Instead of its annual march against student fees, USI decided to turn their attention to the “massive issue” of housing and student accommodation for this year’s march, with Cahill explaining that the two are one in the same. “The reality is is that if we deleted €3,000 [the student contribution charge] in the morning, there would still be students who couldn’t access college because of the extortionate rents in this country.”
The march for housing this morning drew huge crowds of students, with more activists and trade union groups joining the rally outside Leinster House. Cahill attributes the large turnout to “all” students being “affected directly” by the housing crisis. “Whether or not they are homeless themselves or whether they are couch surfing, or whether they have a friend who’s couch surfing, the majority of students are affected by significantly spiralling rents.”
“That’s not just in Dublin, so the reality is students are here, not just in solidarity with others, but because they’re directly affected by it,” continued Cahill. Students from across Ireland demanded action in today’s rally, including students from Trinity, Maynooth University, Dublin City University, National College of Art and Design, National University of Ireland, Galway, Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) among others.
Solidarity and People Before Profit are set to introduce a motion on housing in the Dáil later today, which has the full support of USI. The motion is expected to call on the government to enact legislation that would make evicting tenants in the private sector into homelessness an illegal act. It also seeks lower rents, doubled capital expenditure on public housing, and the insertion of a right to housing into the constitution.
Speaking on the motion, Cahill stated: “We need to declare a housing emergency, we need to say housing is a human right, we need to do more to legislate for all of those issues around housing and tenants’ rights. It’s achievable and it’s the only thing that we should go after in the kind of society that we want.”
Following Take Back Trinity protests against Fianna Fáil leader Micháel Martin’s visit to Trinity yesterday evening, Cahill explains that opposition parties need to “be loud, be very clear on this issue”. However, she noted that the housing crisis is “ultimately” a government issue. “The government needs to act, recognise we’re in the middle of a housing crisis, and do something about it.”
Asked what one thing she would say to the Taoiseach to push the government to take action, Cahill answers without hesitation: “Get your act together and start building.”