Housing campaign turns attention to legal rights to housing

Students at the fore of campaign for housing rights

Raise the Roof, a coalition of students’ unions, trade unions, activists, and community groups, has launched its 2019 campaign with a renewed focus on housing as a legal right.

Relaunching the campaign, President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), Sheila Nunan, announced that this year’s campaigning would focus on establishing a legal right to housing for citizens.

There is currently no right to housing included in the Irish Constitution.

It is expected that Raise the Roof will stage a nationwide demonstration later this year, following a series of regional protests.

Speaking to Trinity News, Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Vice President for the Dublin Region, Colm O’Halloran, explained that “students are victims of this housing crisis”, citing “high rents in the private rental market, poor quality accommodation, purpose built student accommodation that costs €1,000 per month” as some of the barriers faced.

O’Halloran, who represented USI at last week’s meeting, outlined that many students must work part-time to afford tuition fees and accommodation, or commute long distances due to the high cost of rent in city centres, while other students are forced to sleep in hostels.

“All of these are symptoms of the housing crisis and the government’s inaction,” said O’Halloran. “It’s imperative that students are involved in the Raise The Roof campaign going forward to highlight these issues and ensure they get solved.”

Last October, all the political parties in the Dáil passed a motion to establish housing as a constitutional right, with the exception of Fine Gael.

The motion coincided with a Raise the Roof demonstration which saw 3,000 students march among 15,000 protesters to demand action on the housing crisis. Speaking to Trinity News at the time of the march, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President, Shane De Rís, explained that “students are suffering as a result of the crisis and we see it worsening each day”.

“Each day, we witness the violence of the homelessness crisis around our university as we pass those sleeping rough. This isn’t good enough, and we should expect better from our modern society,” De Rís said.

“We owe it to those students we sit in class with each day who are suffering to be [at the march].”

Accommodation has been at the forefront of students’ minds over the past year, with protests and demonstrations taking place around the country. In April, Dublin City University (DCU) students staged a series of direct actions, including a demonstration outside the Dáil following a 27% rent increase at student accommodation complex, Shanowen Square. National University of Ireland, Galway Students’ Union (NUIGSU) filed an unsuccessful case last summer against student accommodation provider Cúirt na Coiribe, through the Residential Tenancies Board following rent increases of 18%.

Trinity students participated in the Take Back the City movement in the latter half of 2018, which involved a series of direct actions and housing occupations to draw attention to the presence of empty private properties in Dublin amid rising homelessness. One Trinity student, Conchúir Ó Rádaigh, was hospitalised following a violent arrest as protestors were removed from a property on North Frederick Street that had been occupied for 25 days.

In September, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar asserted that there is no “quick fix” to the housing crisis, while Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, warned local authorities that he might use “emergency powers” to bring their functions into the remit of his own department if they did not follow his guidelines.

Ireland’s official homeless count is currently estimated at around 10,000, with many activists including Father Peter McVerry, founder of the Peter McVerry Trust, claiming that the actual rate is far higher, given that the official number does not account for people sleeping on streets, in cars, tents, or on couches.

Lauren Boland

Lauren Boland was the Editor of the 67th volume of Trinity News. She is an English Literature and Sociology graduate and previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.