UCDSU stage protest against Owen Keegan’s recent comments on converting students accommodation to tourist stays

The demonstration was attended by students’ unions from across Dublin, and several opposition TDs

Today, October 13, University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) organised a protest outside Dublin City Council offices to protest Chief Executive Owen Keegan’s recent comments on student accommodation. 

Last week, in a letter to UCDSU president Ruairi Power, Keegan alleged that were UCDSU concerned about the cost of student accommodation, that they should consider entering the rental market to provide student accommodation. 

This followed a correspondence between the two pertaining to the use of student accommodation for short term rental for tourists. 

Keegan wrote: “If you genuinely believe that excess profits are being made in the purpose-built student accommodation market I am surprised the Students Union has not entered the market itself and provided lower cost student accommodation for its members.”

Speaking to Trinity News last week, Power said: “UCDSU has no confidence in the DCC CEO. While we understand that housing is an emotive issue, allowing these conversions to be facilitated was an appalling lack of judgement on the part of DCC.”

The protest today, entitled “Stop Screwing Over Students,” was supported by Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), National College of Arts and Design Students’ Union (NCAD), Institute of Art, Design and Technology Students’ Union (IADTSU) and Technological University Dublin Students’ Union (TUDSU). 

TCDSU met at House Six at 12.30 before joining the protest as a contingent. A post on the TCDSU Instagram read: “Keegan’s comments combined with the council’s repeated decisions to convert purpose built student accommodation to tourist accommodation demonstrates an unwillingness to take the crisis of student renters seriously.” 

Chants of: “Keegan is out of touch, student housing costs too much” and “the council are an awful shower, this is called people power” were heard at the protest. 

Speaking to Trinity News at the demonstration, TCDSU Welfare and Equality Officer Sierra Mueller Owens said: “As the welfare and equality officer, I see most of the case work that comes into the union relating to accommodation, and it is frightening and disheartening to see how many students are left without options.”

She said that “students deserve better” and emphasised that “we’re here to show support to the other students’ unions and to the students in our college that we won’t take the government blaming students, this is not our fault and we deserve better”.

Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon was also in attendance. Speaking to Trinity News, he said that Owen Keegan’s comments were “reprehensible” and that he thinks “we need to hold him to account for that.” 

He said that Keegan’s comments suggesting UCDSU enter the rental market were “the moral equivalent of telling them to eat cake, and I’m not going to stand for that in my city”.

He emphasised the need for “change of leadership in Dublin City Council”.

“I stood there for six years on Dublin CC and I’m just tired of Owen Keegan’s vision for the city” he continued. “We’re showing up to tell him that actually what he’s done is not good enough.”

Speaking at the protest, TCDSU Communications and Marketing Officer Aoife Cronin said that Keegan’s comments “showed a total disregard for renters, for students, and for the residents of this city who he’s supposed to represent”. 

“This man is an unelected official who makes 190 grand a year, with more power than half the politicians in this country.”

She said “over the years he has pushed for the privatisation of public land and helped to create the accommodation crisis we are in now.”

“It’s not [students’] fault that they don’t have anywhere to live, it’s not the fault of students’ unions that they don’t have anywhere to live.” 

“It is a result of years of policies that have privileged landlords, property developers and vulture funds –  policies that priced students out of safe affordable accommodation.”

“Students shouldn’t be paying thousands for poor quality homes and many students can’t pay thousands,” she continued.

“They are priced out of homes and locked out of accommodation”.

She also criticised Budget 2022, saying: “This doesn’t begin and end with Owen Keegan” and noted that “yesterday’s budget showed a blatant disregard for students and for young people as a whole”. 

“We’re reaching a breaking point in Ireland. Young people have nothing to keep them here.”

Speaking at the demo, Sinn Fein spokesperson on Higher Education, Innovation and Science Rose Conway-Walsh said: “When I heard Keegan’s comments, in all honesty I thought it was fake news. I could not believe someone in a position of power would utter those comments.”

She continued to say: “The dehumanisation of students has to stop. I call on Owen Keegan to resign.”

Other speakers included UCDSU President Ruairi Power, Sinn Fein councillor Daithí Doolin, and Richard Boyd Barrett, People Before Profit TD. 

Approximately 100 people attended the protest.

Grace Gageby

Grace Gageby is the current Assistant Editor of Trinity News. She studies English and Philosophy and was previously Deputy Comment Editor.

Kate Henshaw

Kate Henshaw is current Editor-in-Chief of Trinity News, and a graduate of Sociology and Social Policy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.