Updated 12 hours ago
COLLEGE STUDENTS STAGED a protest, using the slogan ‘No Keys, No Degrees’, outside the Dáil today amid growing frustration over the accommodation crisis across Ireland.
Representatives from the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) say that thousands of students have been left without a place to live at the start of the new academic year.
USI president Clare Austick said many students have been forced to stay in hotels, B&Bs, hostels or commuting long journeys to and from college.
A number of those taking part in the protest will sleep outside the Dail tonight to highlight their campaign.
USI is NOW demonstrating outside the Dáil and we will sleep out overnight to DEMAND urgent action on the student crisis accommodation❗️❗️❗️
— Union of Students in Ireland (@TheUSI) September 23, 2021
“We’re angry, we’re outraged we’re frustrated. We’re annoyed that the government just has not taken our calls on board and haven’t taken the student accommodation crisis seriously enough,” Austick said.
She called on the government to declare the student accommodation crisis as an emergency and provide long-term effective and sustainable solutions for students.
“We want them to ensure that there’s more purpose-built student accommodation that’s affordable for students, that there is a regulation on rents and that whenever there’s new courses introduced, or new course places are introduced, that there’s always a place for students to sleep in,” she added.
This all comes down to access to education. Students have been priced out of education because there’s no accommodation that they can stay in, and enough is enough and this is why we’re here to be heard.
An article in the Dublin Inquirer reported this week that permission has been granted for as many as 1,055 student beds in Dublin to be used instead for other purposes.
Speaking in the Dáil today, Tánaste Leo Varadkar said the government is “very much aware” of the crisis in student accommodation and that it is working to prevent purpose-built student apartments being used for tourists.
He said that using student accommodation for other purposes was “contrary to the student accommodation strategy” and that the departments of Further Education and Education and Housing have been engaging on the issue.
On this issue, Labour’s Alan Kelly asked Varadkar if the government would support a bill from the party’s housing spokesperson Senator Rebecca Moynihan to prevent student units being turned into apart-hotels for tourists.
“We’re exploring all options available to us to ensure that purpose-built student accommodation remains in use for students, and not for tourists. The two departments met on this last night, and expect to make further announcements on this over the coming weeks,” Varadkar said.
On the wider issue of student accommodation, Varadkar said it has been brought “back into sharp focus” by the return of students to campuses.
“It’s something that the government is very much aware of, the challenges that students face as they’re returned to third level, we’ve responded by increasing the Student Assistance Fund,” he said.
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Varadkar added that Covid-19 has “had a significant impact” on the availability of on-campus accommodation because “with the exception of NUI Galway, shared rooms are not being offered this year because of concerns around Covid”.
“This removes the most affordable option available in most universities and also decreases the number of places available. There’s also evidence that fewer people are willing to offer digs than was the case in previous years. And both of these things have contributed to the shortage this year,” he said.
Varadkar also said that legislation has been passed to “restrict upfront payments” and added that, under Rent Pressure Zone rules, “the cost of student accommodation is capped”.
Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said that some students are “paying crazy prices” to stay in hotels, B&Bs or hostels.
“Others are commuting the long distance from home to college every single day, with many, many more going from home-to-home, from couch-to-couch with a rucksack and a bag with a sleeping bag under their arm,” he said.
It’s having a profound effect on access to education and in particular disadvantaged people from rural communities. Honestly, it’s a ridiculous and unsustainable situation.
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said similarly that many students still have “no accommodation” and are paying “extortionate money” to stay in hotels.
“As their slogan says, no keys no degrees. It’s an unsustainable situation, they will not be able to complete their education and as it stands we will have huge numbers dropping out. As a consequence, these are the victims of a housing policy that has prioritised hotels over sustainable purpose built student accommodation,” he said.
– With reporting from PA