By Dominic McGrath, PA
Minister Higher Education Simon Harris has called comments by the Dublin City Council boss on student housing “dismissive and sarcastic”.
Simon Harris intervened on Monday to criticise Owen Keegan after the chief executive of Dublin City Council was quoted in a letter to University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) suggesting that if students’ unions had concerns about access to accommodation they should consider building their own.
The President of UCDSU, Ruairi Power, tweeted on Monday about what he called Mr Keegan’s “innovative solution to the housing crisis”, after the students’ union raised concerns with the council about empty third-level accommodation being converted into tourist accommodation during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the tweet, he attached an image of a letter from Mr Keegan.
In it, the chief executive says: “Finally, if you believe that excess profits are being made in the PBSA [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.”
Mr Harris gave his backing to the students’ union.
Fully agree with @UCDSU. Student accommodation must be for students. Students raised this with @DarraghOBrienTD & myself & Darragh issued a circular to ensure this. Lots of work underway & needed to make improvements. Dismissive & sarcastic comments don’t help https://t.co/Vn1JxYqyVt
— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) October 11, 2021
“Student accommodation must be for students. Students raised this with Darragh O’Brien & myself & Darragh issued a circular to ensure this. Lots of work underway & needed to make improvements. Dismissive & sarcastic comments don’t help,” he tweeted.
“I have met UCD SU on student accommodation. The points they make are valid. My Department met with college management bodies last week to identify solutions & new approaches to student accommodation.”
Last month, the Department of Housing sent a letter instructing local councils that purpose-built student accommodation should be reserved for students, unless for “compelling non-Covid” reasons.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said: “The chief executive does not wish to make a statement on this.”
Last month, college students staged a protest outside the Dáil amid growing frustration over the accommodation crisis.
Representatives from the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) have said thousands of students were left without a place to live at the start of the new academic year.
The national students’ union said many students had been forced to stay in hotels, B&Bs or hostels or forced to commute on long journeys to and from college.