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Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan. Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland
owen keegan

Dublin City Council chief criticised for suggesting UCD SU should build houses to fix shortage

UCD Students’ Union had written to Owen Keegan amid a shortage of housing for third-level students.

LAST UPDATE | 11 Oct 2021

DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL chief executive Owen Keegan has been criticised for comments made to a students’ union over purpose-built student accommodation.

Minister for Higher and Further Education Simon Harris said the comments were “dismissive and sarcastic” and didn’t help the issue, while Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien said he was “very surprised and disappointed” by the letter.   

UCD Student Union president Ruairí Power wrote a letter to Keegan on 7 October in relation to a number of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) developments being used for tourism until May next year while demand for the upper-end apartments is low.

Keegan replied to Power in a letter dated today accusing Power of “misrepresenting” the basis for why a ‘change of use’ was allowed in relation to PBSA developments.

Keegan wrote that national legislation and regulations do not require the Council to “undertake extensive stakeholder engagement in respect of particular applications, nor would it be appropriate for us to do so”.

“It is unfortunate that UCDSU did not participate in the planning process in respect of these particular applications,” Keegan added. “However, it is not the City Council’s fault that you appear to have been unaware of how the planning system works.”

The letter concluded:

…If you genuinely believe that excess profits are being made in the PBSA market I am surprised the Students’ Union has not entered the market itself and provided lower cost student accommodation for its members.

Minister Simon Harris said he “fully agreed” with UCD SU.

“Student accommodation must be for students. Students raised this with Darragh O’Brien and myself, and Darragh issued a circular to ensure this. Lots of work underway and needed to make improvements. Dismissive and sarcastic comments don’t help.”

In mid-September, the Government issued a circular to local authorities to carry out a needs assessment in relation to purpose-built student accommodation.

Junior minister for education Niall Collins said at the time that examples, where these units had been changed to be used for tourism purposes, was contrary to Government policy and couldn’t be justified.

Disagreeing with Keegan’s letter, Minister Darragh O’Brien said he expects the guidance issued two weeks ago to be adhered to, and that he will continue to work with Minister Harris to “help address v real challenges students face”.

Minister Harris added:

I have meet UCD SU on student accommodation. The points they make are valid. My Department met with all college management bodies last week to identify solutions and new approaches to student accommodation.

Labour’s housing spokesperson Rebecca Moynihan criticised Keegan’s comments as “snide”:

“Stories shared by students over the past number of weeks are really harrowing and demand serious attention from those who hold power in the city rather than snide dismissals of their concerns.

“I was really moved by the many student reps protesting outside Leinster House a number of weeks ago. Without somewhere safe and secure to live, our students cannot thrive. Students are not second class citizens.”

People-Before-Profit TD Paul Murphy said Keegan should resign for the “sneering disrespect for those suffering” as a result of the housing crisis.

SocDems TD Gary Gannon has written to the Ceann Comhairle to request time for statements on Dublin’s future in response to the chief executive’s statement.

In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson for Dublin City Council said “The Chief Executive does not wish to make any statement on this.”

Last month, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that the Government is “exploring all options” about the use of private purpose-built student accommodation that is too expensive for students to afford, despite a shortage of third-level housing.

Government officials had engaged on the issue in mid-September as students protested over a lack of affordable accommodation at third-level institutions.

Students at GMIT and WIT said that around 10% of students who want accommodation have not been able to secure it, and that this could affect their education.

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