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Sinn Féin councillors call on DCC chief Owen Keegan to resign over student housing comments

Minister of State Niall Collins has called on Owen Keegan to apologise, but not resign.

DCC chief Owen Keegan.
DCC chief Owen Keegan.
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Updated Oct 12th 2021, 3:53 PM

SINN FÉIN COUNCILLORS for Dublin City have called on chief executive Owen Keegan to resign over highly criticised comments he made about student accommodation. 

Three Government ministers have now criticised Dublin City Council’s chief executive Owen Keegan for the comments he made to in a letter to UCD Students’ Union in relation to purpose-built student accommodation. 

Keegan wrote to UCD Students’ Union president Ruairí Power yesterday to suggest that the union should become developers to provide “lower cost student accommodation for its members”.

Today, the Sinn Féin group leader Councillor Daithi Doolan said Keegan’s position was “untenable”.

“His comments in his letter to UCD Students Union were not only sarcastic and inappropriate but reveal an ideological position totally at variance with the policy of the City Council and with the housing needs of Dublin.

We need a Chief Executive who will work with the City councillors and with our citizens, making housing an absolute priority. Under Owen Keegan’s stewardship, and despite the best efforts of councillors, the City has become a place where corporate greed is shaping housing and planning as never before. This must end.

Dublin City Council today released its correspondence with the students’union. UCD SU president, Ruairí Power, had originally contacted Keegan to express his and the SU’s frustration over the conversion of 571 private student flats into tourist accommodation for the coming academic year.

“UCD Students’ Union would like to express our deep frustration at this decision, which will undoubtedly perpetuate the supply crisis and artificially inflate rents across the city. To prioritise the profit margins of private purpose-built student accommodation providers over the public good is a shameful act which will push young people into precarious living circumstances over the coming months.

“We would greatly appreciate the opportunity to discuss this issue with you, and urge the council executive to proactively support young renters, not push them out of already scarce accommodation supply.” Power wrote.

Last night, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien said he was “surprised and disappointed” at the chief executive’s comments.

He said: “I issued guidance to all local authorities over two weeks ago on this very issue and I expect it to be adhered to.”

This guidance was for local authorities to examine purpose-built accommodation, the demand for that accommodation in the area, and to assess what should be done according to need.

Minister of State for Skills and Further Education Niall Collins told Newstalk Breakfast this morning that Keegan should apologise.

“No I don’t think it’s a resigning matter, but I do think his comments were very flippant and dismissive of the students and the the students’ union.

“Obviously there’s an exchange of views going on here by way of correspondence, and the students rightly want to highlight the issue in relation to student accommodation.

“It stems from a decision, recently, by Dublin City Council to grant a change of use to a number of units of student accommodation – a temporary change of use – and that has obviously had the impact of taking student accommodation units out of the market and beyond the reach of students.”

A ‘change of use’ was permitted by the authority to some purpose-built student accommodation to be used for tourism purposes, up until May next year.

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Amid protests by third-level students about a lack of affordable accommodation for students this academic year, the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that change of use would be examined by officials at the Department of Housing and Education.

Collins said: “The decision by Dublin City Council to grant a temporary change of use was wrong, it was against the Government’s accommodation strategy.

“And since that has happened, we’ve issued a circular – a directive – to each local authority in relation to the provision of purpose-built student accommodation.

“What we’re saying is under no circumstances is a ‘change of use’ to be granted, unless it can be specifically demonstrated by the applicant that their isn’t a need for student accommodation in the particular area.”

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said yesterday that he “fully agreed” with the students’ union.

“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.”

Cross party criticism of the Dublin City Council chief has come in since his letter was shared on Twitter by Power yesterday afternoon.

In response to a query about whether Keegan would be apologising for his comments, Dublin City Council said the Chief Executive would not be giving a statement on the matter.

-With reporting from Cónal Thomas

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