Owen Keegan and Micheál Martin
dismissive comments

Taoiseach says Dublin City Council CEO Owen Keegan should withdraw comments on student housing

“I couldn’t believe it, I thought it was facile. I just didn’t understand the point he was making.”

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said Dublin City Council’s chief executive Owen Keegan should withdraw his much-criticised comments about student accommodation and apologise.  

In a letter to UCD Students’ Union about purpose-built student accommodation, which the union had criticised, Keegan suggested to Ruairí Power, the president of the UCD SU, that the union should become developers to provide “lower cost student accommodation for its members”.

When The Journal asked the Taoiseach for his reaction this evening, he said Keegan’s comments were “dismissive” of students. 

“I couldn’t believe it, I thought it was facile. I just didn’t understand the point he was making.

“I mean, student unions are not in the business of building apartment blocks or units. So I thought it was very dismissive of student groups and representatives,” he said. 

Micheál Martin added that Keegan’s comments were “unhelpful and wrong”. 

“I was in a student union. Student union officers are there to advocate on behalf of the students and I think it is a great thing that we have student unions,” he said, adding that he tries to meet student unions “whereever I go”. 

“So it was very dismissive. I think he should withdraw the statement and articulate some regret for it. I just couldn’t understand it, I couldn’t believe it,” said Martin.

Sinn Féin councillors on Dublin City Council have called on Owen Keegan to resign. Three Government ministers, including Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien and Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris, have also criticised Dublin City Council’s chief executive for the comments.

When asked if Keegan should resign, Martin said he would not be drawn on that issue, stating that people have contractural arrangements with the council. He said he would not be commenting on that aspect of the controversy.

The Taoiseach said the students were making a fair point in oppositing purpose-build student accommodation being converted into short-term tourist accommodation, and that authorities should want to work with colleges to provide more accommodation that is affordable for students.

“Instead of dismissing student unions, we should actually be working out how to provide  more proper, affordable student-based accommodation, and working with the colleges to enable them to do it,” he said.

Many students and colleges have described the lack of affordable housing for third-level students this academic year as ‘a crisis’, with limited supply and rising rent prices in many cities.   

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.

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.

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