The editorial line of the University Observer is generally ‘We support that which is good for students”. On the question of housing policy, the paper is of course in favour of more and cheaper accommodation for the huge number of people commuting insane distances, couch surfing, or simply dropping out entirely because of the lack of beds.
That said, a general stance in favour of more, better, and cheaper housing is not enough. We at The University Observer are supportive of UCDSU’s action on housing thus far, and of the growing protest movement around the housing crisis more generally. We are supportive of both the demands made by the Union so far, and of the tactical decisions being made.
UCDSU had been planning on a post-budget protest for some time, having correctly predicted that Budget 2022 was not going to offer a solution to the housing crisis. The time and date was advertised as a possible action during a renters town hall on October 7th. It’s unlikely that this protest would have gotten more than a fraction of the coverage that had, should the target not have become Keegan.
Keegan is a caricature of a villain from a children’s film, a man who is not only aware of how little accountability he faces, but one who revels in it. His apology for the “element of sarcasm” in his letter to Ruairí Power contained went on to say “On a positive note this episode has highlighted the on-going crisis in student accommodation in Dublin, which needs to be addressed”. Clearly the man has chosen not to eschew sarcasm just yet. Not while he has a few more quips at students to make. That said, he is not personally responsible for the housing crisis.
The clear mean-spiritedness of Keegan’s comments left the establishment with no option but to join in the condemnation. Simon Harris, Darragh O'Brien, and Micheál Martin all condemned the tone. Leo Varadkar even claimed he initially thought it was a Waterford Whispers bit. However, the exchange which ended in these remarks was over DCC allowing purpose built student accommodation to be used as tourist accommodation. This decision, which has far more material consequences, has been less roundly condemned by the establishment.
It is often argued that a free market leads to the best possible distribution of resources, as if the price is too high, a hole in the market will open for someone enterprising to provide a cheaper option. This episode, and many others of housing in Ireland, debunk this myth. When the supply of high-end accommodation is too high, with only a small fraction of students being able to afford it, market logic leads the suppliers to simply enter another high end market so as not to lose out on potential profits. It is worth noting that in his pre-debate introductory remarks, President Deeks endorsed the free market view, claiming that in Durham, when the supply is low, developers and investors built accommodation to meet demand, and that over time “it balances out”.
UCDSU knows all this. On the day of the protest, Power made sure in every interview to every outlet to mention policy failures and the use of student accommodation for tourism. A media fixation on scandal and personal conflict was weaponised efficiently by UCDSU’s executive team to bring attention, and then point it at failing policy. UCDSU’s social media responded to some of the condemnations of Keegan’s remarks with “Hand wringing & condemnations will not solve the student accommodation crisis”.
Students are at breaking point with accommodation. The USI and other Students’ Unions are right to protest and highlight the issue, but to achieve real change, this has to be seen as the start of a real and radical movement, in which Unions respond dynamically to whatever opportunities arise. An escalation in political action proportional to the severity of the housing crisis is supported by The University Observer, and we will continue to document the crisis and students’ response to it, and give a voice to those most severely affected.