In an interview with The University Observer, UCDSU President Barry Murphy addressed confusion over comments he made at the Town Hall meeting organised by the SU on 1st November. The meeting saw students living in on campus accommodation bring complaints and issues they have faced to the Union, due to the ongoing construction in the Glenomena and Roebuck sites.
At the Town Hall meeting, issues such as the late hour of concrete pouring and the early hours at which construction began were discussed. Murphy stated he had been informed by UCD Estates that the concrete had needed to be poured at night, “two days before the Town Hall meeting, so it would have been on the Tuesday morning before the Town Hall.”
However, when speaking to former Education Officer Robert Sweeney on whether or not the impact of the construction on students’ experience in UCD was discussed while he sat on the residence review committee, he stated “I consulted all members of the Union Executive. Further feedback from the exec was then structured and sent to members of the residence review committee. The primary concern of all at this meeting was mitigating the impact and ensuring the Safety, of members of the UCD Community.”
A powerpoint presentation on the “Construction Mitigation Planning Residences Masterplan Phase 1” was distributed to members of the SU’s executive committee and sabbatical officers on the 1st March 2018. In this powerpoint, the impact of the noise from concrete pouring “(extend outside normal hours)” was highlighted. Exam times were also highlighted as a “Vulnerable Time” on the powerpoint. This means that members of the executive committee and sabbatical team would have been aware of the potential impact of noise by concrete pouring, months before the Town Meeting. Murphy also stated in the interview that he and Sweeney “would have had a debrief” after the residence review meeting.
Addressing the complaints of the construction work commencing, Murphy said that the “official line the SU have received is that we should be encouraging students to get up at 7am.” Murphy later clarified that university management and UCD Estates had suggested this to the SU.
This official line from university management goes against the inspector’s report from An Bord Pleanála, in which Sarah Moran inspected the sites on 15th November 2017 and 6th December 2017 and found that one of the conditions in her report to be: “Site development and building works shall be carried out only between the hours of 0800 to 1900 Mondays to Fridays inclusive, between 0800 to 1400 hours on Saturdays and not at all on Sundays and public holidays. Deviation from these times will only be allowed in exceptional circumstances where prior written approval has been received from the planning authority.” The report was signed on 12th January 2018.
A student approached The University Observer after an article was published on the Town Meeting, alleging that comments made by Murphy in relation to the Union not being consulted over the 25% discount awarded to certain residents were false. When these accusations were brought to the attention of the Union, Murphy clarified two sabbatical officers had seats on the residential review committee that discussed the proposed discount to students affected by the construction. “There was the initial planned discount of 25% that our outgoing Education Officer and our current Graduate Officer had a role in part of the discussion around that…The group as a whole, with the disagreement of the outgoing Education Officer and the current Graduate Officer, came down to the figure of 25% in discount.”
In an email seen by The University Observer addressed to the executive committee members of the Union on the 14th March 2018, former Education Officer Robert Sweeney states “it looks like Residence facing outwards on the site will be given a discount of approx 25%, this has yet to be confirmed by UMT [University Management Team].”
This, Murphy explains, is separate to the 25% “reimbursement” that certain students in residences received since the start of the academic year, over which the Union were not consulted. According to Murphy “the Chair of Res Review and UCD Estates went and made a decision as to who got a reimbursement and what that reimbursement was without consultation with UCDSU.”
Referencing their previous discussions concerning the initial planned discount 25%, Murphy said “UCD management have through error, and I don’t think they’re thinking it out either, when students do query at the resident’s desk or through sending emails to UCD residences as to ‘why am I not receiving a reimbursement and my neighbour is?’ The current response up until a few days ago is ‘the reimbursement was discussed at res review and you have Student Union representation, student advisor representation and a number of other individuals,’ when none of those individuals had a role in the reimbursement they only had a role in deciding the original discount.”
When asked why he didn’t make the distinction between the initial discount and the reimbursement, Murphy replied “I thought I did. In any of the conversations with the students I went door to door with, gathering info about what their concerns were, we were informing them that these students have received a reimbursement. In all that communication there, I would have been really strong in using the word “reimbursement”. At the Town Hall meeting, I presented the same argument that we had not been involved in the reimbursement and made an effort to distinguish that to the discount. So if there was confusion around that, I apologise, but I don’t think there was. I made it very clear that there was a discount and a reimbursement.”
To be granted a reimbursement of 25% on their residential fees, Murphy said he was asked to provide proof at the UCD residences review committee and “presented towards the end of September, 12 testimonials in total towards university management, from students who would have complained about the noise disturbance in UCD residences.” Murphy noted that “two weeks later, I received second-hand through a student that they had received a reimbursement and they thanked us for putting forward their testimonial”. The testimonials submitted to the residences review committee by students were anonymous and Murphy reported that “about half of them were reimbursed.”
The University Observer reached out to Estate Services and UCD Residences for a right of reply over the comments made by Murphy, though they had not replied at the time the paper went to print.