UCDSU call for resignation of DCC Chief Executive Owen Keegan

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The call comes following a letter received by UCDSU President Ruairí Power from Dublin County Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan, which suggested UCDSU enter the housing market.

Earlier today, Power received a letter from Keegan, which included the following “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.”

Speaking to The University Observer, Power said “Is this what we’re paying €190,000 a year for? Students are being expected to now construct our own accommodation. I know it’s a sarcastic response from the CEO. It is below the level of dignity we’d expect from someone in that position. He obviously doesn’t have any sort of sympathy for people in precarious living circumstances, this completely tracks with his previous remarks on homelessness which led to a vote of no confidence back in 2019. Considering that the same damaging, negative attitudes have continued, he’s continuing to facilitate the wills of private interests over the public good, perhaps it’s time that there is a repeat of the 2019 vote, and I note that there is going to be a correspondence going into the Dáil this evening seeking a debate on the future of Dublin, and in particular with regards on housing provision. We’ve no confidence that Owen Keegan is acting in the best interests of people living in Dublin and the surrounding areas, and as such we think he should resign”.

The letter comes after a series of communications between Power and Keegan, which began with a letter in which Power expressed “deep frustration” at the decision to allow Uninest to convert 571 student flats into “temporary” tourist accommodation. The letter stated that “to prioritise the profit margins of private; purpose-built student accommodation providers over the public good is a shameful act” and that the decision constituted bending over backwards to facilitate the profit margins of a private company.

In the letter, Power, argued “that if in future a PBSA (Purpose Built Student Accommodation) provider expresses concerns at their ability to fill room allocations, that Dublin City Council simply suggests a reduction in the rent.” 

Keegan’s initial response to Power, on September 23 was that “I was not aware of this particular planning application/decision until I received your letter. However, I have sought a report on the matter and I will reply to you in detail as soon as I receive that report”

On October 5th, Keegan responded more fully by outlining the council's general policy in relation to PBSA. Keegan stated that there remains a “significant shortfall” in the key objective of reaching 21,000 PBSA spaces nationwide by 2024, and 13,000 in Dublin “At present there are 9,000 approx”. Keegan added that the Council supports the development of PBSA in accordance with national policy.

Keegan added that “the grounds for granting temporary permission (for the change of use of student accommodation) have been to optimise use, to enhance (rental) security for the remainder of the student accommodation and to deliver an acceptable level of day and night time activity considered important for the creation of a living city” and that any grants of permission for the change of use are done so on a “strictly temporary basis.” Furthermore, Keegan stated that “it is worth pointing out that there were no objections received in relation to this application and that no appeal was submitted to An Bord Pleanála. 

Speaking last week to The University Observer, Power, said that “renters and the general public shouldn’t have to browse conversion applications to keep an eye on whether council officials are screwing student renters.” Power added that “it’s clear that the council didn’t bother doing a rudimentary level of research to determine demand for accommodation this year.” Furthermore, Power stated that “the vacuum of competent leadership being shown should not be forgotten” and in a letter subsequent to Keegans response, Power stated that “we intend to draw significant further attention to DCC’s role in perpetuating an accommodation affordability crisis arising out of such conversion approvals.”

Power further stated that the justification for the conversion of student accommodation into short term lets by referencing a government circular from 2016 was “depressing”. Responding to Keegan’s justification of the conversions, Power argued that “DCC seems intent on hiding behind 2016 department circulars to justify illogical planning decisions.” Owen Keegan was sent a request for comment, but did not respond at the time of writing. 

In response to Keegan’s remark, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris tweeted  that “student accommodation must be for students”, and that “dismissive and sarcastic comments don’t help”.

The University Observer understands that several DCC councillors are collecting signatures seeking a special meeting on the above correspondence.

Owen Keegan has been contacted for comment, but has not responded at the time of publication.