The protest was held in response to a letter sent by Keegan to UCDSU President Ruairí Power, in which he suggested UCDSU enter the housing market to offer low cost accommodation.
Following the comment, UCDSU have called on Keegan to resign from his post as the Chief Executive of Dublin City Council.
At today's protest outside Dublin City Council buildings UCDSU, was joined by TCDSU, IADTSU, DCUSU, NCADSU, and several prominent opposition politicians. The protest was attended by around 150 people. The call for Mr. Keegan's resignation, first published by this paper on Monday, came after a series of correspondence between UCDSU and Keegan. The correspondence detailed UCDSU’s opposition to the conversion of 571 Purpose Built Student Accommodation facilities into temporary tourist accommodation. Power described the granting of permission to allow the conversion as a “shameful act” and that it constituted bending over backwards to facilitate the profits of a private company.
On Monday Keegan sent a second reply which stated that “if you genuinely believe that excess profits are being made in the PBSA (Purpose Built Student Accommodation) market I am surprised the Students Union has not entered the market itself and provided lower cost student accommodation for its members”. The remark was described as “snide'' and “dismissive” by the minister for Higher Education Simon Harris.
Speaking to The University Observer, Power outlined the steps he will be taking in the coming days and weeks following today's protest. Tomorrow at 6 p.m Power will be attending a student accommodation housing discussion with all of the housing spokespeople. Additionally, more protests will be organised on campus in order to raise “the serious issue” UCDSU has with on campus accommodation. Power will also attend a meeting with Minister for housing Daragh O’Brien in the coming days and will be asking the minister to scrap and replace the student accommodation strategy, to call for a three year ban on rent increases and to raise objections to the reduction in the vacant property tax.
Speaking to The University Observer, Social Democrats TD, Gary Gannon described the remarks made by Keegan as “the modern equivalent of let them eat cake” and said that they were “endemic of an attitude that has the city in decline.” Deputy Gannon added that the Social Democrats councillors in DCC will be calling for a special meeting to discuss the student accommodation crisis which will raise the issue of the lack of democratic oversight in how the council operates.
When asked by The University Observer whether or not he believed that it would be possible to remove Mr.Keegan, People Before Profit TD, Richard Boyd Barret said that he believes that it is “unlikely”. Deputy Boyd Barrett stated that local government is “attacked and undermined” by the ruling parties who have also presided over the policies which have led us to the student accommodation crisis and facilitated profit driven investors”. Addressing the crowd, Deputy Barrett, stated that students have a “special responsibility” to lead other people affected by the housing crisis who are often too downtrodden and atomised to organise.
The Sinn Féin spokesperson for Higher Education, Rose Conway Walsh, also attended the protest. Speaking to The University Observer, Conway-Walsh said that she was “dumbfounded” by the comments made by Owen Keegan on Monday. Conway-Walsh added that the remarks made by Mr. Keegan were “beneath contempt” for students and that Mr. Keegan's position was now untenable.
When asked whether she thought Dublin should have a directly elected position as head of Dublin City Council, Conway Walsh said that would be for the people of Dublin to decide but that the position needs to be accountable. Speaking in relation to the budget published yesterday Conway-Walsh said that she was “horrified” by the reduction in the vacant tax levy. “That will deprive us of so much revenue, I cannot imagine what they were thinking, other than that they are in the pocket of developers.”
TCDSU Campaigns Officer Aoife Cronin also spoke with The University Observer, stating that “Owen Keegans comments showed a blatant disregard for student renters. They were not just out of touch or unfortunate as certain government TD’s have implied, they were callous”
Owen Keegan has since apologised to the Lord Mayor and councillors in a letter which stated “I accept there was also an element of sarcasm. I did not consider that the reliance on sarcasm was necessarily appropriate in the context of an exchange of robust correspondence.
“However on reflection, I now accept that that [sic] the use of sarcasm was inappropriate on this occasion and I am happy to apologise for the offence I caused.”
Keegan has indicated that he is not planning on resigning, and has left it up to members of the council to initiate the process of removing him as CEO, should they see fit.